Living Happily Ever After


Blog Articles

O Christmas Tree

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.  In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.” (Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas)

Christmas. It’s in the air. Especially in Utah where there are radio stations that begin playing all Christmas music, all of the time…in October!

It causes me to reflect on Christmases past—and Christmas now.

I remember my first Christmas as a married woman, arriving home from work in the early darkness of a winter evening. As I drove up the street, approaching my little starter home, I could see lights BLAZING from a neighbor’s home (glowing in the fashion of the Griswold’s lit up home in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie.) I laughed to myself, “Oh-ho! Now THERE is someone who loves Christmas! I’ve never seen so many lights, in person, on one house! I wonder who the Christmas fan is?”

And imagine my surprise, as I got closer to the spectacle, to see it was my house. Apparently, the fan was me.

Those were also the days of giant, towering, beautiful and majestic Christmas trees.

Enter the unexpected life.

Last year, Christmas was a bit of a struggle. Christmas 2009 was our first, on the heels of a lot of life change. It was lonely and worrisome. I’d never done Christmas lights before. I’d never set up a Christmas tree by myself before. I’d never had to earn my own money for Christmas gifts before. And despite the fact I felt quite healed from much of what had transpired earlier that year, I had to leave the celebration a few times and go up into my bedroom, alone, to cry.

But somehow we got through it.

My children and I had never set up a fake Christmas tree by ourselves before, but eventually we figured it out. (Ok, the honest truth is my daughter did!) My oldest son did our Christmas lights. (I drove home from work to discover all of our bushes illuminated. A special Christmas memory for my first Christmas as a single mother!) And an uncle, a family friend and a small bonus from work helped with the Christmas gifts.We held on to what traditions we could, let a few go and did some things in new and different ways.

Very similar to what you do when an unexpected life hits, actually. Cry, some. (If you’re like me.) Hold on to what you can, let a few things go, do some things in new and different ways and somehow, you get through it. You figure it out. And through it all, you get by with a little help from friends.

A year has passed. I like to (naively) believe we’ve gone through our “firsts” of everything although I’m learning that healing and life, including the unexpected one, is a process. Just when you think you’re healed or have learned what you needed to learn, occasionally something happens that shows you you’re not totally through the process. There’s a little bit left to heal. A little bit more to be conquered. Always more to learn. But with each passing day, and each challenge you rise above, you’re wiser, stronger, better, more capable and always able to see a new tender mercy or count an additional blessing.

And you can look back and see how you’ve grown. How far you’ve come.

For instance, this year, December 2010, yesterday, my children got our Christmas tree. While I was at work, they loaded in the car, drove to Home Depot, looked through all of the trees, chose the one they liked best, paid for it, hauled it home and I arrived home to a Christmas tree on our front porch! (In fact, the only thing they “forgot” to do was take a photo to document the experience.)

Today’s holiday adventure at the Merriman home will include hauling a real tree into the house and learning to master a Christmas tree stand. And if it’s like everything else, every other adventure we’ve encountered since entering our unexpected life, I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out.

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” (Norma Shearer)

The unexpected life.

Looking to Make a Statement?

Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.  ~Marlene Dietrich
I got an email from my former husband last week. In it, he listed the many things he has said and done, all of the changes he is trying to make in his life (from prison), so that someday I’ll forgive him.

I was absolutely blown away by that.

I forgave him a long time ago. I’m not sure exactly when, all I know is that from the moment my unexpected life began, I sought to forgive Him. My children know I have forgiven their father. My friends and family know I have forgiven my former husband. I think the world knows it, too, but somehow He never got it.

I told him  I have already forgiven him; in fact, that I forgave him as quickly as I could.

He sent me another email, told me I have no idea how long he has waited to hear me say that, thanked me for forgiving him and again pointed out everything he had said and done to make my forgiveness possible.

I was blown away by that too.

I have always known to forgive. My parents taught me to say I was sorry when I did something wrong and to forgive others when they did something wrong and said they were sorry. As I grew older, they taught me to forgive others whether or not they said they were sorry, or even WERE sorry, for what they had done. I am so grateful for my parents and what they taught me. Because as an adult, I saw too many people who allowed the actions of others, or their life experiences, to literally ruin them. I saw too many people focused on the wrongs that had been committed against them, too many people with souls cankered by hatred for things others had done and not enough people focused on everything “right” in their lives.

