Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Cracked Christmas Carol

On this Wild Ride Wednesday I’m going back to my first Christmas as a new mom.

I went into labor around noon on December 7, 1984 with my first child. Like all new moms I’d had so many questions and concerns about the whole birthing process. Would I recognize labor when it began? Would I get to the hospital in time? Would it hurt?

The answer to all those questions was a resounding YES!

I’d been married to my baby’s father for two years and there were outrageous ups and downs. My husband (Terry) was addicted to cocaine. The impending birth of our child, however, seemed to balance my husband and I hoped the ugly days were behind us. That (as my blog readers already know) was not the case!

I was concerned about leaving my little apartment when it was time to have the baby. Not only did we live in an ugly area of town, but I also didn’t trust my husband. I wanted to protect our simple home and assets from the unseemly characters that were my husband’s friends.

One of the precautions I took before going to the hospital was to hide the unused checks. I found the small box with four books of checks and their duplicates and buried it deep in the kitchen cabinet inside a rarely used pot. I put the firmly fitting lid squarely on the small cauldron. Surely Terry would never think to look there.

Dallas was born at 4:20AM on December 8, 1984. My labor hadn’t been terribly long, but Dallas entered the world a bright shade of blue and in distress. One nurse swooped him out of the room and Terry went with them. A nurse stayed with me, cleaned me up, and calmly assured me my child would be fine. She was right.

I was not prepared for the flood of love that washed over me. I held my son in my arms and promised him I’d protect him and keep him safe.

Terry left the hospital around 6AM to go home and get some sleep. Dallas and I were taken to the large, noisy maternity ward at Fresno Community Hospital. I spent my first night as a new mom with 20-30 other women, their babies, and their mostly dysfunctional families. I didn’t see Terry again for about 12 hours.

On Christmas day Dallas was 17 days old. Terry and I paraded our beautiful son around to my grandpa, aunt, uncle, and cousins. That first Christmas was magical.

On December 26 I went to the mailbox where I found two notes from my credit union. I saw the words stamped in large red letters—INSUFFICIENT FUNDS.

The hidden checks! I went to the kitchen cabinet and dug through the pots and pans for the box I had meticulously hidden. An entire book was missing!

Over the next several days I received more notices from my credit union. How had this happened? When did Terry write the bad checks and for how much? Where was the money? The clouds of confusion slowly began to part and the light of truth gradually broke in.

When Terry left the hospital a scant two hours after Dallas’s birth, he went home and rummaged around our tiny apartment until he found the hidden checks. Those were the days when we could walk into a grocery store or liquor store and simply write a check to “Cash” and get real money in exchange for the signed note.

Terry had gone to a couple of liquor stores and every Safeway in town where he’d cashed checks in the amounts of $25-$50. The bad notes totaled more than $850. While I was in the hospital recovering from giving birth to our first child, he was hosting a cocaine party. My sister’s boyfriend was the only guest at that party, and the two guys smoked (freebased) a lot of crack.

I had been the sole breadwinner, and only earned $900 a month. I would bring home considerably less money while on maternity leave. Terry called his mom and dad (who were divorced) and told each of them that we had a lot of baby needs—which was true, of course. Each parent sent a couple hundred bucks, but not one dime went to the baby. It all went to cover the hot checks, but it wasn’t enough.

When Dallas was around four months old, a certified letter arrived at our home. Terry was being charged with fraud and there was a warrant out for his arrest. I called his grandmother—a wonderful woman with whom I had a very close relationship. She shuddered at the thought of her precious grandson going to jail, and she sent the money needed to pay back the bank.

When Tom and I bought our home 12 years ago, a search of our financial records revealed that I STILL owed money to the credit union from that one incident all those years before. I think the outstanding balance was about $42 and I had to pay it before we got our loan. We actually paid a couple of my ex-husband’s debts, as the state of California held me responsible since he was MIA.


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