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I felt ashamed to admit to our mutual friends that my marriage had failed but was pleasantly surprised by their reaction when the truth was out. As a matter of fact, Janice, (Deej’s teacher at Buddina State School) told me she was surprised that I had stayed in the marriage for as long as I did. In her opinion, I was “too nice” to be married to someone like Rick! That remark sure boosted my morale no end. I learned the meaning of true friendship when almost all our mutual friends rallied around me and each and every one of them contributed in one way or another towards helping me. Bev steadfastly provided the shoulder I could cry on and was my partner in crime when it came to checking out flea-markets and garage sales for bargain buys. The Wenzelmaiers (Helga and Gunther) made sure that my kids and I were almost always included in their family celebrations and activities and I knew that I could always rely on Janice or Nancy to mind my kids for me should the need arise.
It was just as well that I didn’t seek solace in alcohol and my only bad habit was cigarettes. It was also fortunate for me those cancer sticks were reasonably priced back then. Financially speaking, I qualified for Legal Aid in the custody battle and property settlement and by the grace of God, had a wonderful and sympathetic solicitor assigned to my case. Rick, on the other hand, resigned from his job in a desperate but foolish attempt to avoid having to pay child support and maintenance to me and was also hoping to qualify for Legal Aid. When he found out that the scheme didn’t work in his favour and he got tired of having to downgrade from brand-named whiskey to drinking Claytons, he contacted his boss and got his job back. Even with the monthly child support of $200 and maintenance of $200 for me that Rick had to pay together with the small Supporting Parent payment from the government, I found the going hard. However, I remained determined to stand on my own two feet. Nancy did her best to get me a job as a teacher’s aide at the high school where she was teaching but I lucked out because the school preferred the services of a parent of an attending student of the school.
Janice’s mum decided to take me under her wing and she managed to get me casual waitressing and dish-washing jobs whenever the restaurant where she was working needed extra hands. When Nancy found out that I wasn’t picky when it came to earning a few extra dollars, she offered me a cash-in-hand job of cleaning her already immaculate house once a week. Strangely enough, she also became an extravagant shopper, buying more fruit, vegetables and various grocery items than she would need for herself and Des, and insisted that I take them home “before they go off”. With a little help from my good friends and wearing a tighter belt, I was able to feed and clothed my three kids in the same manner that they had been accustomed to. The kids went to Rick just before my birthday and as I was in no mood to celebrate, I kept to myself with no one for company. My only indulgence was a McDonald’s burger for lunch before coming home to wait for a phone call from Wayne…
The times when Rick had the kids were bad for me as I then had way too much time on my hands to ponder my fate. With no kids around that needed my attention, I would sometimes be overcome by feelings of loneliness and uncertainty and despaired of ever finding happiness again. I even got it into my head that Wayne was losing interest in me and my “extra baggage”… Having a vivid imagination didn’t help, as alone in my bed at night, during the occasional bout of self-pity, I would picture him lost in the arms of a cute hostie (flight attendant) with nary a thought for me… Of course that would explain why he wasn’t phoning me as often as he should! The tears would then start to flow… I realized that I shouldn’t be assuming we would be sharing a future together. I became determined to live my life as if Wayne wasn’t a part of my future and decided to spend less time waiting by the phone and willing it to ring. One fine morning, a personal ad in the local newspaper caught my eye – a lonely guy, who lived locally and loved fishing and stamp-collecting, was looking for a lady with similar interests for friendship and outings! Acting impulsively, I responded to the ad but when days passed and I didn’t get a reply, I put two and two together and realized that it was Rick who placed the ad to bait me! He later tried to use the contents of my letter against me.
If at first I nursed hopes of an amicable separation and divorce from Rick, I was sadly mistaken. I didn’t understand my late mother when she said, “The man you marry is not the same man you divorce…” until my situation arose. No longer Mr Nice Guy, Rick began scheming and thinking of ways to make life difficult for me. My first Christmas as a single mum was most challenging as Rick had instigated the kids to ask Santa for some expensive gifts in their wish-lists which he promptly dropped off in my mail-box. My heart sank when I read what they had asked for – among other things, Sharon wanted Barbie dolls and a proper typewriter, “not a toy one, Santa,” and Nina had asked for a “play supermarket set and groceries, please,” with Deej being the least demanding, asking only for some Star Wars figurines. Knowing me as well as he did, Rick knew I would do everything in my power to fulfill the kids’ wishes.
