It’s been more than three weeks since I posted about my son Andres and his sudden revelation that he was being manipulated and abused by his ex-girlfriend and her husband. A lot has happened since then, which I’ll just summarize briefly:
- To my surprise, Andres has not reconnected with Renee, not yet anyway. That’s something new for him. In the past, he did block her several times, but it only lasted a day or two before they were talking again. He says he is determined to put his relationship with her in the past.
- He’s continued to talk on a regular basis to the new girl he met online. Let’s call her Patty. I met Patty, well, I just said hello to her when they were video chatting one evening. Without going into details, I can just say she made a good first impression.
- After receiving encouragement from Patty, Andres made an appointment with the dentist. I think I’ve told you all before what terrible, terrible shape his teeth are in. He knew he needed to go, but he kept postponing it out of fear. But now he’s repeating things Patty told him, like, “It won’t be easy or fun, but I’ll be so glad to get it over with. It’s important that we all take care of our own health.”
- He’s also apparently had a positive impact on her health, that is, he encouraged her to get the COVID vaccine, and she went and did it. She said she lives in a place where she felt she would have face a lot of social disapproval if people knew she went to get the vaccine. But when she heard Andres say that he, and all of us, had been vaccinated, and that things were opening up more here because nearly 70 percent of the people in our city were vaccinated, she decided she would do what she wanted and not what she thought neighbors might approve of.
- Patty lives the next state over from us. Two weeks after she gets her second vaccine, she is planning to come for a short visit, maybe a day and a half to two days. But she’s not expecting to stay with us; she told Andres it’s better if she finds an inexpensive motel and stays there. She says it’s a lot of fun to talk together but they shouldn’t rush things too much.
- Somewhat in contrast to the last bullet point, they both decided to go get tested for STDs. Now, in a way, I don’t even really want to hear about that. In another way, I should want to hear about that, since Andres hasn’t shown himself to be very skilled at caring for himself. And I am glad to hear that they are being responsible. (It’s weird but good, I guess, to have your son say to you, “Got my results, Mom. I am not HIV positive, don’t have gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis either, and no herpes…”)
- Last but not least, Andres is cheerful and much more social than usual. Although he spends a lot of time talking to Patty, he also spends more times talking to me and my husband and coming out to see the neighbors. “Patty told me that it’s good for me to spend time with family and friends,” he said. “She’s not like Renee; she’s not jealous when I spend time with other people.”
So that’s the Andres story, in a nutshell.
Then there’s my side of the story. I stopped beating myself up for not protecting him better in the past and just decided to focus on the present and the future. I suggested to Andres that he make me his rep payee–this would mean that his monthly social security check would come to me, and he could only spend money if I gave it to him. I said, why don’t we try it for six months and then re-evaluate. That way, if you start talking to Renee again, she can’t take anymore money off you, because you won’t have it to give.
He came back to me a day or later with a counterproposal: “How about this Mom. How about if I come and tell you when I am thinking of spending money, and you give me your okay. That will make you kinda like my rep payee, but we don’t have to go through all the red tape of changing things.”
Obviously, it is not quite as a protective a solution, but I said that for now we could try it. If it doesn’t seem to be sufficient, though, I’ll bring up the rep payee thing again.
I wasn’t surprised when a few days after the big announcement, I started getting a lot of texts from Renee. She was upset and confused, she told me. She was crying. She couldn’t understand why Andres would just ghost her like that. What was going on?
For some reason, I have this soft spot for Renee. Maybe it’s just that I have known her now for nearly 10 years. Maybe it’s because I feel her parents did a terrible job bringing her up, and she’s had a hard time of it. Maybe it’s my own pattern of being a bit of a sucker for manipulative people–because certainly I do have a history of that.
Maybe it’s because I know she and Mark had their two very small children taken into foster care a couple of months ago, and they may lose custody permanently. I don’t exactly know what all went on in that household, but I suspect it might be better for the kids to be in foster care. But it’s also heartbreaking for Renee, and I do feel sad for her. She deserved a better life than she’s had.
Whatever the reason behind it, I didn’t have it in me to say, “Fuck off, bitch. You and your violent, brutish husband have tormented my son for more than enough time. Go away and don’t let us ever hear from you again.”
I was, however, determined not to lie and pretend nothing was wrong. I told her that Andres didn’t feel like talking to her or to Mark. He didn’t want to play video games with them all night, always the games they chose and he paid for. He didn’t want to give them money anymore.
It wasn’t right to take his money, I told her. That wasn’t appropriate.
She cried some more and said she was sorry. She said Mark was sorry. She said Mark really cared about Andres.
She said she didn’t know Andres was upset about all the money he gave them. She said he always told her he was glad to give the money, glad to help her because of their history together.
(I asked Andres about that, and he said he did say stuff like that; he felt badgered into saying that, so things would seem fine and there wouldn’t be anymore emotional drama.)
She said, “Just let me talk to him. I want to apologize. I am sure I can make him understand.”
“No, Renee. I can’t make him talk to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. It has to be his choice. He might change his mind later, or he might not, but that is up to him.”
I did an acceptable–not brilliant, not terrible–job. I was honest with her about what was not okay about the way she and Mark behaved. But I didn’t shame her or reject her. I don’t know, maybe I feel in part like I’m supposed to be teaching her a calm, still caring way to disagree or to set a boundary? But why should that be my job?
Like I said, it’s been over three weeks now, and she still texts me most days, though not as often as she did at the beginning. Now she mostly doesn’t ask to talk to Andres. Instead, she sends me photos of things she has made (she is actually quite creative and really good at drawing and painting). Or she tells me that she had an hour to see her babies and the older one, who is about 19 months old, acted scared of her; what should she do? Do I think the foster parents were telling him bad things about her?
It just pulls on my heart. I feel sorry for her, and sorry for her two babies, and sorry for all the families in the world who live in poverty and fear and ignorance. It’s amazing how little Renee understands about how things work. The one thing she does know, however, is how to latch onto people and get them to bail her out of things. Andres did that for her for years. Maybe she thinks I will replace him in that role? Or maybe she is sad and lonely because she fights with Mark a lot and only sees her babies twice a week for an hour each time, and she just wants someone to talk to.
Am I doing good or harm by talking with her? I can’t even decide. I can’t fix any of her problems, not that we can ever fix other people’s problems. I can’t make up for the fact that she’s curious and creative but disastrously educated and afraid of all sorts of things. And should I even want to do that, after the way she treated Andres?
My wise neighbor, the one I take walks with, asked me what I want to happen with these texting conversations with Renee. I said, “I guess I hope she will feel like there is someone who cares about her. But at the same time, I kind of want the conversations to gradually fade away. I want her to be someone our family used to know.”
Those are contradictory impulses, and one day I’ll need to choose one or the other. But not today, not tonight. I’ll just trust that in time, I’ll figure out the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, my inner child parts and I continue to loosen our tight grip on E. We think about setting a date to end therapy. But that’s a topic for another post.