May 30, 2018
It had been a rough month for Nathaniel. He was staying at a hotel to clear his head. He’d been there for over a week now while he conducted his own research. It took a full hour—and being bounced around to may different customer service agents—to get a detailed call log sent to his email. Thank God their phone company could do that!
It was hard finding out Anita had been lying to him about her meds, made even worse by realizing how long it must have been going on. She could have been honest with him. It would have been difficult, but he married the version of her that wasn’t medicating anyways and managed to fall for her. He could have put up with it. Maybe he could have counseled Chloe a little differently, maybe better, knowing the full scope. But Anita chose to hide it, lie about it, and pretend it was fine. This whole time Chloe paid the price for her mother’s selfishness.
Worse yet, as Nathaniel searched through their phone records as far back as they could go, he’d discovered her lies about Daniel’s call. That wasn’t the first or the second or even the third phone call to the house. He had called at least fifty times—about two or three times a week for the last six months. Nathaniel could only assume the total number of calls was in the several hundreds—if not thousands—of times.
While Nathaniel searched the phone records, a completely different picture of his wife emerged. Calculating, manipulative, clever. Anita had trained Chloe for years to ignore the phone and the voice messages that came with it. Their number was only given to bill collectors and people they didn’t want to give their cell numbers to, but some solicitor could find their number easily. All of Daniel’s message would be buried and then deleted en masse with the junk. And Anita made sure to use the “delete all” function once they had more than three messages. Nathaniel had fallen in line with how things were, something Anita must have relied on.
It didn’t matter much anymore, he supposed. He had skeletons in his closet, too. But he didn’t hide it. He didn’t lie about it. At least he could say that he was as honest as one could be (especially since memory has been shown to be so fickle).
With a deep breath, Nathaniel dialed the number he was reasonably sure was Daniel’s, unintentionally holding his breath while he waited to be connected.
“Hello?” The man’s voice from the answering machine said.
“Hi. I might have the wrong number, but I’m looking for Daniel,” Nathaniel replied.
“This is he. May I ask with whom I am speaking?”
“Oh, sorry. We haven’t met before, but I believe you called my…wife a few weeks ago. About Chloe?”
“Ah, Anita remarried. Congratulations, I suppose. And yes, I was calling to get into contact with Chloe. Are you able to give me her contact information? Or could you just give her my phone number?”
Nathaniel paused. He was hopeful that he would actually be able to contact Daniel, but he hadn’t decided how he would answer that question. Especially when he realized he didn’t know how much of Anita’s story was true.
“Before I do, would you mind meeting with me? I have some questions I want to ask you.” Nathaniel finally said.
“You want to interview me before letting me see my own daughter?”
“I understand it’s a strange request, but I only want what’s best for Chloe. And even though I believe you have a right to see her—and for her to meet you—I need to be absolutely sure. Please?”
There was a pause so long Nathaniel had to check to make sure his phone didn’t just turn off or drop the call.
“Where would you like to meet?” Daniel said.
Nathaniel sat towards the back of Starbucks nursing a black coffee as he watched the door. He didn’t know what Daniel looked like, though he was made aware he was looking for a man in a suit. Not many of those around at the moment.
Nathaniel was very early to the meeting, having arranged it only a few hours earlier, so he tried to busy himself with the newspaper. But every time the door opened his eyes would shoot to the door to appraise whomever came through. Fifteen minutes before their meeting time, a man in a suit came through the door, not much older than Nathaniel’s wife. He had nice polished shoes, thin square glasses on the bridge of his nose, and well-kempt hair. Overall, he looked book-smart.
When Nathaniel arrived, he’d immediately scanned the crowd for any sign of Daniel. But Daniel did not seem pressed to do the same. He checked his watch, approached the counter to order his drink, and only then did he take his time to look through the faces to try to discern Nathaniel from the bunch. When they looked at each other, Daniel offered a smile and made his way over.
