Triggers. I hate triggers.

Monday was my birthday and I was winding down the day. Like most of my birthdays, I try to keep things low key. I still woke up early and went to work, and after work I did my usual routine of going out to eat with a friend.

The only gift I was given was a piece of French Silk Pie courtesy of O’Charley’s. Arriving home afterward, I hopped on the computer for some gaming, then I remembered that I had bills to write out.

Dutifully balancing my register, I went outside to put the bills in the mail. Oops, I forgot to check the mail when I got back! I sifted through the stack of mostly junk mail when I laid eyes on it.

A card. The only birthday card I had received for my birthday. A birthday card from my former mother-in-law.

It was the first card I had gotten from her since 2 Christmases ago; in that letter, she merely said, “We love you and miss you.” Unlike that one, this new mail I didn’t even read; it was immediately torn up, still in its envelope, and thrown in the trash. I could feel the anger start to swell up. And that pretty much ruined what would have been a contented birthday for me.

That sounds pretty harsh to most people, I know. Who doesn’t like getting a card?

Well, the origin of my rage started nearly 3 years ago. I was in the midst of my divorce, my marriage of 12 years slowly fading away. I had known in my gut for months there had been someone else, and I got onto my ex’s computer to confirm.

And confirm I did. I confirmed even more than my gut had been screaming at me about. I confronted the other guy. I confronted my ex. And I confronted my mother-in-law.

She had always told me how much she liked me from the first time she had met me. How I was like the son she never had. Yet when confronted, she was avoidant.

She didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I was hoping that, as the mother of my cheating soon-to-be-ex, she could talk some sense into her or, at the very least, instill some consequences. But my mother-in-law wasn’t hearing any of that. She claimed she couldn’t read my texts through her tears and logged off.

It was the lowest point of my life. My wife, the woman I loved, the one person I had placed all of my trust into, who knew my past, my goals, my fears, everything about me, had stabbed me in the back. I realized that I had no clue who she really was.

I had moved to this state for her, leaving a job that I liked for one that I didn’t, all so that she could be close to her parents. The entire time she was cheating, we moved, conceived our son, bought a house; then, when we found out our son was Autistic, bought another house.

We went on cruises. I thought we were on the same page. We weren’t even reading the same book. Not even the same genre.

And I, I had no one else. No family. Few friends. Not even enemies. Like my best friend from 6th grade who threw me in the dumpster randomly one day, I was discarded by my wife in the most callous way possible.

And my mother-in-law. Yes, that one, the one who said I was the son she’d never had. The one that keeps sending the odd card; she discarded me too.

Not with words, but by actions. The day I confronted her with her daughter’s cheating was the last time I communicated with her. So I guess if she really did have a son, she would ignore him too during the hardest thing he ever had to endure.

I deleted her from my Facebook. After 3 weeks of crickets from her, Father’s Day rolled around. She must have got on to wish me well and noticed I had removed her as a friend.

She didn’t even ask me what was wrong, she merely replied “?”. That’s all I got from her after 14 years. 3 weeks of silence, then a fucking question mark. So I told her why I unfriended her (3 weeks of crickets), thanked her for everything, then blocked her completely.

I disowned my own mother and father when I was 19. My mother evicted me from the house I was renting from her because I let my estranged father stay there while we were reconciling. My father and I were estranged because my mother accused my father of trying to kidnap me and my siblings, all the while telling us that dad had really kicked us out of the house.

She even had her lawyer draft up an eviction notice and post it on the door. Not that dad was any better. I stayed with him for a few weeks, living in a drug and cockroach infested motel until mom went after him for $18k in back child support. Then he decided to bail, not caring that I would be unable to afford the motel by myself.

I was fortunate to run into the mother of an old friend just before dad left, and she let me stay at her place for a few months while I got on my feet. But she was destitute, and the only money she had was what I was giving her for the room. Then I found a super cheap mobile home to rent and ventured out on my own.

But I never had a safety net. If I was late on rent (which happened once), I had no one to bail me out. I had to make it work, or I would be out on the street again.

So I did. I couldn’t afford to fail. And while it builds character, that, plus all of the abandonment in my life, left deep emotional and psychological scars.

And that’s what bubbled up when I saw that postcard on my birthday. It wasn’t just my former mother-in-law’s betrayal. It was her, and my wife, and my mom, and my dad, and my former best friends (plural), and an old girlfriend, and everybody else that had abandoned me.

Everything, again, and all at the same time. Yet here they are, making passive gestures, putting it on ME to respond. “See, I reached out to him. He didn’t respond. What’s his problem?”

Do you want to know what my problem is? This card, this reaching out was for HER, not ME. She knows why I stopped talking to her, but she’s too much of a coward to directly confront it.

My mother did the same thing on another birthday of mine. She sent me a package with a DVD set of an old cartoon I liked growing up. No message; no card. Just the DVD set.

After an entire childhood of being neglected, emotionally abused, gaslit, playing second fiddle to her lovers and her drugs, I wasn’t owed an apology. Apparently, a $19.99 DVD set was all I was owed.

The night I got the package, I vented. I wrote like I’ve never written before, typing up 8 pages, single-spaced; how fucked up my childhood was, how she fucked me up, how she fucked all of my siblings up, how she fucked several other entire FAMILIES up by being the other woman to different men, and reminding her about the eviction notice she put on my door many years before. I reminded her that ***I*** wasn’t the one who stopped talking to her.

SHE evicted ME, not the other way around. And that’s how I felt with my former mother-in-law. After 14 years of being “like a son” to her, she totally neglects me. Just like my real mother, my real father. Just like my best friends. Just like everybody else.

And that right there is the source of my anger. Growing up I was picked on constantly. My dad barely saw us after the divorce while my mom became adept at letting me and my siblings know that we were the cause of her destitution. Once, when my mom was going through a particularly druggie phase, most of us did end up with my dad, but it was only for half a year or so until she pulled the kidnapping stunt; my dad never fought for us after that.  I guess he believed we weren’t worth it.

After the made-up kidnapping stunt, I stayed with a friend, then my uncle, then I was forced to go back to my mom. All throughout my life, I feel like I’ve only been tolerated. Never loved. Never a priority to anybody.

And the same thing happened during my divorce. When I revealed the cheating to people, most made me out to be the bad guy, not my ex. My reaction to her cheating was what was wrong, not her cheating.

All of her family and almost all of our mutual friends sided with her. Even some people I went on play-dates with started avoiding me. Maybe they thought divorce was contagious, or I would start hitting in their wives. Maybe I just wanted someone, ANYONE, to talk to. To vent to. Someone to tell me I would be ok.

But I didn’t have that. No one checked in with me to make sure I didn’t have a gun in my mouth, or was drinking myself to death, or had a pulse. I’m not important enough to them. They couldn’t be bothered.

I know now that no matter what happens in my life, I will be ok. After being thrown in the proverbial dumpster by so many people my entire life, I keep rising out of the detritus, like a Trash-Phoenix. And I only keep getting better.

But then again, all of the other times my life has been turned upside down, the times my heart and my world have been destroyed, I didn’t know I would be ok. And it felt like no one cared. If you really want to connect with me, TALK to me. ASK me how I’m doing. OFFER me help, even if I don’t need it. Don’t TELL me that you love me and care about me, SHOW me, because words are empty without actions.

So you can take your cards and shove them.

Joel Nordness
Joel Nordness currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana and does IT for a living. He thinks about Autism, Aviation, and divorce way too much, but writes about these a lot less than he wants to. In his free time, he slowly works on his memoir, flies around in his airplane, and dreams about starting his own rocket company.

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