House of Cards

Pardon me while I vent for a minute. I usually don’t like airing out family or personal problems online, but this situation is bothering me so much, I can’t help it.

My older brother, Jason, has had his share of problems in life. For a few years, my family and I had limited seating to what some could fairly call a train wreck of adult realities colliding with unchecked childhood fears and aggressions. Both he and I seemed to have a problem adjusting to the world around us as we grew older, and we both took to various vices to cope with that growing dilemma.

One thing I won’t do is pretend that he was a saint, or free from fault. Hell, for the longest time, being around him infuriated me, because he knew me so well that he could push my buttons with ease. Remembering the friendship we had as kids was painful if only because that person was still inside him, buried beneath the hard exterior shell of an angry, embittered adult who couldn’t cope.

When Jason met Stacy, he was in one of the calmer times of his life: steadily employed, somewhat happy, and getting by. My family took to her pretty quickly, mostly because she seemed to fit in so well with us. Over the years, we had come to embrace our dysfunctions as a family unit – that we would always be more like the Griswolds than the Beavers – something we accepted as long as we took it in stride and knew that, no matter the problems, we all still loved each other deeply.

One of the reasons we took to her so much wasn’t that she had a difficult childhood of her own, but that she adopted a  take-charge matter dealing with her past and her parents. We took Stacy in as one of our own, and though her jagged puzzle piece-self seemed to fit just fine in our dark sky landscape backdrop, there always seemed to be something holding her back, stopping her from truly connecting with us as a surrogate. At the time, I didn’t really blame her; my family has always had a kind of open bluntness about certain aspects of just how messed up we were at times that it could make people think we didn’t take our issues seriously. We very much did, and do, we just use self-deprecation and humor as a coping mechanism.

Eventually, Jason and Stacy’s relationship began to deteriorate at a rapid rate, something none of us were really surprised to learn. As much as we loved Jason, he always had a way of wearing someone down with his quick temper and scathing tongue. However, the arguments she would tell us about were taking on a much more vicious manner than even we knew possible, but, unfortunately, none of us questioned her versions of events in the beginning. They would have such high ups and downs that the earth itself seemed to shake whenever things were going wrong. In the back of my mind, all I could think about was that the two should just cut their losses and bolt; there was nothing tying them together. Stacy did have a wonderful little daughter from her previous marriage that we all loved dearly, but that wasn’t reason enough that the two should stay together.

But, of course, the logical decision of cutting ties and moving on was trumped for the much more common “relationship healer:” moving in together, and as if right on cue, the two excitedly announced that they were expecting. Before long, talk jumped to a wedding in the Bahamas, a nice house in the suburbs, and all the domestic bliss two near-thirtysomethings could ask for, all the while completely ignoring the massive elephant in the room that was every one of their relationship-ending problems being shoved into a bottle and ignored.

The excitement of the pregnancy and impending nuptials was quickly being interrupted by quiet phone calls from Stacy to my mom, crying that Jason was growing out of control. I don’t think I’ll ever know of all the intricate details, but one thing was certain: she seemed terrified. But the way Jason was reacting to all of this was entirely out of character for him. Sure, he was angry, but instead of his usual defense of turning anger back on others when he’s caught being the bad guy, he started taking on the form of a guy who desperately needed someone to listen to him: there was something that none of us knew, and it was so very critical that we heard him out.

It wasn’t an easy feat for him to get us to open our eyes, because what she was telling us didn’t seem too far from what we had come to expect of him. Here was Stacy, this seemingly sweet, albeit damaged woman from a broken family and a broken marriage, being emotionally tortured by a person with a history of violent outbursts, and, worse, she was pregnant with his twin girls. Their eventual birth came and went, and though the relationship was at a breaking point, and Jason seemed to be on the verge of a breakdown, the absolute love and adoration I saw in him for those girls was undeniable. It was as though nothing in his life had ever mattered more than those two little pieces of him were now, and any problems or concerns would be dealt with as long as it meant he got to be with his daughters.

In spite of this life-changing event, and even though Jason seemed happier now with his girls, Stacy still spoke of tyrannical abuse. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I had seen Jason turn into the Manic-Depressive Hulk at the drop of a hat, but there was always a trigger, always a reason for him to snap, whether justified or not. But what she was telling us just didn’t add up. Every time I saw him, not only was Jason now quiet, but almost dejected, like a once alpha-dog that had been trumped in battle, now just content to lick his wounds.