“Nathaniel?” Daniel asked.
Nathaniel stood and offered his hand. “Yes, hello. It’s nice to meet you, Daniel.”
Daniel shook his hand firm before sitting in the other chair at the table. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Let me grab my drink and then I’ll answer all your questions.”
“Awesome,” Nathaniel said. He had never felt more awkward in his life!
Daniel sat across from Nathaniel, cupping his hands around his drink. “What would you like to know? Please don’t be afraid to ask me what’s on your mind. You’ll see that all I want is to see my daughter again.”
Nathaniel sipped his coffee as he pondered his first question. Before calling the man, he had hundreds of questions, but now he couldn’t recall a single one. “Honestly…I would just like to hear your side of things. There’s a lot I’ve been told that…well, I’m not sure if they’re true.”
“Alright.” Daniel paused briefly. “Anita and I met in high school. She was a freshman and I was a sophomore. In the beginning we were just friends, introduced by mutual friends. Over the course of that first year, we were around each other all the time and had a great friendship. By the first half of the second year we started dating and things were peachy. When we hit that third year, things quickly became problematic.
“It seemed like, all of a sudden, she would go through periods where she’d get little sleep and get so excited for the most minor of things. And even on days when it was less pronounced, she would have a hard time focusing on what was going on. But then she would get these moods where she felt absolutely worthless and she’d miss school for days. Her parents didn’t realize how bad it was until her teachers expressed their concern.
“I’m sure you know by now she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.” Nathaniel nodded. Daniel continued. “It would have been fine if she would have listened to her parents, her doctor, to me, or to anybody. But she wouldn’t. The idea she would have to go on medications for the rest of her life—or at least when the symptoms were really bad—was more than she wanted to deal with.
“She was absolutely depressed for weeks. She’d refused help, medications, anything. She just ‘toughed it out’, as she told us, and we found a new norm. Back then, I was a complete idiot because I was willing to find a way to help her control her symptoms without meds. I just wanted her to be happy, so much so, in fact, that when she broached the subject of sex I didn’t hesitate. She said it’d make her happy, so of course I’d do it. At the time, she was still fifteen and I had just barely turned eighteen. It wouldn’t have been the biggest problem, but she got pregnant. Naturally, our parents were all upset by our stupidity.
“But we did what we could to make things right. For her health, and for Chloe’s, Anita faithfully took all of her medications and sought counseling. Her parents home-schooled her for the remainder of her high school years. I dropped out, got my GED, and got a job. Though we didn’t live together, I made sure she—and her parents—knew I wasn’t going anywhere and was there almost every day to check in.
“The day Chloe was born was the happiest day of my life. Anita wanted to name her after her favorite aunt who also gave her a ton of baby supplies. Anita’s parents let me live there so I could help care for Chloe, and I really thought things were going to be great between us. For a long time they were.
“We moved into our own apartment when Chloe was about a year old or so. Maybe she was two…? That’s the only part I don’t really remember because she was so little then. And I am so grateful for that because I hope she doesn’t remember the yelling and the screaming. Anita stopped taking her meds which brought back her manic and depressive episodes in full force. I’m sure, by now, she also told you about our big fight; the one where she alleges I hit her, yes?”
Nathaniel had been listening so carefully, hanging on every word, that he almost forgot he was part of the conversation. “Y-Yes, she did tell me that.”
“I never hit her, even once, even when I really wanted to—I can’t say I never wanted to. We were fighting about money, specifically that she felt I was controlling her financially. And, in a way, I was because the second my paycheck hit the bank she’d spend it. We were behind on just about all our bills and nearly got evicted. Without the medication, she couldn’t control herself. But she told me that I was abusing her financially. In her mind that meant I was bound to abuse her in other ways, too.
