The Thing About Happiness

I sat down with Tasha via Zoom (because is there any other way to connect now?) just a few days before her 30th birthday, for a chat that I knew would be enthralling. 

We’d connected a few months earlier about putting something together, but I guess you could say the timing just wasn’t right. 

Her blonde hair was slicked into a high pony and her black framed glasses formed perfectly on her pale skin. 

“I’m gonna put you down on my flower pressing project,” she said, lifting what looked to be a black glittery coaster shaped like a coffin, with dried flowers flattened on top. 

I ogled at the creativity, recalling the beautiful painted canvases she made for our home. 

“I can show you the rest of my stuff, but that’d take forever,” she glanced over her shoulder at all her art projects.

“Oh yeah, I could talk to you about all things art for days, but for now, let’s talk about your unique experience dating people in… well, we’ll get into it,” I begin, telling her to brief me on her childhood and upbringing.

She rolls her office chair closer.

“Well, I was born in Phoenix, but raised in Prescott Valley,” she looked up to consider.  “At the time, I thought my childhood was fine, but looking back… I did whatever I wanted.  My parents frequently took me to bars to watch their friends’ bands play and brought me to parties disguised as barbecues,” she laughed as if to say ‘yeah, I know it’s crazy.’ 

I made a face to suggest I agreed and chimed in before she could continue.

“Are your parents still together?” I asked, almost marveling at the different parenting styles children experience.

She responded telling me they divorced when she was 19, right after her first daughter, Brooklyn was born. 

Damn – that’s a solid run.

“Yeah, but their split wasn’t unexpected, really.  My mom met this couple through World of Warcraft and my parents did a wife swap with them… my mom actually ended up marrying the guy,” she noted casually.

*insert surprise reaction*

“So, would it be safe to say that the behavior and relationships you were shown growing up weren’t exactly healthy?” I asked, still wide eyed, thinking the couple should be the next advertisement for the online game.

Her eyebrows scrunched as she agreed, “oh, yeah, absolutely not.  I never saw them hug or kiss; I only remember them saying they loved me once, but at the time it just seemed normal,” she paused, “I didn’t know anything else.” 

Sending hugs to baby Tasha.

“So, when did you have your first serious relationship and what was that like?” I asked, embracing for impact.

She contemplated for a moment before responding, “mmm, the summer before I started driving, I think, but I was definitely sleeping with boys before that,” she took another glance over and told me quietly, her mom was in the other room.  She decided to move somewhere more agreeable to continue the conversation. 

Relaxed in a bedroom, Tasha adjusted her white headphones and continued. “His name was Cameron and he was around my age… he was the first person I loved, and that relationship was actually pretty healthy, but I didn’t feel ready for it.  I think I really just wanted to mess around,” we both nodded our heads like, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’

She explained how short lived that relationship was before she met Wayne.

“Wayne was super-hot,” she snapped her finger as if she were imagining herself as a teen again.  “He was a bad-boy drop out that smoked cigarettes and drove cars without a license,” we both laughed before she poked at herself… “totally my type.”   

I recalled my dating history and quickly assessed I wasn’t into bad boys… unless you count the opiate abuser… okay, sure, maybe a small blip. 

“Yeah, we were only official for like a month; he had crazy commitment issues and ran away all the time… and he had a kid on the way, but even when he’d just fall off the face of the planet, I couldn’t stop thinking about him,” she smirked and pushed her glasses up her nose.

“So, what would you guys do together?  What drew you in outside of him being a bad boy?” I pressed.

“Well, once I had my license, I was gone with him all the time.  I’d stay out until 1am on weeknights and my parents didn’t even know, or they didn’t care.  He’d take me to cemeteries, or we’d make out behind the baseball fields at Yavapai College… there was just something about him.” 

I asked about her seemingly inevitable cigarette and drug abuse; she revealed she never smoked – never did any of that.  She saw the people around her and thought ‘I don’t want that.’

“There’s actually this really great quote I read that’s just stuck with me,” she recalled.  “It goes something like ‘we try to become the people that will save our parents.’”

As the thunder rattled our house (monsoon season), I allowed that to wash over me and decided to put it in my “back pocket” to assess later.

Now, it was time to figure out who Tasha got pregnant with at 18.

“Well,” she laughed, “it was a random guy at a party that I ended up staying with for three years.” 

I asked how her parents took it, imagining how different my life would be if I had a child at 18. 