I realized, not for the first time, that life may not be a lot of things–easy, breezy, calm or fair–but life is always a choice. To live or not to live. To be happy. To laugh. To have faith. To hope. To forgive.

Yes, forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is a choice we must make, regardless of the choices made by anyone else.

I was stunned that I lived with someone for 20 years and he didn’t understand that. I was amazed that He had watched me teach and train our children, including to forgive others, and he never got it. So I had to clarify a few things with him. I told him that although I was glad he sought to do what was right, my forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with him or anything he has said or done to demonstrate his sorrow. My forgiveness is all mine; and it doesn’t hinge on what he or anyone else does. I forgive because I believe the world is in great need of its sweet fragrance.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” (Mark Twain)

Forgiveness was a choice I made. And although I did it because it was the right thing to do, I also did it for me–so I wouldn’t destroy the rest of my life or poison my soul, harbor a grudge, or carry the burden of hatred and venom like an unproductive boulder-filled backpack weighing me down because of an unwillingness to forgive.

I don’t believe you earn forgiveness.

You earn money. You earn trust. If you’re wise with your money (and can keep it out of the hands of Ponzi schemers) you may even earn interest. But you can’t “earn” the forgiveness of another.

“I wasn’t satisfied just to earn a good living. I was looking to make a statement.” (Donald Trump)

One of the most important statements we can make in life, unexpected or otherwise, is this: I forgive.

In Charge

The day we met Cheryl Preheim we spent time in our home and in the canyon not far from our home. Eventually, I had to leave the canyon and take my middle son to football practice.

Cheryl asked, “How about if your older two children stay here with Ken and I, we’ll talk to them alone and take them home when we’re done?”

I hadn’t expected that, for some reason. I hadn’t prepared myself, or them, for that experience. I have amazing children, but still, it’s kind of huge to leave your teens alone, in front of a camera that’s recording–who knows what they’ll say? But in life, especially the unexpected one, you’ve got to improvise. I’ve flown by the seat of my pants a lot since March 18, 2009. So I drove away.

When we were back at my home, Cheryl caught me alone and said, “I have to tell you about our interview.”

I died inside.

I sort of panicked. And I’m ashamed to say, I imagined the worst.

“What?” I asked. “They didn’t argue or fight did they? They weren’t rude, were they?” That would be just my luck to display, not for the first time (please see 2009′s media reports on Shawn Merriman and the revelation of his Ponzi scheme if you don’t know what I’m talking about!) the finest aspects of our character, our finest moments, publicly, in the media.

Cheryl laughed and said, “Don’t worry! Your children are amazing. I just sat and heard your teenage son tell me life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% what you do with it. I can’t believe it.” She shared something inspiring my daughter had said, as well, and the mother in me calmed down.

Instead, it was one of those parent paydays. You parents out there know what those are. You love, labor to teach, serve, and expend your energies helping your children grow and develop and learn all they need to…and you don’t always see the fruits of your efforts right away. But if you’re lucky, every now and then, you get glimpses of the amazing adults they’re on track to become. It reminds you how worth it all is, how much fun it has all been. That’s how that day turned out for me.

Coincidentally, the thought about attitude my son referenced is part of a quote Cheryl had heard before. She loved it so much she carried it with her. And she left that thought, in the form of a fridge magnet, for us when she left. Here it is:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Thanks, Cheryl. (And Charles.)

I believe the only way you’re going to get through life and rise above your challenges is to take charge–and keep a good attitude. It is something I’ve come to realize the longer I’VE lived. And when you can’t control the the unexpected events that become your life, it’s comforting to be in charge of something.

Thank goodness we’re always in charge of the most important thing.


“I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.” (Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt)

Edward Eyes

“I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart.” (Pope John XXIII)

I don’t know how it is for all divorced, single women, but I can tell you how I felt and what I thought.

I couldn’t believe it had happened to me. I was a in a bit of shock at the events that led to my divorce and the fact that I was divorced. My divorce hadn’t happened in what I imagined were the typical ways–we had never fallen out of love, become indifferent to one another, fought with each other or hated each other. It wasn’t a downward spiral leading to a break-up. The necessity for a divorce came in one day, out of the blue.

