I always said that if any of my partner ever got violent, I would not stay with him. I had become accustomed to physical and emotional abuse at an early age, but although I knew that I couldn’t tolerate physical abuse anymore, the emotional abuse was harder to recognize. Maybe I was also a bit naïve thinking, and hoping, that things could change. But things were getting worse between me and Paul. We mostly didn’t speak much to each other except for working on our music together and avoided even spending any time together. I had given up and just wanted peace, so I withdrew. Then the one day I did engage in an argument, and he pushed me up against the wall with his hands wrapped around my throat, screaming at me. I packed up my kids, got in the car and started driving. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew I had to get out of the house. I drove to a nearby lake, parked the car and turned around to Jes. “Give me a cigarette,” I said. “What? I don’t smoke,” was her reply. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “This is not the time to play games, just give me a cigarette.” She recognized that look and reached into her purse. It was the first cigarette I’d had in many years, and it was perfect. It gave me time to think.
I took the kids to our friends’ home and went back to confront Paul. He was upset and kept apologizing over and over again. He promised it would never happen again. I told him that if he wanted me to come back home, he had to agree to counseling this time, and he did. We found someone in Albany that we could see weekly. After our first session, she remarked that we had brought her an already dead marriage. Her advice was to start from scratch by going on dates with certain ground rules. We weren’t allowed to talk about music business or our family, and no sex afterwards. Paul insisted that it wasn’t possible to date because we had no money for that. She replied that it could be simply a walk together or sitting by the fire in the backyard. It was about getting to know each other again. But he still wasn’t having it. He explained that we had a small child that couldn’t be left alone. Meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, “We have a baby monitor and older kids.” I explained that to him and suggested that if we were in the yard, it would be fine. If we wanted to go out somewhere, Jes would surely be willing to babysit. When he ran out of excuses, he agreed.
A week went by. At the next appointment, and the counselor asked how our date went. Paul spoke right up, regaling her with an elaborate tale of our date walking down the road to the little stream then sitting by the fire watching the stars. “It was wonderful,” he said. I sat there staring at him wide-eyed and confused. Our counselor noticed my expression and turned to me asking if I had gone on the same date. But we hadn’t actually had a date. Every time I had asked Paul about it, he put it off. When confronted with the truth in that session, he blamed me. He insisted that he felt emasculated by me always trying to run the show. The assignment for the next week was for me to not say anything but wait for his initiative. I agreed. The ride home was horrendous. He screamed at me during the entire time wanting to know why I couldn’t have just backed him up. It made him look like a fool. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to waste our money on a fruitless endeavor. Why go to a counselor if we weren’t going to listen to her advice? I didn’t want to spend money for him to lie to her.
A week went by with no date. On the way into the next appointment, Paul asked me to just go along with whatever he said. Again, he told a fanciful tale of our romantic evening together. This time, I turned and asked him who he went on this date with. The counselor just sighed and asked me to stay behind at the end of the session. She told me that there was no hope of saving the relationship and offered to counsel me alone if I wanted that. I accepted her offer and went out to tell Paul. Once again, he yelled all the way home, and I knew it was the end. I worked with the counselor long enough to realize that psychological and emotional abuse was as damaging to me as the physical abuse and started looking ahead. I was now back to working at The Free School full-time and giving a few piano lessons. I realized this was not going to be enough for me to live on if I left. Paul usually made around minimum wage and wasn’t going to be able to help out much either.
