Anyone who knows me knows that I sometimes (read: regularly) neglect to take time for me. Ask my mother and she’ll tell you that I burn myself, wear myself too thin, and bite off more than I can chew. Most mornings, I’m up before 5 am. Many nights, I don’t get to sleep until well after 10 pm. I often wake in the middle of the night worrying.
April 29, 2015 was circled on my calendar. The words “Family Court – 11:30 am” were written in the middle of the square. In the days leading up to my interim hearing, I flinched every time my phone lit up. My stomach dropped with every woosh that told me a new email had come in. I couldn’t concentrate on simple things, like boiling an egg or blow drying my hair.
On April 28, J accepted the offer I’d made for interim relief and custody. My lawyer assured me there was no need to attend court, that it wouldn’t be necessary. That night, I saw my lawyer’s unread email in my inbox. It told me J would be attending the read-in of our agreement. I felt obligated to attend as well.
I survived our first interaction in two and a half years. I survived our first outing as a family a few days later. I put the past where it belongs: the past. And then I kept going.
I used my lunch breaks to deal with my court-related meetings. I worked out every day. I made lunches. I went to work. I called friends. I maintained my freelance duties. As I’m known to do, I plugged on – desperately trying to outrun the inevitable.
But tonight it caught up.
F was mad at me, the way only a five-year-old can be mad. He was hangry, really, and upset that his balloon had deflated. I hate you, he muttered. You’re a terrible Mama. I know he doesn’t mean it. I continued to do my tricep extensions and squat reps while I watched the last 12 minutes of Criminal Minds. As I watched Jennifer Jareau marry William LaMontagne, it hit me.
I put my weights down. And then I crumpled.
It started as a low cry and got bigger and bigger until I almost couldn’t breathe between sobs. My body shook. I cried until my ribs hurt and my eyes ached and my head pounded.
F slowly walked to where I sat on the floor, head in my hands and trying to compose myself. Mama? he said, gently touching my shoulder. I love you, Mama. He wrapped his little arms around me and put my heart back together in half the time it took for me to fall apart. And then he reminded me that I had a Zumba workout to do.
“Because we need to exercise to be strong.”