I open up my mailbox, the one in front of my new home I have lived in for almost two years. This is the home I will never have to move from. I share the 30 year mortgage with something called The Land Trust, which helps people like me who never thought they could ever own their own home. I still half-expect a bossy landlord to show up someday to tell me I need to move out or pay more money or not have animals or not dance in my living room or not whatever, but that’s never going to happen now.
I love to go straight home from work as soon as possible, excited and awed, opening the front door to my sanctuary with my house key that has Tinkerbelle on it. My home is a long ranch called a Sears Craftsman Chalet. It was built in 1955 and so is two years old than I am. It has a huge private yard, an attached garage, a shop out back, three bedrooms, an office - laundry room, a fridge where you can get ice and water from the outside of its door, and bright wood floors that glow orange in the sunlight.
Clear, round vases of peacock, turkey and hawk feathers are mixed in among the live plants in the front room. Though there is no sofa, there are four comfortable old chairs filled with pillows. A wrought iron footstool covered in tiger stripes sits in front of one chair.
Over the fireplace hangs my street sign I found on the lawn of the Egg Castle when I lived in Naples, Italy for three years. The long yellow sign says ROMA VIA in plain black letters. It had been broken in half by someone, apparently in order to get it off its pole. Smaller letters still say the sign is pointing to the Appian Way, which is the oldest road leading to Rome. I was always told, “All Roads Lead To Rome.” I got the sign when I was a young teenager and, in every house I have lived in since, I have always hung it pointing east toward Italy.
The fireplace mantle is an altar, and is covered with treasures. In the very center is my St Bridget’s cross, woven of grass. It was made in Ireland exactly like the ones my ancestors had on their own mantles, ready to toss into the fire if enemy soldiers came to arrest them for practicing their faith in their own homes.
A delicate and rare blue butterfly – a real one - sits lightly on one end of the mantle. My older son gave it to me for one Mother’s Day. A few years later, he had to steal the butterfly back from his father who bellowed at him. My son then gave me the butterfly again, on another Mother’s Day. He apologized for not being able to give me something better and I told him it was perfect. A row of Chinese warrior statues stands guard next to the butterfly.
A great sculpture, a regal head, weighs down the other end of the mantle, and it was a Christmas gift from my younger son. Its somber, intense eyes remind me of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. But this bust is that of a White Bison, a marble-colored American Buffalo from the Native American prophecy that foretold these days as the Coming Together Time, a time of healing for all people.
Covering the longest wall in my living room is a dark brown bison hide that was another gift. It was given to me to soak, soften, preserve and respect. Prayer streams of horsetail hair, chunks of turquoise, thin rainbowed abalone, and my silver Celtic cross flow down her soft back with long leather laces, white and peacock blue. An Ojibwa shaman named Shini told me the hide is an old mother cow bison who was killed too young, and that her tears are drying up because she is now cared for. She was from a Montana reservation. Her name is Tatanka.
Above the front door, near a wall covered with photos of people I love, is a dried leafy branch from a Sundance ceremonial tree, its pale leaves revealing a straw Mexican crucifix woven with Christ hanging on the Tree of Life.
As I stand by my mailbox, I can see into my home through my large picture windows. It is lovelier than the beloved antique dollhouse I had as a child. Inside, enormous houseplants taller than me and delicate Japanese blinds fill the picture windows, framed by the tall cedars outside. Next to my front walk, my birdbath is filled with cool water. I love my home. I love my job. I love my life and I am happy.
My mailbox is an aluminum tube inside of a tall brick protector shaped like an arched cathedral door, the kind of brick structure built in the 1950’s to keep neighborhood kids from knocking over curbside mailboxes with baseball bats. I reach in and find my mail. A thin postcard addressed to me in my former married name informs me that a registered letter awaits me at the post office.
Only… my name is written in the wrong way that only my ex-husband uses.
I realize the postcard warns of a new legal assault from him that will soon begin in the form of a registered letter. I have always lost horribly each time he has used the courts to try to hurt me.
Hot fear floods my body and I freeze. My new life in my new home is about to explode like an unexpected mail bomb.
I stand very still in the street and am slowly filled with memories of transformative moments when this house became home:
…..I was signing papers at closing. Half-way through the stack -- something shifted in the room, like the planet paused in preparation to start turning the other way.... like uphill was plateauing in preparation for downhill.... and the light seemed to get dramatically clearer and brighter. It was a profound moment when this life-long Army brat traveler finally became deeply rooted - right in the middle of the process of signing for a home of my own, a beautiful family home…
….I picked up the keys and took my 16 year old son over to go inside our new home - the first time he had been inside. He was in awe. He kept slowly turning and looking, saying: "I can't believe this! This is OURS?!?" Finally he ran around excitedly, hugged me, and then he jumped over to the fridge and grabbed it. He stood there HUGGING the new fridge! He told me, "I have ALWAYS dreamed of having a fridge that lets you get water and ice from outside the door! Ever since I saw the one at MB's house" where we hid out after our escape more than ten years ago….
