For the Sins of Men

I don’t even know the name of the town in Virginia where I met her. It was just one of the stops I made on my way to somewhere else. I needed a manicure and asked Siri for directions to a nail salon. He, my Siri is a Brit, directed me to the salon. On any typical day I would get a nail tech who was Vietnamese. This was not a typical day.

Every worker in the salon was Vietnamese except for the gal they assigned to me. She was a petite 47-year-old white girl, Virginia born and bred. She had sunshiny brown eyes and thick brunette hair that fell in gentle curls around her slight shoulders. Her pretty face was narrow with enviable cheekbones. Her makeup was fresh and light but the worry lines and bags under her eyes made her look ten years older. Her bleached white teeth shone brilliant when she smiled, something she did only when speaking of her two daughters, one 13 and one 17.

She had been on a Facetime call with her youngest, she told me. The girls live in Florida with their father. He’s got money their momma doesn’t. “My daughter’s at home grub-hubbing Starbucks all day long,” she said. “This is like the fifteenth time she’s ordered Starbucks this week.”

“Where’s the dad?” I asked.

“Who knows?” she shrugged. “Probably working. He spoils them.”

The furrow in her forehead deepened. “I don’t even have internet at my apartment. I don’t even have a couch. I’d like to have a couch but I can’t afford one.”

Then she told me the tale of her divorce. They’d been living in Maryland for over a decade. Her husband had a good job, making over six figures. She was happy and thought he was too. She was busy raising the girls and working part=time as a nail tech, not cause she had to but because she wanted to. Mostly, tho, her job was being mom. It was a job she loved.

“Maybe I was too wrapped up with the girls, not paying him enough attention,” she mused. Women are taught from an early age that we are responsible for all the wrongs in the world. Especially women raised in an Evangelical Bible culture. We are taught that all the sins of the world are the fault of one woman and as women we are descendants of that woman. Even her name, Eve, denotes evil. All that goes wrong is therefore all our fault. It’s the perfect narrative for a patriarchical culture.

In 2019, right before the pandemic, her husband up and moved the family to Florida. She had no idea why he wanted to move there, but she didn’t question it. In 2021, she was in the front yard, with her youngest who was riding her bike in the cul-de-sac, when a strange man drove up and handed her papers.

“You’ve been served,” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Served?”

“Divorce papers,” he replied.

She didn’t see that coming, didn’t know her husband had a side-chick.

“Why do men cheat?” she asked. “Why do they do that?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, thinking of my own former son-in-law, a serial cheater, thinking of Elon Musk, a sperm donor.

He told her she could take the kids, go back to Virginia for awhile if she wanted, to sort things out. She’s dyslexic, failed three times to pass English 101 in college, then just gave up. “That’s why I’m a nail tech,” she said. “I wasn’t smart enough to get through college.”

So she took the kids to her sister’s house in Virginia for a week. “I needed my sister to help me understand the papers,” she explained. And while she was there her ex filed kidnapping charges against her, said she’d taken the kids out-of-state without his permission while in the middle of a divorce. She had to return to Florida asap.

The judge awarded the kids to her husband because by then she was living out of her car, showering at the 24-hour Fitness place, unable to pay rent on even the most threadbare apartment. He got the house, the kids and child support. Yep, she pays him child support because her daughters are only with her during the summer.

Florida, what can you say?

Hardly surprising that a 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), revealed that women experience more financial hardship after a divorce. A woman’s income decreased by nearly half after a divorce, while a man’s decreased only by a quarter.

The girls have only spent one summer with her and they hated it. “They don’t know anybody here,” their momma said. “They grew up in Maryland. Their friends are there or in Florida.”

They don’t even have grandparents nearby. Both of their maternal grandparents died before turning 60. That’s what happens when you live in an economically depressed region with poor health care and unreliable income. The girls miss their momma but she tells them she can’t afford to live in Florida. Her apartment isn’t much but it’s a step above living out of her car.

I tried to think of something encouraging to say, not something pithy but something hopeful. I told her about my daughter, how difficult it’s been for her since her divorce, how she’s worked hard, found a good job she is good at, and how she copes with an ex who plays Disney Dad, you know, only there for the good times. I encouraged the nail tech to go the local community college and try again to get a better education. “They have programs to help dyslexics now,”I said. Such things weren’t available during the 1990s when she first attempted college.

“My friends tell me I need to find an old rich man to marry, but I have my morals. I’m a Christian. The men on the dating apps they all drink too much. I don’t drink or do drugs, never have.”

She was just a good Christian girl who was happy being a mom and a wife.

Until he took all that from her with the help of a patriarchal system designed to oppress women for the sins of unfaithful men.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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