Ugly Apparition

There’s no such thing as a cursed email, I know this on a rational level. But sometimes, our brains aren’t rational, especially these days, with everything that’s going on.

I’ve come to fear communicating with my ex-wife. “Fear” isn’t the right word, not exactly — dread, maybe — but it’s something I hate doing, something that leaves me feeling nervous and sick ahead of time, and anxious and upset afterwards. I’m not entirely sure why, beyond the feeling of disdain present in every interaction — the continued feeling that she will instantly dismiss or disagree with anything I have to say, purely on the basis that I said it, through an increasingly brittle face of faux politeness. After every time we communicate, I feel like shit. The accumulation of almost two decades of emotional abuse still working its way through my system, I guess.

It’s become clear to me that she’ll choose the path of spitefulness wherever possible in the past few months; I took the dogs at the end of last year after she told me her dad was sick and she was going to visit him, only to discover her posting on social media about scuba diving in another state entirely with her fiancée; she then moved to California with the dogs weeks early without telling me, only informing me via email after the fact that she was starting her new life and they were there with her.

Legally, we share custody of the pups “by mutual consent.” When she told me, months earlier, that she was engaged and would be moving with the dogs, I pointed out that we had to discuss some kind of arrangement where we both agreed on how often we’d both see them; that’s what mutual consent is. “I don’t consent to anything that isn’t what I want,” she replied.

(I got the dogs for a few weeks in March. When it came towards the end of the agreed upon period, I wrote to her to say, “I should keep them for longer, there’s a pandemic and both our states are in lockdown, traveling would be dangerous and stressful, and they’re happy, healthy and thriving here.” She drove from California to Oregon to collect them anyway. So it goes.)

I realized that, because she and I filed joint taxes for the final time last year with what had been our shared house as the address — we’d agreed upon this because we’d started the year making advance payments jointly — this year’s weird, uncomfortable but also increasingly financially necessary stimulus check was likely to be addressed to both of us, and sent there. So, as much as I didn’t want to, I wrote an email saying, basically, when that check comes in, can you let me know and we’ll work out how to handle it. Her response was to tell me that she filed independently for 2019, so there would be no joint check.

I know, I said, my anxiety spiking, but they calculated everything based on 2018 taxes, so please, if and when the check appears, can you let me know. She repeated that she filed independently for 2019, and that I was wrong. That second email sat at the top of my inbox for a day, every other incoming email either junk or deleted, and every time I saw it, my stomach sank. There was something about it that felt ugly and cruel, somehow. Dismissive, disdainful.

I didn’t feel as if I could delete it or move it to a folder, as if it held some weird power that would hurt me if I tried; instead, I just hoped for new emails to come in and hide it. Like I said, there’s no such thing as a cursed email, I know this — but I’ve rarely felt happier to receive a battalion of work-related emails on Monday morning.

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