Kristen Dushong; 27 years old, two boys to take care of. She is the girl next door who sneaks a smoke outside your garage. She is simple and beautiful with a (small) hint of exotic. Long natural hair, never colored. Friendly and sophisticated.
Kristen: one class away from a college diploma. One step away from gracing her way into your heart with her easy smile and hot bod. She will always be one class away from a degree. It’s so not her fault. It’s about a boy. (Isn’t it always about one or the other, boy or girl? Cutthroat heart-stomping bitch or abusive slusband? Choose your favorite in the panel above! Will KStew and RobPat survive this rocky path?) Kristen (Dushong, not Stewart) chose to give her career up so her childhood sweetheart could join the Navy while she raised their first kid. At the age of ten, Tims family moved in next door to Kristens. He spent more time with her family than with his. In high school she saved him from a life of crystal meth. He stood in the shadows watching (waiting!) for her to be done with other guys. She was giving them emotional lap dances.
Smoking behind the bleachers he ruminated on that irresistible force, beauty. The most captivating and mysterious alien. He watched how the boys were around her, and realized it was best to play dumb. I will let her have this moment of arrogance. Watching her, he became certain he was destined to own her. He was to tame her, then show her men were the superior sex. He thought of this with a silly little sneer. Imagining her drinking his sperm as if it was wine was his favorite fantasy. looking in the mirror at his pock-marked face gave hin no pause.. he continued to imagine his greatness being celebrated by her.
Kristen felt a kind of raw power sliced with innocence in those days. She was high off her own image, the way she saw people visually adoring her. The boys did what she wanted with little prodding.. she was great at mind games and she liked feeling like an ice queen. Tim went down the line between awkward and slick, not choosing one for the other. It felt like she could tell him everything. It was a huge surprise (to Kristen, anyway) when the feelings of friendship developed into more. In Tims eyes she felt like the relaxed but assertive self-supporting girl she had always been.
Present day: Acme stinks up Tim’s face like Gods marked it. At 27, he still doesn’t take anything to make the huge, blotchy swells go down. He has grown to like it, to be defined by the red scratchies, those bloated marks of his inner rage. It bothers Kristen that he won’t take Accutane, which would easily cure most of it. It is the one thing that still resembles his insides and other women must stare at it! He finds ironic satisfaction in it for while he gets drunk off their loveliness, they stare at those marks on his face- an apt metaphor for unfulfillped promise if you ever saw one. He feels the silly vain women deserve it. Flaunting their beauty everywhere- it only diminishes their power. Just stupid.
Self-centered Tim expresses interest in others only when they serve his ambitions (whatever those ambitions are, for people don’t consider him talented, and Tim feels best when he gets ahead by sticking his foot in between other people and their opportunities. He’d be better off in another field, the Navys way too uptight for him. He has found a crowd that accepts him, but he walks alone. (They’re rowdy, they like violence; they make deals behind closed doors. They get to sleep with the whores at every port! They know to say yes mam to the wives, the mothers.) He’d choose strategic partnership over genuine friendship any day.
Unfortunately, the calculations behind Tims scheming have never been anything but transparent… And as everyone knows, he will fuck anything- especially if it has fleas, for cheating on Kristen was good proof of how much other women wanted him. He had to punish her for flaunting her good looks, her easy smile. Cheating on Kristen was something he can brag about. Now he is getting her back. The bitch hasn’t picked up her phone in weeks, ever since that lawyer filled her mind with bad ideas and sent her going to TANF to filed papers to steal his money. HIS money, not hers. The nerve of those stupid women. He knows it must be women who convinced his brother to yell at him. Why should his own brother stick his nose in his affairs? Because his brother secretly covets Kristen, of course. Well why doesn’t he go help the damsel in distress, he snickers?
Tim doesn’t have enough charm to cover up his deficits, but Kristen taking him back will do the trick- further evidence of how amazing he is! He can really get away with anything!