“Anita started that fight as soon as I got home. She told me that, because I only got my GED, I wasn’t a good boyfriend or father. Because I was saving for our future and wouldn’t let her spend all our money, I didn’t love her. ‘You don’t make enough,’ ‘why did you drop out of school,’ ‘why couldn’t I just borrow money.’ And on, and on, and on. Nothing was good enough. And then she had the gall to tell me that she might have to look for another man who could actually satisfy her.
“I lost my cool. And I raised my hand to slap her in the face. But I did refrain. All I could do was tell her that I needed space before I left.”
Daniel took a long moment to sip his coffee and let the information sink in. After all, it wasn’t difficult for Nathaniel to imagine being in his shoes; he already was. Anita knew just the right way to goad people into conflict.
“Anita said you only went to three visits with Chloe before leaving for good. Is that true?” Nathaniel asked softly.
“Sadly, yes.” Daniel sighed. “Right after that fight, Anita moved back to her parents’ house with Chloe in tow. I couldn’t see her at all, no matter how much I begged Anita. I offered the world, the moon, and the stars to gain her forgiveness, but the damage was done. I knew it then. Just the fact that I would raise my hand to the mother of my child was enough evidence for her I was not a fit parent, regardless of how well I took care of Chloe. She lawyered up and had everything in place so fast I couldn’t fight anything. I couldn’t do anything.
“The first visit was about as okay as it could have been. A social worker had to be there for the whole hour I got, but I thought it went well. I at least held Chloe, sang to her, read her one of her favorite books, and got to feed her lunch. When I got there, she reached for me and called me, ‘dada.’ The second visit two weeks later, the social worker was adamant that I could only be in the living room. I couldn’t even go to Chloe’s room, for any reason. When I asked why, she couldn’t tell me. That was ‘confidential.’ But I put up with it because Chloe laughed and we played and at least I could still see her and hold her. But that last visit…the very last time I saw Chloe…”
Daniel didn’t say anything for a long time. Nathaniel could see the struggle between wanting to be heard while not wanting to feel the pain again. It was a pain Nathaniel couldn’t imagine in a million years. He knew that. With a sip of coffee and a deep breath, Daniel shook his head.
“The very last time I saw Chloe she was two years old. Like she always did, Chloe reached out to me to be held, but Anita wouldn’t let me hold her. I could read to her, but only while Anita held her. While I played with her, Anita kept holding her and wouldn’t let her near me. And about halfway in, I lost it. It was hard enough being so restricted and hardly seeing my daughter as it was, but to have Anita being so controlling in plain view of the social worker without punishment was too much.
“I ended up doing exactly what Anita wanted me to do: I yelled at her in front of Chloe and I made Chloe cry. The social worker ended the visit right then and told me that if something like that happened again, I’d lose all visitation rights…I’d never see her again. At the time, there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t afford a lawyer to defend me and the law is already skewed toward siding with the mother no matter what. And Anita would not only goad me into yelling, but I was sure she’d try to get me to raise my hand again.
“So, I made the decision to stop going. And I hated myself for that; I’ve always regretted that. But I vowed I wouldn’t stop being her father, even for one second, and I haven’t. I have thought of her every day. I have bought birthday cards for each one of her birthdays. I practically counted down the days to her eighteenth birthday so I could finally reach back out to her. But of course, Anita has still managed to keep me away the last two years.”
Nathaniel nodded, acknowledging all this new information. It was a lot to take in. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he wasn’t surprised to hear about Daniel’s treatment. Even though he loved his wife very much…he couldn’t trust her word anymore before hearing Daniel’s side. Now, he was inclined to believe him.
Daniel composed himself. “So, Nathaniel, what mountains do I need to move to convince you to let me see Chloe?”
Nathaniel chuckled, then sighed. “No more mountains. I’ll…I’ll talk to Chloe. It might take a little bit because she’s kinda going through a rough patch, but I swear to you, I’ll talk to her.”
Daniel smiled, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I’ve waited eighteen dreadfully long years to get even this far. I can wait a little more.”