Editor’s note: The following essay is by a Lovefraud reader who writes under a pseudonym.
By Quinn Pierce
This isn’t exactly the interview I had prepared for. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t an interview I even knew how to prepare for. All I knew was that somewhere along the way, my life had taken a detour without any warning. Looking back, it’s almost embarrassing how many warning signs there actually were, but in context, they were seemingly harmless acts that built up over time to construct the house of cards my life had become. But I didn’t want to think about that at the moment, all I wanted was to get this over with, and go home.
The waiting room was the perfect compliment to my mood. My stomach turned and twisted as I looked around the neglected, dingy, claustrophobic room. I felt a wave of embarrassment tinged with shame as I shifted in my seat. I sat on a cold metal folding chair clutching the file of papers I had now come to think of as ‘my life in print.’ A year ago, I proudly carried my photography portfolio everywhere I went, showing potential clients and interested onlookers my favorite photographs compiled in one treasured, leather bound, professional photo album engraved with my name in gold leaf. Now, a slightly worn, pink file folder with my initials scribbled in pencil accompanied me everywhere. And instead of beautiful portraits and custom business cards, I carried my preliminary divorce decree, proof of identity, amended tax returns, and various receipts and pay stubs. All of this was required for today’s meeting — the final step of the application for food stamps.
A little girl, about five years old, played on the floor next to her mother who was busy nursing a colicky infant causing the stress level in the room to surpass the industrial-gray ceiling tiles. I hadn’t made eye contact with anyone in the room up to this point, but I felt a maternal need to help this young mother, and connecting with children was much easier. I hastily drew a picture of a cartoon animal on the back of my folder and showed it to the little girl. She looked up at the picture and smiled; she was perfectly comfortable and at ease. I was grateful for the distraction.
Meeting the caseworker
When the interviewer called my name, I cringed a bit before following her into the little cubicle of the social services office. Something about hearing my name announced made me want to hide, but I held my head as high as I could and prepared to tell my case worker how it had come to pass that I desperately needed help feeding my family. It seemed ironic that as soon as I reclaimed my dignity by ending the sixteen-year marriage to someone who turned out to be the opposite of everything I thought he was, I felt as though bits and pieces of this newfound dignity were being broken off at every pass.
After a brief, and somewhat impersonal introduction, the caseworker ran through the list of questions that now sounded very familiar to my ears. My answers, however, still sounded foreign as I outlined my life for this stranger while trying to sound self-reliant and in need of assistance at the same time. Pride had long since left the building. I always said I would do whatever I needed to in order to take care of my children, but that is easy to say from the comfort of the leather seats in your customized luxury SUV.
I tried to make small talk with my interviewer. She was nice enough, but I could see she wanted to waste no time with a waiting room full of appointments. Her movements were well practiced and efficient as she typed information, took notes, reviewed paperwork and jumped up every so often to retrieve something from the printer. I could only assume her conversational sympathy had run out years earlier after listening to thousands of applicants as they chose from the standard list of reasons as to how they ended up here, holding out their hand for help. I heard my own voice trail off when the caseworker glanced over with the ‘whatever you say’ look. She continued with her monotone questioning. At this point, most of the conversation took place in my head, and I started to find comfort in this small escape. I realized my tone started to match hers as I answered: I have two children they are nothing like their father; I’m unemployed because my husband fired me from the business I helped him run for 12 years; I have a master’s degree yes, I should have been smart enough to know better; I own my home for the moment, anyway, but I’m already a month behind on my mortgage…
And on and on it went as I tried to sound convincing that this was not the lowest point of my life. And in reality, it truly wasn’t. The condescending stares and pointed questions concerning the circumstances of my life were just more of the never-ending fallout of being married to a man with no conscience, no remorse, and no empathy. I was just beginning to take back control from someone who had no intentions of relinquishing that control. As painful as it was to apply for food stamps that day, I knew in my heart it was a much healthier choice for me and my children than to stay within the financial security of an abusive relationship. In the end, however, I would only receive $16 per month to help feed my boys. I think I spent more than that on gas driving an hour away for these scheduled appointments, so this experience would do little to help me assert my independence.
And as for embarrassing, food stamps were nothing compared to realizing you spent most of your adult life unaware you were being manipulated, controlled, and abused. I spent a long time living in silence. I couldn’t stand listening to other people who constantly complained about their spouses and always seemed to invite drama in their lives. I believed it wasn’t right to share my problems with friends and family, and that would later come back to bite me. I knew my divorce would be difficult, but I would soon find out this was to be a much bigger battle than I could have imagined. No one knew about the ‘secrets’ in our home, no one knew I was unhappy or that the boys were suffering. I would be portrayed as crazy for destroying my marriage and causing irreparable damage to my children. I was about to discover the sobering consequences of divorcing a sociopath.