My feelings of self worth suffered. I walked around, sure that all eyes were on me, that everyone knew I was single, that everyone probably thought I’d done something wrong to end up that way and that people either pitied me or thought I was a loser.

I was filled with grief that a marriage had ended and an intact family unit had been destroyed.

I felt the marriage that ended had been my one marriage, my one chance at having a husband or being married, and that I was destined to be alone the rest of my life.

But at the same time, my divorce didn’t destroy my belief in the institution of marriage or in the purpose of families; I remained a fan of both. I remember sitting in church one day a month or two after my divorce became final and the Sunday School lesson was on marriage. I sat there, listening, as I always had when a woman sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry. Is this hard for you?” No, I answered, and I meant it. It hadn’t dawned on me to sit there and feel bad for myself or mope about what I didn’t have.

However, as a single woman, there were certain things I noticed.

I noticed every wedding ring on every man’s finger. My husband had never worn a wedding ring, and although it had never bothered me or been an issue for us (due to my dad’s profession, he hadn’t worn one either, so I didn’t grow up with the expectation that married men should wear wedding rings) I began to appreciate them–after I was single.

I noticed young couples in love, particularly the way they looked at each other, specifically the way the young men looked at the young ladies. I couldn’t help but see it, probably because I’d been told my spouse hadn’t looked at me in years prior to our divorce. Somehow along the way, I decided I wanted that for myself someday.

Some people look for money. Some people choose a mate based solely on chemistry, intellect, physical appearance or personality. I decided, among other things, I was going to hold out for a man who looked at me with “the look.” I didn’t want a relationship where my husband spent year looking at the tip of my nose again.

Enter Bachelor #5.

He told me he’d marry me tomorrow if I were willing; I was slower than he was to come to that decision. I had a lot of observing and investigating to do before I committed myself. And one of the things I was checking out was “the look.” Did he look at me that way?

I wasn’t sure.

It was time to find out.

One night I sat nose to nose with Bachelor #5. I directed him to look at me. He laughed and told me he couldn’t, things were too blurry to see that close up! I explained he didn’t need to see me, I just needed to see the way he looked at me. He shook his head, teased me about trying to live a teenage fantasy in my 40s and holding out for something that doesn’t exist in real life, but he had the good grace to look me in the eyes anyway.

For a second or two, as I looked into his warm, brown eyes, I wasn’t sure what I saw. Then before I could decide, he opened his eyes as wide as he could, gazed intently into mine, raised his eyebrows (to the point he was looking a little like a zombie) and asked, “Can you see it? I’m looking at you with my best Edward eyes. Do you see my Edward eyes?”

I told you he gets me.

He’s not even a Twilight fan, but he somehow knew what I was thinking, what I was looking for, and at least jokingly, tried to be that for me.

Just one more reason I finally decided it was time. Why I said, “Yes.” And why we’re still…engaged.

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” (Author Unknown)

It’s all part of the unexpected life.

The Look of Love

“When your world is full of strange arrangements
And gravity won’t pull you through
You know you’re missing out on something…
Yes one thing that turns this gray sky to blue
That’s the look, that’s the look, the look of love…
Who’s got the look? I don’t know the answer to that question.
Where’s the look? if I knew I would tell you
What’s the look? look for your information…
That’s the look, that’s the look, the look of love…
That’s the look, that’s the look, Be lucky in love
Look of Love.”
(ABC, “The Look of Love” lyrics, by Martin Fry, David Palmer, Steve Singleton, and Mark White)

I danced to that song in the 80s. And I guess I took “the look” for granted. I assumed everyone looked at their love with “the look of love.” It took my unexpected life to show me that isn’t always the case.

Just prior to my entire world falling apart, I saw the first of the “Twilight” movies and was particularly struck by the way Edward looked at Bella. I don’t know if everyone else noticed it, but I sure did, and it made me feel a little crazy: forty-something woman struck by the way an actor portraying a vampire simply LOOKED at another character in a story geared toward teenage girl fantasies and dreams of love and romance! I didn’t know why I noticed that specific aspect of the fictional relationship and why it had such an impact on me. Until March 18, 2009.