My job at The Free School was to manage the “upstairs” which was the kindergarten and pre-school area. I also ran the breakfast and lunch programs, taught Kindergarten, music and helped supplement the learning for the older kids in other subjects. Every day, as I taught my students, I also learned about being a better teacher. I liked doing experiential learning with them. On every first day of school, for geography class, I asked them, “Where (in the world) are you, right now?” The answers would start out with “at school, in Albany,” or even “in New York.” But I wanted to know all the details. What street and neighborhood was it in? What county, state, country, continent, hemisphere, galaxy? Then we would walk through the neighborhood looking around, learning to use our eyes and our senses to get around. Taking students into the community is a large part of the Free School model. I gradually introduced them to maps, having them draw their own and playing a fun game where they try to navigate using someone else’s map. I also loved doing science experiments, too. There are so many simple things that are educational and exciting at the same time. Just think about it, you can teach the concept of centrifugal force by filling a pail with water and twirl it over and around your head quickly, so it doesn’t fall out. It looks like magic, and what kid doesn’t like magic? Or, how about those crazy rides at the amusement parks that hold you again the outer wall.
All of the teachers had our own strengths and weaknesses when it came to teaching, so we each focused on what we did best. We asked about the students’ interests, then decided on a teaching strategy. When someone wanted to learn about volcanos, I was able to step in. I had lived in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted and was able to describe my experience living near a volcano. I shared my newspaper clippings and showed a slideshow my dad had given me of before and after the eruption. I snuck in some science and art by making volcanos out of paper maché and erupting them with baking soda and vinegar. We even had volcano music. I loved teaching and continued to learn and grow as a teacher every day.
Around that same time, Jes was embarking on her great love affair. I knew she and Jack were sexually active. As soon as I realized this, I took her to a doctor and got her set up with birth control. She’d had also gotten good sex education both at home and at The Free School, but I also knew that accidents happen all the time. And I realized that I got pregnant easily, even while using birth control. One day, during a particularly rough day with Austin, who was still a baby, I knocked on her door, stormed in and dumped Austin in Jes’ arms, saying, “I just want you to be aware of the potential consequence of what you are doing!” Then I walked back out the door and got a much-needed break from parenting for a few hours. Jack came for the Junior Prom that year. I helped Jes pick out her dress and remember thinking that it reminded me of a wedding.
By the summer of 1992, Jes was sick and tired of feeling repressed and alien in public school so when we heard about a new alternative high school starting up, she asked to make that change. I explained that, although I supported the change, we just couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, so she found a part-time job at a shoe store. In the middle of the fall semester, the school had turned out to be a disaster and was on the verge of closing when Jes suddenly told me that she wanted to drop out. She was now seventeen-years old and could get her GED. She was incredibly smart and was above most of her peers academically, so I agreed that it was probably the best move at that time.
It was the end of November, just before Thanksgiving, when she told me that she wanted to move to Michigan to live with Jack. She would get a job and go to night school to study for her GED. Then, she told me that she’d already arranged to be picked up by Jack and his dad the next day, the day before Thanksgiving. I had raised her to be independent, resourceful and a force to be reckoned with. I knew there was no stopping her short of tying her up, but my head was reeling. I knew she would move away, maybe go away to college, but I also thought I had at least the rest of the school year to have her at home. Suddenly, I thought of all of the wisdom I wanted to impart and the things I still wanted to do with her. Michigan felt so far away, and she was still so young. I also understood that she wanted to escape the constant tension in the house. Our children had grown up in an environment filled with apprehension and anger. I felt trapped, but she wasn’t going to be.
I spent that whole day and the next crying. The sudden loss was unbearable. I felt as though my heart was breaking. I hadn’t had any time to prepare and wasn’t ready for this huge change. She wasn’t even going to spend Thanksgiving with us. As the tears kept coming, I helped her pack, broke the news to Paul and tried to say the things that felt like they needed to be said. I cautioned her that it was too late to get her a doctor’s appointment, and her prescription for birth control pills was due to expire soon. Jes didn’t want any input from me. She was determined to make this decision and deal with the details on her own. Just as I had done with my mother when leaving, she pushed me away. I’ve noticed that it often seems easier to leave if you’re angry. Jack and his father came on Wednesday. This was the first time I met Harry. He was an Episcopalian minister. He basically counseled me while the two kids packed up all of her things into their van because I was crying non-stop. I don’t remember much about that Thanksgiving. We must have had one and I must have been there, but I was in a daze.