He abandons his children because he’s already turned into the parents he hated- they are better off without him, he thinks, and so they were. He’s been taught that people should gratify him unquestioningly, and when Kristen first gave birth to a boy, it infuriated him. She gave the screaming infant his attention. In Tims world there’s only room to satisfy him. The baby cried with way too much zest. Baby Timothy Jr. was against him from the start. And then, more than a year later she tricked him! Got pregnant a second time! There was no way he could deal with another screaming brat that felt entitled to have its cries met with a bottle, a diaper, a phrase, a coo. He has never changed a diaper in his life and he is determined to keep it that way. The entitlement of babies disgust him to no end. So, he patiently bided his time until about one year later. Now it’s different; she wants his money, the children are older; she is more desperate for his attention. He can have it. Kristen acts like she can’t give in to him, but he knows she will. He doesn’t know if he still wanhts her, but he is going to get her back just in case. He doesn’t want to have to pay alimony, and he misses her making his lunch and doing his paperwork. So he arrives in Washington to go get her. Surprise! You weren’t picking up the phone, you stupid wife!
In private moments he laughs at Kristen; how pathetic she would be to take him back! Freakish, even. Buckets of praise continually poured into him would still not mend the hole inside his greedy heart, but… it is a useful balm for his rage. Anyhow, what Tim lacks in charisma, he ratchets up in points using snarling contempt and self-pity to motivate. Kristen mistakes his hang-dog look and reckless behavior for stupidity; she has always underestimated him. It’s her most attractive quality.
Kristen thinks back to when she was 26 years old. Crying her eyes out. Saying enough is enough. Standing outside in August on the lawn that never gets mowed. Omaha Nebraska. One year ago. So many cracks in their marriage, if what they shared had been a building, their building would have been condemned. Desperation, humiliation drove her to crawl her way out of the marriage.
She thought it would just be for a short while, as Tim came to his senses. She left most of her stuff with Tim (a mistake, as Tims girlfriend Kaylie would recklessly use and steal the stuff she liked, a thought that made Kristen not want to get out of bed in the mornings. The care she had lovingly taken in assemling her things, leaving behind a bra here and there for Tim to linger on in moments of despair. A well-hidden toothbrush, a magazine from that beach cottage they’d stayed at for their honeymoon. She did not expect some hoe to move in on her territory.)
Kristen wasn’t in the city, where her best friend Zoey lived. Zoey would be happy that she’d finally left Tim. Maybe Zoey would let me live with her, she thought dizzily..
Kristen was stuck in Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the house she’d lived in since she was ten years old. Her mother, Karen, took up the large upstairs room on the right and her grandma took up the one on the left. Kristen and her boys was delegated her old room, the size of a small walk-in closet. Kristen, always the martyr, refused to move into her sister Sophies room, for Sophie was away at school and might want to visit her old room. Sophies room was a bit larger and nicer than the walk-in closet Kristen lived in. Maybe Sophie would come live here now that Kristen was in trouble.. As long as her guest room remained unchanged..
Karen, the drunk, the nuisance, had a birds nest of bright frizzy red hair sticking out in all different directions. As usual, she wasn’t any help with the boys. When Kristen was five, her dad tried to molest her; Karen was ruined. It took all of Karens strength just to leave him, driving for days on end to take her three little girls to a place where they could be safe. Karen was dependent on her mother now for her living situation; Kristen was dependent on them both. Karen and her mother didn’t agree on much, but they both agreed being a single mother was not the life they wanted for Kristen. Karen, the drunk, was too tired and too wasted to be trusted with the boys. As for Grandma Barry- she was too strict, too religious, and too strange for Kristen to ask for anything more than free rent.
Kristen had just given birth a few months ago and was now living in the basement in a room smaller than most walk-in closets. She was literally penniless with Timothy Jr, now almost three years old, and baby Logan. She didn’t feel welcomed at all. Sometimes fights broke out and she was threatened with eviction. Her grandmother tried to force bibllical principles Kristen didn’t agree with onto Timothy Jr, including spanking, interfering with toilet training. Grandma Barry insisted she let Timothy Jr. run around like a wild indian. Kristen shouted back that after being deserted by his father, he should be allowed to run around like a wild indian.
Even the younger sisters (Sophie and Emma) who visited in between college and partying had their two cents, and Kristen found the lifestyle jarring. She could never get a break. At least with Tim they sometimes hired a babysitter! Emma, the baby of the family, was in a relationship with a guy who hit her, choked her. When Kristen couldn’t convince Emma to leave, she considered it a personal failure on her fault. She did not see any paralels between Emmas choices and her own. If anything it made her grateful for Tim.
Tim never calls to talk to the kids, not even for birthdays. When asked, he says calling is a waste of money. When she begged him to write them letters, he said it wasn’t worth the stamp money.
