III- The Empress

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The Tarot Series
An Anthology of Depressive Realism
Presents…

The Empress

By: Andrew Pan

The night after, my 3-year-old came to me in the middle of the night asking when his Mommy was coming home from work. He didn’t understand why I was crying and I didn’t want to scare him further so I just lay with him and held him until we both fell asleep.

Two nights after, my 7-year-old had to help me button her little brothers’ shirts because my hands shook too much from holding back tears. She held my hand on the subway when she saw me fidgeting but she stayed silent and still herself. That same night Jason, my 5-year-old asked why Mommy was sleeping in the fancy bed and wasn’t waking up. Chelsea’s mom, a spitting image of my wife, told her grandkids in the simplest of terms that Mommy was not coming back. Something I hadn’t done in two whole days. Jennifer didn’t flinch, she already knew. Jason and Jacob refused to accept it. They didn’t care if “Jesus wanted her”. They wanted her. And so did I.

Three days after, we put Chelsea in her family’s cemetery plot and Jacob cried as the casket lowered, knowing that’s where Mommy was sleeping the night before. Jason cried too and buried his head in the folds of my skirt for the whole service. Jennifer just looked at everything with a scowl as she clung to Grandma Kristen’s hand. Grandma Kristen wore a similar face to Jennifer but it seemed to be directed more to me than the situation itself. She took us to lunch afterward and looked on judgmentally every time I disciplined the kids. We avoided eye contact and hardly spoke at all that day. At the time I assumed it was because she had just buried her daughter and I my wife, but soon I’d realize it was because she had plans of her own. Regardless, the tension between us was thick and I have to admit that even then I still held a grudge towards Kristen and how she treated Chelsea and I when we married. She ignored me, her daughter’s wife at every family function and every birth of our children. After both of my parents died we tried to bury the hatchet with Kristen, for the sake of the children. And that’s what I was doing in that moment. I wanted the kids to have a good time with their Grandma before she went back upstate.

Three weeks after, the first bills began to filter in. With Chelsea’s job we never had to worry about being behind. Who knew a tech analyst for the biggest hospital in the city was such a well-paying gig? I was able to lower some payments and set myself up pretty well before I began working myself. Chelsea was always more content with me staying at home. Call me a cliché stay at home mom if you want to but it really was just perfect for us. It wasn’t long after we married that I found out I was infertile and right then and there we struck up a deal: Chelsea would have the babies and I would raise the babies. Any time we fought over who’s turn for diaper duty it was, she would always joke with me about it. I just thought that I would be raising the babies with her. You didn’t have to take the deal so seriously Chelsea!
But there I was, Chelsea gone and I was beginning to see how much it took for us to cover our expenses, even the bare minimum. So I had no choice but to put Jacob in Pre-K outside the home and get a job. Sounds easy enough, and I’m not lazy by any means but what they don’t tell you in “Single Parenting for a Lesbian Widow 101” is that not only will it be hard as hell to find an employer to hire you with no experience and family obligations but once you find that one in a million job you’ll have to pay for child care on top of everything else! But I buckled down and with Chelsea’s last check we were set for another month.

Eight weeks after, I sent my kids on a train with Grandma Kristen for an extended holiday break. I may have lead Kristen to believe it was her idea all along but that fact was that I needed some time without extra mouths to feed and more time to work. Productivity didn’t find me on that first day, however. I spent the day missing my children, sunk into the couch with sad 80’s movies playing on repeat. But once I peeled myself off the couch and went to work it went by so fast. Multiple 15-18 hour days later and it was almost the end of the holidays.

Eleven and half weeks after, Grandma Kristen came to the apartment with the kids after their holiday. Along with their personal bags each child had an oversized adult piece of luggage filled to the brim with gifts. I was so happy they had a great holiday but my stomach sank when I saw the small traces of disappointment on their faces. I didn’t have any decorations up like Chelsea had normally put up and I was only able to get them each one present. Kristen looked on, judgmental as ever as they opened their novelty dollar store toys. When it came time for her to leave she hugged and kissed the kids but didn’t say one word to me, didn’t even respond when I thanked her for her help, nothing. But I brushed it off and I enjoyed what was left of my kids’ vacation.

Twelve weeks after, I got a letter from some upstate law firm. Kristen was contesting Chelsea’s will for custody of the children on the grounds of them not being mine biologically. I opened that letter one hour before the kids were supposed to be home from school. I tried to hide my feelings when I went to pick up Jacob from day care but apparently I’m not very good at acting.
“Mommy you seem sad.” he said innocently.
“I am.” I said back looking down at him holding my hand.
“Well, don’t be anymore cause I love you.” he said bouncing about.
Oh the innocence of children.

Twenty-four weeks after, I had spent all of our savings and picked up a second job. I had officially spent every dime I had on the case. My lawyers were good, top in their field and it was all done with, for now. The court ruled in my favor citing Chelsea and I’s marriage as a valid union despite Kristen’s beliefs. As happy as I was to have it all be over, the face Kristen showed me at the court house was a clue that this would not be the last fight for my children. She wasn’t used to be (being) told “no” and she certainly wasn’t taking it lightly. Just to add a little more sting when she came to say goodbye to the kids I stepped in front of them and with support from my legal team Kristen eventually left without being able to say anything to my children.