My prayers were answered when, a few weeks before Christmas, Nancy got me a cleaning job – a holiday home that the owners wanted cleaned before they come up for their holidays. I gladly accepted the job offer with a paying rate of $10 an hour as it meant I’d be able to add more money to my Christmas fund for the kids’ Christmas presents. As Deej didn’t have to attend school on the day that I had to clean the mansion, he decided to come along with me. He turned out to be a most helpful gofer and together, we finished the job in seven hours, finishing just in time to pick the girls up from school. As soon as we got home, Nina brought out her report card for me to read. When I finished reading the report, I promptly burst into tears as she had excelled in all subjects except for one – P.E. (Physical Education, i.e. Sports). Misunderstanding the reason for my tears, little Nina tearfully hugged me and earnestly said, “Don’t cry, Mum. I’ll try harder next year to get all A’s.” At that, I cried even harder as I held her tight and told her how happy I was with her report card. More waterworks ensued later that evening after the girls had gone to bed when Deej came up to me and said, “Don’t worry about giving me any money for helping you today, Mum. I’m tired and I know you must be even more tired than me ’cause you worked a lot harder.” My three wonderful children made every sacrifice worthwhile…
Divorce proceedings were underway but contrary to what I had hoped for, the process was fraught with various unreasonable demands from Rick – insistence that I sell all my personal jewellery and also my stamps collection (which was started in my childhood days), with 50% of the proceeds be given to him. I was accused of abandoning the children because I was mentally unstable and therefore was an unfit mother to his children, etc, etc, etc… It transpired that little Sharon overheard her dad telling his mates that I spent most nights in pubs picking up men. How it warmed my heart when she leapt to my defence by saying, “No she doesn’t! Everytime I wake up during the night, she was in bed, ALONE!” Even though I knew there was no way I would be forced into meeting his crazy demands and the allegations he had made would prove to be unfounded anyway, it still hurt to know he was going all out to bring me down when I was at my most vulnerable. Looking back, I realized he was in denial and just wouldn’t or couldn’t accept the fact that he was also partly to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. He refused to acknowledge the fact that had we both been happy within the marriage, neither of us would have strayed. Through all of these, I kept everything a secret from my brother and his wife as I didn’t wish them to worry about the kids and me. Besides, what could they do from thousands of miles away?
Wayne tried to get to Brisbane as often as his work schedule permitted but unfortunately, this didn’t happen as often as we would like. This year, he had to work over the Christmas holidays and couldn’t get time off flying to have a family Christmas so his sister Jillanne insisted that the kids and I should spend Christmas Day with the family at her home in Caboolture. After briefing all three kids to be on their best behavior for the day, we set off in my Gemini, armed with little gifts for Wayne’s family. After a scrumptious Christmas lunch, the adults sat around in the living room, just shooting the breeze while the kids wandered off to explore the house and grounds. We stopped chatting when our noses were met by a beautiful scent wafting down the hallway. “Oh shit! What are the girls up to?” I exclaimed, as Jilly and I raced off to the source of the scent. Yes, the girls had gone into the bathroom and spotted Jilly’s array of perfumes so they decided to sample a few. “Don’t punish them, they’re just being typical little girls,” implored Jilly. “After all, it IS Christmas!” she added. However, I didn’t want my kids to get it into their heads that they could get away with mischievous deeds just because we were in the company of others. At the same time, I didn’t want to spoil their whole afternoon with, “Just you wait until we get home…” so devised on a plan to find out the truth without creating a scene. I asked which one of them had been perfume-sampling and as expected, they immediately began pointing the finger at each other. I then casually remarked to no one in particular, “Oh well, it doesn’t really matter anyway. After awhile, whoever did it, her hand will turn blue…” It was so hard not to laugh out loud when both girls surreptitiously glanced at their hands!
Rick picked up the kids on Boxing Day and I was alone again. I spent New Year’s Eve in the company of the Wenzelmaiers and saw the new year in with a heart full of hope that it would be a better one than the last.