That day my then-husband, Shawn Merriman, sat me down and shattered my world. To anyone just joining us, that was the day he revealed his investment company, Market Street Advisors, was “a sham;” that he had been running a Ponzi scheme for 15 years; that he had already turned himself in to government authorities and anticipated being charged with crimes in the next week and incarcerated within the next 30 days for approximately the next 5-7 years; that all of our assets, money, home, vehicles and possessions had been seized by the government; and that I would be left alone to parent, provide for, and raise our four children.

That was also the day I realized why I found Edward’s intense look at Bella so compelling.

As part of his confession, my then-spouse expressed the guilt and shame he had lived with during the entire course of his Ponzi scheme. He felt so bad about what he had done, and so guilty, he said it became difficult for him to even look at me. “I haven’t looked you in the eye in years,” he revealed.


I argued with that. We had laughed, talked, joked, communicated and discussed things, ate dinner together, prayed together, interacted on a daily basis and lived as a happy, loving couple, married and raising our family for 20 years. He had looked at me all of the time! At least I’d thought he had. It seemed like he had. I was about to learn Shawn Merriman’s biggest deception of all relative to his life of crime.

It wasn’t the lies he’d told day in and day out, as he’d come home from work and report the usual business-related events of the day like all husbands do, conversations he’d had with this person or that client, stocks he had bought or sold. I found out he hadn’t bought or sold any stocks in years.

It wasn’t the fraudulent monthly statements he created and mailed to every investor, including me, each month. I found out he made all of those up.

It wasn’t the hypocrisy he exemplified to our children and the rest of the world, preaching one way of living and secretly choosing to practice another.

It was the way he had looked at me. Or intentionally had not looked at me.

He explained, “No, you only THINK I’ve looked at you. But I haven’t. Not once. I have looked at the tip of your nose every single time I’ve looked at you, and when I do that, you think I’m looking at you and can’t tell I’m not looking at you, but I promise you, I haven’t looked in your eyes in years.”

How long?

Most of our children had been born during the years he hadn’t looked me in the eye. I couldn’t count the number of events we’d shared, the memories we’d made and the daily expressions of love he had uttered to me…all while never looking at me. And I’d never even seen it. I had never known.

How could I not have been able to see that my husband was looking only at the tip of my nose instead of my eyes? How did no one else notice he didn’t look them in the eye either? And actually, how did I never know there were people out there who intentionally didn’t look people in the eye?

In a way, it was a fitting end to a relationship that came to a screeching halt due to crime, betrayal and other wrongs perpetrated by one man.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” (Gilda Radner)

Anti-Aging Secret of The Unexpected Life

“Appearance is something you should definitely consider when you’re going out. Have your girlfriend clip your nails or something like that.” (Usher Raymond)

Appearance. Many times, it’s everything (as far as shallow standards go.) And no time does it seem to suffer more, in my opinion, than in an unexpected life.

I see women receive makeovers after life changing events: having a baby, losing weight, when the youngest child goes to college, re-entering the workforce, etc…But one I’ve never seen, yet is probably needed more than any other time, is after someone is handed an unexpected life on a platter of darkness and devastation. Sort of like I was. Where is the free makeover when you’ve been dealt not just one major life change, but many, all in one moment? Where is a complimentary makeover when you really need one and for the first time, have no money at all to pay for help with your appearance? Where is Oprah, Good Housekeeping, or What Not To Wear when you need them?

Sadly, in my experience, there is no free makeover for the unexpected life geared to improve the way the way you look. But I’m starting to believe if you hold on long enough, things can improve on their own.

One of my aunts called the other day to tell me she is particularly struck by how young I look–now. (That is always welcome news in your 40s!) She said she couldn’t believe how carefree, happy and how much younger I appear. She isn’t the only person who has mentioned that to me. So many people have commented to me about that, I finally asked my sister, “What did I used to look like?”

Without missing a beat, my sister said, “Defeated and exhausted. But how could you have looked anything else with all you were living through and going through?”

I guess I thought I was a better actress than I’d actually been. I had no idea anyone could see through the fake smiles I shared, day after day, month after month, for awhile. I had tried so hard to “look” like everyone else only to find out, after the fact, that my performance wasn’t an astounding success; it wasn’t as convincing as I’d hoped.

I do remember at the time I was unexpectedly thrust into my unexpected life, in the throes of shock and grief and fear and trying to stay afloat in the sinking ship that had become reality for me and my children, looking in the mirror and thinking, for the first time in my life, that I looked like an “old bag”: old, faded, wrinkled, blah, tossed aside, alone, past my prime and with not a lot going for me any more.