When Kristen spent months scraping together 25 dollars to put into a savings account. Tim found out and took the money out of her next check, which was one hundred dollars less than he promised. Often the $150 or, if she was very lucky, $200 check came late, and she would have to call him frantically. She applied for food stamps, but because Tim was in the navy she was not eligible for anything more. They told her they could go after him for child support. She could have filed papers that would have forced Tims hand, but she told everybody it would get Tim sent to jail. If the Navy found out that Tim wasn’t paying child support, they could kick him out! She claimed she didn’t want to kill the golden goose and that the situation was extremely delicate. She remained in this delicate state for a year. Licking her wounds.
Tim spent his money on food for his skimpy dressed girlfriend Kaylie and his girlfriends kids. He took them out and spend 50 dollars at the Pancake house. It made him feel appreciated, something he decided he hadn’t felt in a while. After the homeymoon period ran out, Kaylie began to call Kristen for advice, wanting to be consoled, for Tim slept with so many women! And Tim had stopped calling Kaylie back! Tim was ignoring Kaylie! Why?
A few of Kristens old neighbors from Omaha would call to ask her to get Tim under control! Come back Kristen, come back! Without Kristen around to pacify them, he had become the neighborhood nuisance. He was throwing parties, making noise, rousing husbands anger. Since Tim was always on the make for sex, he was a threat to any guy with a wife that had a wandering eye.
It was the idea of Kaylie that really upset Kristen. More than the lack of money, more than the indignity of it all, even more than living off food stamp! The idea of him with this skank– it suggested he was moving on. She spent hours online looking at the girls picture trying to understand what he could possible see in her.
“She’s white trash,” Kristen decided haughtily. A much lesser version of me; she’s not anywhere near as pretty, so that’s that! Always a competition between the sexes. A struggle to be seen.
Whenever she saw it was Tim on the caller ID her heart raced, only to find out… well, Tim wanted to know if Kristen had any ideas on how to calm Kaylie down. Kaylie was hysterical, and how could he make up with her?
“Please Kristen, I like talking to you. Help me,” he said, and Kristen didn’t know how to react. She saw the irony in the situation, made fun of him with Zoey, but couldn’t stop taking his calls. Couldn’t stop being his friend. Couldn’t stop wanting him back. Things didn’t look so bad from far away… He hadn’t been that bad, had he?
Compared to this situation, where grandma Barry was always hounding her for not doing something right- well, what was a few extramarital affairs? So what if he demanded she be a swinger and engage in three-ways; the other guys hadn’t been too bad. There had been some violent behavior, but it was rare, and it really wasn’t Tim’s fault, it was the booze, the pressure, the challenges of being married young.
She was surprised that Kaylie lasted as long as she did! Kristen felt a twinge of satisfaction when Kaylie called her up sobbing: it meant Tim hadn’t been serious with the skank after all. When he broke up with Kaylie, she wanted to get back together with Tim.
In the meantime, her friends and family were yelling at her to move on, get over him!
Zoey was adamant. “Yes. Sweetie, I know you are heartbroken. I can feel it. This sounds cheezy but.. time really does heal. Or blunt it anyway. You will recover.. It will take time, and you need a break. Just one week to think your own thoughts without the responsibilty of the kids.” Kristen couldn’t get time away. Zoey was shocked to find out that Kristen still hadn’t filed the divorce papers.
“He’s scum! No, no, Tim is lower than scum, lower than toxic scum, lower than the bacteria that feeds OFF of toxic scum! That slusand.. Rabies would be too merciful for him!” Kristen laughed at Zoey, but when she got off the phone her worries about surviving flooed back. She was expected to raise the kids when she didn’t even feel like going on living. Killing herself would be retribution, wouldn’t it?
Tim knew how to hide his assets. The navy is supposed to kick out anybody who cheats on their spouse or refuses to pay child alimony. The navy lets you pay the child-support or takes you to the slammer. But Kristen was emotionally trapped.
Kristen needed a year to summon up the courage to call the Navys phone number. She only called when she felt there was no way Tim would try to fix their marriage. Even then, her heart wasn’t in it. She took her anger out on her friends, not Tim.
She couldn’t get a hold of the right branch. So many numbers. Overwhelming. Made her feel like she couldn’t breathe. Made her remember picking up Tims socks. Tim leaving the first time. Tim proposing the first time. The day he told her he had done everything wrong and his eyes leaked shame. The way his chest had been a pillow for her head. She wanted the memories to go so she could forget, but then… No, she doesn’t want them to go anywhere. She wants to be able to take them out whenever she wants, an old map with creases that tell the stories behind their fights, their making up… They had married awfully young, hadn’t they? That wasn’t his fault..