Twenty-seven weeks after, was when the weight of Chelsea’s absence was cropping up in more ways than just emotional. Still working two jobs I was soon forced to sell and pawn Chelsea’s old clothes. Thankfully she had good taste and money to spend while we were childless because most of the things I was able to get rid of were all high quality name brands and I was able to cover all the expenses, just hardly, for one more month.

Thirty-five weeks after, I had officially perfected the art of thrifty living. The kids, of course, weren’t happy by any means. They lost their name brand cereals, their Saturday cartoons and the only pizza nights we could afford were the small frozen ones at the store in south-side where things go when they’re a couple days out of date. We stopped taking public transit and walked everywhere which caused all of us to burn through our shoes quickly. Jennifer was upset that her birthday present from me was a pair of used shoes but I had no choice and was making similar decisions for the other kids. It also didn’t help her mood any that we had her party at a public park instead of the children’s museum like she wanted. In the end though I think she would have to admit that she had a good time regardless.
No matter what I tried I couldn’t get the older kids on board with this new lifestyle change. Jacob thought every new thrifty thing we did was a brand new adventure unfolding before him. Jason was growing more cynical every day and Jennifer remained stubborn and angry at every turn. To make matters worse another hurdle was thrown my way, my main source of income, a fancy five-star restaurant, laid me off.

Thirty-eight weeks after, I made the decision to reach out to Kristen for the first time since the court ruling. She agreed to take the kids for the summer holidays while I rearranged some financial prospects. I stopped eating meals whenever I could and I pulled Jacob out of day care completely. The arrangement now was that Jennifer would watch the boys at night and I would work until time for them to go to school. I realize now that it was too much pressure for an 8-year-old to handle but what other choice did I have?

Forty weeks after, while the kids were upstate, I moved all of our things into a smaller apartment on the west side. I tried to adjust to the small two bedroom without the kids there but even for just me it was a tight space. I worried everyday about what Kristen may be telling them, the lies she may be planting in their heads. I pushed the worries out of mind and continued to work extra, double and triple shifts.

Forty-six weeks after, I was supposed to pick the kids up from the train station. No one was there. When I called Kristen she said they had missed the boarding and had another ride booked for the following day. The following day came but with it came an empty promise, no children. I called Kristen at every number I had and all had been disconnected. That’s when I booked my own ticket for that same night.

Forty-six weeks and two days after, I arrived at Grandma Kristen’s front door. I hadn’t seen the house since the day Chelsea and I moved to the city. That day wasn’t too unlike this one, I remembered how I walked Chelsea from the house, my arm wrapped around her while her mother threw things at us from the front door. Then I heard Jennifer calling for her grandma from inside the house.
“Kristen!” I yelled from the front yard. “Kristen, you better bring my kids out here right this minute!” There was no answer, I couldn’t hear Jennifer any more. I waited outside for close to half an hour before Kristen finally came outside. “What the hell Kristen? Where have you all been? I’ve been worried sick!”
“Elisha, please, your yelling is scaring the children.” Kristen said slipping out the front door.
“Get them out here now, Kristen. We’re going home.” I yelled, moving closer.
“They want to stay.” she responded in her calm Grandma voice.
“What?” I responded confused. “For another day or so? Why didn’t you just tell me that when I tried to call?”
“No, Elisha, not like that.” I saw around Kristen’s shoulders now to see all three of them standing in the door frame right behind the screen door. Jacob was being held back by Jennifer who had her grandmothers judgmental scowl on her face with watering eyes and Jason looked on emotionlessly. “Jennifer has told me all the changes you’ve been making for the family, Elisha. And a friend of mine in the city tells me you’ve moved to a smaller place in the west side? You can’t be serious, Elisha. That’s no way to raise children.”
“You have no right to tell me how to raise my children, Kristen.” I screamed.
“I do when they’re my grandchildren!” her voice began to rise for the first time. “They are staying here.”
“The hell they are!” I began walking to the door and Kristen came onto the lawn to meet me. “Jacob, Jason, Jennifer, get out here this instant!” I called after them.
“Elisha…”
“No, let go of me!” I screamed as Kristen blocked me by the shoulders.
“Elisha, listen to me. I’ve called the cops and CPS is waiting for you back in the city. So you have two choices, you can either go back to the train station now or go in hand cuffs.” I was crying at this point and I remember standing there for a few minutes before responding.
“Why are you doing this?” I pleaded, backing away.
“Because it’s what’s best. It’s what Chelsea would’ve-“
“You will not speak for my wife! She would not have wanted this and you know that, Kristen!” In the distance I heard sirens and I cleared my eyes long enough to see them in the door frame one more time. “I’m coming back for you.” I yelled to them, “I promise you, I’ll be back!”
I got on the train, I went back to an empty apartment and I spent the rest of my money and time for the following month on lawyers and meetings with CPS agents.

One week ago, fifty-one weeks after Chelsea died, I received a letter from CPS with a signature from someone in the Department of Justice. For an undetermined amount of time Kristen Walker will have sole custody of Jennifer, Jason and Jacob Walker. Monthly visits will be available to me with supervision at a predetermined location. Visitations would not begin until January the following year, three months away.

One day ago, one year after Chelsea’s death, I used the last of my money to buy a bottle of prescription drugs from a stranger on the subway and a large bottle of liquor.

Today, I get to see Chelsea.
The End

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