I guess when you lose everything in a single moment, the shock and devastation that is indescribable takes a serious toll on your appearance!

But I also think as you get a handle on your unexpected life, and seek to find happiness and joy anyway, it is also manifest in your appearance.

So forget those expensive anti-aging creams and potions.

Choose to be happy in whatever life you’re living, whatever the unexpected life you’ve got, and I believe eventually you’ll look younger too.

“How things look on the outside of us depends on how things are on the inside of us.” (Unknown)

I hope I’m living proof of that.

Six Degrees

I had an experience last week that reminded me of a unique “phenomenon.” Six degrees of separation. Ever heard of it?

“Six degrees of separation” (also known as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.” (Wikipedia)

I’d heard of this “phenomenon” prior to entering my unexpected life, but it has proven true over and over again as I’ve lived it.

Several months ago, a co-worker of mine was curious about a bachelor I was dating, input the bachelor’s name into Facebook, and up popped a mutual friend my co-worker and the bachelor had! What is that? Two degrees of separation. My co-worker joked, “Should I ‘friend’ the man you’re dating? Wouldn’t THAT be funny?”

Then I met my birth mother only to discover her best friend and college roommate was a friend of mine in Colorado! One degree of separation.

Then last week at my company’s summer party, the COO’s wife introduced herself to me and told me we have a mutual friend. She said her cousin, one of her closest friends, is a friend of mine from Colorado. (And although she was kind enough not to mention it, her cousin is also a victim of my former spouse.)

I hadn’t heard from my friend since the tragic revelations last year, so I was surprised when the COO’s wife told me she had a message for me from her. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe; I didn’t dare breathe. I felt sick. I thought, “Is this how the rest of my life will be? No matter where I go, no matter how much time passes, no matter how much I rebuild my life, am I never going to be free from the tentacles of my former spouse and the crimes he committed?”

I wondered how I was going to be able to endure it. For the rest of my life. I braced myself for the “message.” I’ve received enough of those to worry it wasn’t going to be a positive experience for me. Then I wondered if I was about to be suddenly thrust onto a path that was the beginning of the end to losing my job. (A little paranoid on my part. O.k., a lot paranoid. But such are the scars of blissfully living your life until the day you find out it has all been a lie, that you are left with nothing and are alone to provide for and raise your children.)

Shame on me for thinking that.

Instead, the message was, “She wants you to know she loves you, she LOVES you, she loves you…” and she hugged me.

I honestly don’t know what the rest of the message was, because as soon as I heard that first part, I couldn’t hear anything else. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed, again, at the kindness and goodness of people. And I was chatting with the cousin and friend of one of them.

It’s in the most unexpected places and manifests itself in the most unexpected moments, but it’s there. And I’m so grateful that it is. Another person betrayed by my former husband and yet, instead of reacting with hatred and venom, she has chosen another course. Maybe a harder path in some ways (it seems like the natural inclination might be that it’s easier to give in to anger and hatred and retaliate “an eye for an eye” rather than respond with forgiveness) but such goodness is a better way to live, for sure.

She may have lost her money, but she didn’t lose what matters most; what is truly of value. Ponzi scheme or not, poor economy notwithstanding, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” (Henry David Thoreau)

There may be “six degrees of separation” (or less!) to any other person on earth. But I believe there is even less than that to get to the heart of the goodness of others. And that inspires me.

“It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good.” (Greek Proverb)

So there I sat, tears streaming down my cheeks at a company party at a park in the summertime in Utah. Struck, not for the first time, by the impact our choices have on others. Touched by the effect one woman’s choice had on me. And awed by the strength, courage and example of one who practices what she has professed to be.

It made a difference in my life. At my company picnic. I never expected that.

What Do You Do?

So what do you do when you’ve been tossed out of the safety and security of the airplane seat you’ve occupied, its seatbelt securely holding you in place through any and all unexpected turbulence for 20 years, and into the open air…without a parachute?

I hope I never find out, literally, because I’m pretty sure I’d die.  March 18, 2009, showed me I could use some work on quick reflex skills!  I’d like to think I’d at least REACH for a non-existent rip cord.  Fight against the eminent landing.  SOMETHING.  But that isn’t how I responded that day.  (Hence my decision to NEVER sky dive for real.)