…..I was watching two of my children take apart my antique and very complicated bed. It is a tall, spindled canopy that almost touches the ceiling, put together with bolts and not a single nail. My bed, bought after a near-death car accident, is made of black antique teak from Thailand. It is a square platform bed that I have to climb up into, like a little girl. It is covered with a multicolored canopy of long fringes and colored squares woven together to hang over an African king’s throne. I told the children I needed to learn to take apart my bed myself. They sent me off to work on moving something else as my daughter said "No, you don't! Your bed will never need to be taken apart again! You will never need to move again!" That is the moment it finally really hit me that I had a permanent home for the first time of my life, for the rest of my life, and for my children…
…..I woke up in the middle of the first night after the move, my prayer beads still wrapped loosely around my hand and wrist. I opened my eyes and wondered what country I was in - Italy ? France? Then it hit me that I was in my own bed and in my own HOME in Oregon…
I come back to NOW. I go inside the house and lie down on top of my bed. The next morning, after a little sleep, I get up early. I ignore my panicky impulse to ignore the registered letter. I need to know what is in the letter. Now.
I drive to the Post Office warehouse, wait in a closed box lobby and ring a plastic doorbell. I wait. I read and re-read the only sign a million times. It is hand-written: “WE HEAR YOU! DO NOT RING THE BELL MORE THAN ONCE! WE WILL ANSWER AS SOON AS WE ARE ABLE! WE ARE BUSY OR ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING.” I wait some more. I ring the bell again, almost expecting to see the guard from the gate of the Emerald City pop his head out to yell at me.
When the heavy gray metal door finally does open, I am given the registered letter. I stare at it as I walk back to my truck with it in my hand. I am afraid to open it. My life is about to change and I feel it throughout my whole body. I can’t open the letter alone and yet I can’t wait.
I climb into my dark green-black truck which is the shimmery color of a crow. I carefully shut the door and sit. I try to think.
I decide to call someone in my family. Except for my children, everyone in my family lives at least three thousand miles away. I can’t decide who to call. Mom and Daddy are the people I really, really need to talk to, but they have suddenly become too elderly to lean on and their minds are now clouded with growing dementia. They can no longer support me in tough times and I do not want to bring them bad news.
So I decide to call my two younger brothers, John and Mike, to see which one might be free for a few minutes at work, and I call. We have become much closer than ever. I love them, and now, because of what we are struggling through to help our folks, I trust them like I trust few other people. Mike happens to be the one who answers. He listens as I open the registered letter and together we discover I am being sued for almost eighty thousand dollars and climbing interest.
I do not owe my ex-husband this money and I had thought we were done with War.
I begin shaking and burst into tears. I see no answer, no fairness and I panic. The letter makes it clear that my ex-husband and his attorney expect me to pay this money to my ex-husband. It means it will be taken from any income I get in the future and that I can be forced to live on minimum wage until this impossible amount of money is paid to Him. It will take the rest of my life. It means I will not be able to afford house or car payments and will lose both. It means I will be forced to support Him in his old age instead of supporting myself.
Each time my ex-husband dragged me into court, I did not have resources to defend myself and so I lost everything. I assume I will also lose this new battle, again losing my home and my vehicle to Him, the same way I lost my old home, my old vehicle and my children to Him years ago. I am used to losing everything to Him and, yet, I still go into shock.
I faintly hear my brother tell me this kind of surprise attack is called Shock and Awe.
I try not to roll down into ball on the front seat, holding my body in the truck, afraid I will slide out the door melting onto the hot asphalt clutching the tiny cell phone against my ear triggered back into a trauma fog that can swallow me up into paralysis.
I can’t hear my brother’s words anymore. Mike’s angry, protective tone hums in the background behind my wild screaming thoughts that slowly turn into a soft breathless wail: Where is God and why am I so alone in this again What will this do to my children I do not owe this money Why won’t my ex-husband just die or go away Leave me the F!!! alone or just die How could I be so stupid as to believe he would ever give up, ever stop his assaults I never got alimony We were starving My home will not earn equity I have minimal Social Security available I am 53 years old and just now beginning to save a little retirement money out of my paycheck I had to spend the retirement from my first job after the divorce when laid off How the hell can such unfair unethical shit happen again to ruin my life again just because he is a vengeful and hateful fucked up murderous genius with no mission in life anymore but to return to ruin me for the final time How can I live through another life and death battle with Him again but I have to for my children my children my children I am afraid that this time I will give up or that he will finally carry out his years of promises to kill me....
Maybe I can just sign my beautiful home and my beautiful truck over to him, go become homeless in Arizona where I won’t get rained on, where everyone gets medical care, and where, after he finally squeezes the last dime out of my rebuilt life, he can’t find me to kill me.
Maybe I won't.
I shift the truck into gear, and prepare to drive to my job.
(c) Kelly Fitzpatrick