A couple weeks after the divorce in January 2008, the ex-wife packed up and moved from Texas to Maryland with Abby. Within that short period of time, it felt like my world had folded in on itself, crushing the very life out of me. For weeks I couldn’t sleep, eat or function. I grew bitter. It seemed like things were never going to be the same. During the separation the previous year, I would see Abby every other weekend and every Tuesday. I looked forward to those days like one in solitary confinement seeks sunshine. The schedule wasn’t ideal, as I would have liked to see her more, but at that time, it was enough. But now I was going to have to make it work, being 1,500 miles away from each other and communicating through Skype? This abrupt life adjustment turned to poison quickly and without warning. It felt like something in me had become unhinged.
I vaguely recall one day I had a bought a bottle of Jim Beam and started on it early in the day. My old man had noticed my off-putting behavior post-divorce and decided he’d visit me just to see how I was doing. He could clearly see I was a mess. Not like the mess you see in movies where the quirky yet comedic actor sways as he stands, slurring his speech as he speaks of nothing important. No, my father walked in on what looked like the day after a hedonism festival of rhinos pumped with meth and unleashed in a room no bigger than a New York City studio apartment. Empty beer cans and bottles collected next to the sink. Cartons upon cartons worth of cigarette butts scattered around the yard. He could see the distressed look on his son’s face and decided to spend the day (and night) on the couch with me. He didn’t say much, as he didn’t really need to, and occasionally passed me a barf bag as I slipped further down the rabbit hole of incoherence and Charlie Chaplin-like motor skills. My father went home the next day but not before telling me that things were going to be okay. I gave him a hungover nod and he left.
I think about that now and wonder how hard it must have been on him to watch his son’s resolve deteriorate so quickly. After what was clearly a costly divorce, both financially and mentally, he could see it had broken me. Or perhaps he doesn’t remember. I’m catching up with him in May and I’m going to ask him if he remembers. I kind of hope he doesn’t…I would actually find that uncontrollably and uncomfortably hilarious!
Nearing the end of February 2008, I booked my first flight to Maryland to see Abby. I booked my stay at the Double Tree Hotel in Annapolis, just a few miles away from her. I was so excited to see her. Up until that point, it was the longest period of time we’d ever been apart. We spent one day in Baltimore and the following day together at the Annapolis mall. It was just the 2 of us. And even though it rained the whole time, it felt like sunshine to me.
When the weekend ended and it was time to return her to her mother’s, it felt like I got a piece of my sanity back. I wanted to see myself acclimating again successfully and accept this as the new norm. This was going to be an adjustment period…for both of us. But it was going to be okay. It would be another 5 incredibly difficult months before I’d see Abby again in person, on her 5th birthday. Which is a story for another time.
Last Saturday night, we sat on the couch and watched Fargo. As Abby rested her head on my shoulder, constantly complaining about the Minnesota accent through the whole fucking movie, I had one of those “We’ve come a long way” moments. Things aren’t by any means perfect when it comes to my daughter coming over to spend time with her old man. But this situation is certainly much better than it was a decade ago.
Sometimes her complaining gets to me. But she still manages to make me smile, which is an impressive feat. She finds the most insignificant things irritating, and in turn I find THAT to be incredibly irritating. But when I can slow the moment down and compare it to the volume of bullshit I had to go through years prior, the sounds of her complaints become music and I squeeze her a little tighter…just enough to shut her up.