And then that moment of clarity happened, and by complete accident. They had come over to my parent’s old house for a visit, and while everyone was out, they began to have one of their now customary arguments. The problem was, though, the house wasn’t exactly empty, and Stacy’s mask of the helpless victim had dropped. I was in my old bedroom, on the computer trying to drown out the shouts with my headphones. The argument seemed oddly one-sided, all of the anger coming from a high pitched voice, not Jason’s deep, and distinctive, growl.

I slowly walked out into the hallway, quietly watching the scene unfold in front of me. Jason was lying on the couch, trying his hardest to ignore Stacy as she verbally tore him apart from limb to limb. The hate she was spewing, with such vitriol, was staggering; who in the hell was this woman, and why was Jason just sitting there ignoring her? Growing up, I had quickly learned that the only way I could defend myself against my brother’s physical strength was by pointing the world’s biggest spotlight on one of his many insecurities. It would often end with me getting the shit kicked out of me, but it always seemed a fair trade to me. He could kick my ass, but I could piss him off with just a few simple words, and his reactions to those words were always the same: resort to violence.

But what I was seeing now was something entirely different. Never in my life had I said anything as hurtful to him than what Stacy was saying, and instead of jumping off that couch like I expected, he just sat there, letting it all wash over him, though I could see on his face the pain she was causing. I just stood there in the hallway, astonished. She was baiting him, and he wasn’t reacting at all. And this non-reaction seemed to drive the anger in her even more, because what happened next I would never have believed if I hadn’t witnessed it.

There were only two or three times in my life where I retaliated against Jason’s punches with my own, and each time, he seemed to slip into a white hot rage that would only end when I had safely locked myself in a room or hid behind one of my parents. Punching Jason, especially in the face, was akin to pulling the pin from a grenade and dropping it at your feet.
But, against everything I had ever learned as a kid, Jason only meekly said, “Stop” after Stacy landed a completely-out-of-blue haymaker to his face. “Stop?!” I asked myself incredulously. I mean, I wasn’t condoning domestic violence, or anything, but how in the hell was she not unconscious, and how was he just, literally, lying there and taking her abuse?

And right then, the truth hit me so hard that I was almost speechless from the sheer intricacy of it all: Stacy had been the tyrant of the relationship, not Jason. She eventually spotted me standing there in the hallway, my mouth hanging wide from the shock of it all. In an instant, I could see the distress in her eyes: I had caught her red-handed, and that was unacceptable. She transformed from the venom-spewing hatemonger to the helpless victim so quickly that if anyone else had walked into the room then, they would have thought it was Jason who had done the verbal beating. She ran from the room and out the front door, crocodile tears streaming down her cheeks.

Over the next several months, it became clear that the relationship was over, and Stacy began to withdraw from all of us in the family. I had told my mom what I had seen, and all of us began to piece together the truth from the tidbits of information we all had. As Stacy began to realize that we would no longer buy into the victim game anymore, she grew distant and cold toward all of us, using the twins as ammunition in her war to exact revenge on Jason for, what, no longer playing into her sociopathic games?

I would have been glad to be rid of her if it weren’t for the twins. The pain Jason felt from being denied access to his daughters quickly drove him deeper into his own addictions, and Stacy seemed to do all she could to dangle the girls in front of him, only to snatch them away at the last minute.  What few visits he did get quickly turned into none, and before long, she had broken off all contact. Try as he might, she would not respond to emails, phone calls, texts, anything.  He did try to take legal action at one point, but the growing cost of legal fees, coupled with her complete lack of response to any certified letters and his own departure into the bottle, drove Jason into despair, and after a while, he just gave up trying. That throwing in of the towel would wind up being the impetus behind today’s court proceedings.

Over the last three years since Stacy has let Jason see the girls, she has transformed her visage into this devoted, doting wife, having married a well-off man with children of his own, and converting to his faith along the way. Along with her daughter from her previous marriage, and Jason’s two daughters, this new couple now has another child of their own, and as she sinks her teeth deeper into this guy’s life, I can’t help but pity him, and almost marvel at the impending emotional trauma those children will live through as they grow up.

What’s so sad about all of this is that those girls are being used as nothing more than pawns in Stacy’s conniving game. And it’s infuriating to realize that Stacy will probably get what she wants in the end, even though my brother’s lawyer did an amazing job of wiping her testimony across that courtroom floor. She’ll probably win, because, in the end, following the exact definition of the phrase “paternal abandonment” is more important in a ruling than looking closely at the deceits and sleight of hands Stacy used to ensure my brother looked nothing more than an unloving, incompetent sperm donor. Looking at it from a detached point of view, the web of lies she has strung together is awe-inspiring in its detail.

I can only hope that the judge saw right through her act today, and that those girls will finally get to know how much their father loves them.


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