January 18, 2019 by Jeremy Lanning
This is the story of the night my divorce tried to kill me. After 18 years and 3 children I found myself on the other side of a divorce. My wife was pursuing other interests and I got served with papers and a date for a temporary hearing. I was a full time dad, student, and caregiver to my family’s special needs. I was hands on.
I was asked to leave the house and I refused. That’s when my fight began. I stayed home with my children through the temporary hearing as I withstood false accusations, slander, and prolific mistreatment.
I moved out. I got an apartment nearby and with help from church folk I had a mattress, a vacuum, some kitchen supplies, a bunk bed, and a toddler bed. I got to keep a non-working crock pot and a broken television from 20 years of family life. These orders were temporary and I was going to see my kids in 7 days. In a decade I hadn’t gone more than 1 day without seeing them. I could do it. I had to.
I spent the week getting ready. I planned 9 hours of activities for 2 hours of Thursday “visitation.” You could say I was still stunned. To my shock, I was denied visitation. I was told that I had it wrong. “You can come back next Thursday, unless you have to work.” The door shut. I guess she didn’t hear me ask if I could just see them really quick.
I went 14 days without seeing my children. No contact at all. I was a shell of myself. My only salve was the hope of seeing them for two hours on a Thursday. Surely I can’t be expected to live and parent this way.
The following Thursday came and my apartment was in order. I was excited. I had new carpet. The kids had never lived with carpet. I know my kids. They were going to flip for the carpet. They were sharing a room and they had a bathroom to themselves. I decorated it with years of father’s day drawings.
I picked them up and I could hear a man in the background say something as the door shut. I was so excited. The children were like a pile of exploding firecrackers. All I could think of was two hours. We got to the apartment complex. I wanted them to know that I was okay, that they had a home with me too. I wanted the two hours to be as normal as possible. I showed them the pool on site. They went nuts. We got to the apartment. The clock was ticking. I had them take off their shoes. I opened the door and they saw the carpet and went stomping in. I was forgetful of the misery and the dread. For a moment I was hopeful.
I was shocked how hard it was to manage this two-hour period. It felt like I was on a game show. My plan evaporated and I decided to head back slowly and go for ice cream. I gathered my children as they waved by to the apartment and we headed back. As we sat at the ice cream shop I watched the clock. Still do it to this day. I had to cry a little in secret, over my shoulder.
I dropped them off to complaints that they were dirty. I drove home well under the speed limit. It was after 8pm and I decided to walk around Target until closing. My apartment didn’t seem so hopeful anymore.
When I finally entered my apartment the first thing I noticed was the inside of their bedroom. Once so full of life. Once a sign of what’s to come, now a sign of what has left. I started to sob. I ran to their bedroom and shut the door. 9 years later and it’s a practice I continue. When my kids are gone the door stays shut, except when I mistakenly check on them in the middle of the night. That’s rough.
It was then I noticed that I tracked some dirt onto the carpet. Still crying I got out my vacuum and went to work. As I was feverishly going back and forth I noticed a pristine footprint in the carpet. A child’s bare footprint. My hand was still moving the vacuum and in a fit of slow motion I noticed the vacuum rolling over the footprint before I could stop. It was gone.
I collapsed to the ground hitting my head on the wall. Trying to yell “no.” I couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. I crawled around searching for another footprint, any sign that would prove they were there. I couldn't open the bedroom door. I couldn't think. The vacuum was running, still devouring the footprint. I yanked the cord out of the wall and stood up. I was one decision away from being pain free.
It was a long, lonely, and scary night. At sun up I awoke a survivor and the father I am today. Those nights continue to this day but I wake up and take it because that’s what daddy’s do.
Jeremy J. Lanning is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Psychotherapist practicing in Fort Worth, TX and abroad, specializing in trauma, critical response, suicidality, addictions, and divorce recovery. Mr. Lanning has a BA and BS in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. In addition, Mr. Lanning served 8 years’ active duty military in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as a Hospital Corpsman. Jeremy is a father of four with extensive personal experience in divorce recovery and the fight for sensible, data driven, family court reform.