And calling to beg for money was embarrassing! If Tim didn’t want to pay she would make it on her own. But she couldn’t get money from the government. To even ring anybody out there up there to talk about it, to use that awful word, DIVORCE. It took Kristen a year to feel ready to do anything about it. She was heartbroken and alone with two kids asking her questions and needing the edges of their peanut butter sandwiches cut off just right. At least she could do that right, if nothing else.
At night she got drunk, ran around in the forest-like trees that circled her neighborhood, good Eastern Washington, and in her darker moments thought about leaving her youngest son to be adopted, or even worse, just killing herself. She had to, there was no other way out. There was an albatross on her neck at all times. She was in chilling pain, and when an animal is in pain, it sometimes forgets about survival. Not all trapped game will chew their foot off to get out of a trap. Some hope death hits them soon.
Kristen knows that during the marriage Tim did horrible things to her, even unspeakable things, like the time he left her at the bar to get raped, or the many times he manipulated her into participating in threesomes, threatening to take the kids away if she wasn’t into it. The many times he just got up and left her crying on the floor. That was basically every other night even though she had done everything to get his lunch perfect, copied out notes for his exams, made it so he could make it to level 2 in the Navy, something that he lost when she left because he got a DUI. Strangely enough, he did not lose his job, he just got taken back.
Kristen was sure he would ask her back after he got the DUI but he did not. Didn’t it prove he was helpless without her there? She didn’t think he could keep his job without her reminding him to get gas, to pay the bills on time. She told her friends how stupid he was, not to write angry letters on her behalf, because he was dim-witted and wouldn’t understand the words, but… He was smart enough to get her to do all his work, wasn’t he? He was smart enough to get her to marry him, right? And then she found out he had another kid- a kid that had been born when they were together, together- and she shoved that knowledge away into the corner of her heart, a place blackened by the soot of his crimes, so black that not even the salt from a thousand nights of tears could touch that corner. Her tears, coming so easy, so ready, just made it sting all the more.
Kristen didn’t really believe there could be another kid out there until she saw the picture. There had been talks of getting back together but when she saw the picture something inside her gave way and she told Tim no, she could not get back together.
While Kristen lived in Bainbridge, guys threw themselves at her, just like they had in high school. One guy even offered to buy her a house and marry her. But she was not materialistic enough or hardy enough to look at another guy and think about being loved.
Her heart wanted only one thing. Tim was the one who had gotten her to break down her walls. She was not strong enough to take back what she shared. A lot of bad memories went where Tim went, but Kristen could only see what she was without him. Incomplete, pathetic really. Her family was always bothering and hassling her! She couldn’t stand it! How was she supposed to get anything done with their grumblings? She was desperate, always desperate. Desperation had become the emotion she was most familiar with, and she didn’t know any other color.
She filled out 369 applications for jobs, but by the time she did get offered a job, she didn’t have any money for day care, so she couldn’t go to the job!
The youngest, Tony, hadn’t even been around to meet Tim unless two months old counts, so he didn’t know any other life.
But the older one felt very hurt by it, and seeing that his mother cried all the time, he felt the need to act tough and extroverted, to protect her. He created his own imaginary world and was fastened to it. But still, when Tim promised to call and didn’t, Timothy Jr. insisted his mommy call the police to get a hold of him. The fact that Tim was not available by phone did not make any sense. if he wasn’t calling then his dad had to be someplace horrible, for his father would not do this on purpose. What had he done wrong? He would never again yell at Tony, he would eat his green beans. The idea that his father would forget about him was not possible, was it? How could he be so forgettable? He would be better, he yelled! Still, no call came. Kristen tried very hard to reach him, texting and cursing out Tim for not calling his son, but nothing good came of any of it.
They were just as important as the other kid from the other women- the kid from the woman Tim didn’t acknowledge.
Turned out Tim had another kid, too.
After a year of Tim seeing any girl he wanted to, partying, and never being nagged, Kristen resigned herself to the fact that Tim only called for three reasons. When he wanted something- no, needed something, to manipulate her, and to get her off his back about filing paperwork for money. And the money reason could be put into the needed something category. It wasn’t until a family lawyer friend filed the papers for her that Tim started calling Kristen hundreds of times a day. Kristen was good, she didn’t pick up. But when Tim flew to Washington…
She lasted a day. Then he kissed her, the pressure so apologetic, the weight of a thousand redemptions were promised in that kiss. A sudden exuberance that had been empty from her entire being filled her in that moment and she would not be denied.
