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Empty Nest

April 24, 2009 - Michael Palmer
As I opened the door this evening the dogs rushed in past me and disturbed one of Zoey’s toys still sitting on the floor. The tinny sounds of its electronic tune split the silence of the empty house. In a Pavlovian response, my eyes scanned the living room for her wide eyes and smiling face, but I knew she was not there and my heart sank.

My wife, a wise woman, had foretold me of this day in early September of last year, “You know we can’t get attached, she will be leaving us some day,” she had warned. As I sat in my yellow gown and stared at the little pink wrinkled lady that fit neatly along the length of my forearm, I knew it was already too late.

It reminded me of when her mother was born, our first daughter, she was indeed a little princess. I think that perhaps we had done something wrong while raising her that made her blind to the abuse she endures. You always think somewhere in the back of your mind that when a child turns out to be a troublemaker, a dropout, a drug abuser or worse, that the parents must be to blame. Perhaps in this case it is also true, that our well intended actions, which we justified as helping our daughter and grandchild, were in fact enabling her abuser.

This tale all began some time ago, after finishing her freshman year at the commuter college, our daughter was ready to move on to a campus. She chose Rio Grande and there met her husband. The two of them got an off campus apartment and were going to work part-time to pay their rent. As it turned out, she neither worked or attended classes, and subsequently was locked out of the apartment. Mom and Dad went to the rescue and paid the back rent so they could reclaim their belongings.

It was when we loaded the car with their clothes and wanted to help them move into his parent’s house that we began to fear something was terribly wrong. Her boyfriend, Zach, became extremely agitated and began sobbing in a disturbing manner, which he said was due to his parents being dead set against any strangers visiting their home and told us that we were forbidden to go onto their property, even if it was just to drop off their clothes and drive away.

We left for home amidst promises that our daughter was going to return to classes. While trying to reach her through the college we were disappointed to hear that she was not registered for the next term and in addition, that campus security revealed that they had a rather large file on her new love.

That fact aside, while living with his parents, Zach wore out his welcome and after a few brawls with his brothers, he was asked to leave.

That was when our daughter first brought Zach into our home. He was ill quite often, with bouts of coughing, nausea and gagging followed by the increasingly more frequent temper tantrums. He had begun to feel more comfortable here and his true character was beginning to show through the charade of ‘normal’ behavior.

The first real trouble came because he was still a member of a rock band in Jackson, Ohio, which was a four-hour drive, had no car and no money for gas and was extremely irate about missing rehearsal. He began to panic and this elevated into an angry temper tantrum. After some pleading from my daughter, I was talked into funding the trip. This turned out to be the first deception, their plan all along had been to leave that Friday, because Zach was feeling uncomfortable here and needed to go back home to see his doctor about some new medicine and get help for his problem. Therefore, they packed up and off they went.

This time they were headed for his grandma’s house in South Vienna, near Springfield. Despite not seeking new medicine or counseling, they did pretty well there for a while, she gave them help in finding good jobs and they moved into an apartment. It was then she requested help from her mother to get married. It seems that she had become pregnant and wanted to get legit. While in the planning stages, Zach got into an altercation with a fellow employee and pushed him down some stairs. “It wasn’t his fault, this guy was provoking him, he just defended himself and he got the blame.”

So, like good little parents, we footed the bill, the entire bill - with the exception of the cake. They got married and then came the phone call, “I can’t work any more because I am too pregnant, our apartment manager is an idiot and - long story short - I want to come back home to have the baby.” So, like good little grandparents, we again opened our home to her and Mr. Personality.

We had to provide them with all of their food and personal items while they applied for government assistance and awaited their unemployment. Things went along dysfunctional well, through the last months of the pregnancy. We got her in with our family doctor and found an OB/GYN, her and mom went shopping for baby things and we tried to ignore the problems.

Following Zoey’s birth, the problems escalated again when it became time for Zach to get a job. This is not something he wanted to do, every hire quickly turned into no callbacks, and no hours as his wild behavior and mood swings ended job after job. This caused tension between the two young lovers, the first battle broke out, and the Sheriff was called.

His father would have been so proud to see his pupil smooth over the whole incident, quickly shifting from Mr. Hyde back into the persona of a lovey-dovey Dr. Jekyll. He was all-apologetic and begging forgiveness, it was sickening to witness. My daughter bought it hook, line and sinker. He promised again to get some new medicine; the old one has always made him feel weird, sick to his stomach or prevented him from thinking straight. He went down to the metal health clinic and had one appointment, my daughter relaxed back into the relationship as usual and Zach stopped the medication and never attended another session.

He then began to invite his macabre entourage to come and visit him. His brother, sister and a girl he had worked with at Cedar Point. They were just coming to visit for a few days with a sob story about having nowhere else to stay and no one to turn to. If I ever decide to get a tattoo, perhaps SUCKER inked across my forehead would be appropriate. She will get some money from her mom and give it to us for rent and to help with the grocery bill. His brother will give us some money when his dad gets the check from the big carpet job they did together. It may be unnecessary to note here that to this date we have not seen as much as one thin dime from any of these deadbeats.

The 2009 tax season came and when they found out that they were receiving $4000 in rebates, the new plan hatched. We are moving to an apartment and Zach’s other brother is coming to stay with us because he has nowhere to stay because -insert some lame hard luck story here. They were going to get jobs and they would live there through the summer.

Well we have come full circle, Zach and his brother got into two fights, Zach did the whole threatening to burn himself alive in my car performance and in waltzes his grandma to rent a truck and provide him yet another avenue to escape his responsibilities.

Today, the sheriff came to my door with a court document that will have Zach up before a judge in Muskingum County for failure to pay child support. Yeah, that is right, he has bred before and has a daughter in Zanesville that he also has no intention of supporting. I know by now there must be dozens of ladies reading this that are thinking, wow, what a catch this guy is, how can I get his phone number. But, I digress.

It is still way too quiet here, Zoey’s high chair sits beside the kitchen table with an empty sippee cup and a few stale cheerios scattered across the tray. I will reluctantly clean them off and shed a few tears as I pack it away. The next time I see her she may be too big for it.

I will pick up her toys and put them in a box, take down her swing from the front porch and fold up her changing station. She still has a few outfits here that will be carefully folded and packed in hopes that she will return to wear them again before outgrowing them.

Tonight as I do this, I must also live in fear that the man who so abused his own children will smugly celebrate his son’s spirit killing victory over my daughter by giving Zoey a night-night kiss while the woman who stood by him as he subsequently tortured her own offspring tucks takes the next generation and tucks her into bed. I shudder to think that this time it is my daughter who has forsaken her own child and stands idly by as her daughter is subjected to the same cruel environment for the sake of saving her marriage. An abusive relationship with a man whose own psychologist told her was "incapable of love" as we define it.

I would like to take a quick moment here to thank our friends and coworkers for their support, prayers, advice and most of all just listening and being there for us this week. It has been a comfort and I am anxious for my wife's return tomorrow so I guess I had better get back to work. Maybe I can get three hours of sleep tonight.

 
 

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