Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 10, 2009 Chapters:  ...41 42 -43- 44... 

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Richard and Valerie separate.

A chapter in the book A Leaf on the Wind

Living in a Fish Bowl

by Sasha

Sexually abused as a child Valerie grows up with a myriad of psychological issues. Nightmares, gaps in time, irational fears, past alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and severe depression are just a few exa
“Divorced men are more likely to meet their car payments than their child support obligations."
Susan Faludi

After Richard moved out, I was determined to stand on my own two feet and show him and everyone else that I could take care of myself.  Richard accepted responsibility for the girls and paid me $600 a month in child support.  He never missed a payment. He continued to be active in their lives and eagerly spent all his spare time with them. 

Going back to work was no longer a choice.  I found a job working as a secretary at a local hospital.  I dressed smartly and projected an air of confidence, appropriate for my position at the office.  But it was just a front.  Beneath the designer suits and professional demeanor lurked a terrified little girl convinced that at any minute she would be seen for what she really was, a fake.  I still couldn't type fast enough and my spelling was atrocious.  Because I had to type everything three or four times before I got it right, I started work earlier than my colleagues, and and stayed well after everyone had gone home.  Unaware of the real reason for my ‘excellent work’, my boss gave me a raise and, to my dismay, more responsibility. More work meant more hours.  The vicious circle had begun.

Forced to leave for work before the girls woke up, I phoned home at seven o'clock to make sure they were up.  Before leaving for work, I set the table, put a box of cereal out, and made sure there was fresh milk and orange juice in the refrigerator.  I always left lunch money on  the counter and sometimes, a treat for after school. 

After Richard left, I found myself faced with the responsibility of making repairs to the house.  For years, Richard insisted fixing the plumbing would cost a fortune.  However, all it required was one call to the plumber, and fifty dollars.  I then turned my attention to the broken window in the kitchen.  I measured the window, purchased the glass and installed it myself. I replaced the hardware on the cupboards in the kitchen and, inspired by my newfound love of the hammer, I built a deck in front of the house from a kit I purchased from the hardware store. Despite my efficiency with a hammer and saw, fixing the leaky roof in the bedroom was more than I could handle on my own. 

For twelve years, every time it rained, Richard removed several tiles from the ceiling looking for the source of the leak.  Eventually, he had removed every tile, leaving the bare wood beneath exposed completely.  When it rained, water poured through every crack between the boards.  Pots and pans covered the entire floor to catch the water.  When it rained, I had to get up several times at night just to empty the pans. 

The estimate for repairing the roof was over $1,200, more than I could afford.  Frustrated, I lay down on my bed staring up at the ceiling trying to figure out what to do. In the corner, a thin layer of black mold had started to form on the wall beside the window.  The rug in the bedroom had mildewed filling the room with a stench strong enough to make your eyes water.  Repairing the roof was out of the question.  I had to think of a temporary fix until I could afford the repairs. After considerable thought I came up with a terrific idea.

I scrubbed the walls with Lysol and shampooed the rug several times to remove the mildew and stains.  I purchased a large roll of thick heavy clear plastic, a heavy-duty staple gun, and bundle of three-foot long, two-inch wide, quarter inch thick wood lathe.  I stapled a single sheet of plastic along three sides of the ceiling, leaving the fourth side open.  To prevent water from seeping through, I nailed the lathe to the three closed sides to secure the edges.  I placed a large plastic garbage can beneath the open end of the plastic,  tied a five-foot long piece of thick cotton string to the end of a single strip of wood, and placed it in the center of the plastic.  The weight of the wood pulled the plastic down slightly and extended a few inches out over the edge, allowing the string to dangle down and over the garbage can.  When it rained, the water flowed across the plastic toward the open end, down the string and into the garbage can.  My neighbors were duly impressed.  I joked about buying several large gold fish to put into my giant homemade fishbowl. 

Unable to do more inside the house, I turned my attention to the yard.  I finished putting in the rockery Richard began years earlier.  I put gravel over the dirt pathway leading up to the front door and I built a second deck along the side of the house.  I planted a large vegetable garden that included lettuce, tomatoes, corn, peas, beans, squash and radishes.  I planted pumpkin in the flower garden for the neighborhood children to pick on Halloween. 

Tina and Sara were becoming more independent and challenging my authority constantly. They had always obeyed the rules and never questioned me. Their transformation from child to adolescent was normal but it created tremendous stress for me.  We constantly bickered over what time to be home, not making a mess, and what time to go to bed. We couldn't seem to agree on anything.  They complained to their father that I was too strict and to my dismay, Richard agreed with them. 

Every day I came home exhausted after working another ten or twelve hours.  Dinner always ended with a fight.  I was losing control but I didn't know what to do about it.  And, with Richard always taking their side, I felt I was also losing the battle. 

Talking to Richard was like hitting my head against a brick wall. He didn't care if the girls made their beds, put the dishes into the sink or went to bed before midnight. 

Frustrated, I complained that he was undermining my authority. 

"Richard, children need rules,” I beseeched. 

“They need structure in their lives. A child of ten is not old enough to understand this. It's a parent's job to make the hard decisions for them." 

Richard refused to listen. 

"The girls are old enough to know right from wrong,” Richard countered. “They know what we expect from them so now it is up to them to make the right choices." 

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. 

"You are insane! Neither Tina nor Sarah is old enough to know what is best for them. They are both still children." 

Talking to Richard was pointless. The girls preferred their father's easygoing, non-intrusive parenting style to my strict requirement that they follow the rules. Richard was fun to be with. I was the tyrant. 

Often, to prepare myself for the inevitable fight with the girls when I got home, I stopped at a local bar after work for a drink. What began as quick drink to relax a few nights a week, quickly turned into four or five doubles every night of the week.

Earned A Seal Of Quality

For the reader unfamailiar with Valerie, it is important to know she does not handle stress well. She sufferes from psychologal damage from a childhood of horrendous abuse. In many ways, she is still a child, forced to live in an adult body in an adult world.
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