Zoey, who had only seen her twice since she had been in Washington was aghast. Kristen lived a ferry ride away, and the Zoey did not drive, nor did she like to travel. But she decided enough was enough, she really had to come out there. She would have come out the day Tim showed up but she did not get notice, her schedule did not allow for that luxury. She could only come up a few days after Tim showed. By that time Kristen went from begging her to come up to begging her not to come. And then Kristen started ignoring Zoeys texts, for she did not want a reminder of all the doubts she had spent a year living in. She did not want the euphoria she felt to fall down. No, she knew what her friend would do, and she did not want Zoey scaring Tim away! No indeed! Her family was being rude enough!
To the mother of the next generation:
I hope you can look at yourself in the mirror knowing what you know now. You chose a man who doesn’t respect you or his children over your childrens well-being and love. Clearly your goodness of character has been overestimated. A jellyfish has more backbone than you do. You are worse than a pussy, you are sauteed jelly. You hide behind your own cowardice, as if that’s an excuse. You’ve spent a year crying “what a scumbag!” Now you are ready to come back the moment he wiggles his finger. You chose him over good friends, family, self-worth.. You make women everywhere sick.
You are worse than the wife of the child molester who sits back idly and watches and tolerates the abuse. Calling yourself a victim does a disservice to other victims. Your father wanted you to do strange funny feeling things you did not understand, then he left, and it was all your fault. If that damaged you, think how much more damage it does to have a man leaving whenever he wants, the kids thinking their behavior can influence whether the door swings shut or open.
Oh wait, you have proven that you cant think with your head.
You think you are using your heart, but it’s something rotten to the core that’s being worked on here. You are the scam, and he is the con artist. He lost control, so he came to take it back. Once he’s gotten the reigns (which were really quite easy for him to grab) he’ll do all the things he did when you were together. You haven’t bargained. You haven’t forced him to go to sex therapy (and we all know he is a sex addict, as he’s sought out sex with other girls openly on nights you denied him, he’s even raped you when you denied him.) You feel sorry for him.
My heart, usually filled with forgiveness, can only feel revulsion because when I look at you I see the innocent being forced to handle what they should not have to handle. Hardships that destroy the purity of their hope.
It’s quite personal for me seeing as you dragged me into your personal business, made me part of your personal life, and then you kicked me out the moment you no longer enjoyed the truths I had to give you. It feels… personal to me. Do you know how my innocence was taken away? Do you? Do you really? Because again, I feel very protective of other innocence. Nobody should have their innocence taken away like this.
Your children are being attacked; you are NOT the innocent party here anymore, your children are. The moment you let him back into your arms you went from being a sympathetic victim to somebody complicit in a crime. At least the wife of a drug dealer does not tell herself her husband works in sales.
I’m angry at the energy I put into trying to protect you. What a waste!
You acted as though you had your hands tied behind your back but as soon as Tim enters the picture, you demonstrate an amazing agility- as if you’ve known your whole life how to get by without even needing your arms or hands.
You could have tried harder to tell me how entrenched in his grasp you were instead of trashing him with me. We called him Mr Slusband. He went from a noun to an adjective of a terrorist strike. He became something that happened to people… But he was not a person anymore. The idea that you can switch to the other side so easily.. I feel as though I have been living next to a double agent, and the betrayal stings. But you don’t have time to apologize- you need me to be there to pick up the pieces the next time he hurts you. Right now you can’t think about anything outside of his touch.
You were so close, my dear. Didn’t you know this was his Hail Mary? Do you have any idea how good it could have gotten? You were a few inches away from celebrating a new life. The independence you see in me that you envy, you were so close. And now, sucked back into his grasp, it will take more energy to get back to being a victim than one year did to move you one inciment closer to feeling better. Seeing how hard it was this time, I don’t think you will have it in you a second time.
Why? We fought for freedom. And you…. you are a slave, but not just any slave. You are a slave that cries to everyone they meet, I don’t want to be a slave! So I cared. I tried to get you free! but you keep walking back to slavery, again and again, and everytime you do, you get less food, less care, less medicine. Less protection. You lose the protection of those who gave so much to free you; you lose the respect of the master who thought he could lose you. When you go outside of that protection, you have to deal with not having that protection to come back to.