None of that was a secret, but the way she spoke about it, the regret in her tone, that was new. She sounded exactly like I did after one of my terrible choices blew up in my face.
“I got pregnant with you before your dad’s divorce was final, and while I never had any doubts your dad loved both of us beyond measure, I never could quite get over the fact that I had taken him away from his first wife so easily, especially with everyone always reminding me he had no choice but to leave her once there was a baby. I lived every single day wondering if someone new was going to come along and lure him away from us, exactly as I had done. I wondered if he felt like he had to go. I was jealous. I was untrusting. I was possessive, and for a man like your dad, a man with honor and integrity running all the way down to his bones, it wore on him. He loved me, but after a while my insecurity on top of his own demons was too much for him to take. He started spending more and more time at the bar, and of course I convinced myself he was with other women. He cheated before me and then he cheated to be with me so why wouldn’t he cheat on me? At the time I didn’t recognize that the love he had for me was different than the love he had for the women that were in his life earlier. I didn’t realize having a family and someone he loved more than life to come home to every day had made your father a different man.”
I scowled even harder because I didn’t remember any kind of tension or strain between them. I couldn’t recall any fighting or disagreements. All I could remember was happiness and romance between the two of them. Things were sunshine and rainbows until I was sixteen and then things changed, but I was so caught up in how they changed for me, I never considered why and how things changed for my parents as well. Dad left and I went with him, convinced my mom was fed up with my harmful behaviors and fed up with me.
She held up her hand when I opened my mouth to interrupt her and I saw sadness and heart-wrenching grief fill her eyes. “I convinced myself he was seeing someone else, that he was doing what I accused him of. I never listened to him. I never gave him the benefit of the doubt. I let my own fears and everyone else’s poison infect me. What I did was something I had done my entire life, I acted without thinking and decided that if he was going to break my heart by being with someone else, then I was going to do the same thing to him.”
I gasped and actually stumbled back in shock. “Mom. You didn’t.” The words came out like they had been run across sandpaper.
Slowly she nodded; and self-loathing was stamped across her face. “I did and I felt disgusting and ashamed as soon as I realized what kind of damage I had done to my marriage and my family. I had a wonderful husband, a lively, independent daughter, and because of the nontraditional way our family came to be, I never felt worthy of them. I never felt like what we had was good enough to anyone else’s standards. I never wanted you to know, Avett. I wanted you to be proud of me, to aspire to be like me, and then I went and did the one thing I knew you and your father could never forgive. I never wanted you to think I was willing to risk you and your dad. I was so repulsed by what I had become I started pulling back from you when you really needed me the most. I could tell something was going on with you because of the way you were suddenly acting out and getting into trouble. I knew deep down inside it was because the stress between your father and me was no longer able to be contained and hidden away. I told your dad about my indiscretion immediately, and at first he agreed to try and work it out. But all the fears I had were amplified tenfold, because now, I had given him a legitimate reason to seek out someone else. Eventually, he couldn’t handle the pressure of living under the shadow of my distrust and I couldn’t blame him. I also couldn’t accept his forgiveness when it was offered, because I didn’t think I deserved to be forgiven. We were both miserable and it was clearly affecting you. I let you both go because it was my actions and my defective choices that had pushed you both away in the first place. I felt like I deserved to be alone.”
“Jesus, Mom.” We were more alike than I had ever realized.
She put her arms around herself like she was giving herself a much needed hug and dropped her gaze from mine. “Your father and I had a long, treacherous road to get to a place where trust was no longer an issue and that we could love each other with nothing between us. Part of that was watching him get remarried and loving someone else, and part of it was him being endlessly loyal and supportive of you. He’s never wavered with you, Avett. Not ever. There are times we disagree on the way we should support you, but that’s because I’ve watched you be as reckless and careless with yourself and your love as I was. I wanted things to be easier for you.”
I let out a strangled and choking laugh. “They haven’t been.” Because even with the distance between her and me, watching Dad remarry and divorce before my eighteenth birthday hadn’t been easy or fun. She was always my mom and she was always the woman I wanted my dad to be with, because she was the person that made him the happiest.
Quaid had told me the night before that some people were born into the storm and it looked like my mom was also one of them. I came by my chaos naturally. My mayhem was, apparently, part of my genetic code. I literally had been born to be wild, and I’d also been so caught up in my own commotion and on my own path of destruction for so long that I hadn’t even noticed there was a storm that had nothing to do with me brewing under my roof.
“I know they haven’t been, and I blame myself for not being able to teach you from my mistakes … believe me, there have been a lot of them.”
I slumped back against the wall and ran my hands over my face. “I’m learning that blame is poisonous. Maybe you could have tried harder, and I definitely could have paid better attention, but what’s done is done and all we can do is be better from this point forward. Blame has stolen a lot of time and a lot of life from me. I’m really starting to resent it.”
I gave her a curious look. “How did Dad forgive you?” My father was a good man, but he was also a badass, and most badasses didn’t take too kindly to their woman stepping out on them and not having faith in them.
It was my dad’s rumbly and deep voice that answered me. “I forgave her because I loved her, always, even when she made mistakes. I forgave her because she wasn’t the only one that screwed up. I could have waited until I was separated from the woman I was married to before getting involved with your mom, but I was impatient and thoughtless as to how our actions might affect our relationship down the road. I forgave her because she was the mother of my child and because we both needed forgiveness to heal and move forward, even if we weren’t together. Forgiveness is the only way you can be set free. I forgave her because after a lot of time and a lot of trials together, she finally forgave herself. Our story is still being written, Sprite. We haven’t reached the end just yet and there was a lot of editing and revision along the way.”