by choice and by chance

I recently found an entire album of forgotten photographs. Most of them chronicle my daughter’s earliest years in this world, capturing moments when she was being held in the arms of those who love her most, who feel for her the hardest, and who struggle with the idea of growing up and growing older and growing old.

In those photographs are depressing days that I just could not shake off.  My eyes are stoic but I’m smiling and playing along because that’s what she needed.  Those first cracks at making emotional sacrifices, of being a mom and begging for it all to get better, are caught on film in my attempts to do everything right, even when everything felt so desperately, dreadfully wrong.

***

The first round of custody papers were served to me while I was at work, during the busiest time of the day. The sheriff’s deputy held the clipboard for me and tried to steady the paperwork while I signed my name with shaking hands.  The knot in my stomach told me what was inside the envelope.  I think the deputy knew, too.  He simply said, in a genuinely apologetic voice, “I’m sorry.”  Elle was only five months old and somehow, in my core, I knew…this is only the beginning.

I’ve been through the court system three times and have come to know very well the personalities of two separate family court judges. I keep a lawyer on retainer just so when yet another deputy shows up and hands me an envelope, I’m as prepared as I can be. Every dime I earn and pass on to someone else makes me feel guilty, makes me feel like I should be saving it instead and getting prepared for Round 4. I want to know when I’m allowed to make a life for myself and my daughter without having to look over my shoulder.

***

So that’s how our lives can be altered in less than a minute.  Sometimes even with an entire lobby of hotel guests watching your world collapse and give way, fall down and cave in, crumble to pieces…whatever words you want to use to describe such an event. It all ends in a bad day with a court summons.

Sadly, this is the moment I remember when I look at Elle’s baby pictures.  That moment, in a hotel lobby, when I finally grew up and, for the first time in my daughter’s life, I felt like her mother.  And I knew from that day forward, I was all she had. It was that day when I went home to her and held her tighter than possibly any other moment in her life. It was also the day that I finally started to believe that my own worth and happiness stood a fighting chance against all those outside elements, against all of those who spoke critically of me and what I was capable of. 

Because my kid kicks more ass than they ever will.

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