I sat there, like a deer caught in headlights, for a minute or two.  Stunned. My brain ceased to function, my intelligence went out the window, I couldn’t even think.  I couldn’t comprehend.  I didn’t understand.


That was all the intelligence I could muster in a moment like that.

So He repeated what He had just said.  And I was almost equally unintelligent the second time through.

“Is this a joke?  You are kidding me.  This is a joke. I know it is.  It isn’t funny, I don’t get the punchline, but there is NO WAY you’re telling me the truth.  This is NOT real.  Am I being punked?”

Where was Asthon Kutcher?

But He wasn’t kidding.  It was not a joke.  It was a disaster of proportions I couldn’t comprehend.  I still can’t.

Then my mind kicked in and my questions began.

“How can this be?  What am I going to do?  No job? No money?  You’re going to PRISON?  How will I raise our kids?  How will I keep them alive?  How am I going to pay for our food and utility bills? How will I pay our car insurance? What am I going to do?”  (That fear I’d always had of being responsible to keep someone else alive, the responsibility of providing for someone else, returned. I was terrified for the physical survival of my children.)

He told me I still didn’t get it.  There were no cars to drive anymore.  There wasn’t a house to live in.  And the man I’d turned to for almost 20 years, to solve problems and answer questions, didn’t have any answers anymore.

I knew I was headed, with my four kids, to live in a cardboard box on the street. Literally.

I was too stunned to understand a lot, in that moment, but suddenly I had a thought come to mind.

“Is that all?”

Nope. There was more.  He said He was sorry, then started SOBBING like I’d never seen Him cry before.  And that was when it hit me.  This was not a joke.  This was real.

And all I could do was continue to be what I’d always tried to be:  polite, kind, and calm.  I actually apologized to him!  (What can I say?  You never react the way you anticipate in moments like that.  Of course, I’d never anticipated any moments like that!)

“I’m sorry, so sorry to leave you here like this, but I have to go.  I have to get out of here.”

I got up from the table, got in my car, and drove away.

I didn’t know where I was headed, I just knew I had to get away from Him.  But there was nowhere I could drive that would take me away from the disaster.  I made it less than 1/3 of a mile before the shock and reality hit and the tears began like a flood.  And the shaking.  The shaking set in so immediately I doubted my ability to control a steering wheel.  I quickly pulled over so I didn’t add to the disaster by hurting myself or someone else.

There I was, alone, unable to drive, TERRIFIED, with not a clue what to do.  My panic was absolute, but indescribable.  My every thought was for my children:  how was I going to feed them?  How was I going to keep them alive?  WHAT was I going to do?

I picked up my cell phone and called my sister.  Something wasn’t right with my fingers.  I couldn’t get them to work.  I couldn’t get them to dial the numbers on the phone correctly.  Either that or she wasn’t home.  I then tried my friend from college who had become like a sister to me over the years–we traveled together, spent holidays together, etc… It was a miracle.  She was home.

I could hardly speak, but she finally understood what I was saying although she couldn’t comprehend it either.  I remember asking, “What should I do?  What do I do?  Should I go to the bank and try to get ANY money so I can keep my kids alive?”  My survival instinct had set in at that point, I guess.

“Yes, go to the bank and try to get some money,” she advised.

I didn’t know if I could, but I had to try.

I drove to the bank.

When we married, we’d brought our own checking accounts to our marriage and had never changed that.  We’d never had a joint checking account.  (Looking back, I’ve been told this might not have been normal.  But I hadn’t been married before.  I didn’t know what was normal.  I had married a man capable of a lot more than anyone had ever realized.)  I’d never had access to any of “his” accounts or money.  I never needed it–I charged everything to a credit card, which he told me he paid off monthly, and that was how our household operated.  Things that couldn’t be charged (like the house cleaner and school fees for our children), I paid for out of my small checking account that he replenished with small amounts of cash as needed because I was a stay-at-home mom.  Unfortunately, I always waited until I was almost out of money to tell him I needed money.  So my cash resource was small.

I got a little cash, but not all of it, so I could buy groceries for my children. It was all I had to begin a new life with.  And then, not knowing what else to do, I returned “home.”

But it didn’t feel like my home any more.