“My dad just went, ‘pff, so it’s that messy-haired guy I seen coming through the fence,’ and that was pretty much the extent of it.” 

She went on to tell me he (her ex) was sucked down the black hole of opiates – abusing pills and heroin. 

“When I was pregnant, he would call me fat… he had a calendar where he would track how long it would take for me to have sex with him,” her face appeared to sunburn with the thought of that degradation.  

After she left him (PRAISE) at 21, she reconnected with Wayne – the guy that she just couldn’t seem to shake.

Reader’s note – baby daddy turned his life around and travels the world now, working with Dr. Joe Dispenza; he had his own trauma to work through and Tasha holds no hard feelings towards him.

With a deep breath she started by telling me it was the perfect summer… then she paused.

Uh oh… you know what that means… waiting for the shoe to drop (also why is that a saying?).

“So at that point, Wayne had three kids with this girl, and they split because he walked in on her sleeping with another guy, who was affiliated with a very dangerous gang,” she started choking on her words and kept her gaze towards the floor.  “Sorry, I’m getting a little worked up,” she shook her head. 

WE’RE WITH YOU, GIRL.

“It’s okay,” I offer, “take your time.” 

“So after they split, the guy was harassing Wayne constantly; he would show up at our house and just sit outside… we lived on the second story so we could see him and his friends holding guns or knives in their lap.”

I could feel the sorrow with each word as she almost held her breath through the memories. 

We were able to find some levity in a quick story about Dairy Queen and the pee stain I just noticed out of the corner of my eye. 

Damn it, puppy. 

“Anyway, so one night, the baby mama asked us to drop off the kids to a random person at her house because she wouldn’t be around… we didn’t, obviously.   Wayne decided we’d go to the courthouse the next day and file for sole custody of the kids.  I mean, the girl was a heavy heroin addict and we later heard stories about the extremely concerning habits she maintained around the kids while she got high,” she pressed her lips together as if that would stop the tears from forming. 

Trying to withhold judgement…

“Alright… I can sense the impact coming…” I told her.

“Yep.  So, the mom and her boyfriend’s friend came over banging on the door livid that we hadn’t dropped the kids off.  They started fighting in the living room and I had the kids under my arms in the other room.  It got so bad I called 911, which is when I heard the popping,” she scrunched her eyes and I could see the full glisten of anguish wash over her. 

“Oh shit…” the realization consumed me. “He shot the guy…” I felt my heartbeat pick up.  

“Yeah,” she took another deep breath.  “I’ll never forget that sound…and then I had to get the kids out of there which is when I saw the guy face down with blood just oozing out of him like you see in the movies,” she recalled in horror. 

Heart actually racing at this point, I let out a large gasp and felt my stomach flip.  The only dead bodies I’ve seen were embalmed in a casket, which is how I’d like to keep it. 

Naturally, Wayne was arrested, and Tasha was devastated. 

“I cried for three weeks straight,” she remembered, “and he was sentenced for sixteen years… I thought my life was over and after a year, I let everyone convince me how young I was… all the things I could still do for myself, including finding a nice, stable husband… so I left him,” her head tilted up towards the ceiling.

Their conversations continued, despite her leaving him, and she remained heartbroken year after year, even during her two-year relationship with her second baby daddy, which is when she completely lost herself. 

“He just destroyed me,” she swallowed her words, “I used to pray he would be too drunk to come to bed because he would do things to me, sexually and otherwise, that I just wasn’t okay with.  Even once I got home with our baby, he continued to abuse me…” she scratched her neck, confirming she hit her breaking point after an eviction notice came in.  “You better not be home when I get off work,” she told him.  And he wasn’t. 

The power of Al-Anon was soon discovered… in her own words, it saved her.  She was able to re-examine her life, the decisions she made, and what she wanted to do with her future.

“A few years later, at 28, I had this undeniable pull to visit Wayne in prison… I was so scared to see him… I was so nervous he would be pissed at me for leaving but none of that happened.  Once I saw him, everything just seemed to fall into place,” she smiled.  “I just knew it was right, despite what anyone else thought.”    

But she didn’t divulge her feelings right away.  She didn’t want to jump the gun…

Oops – maybe not the best metaphor. 

“After about a month, I was going crazy and recognized he was all I thought about, so I told him I wanted to be together again; going against all the voices that tried to convince me otherwise… and without missing a beat, he said he wanted to get married.  He told me he understood why I left but that he’d always planned to come to find me once he got out.”

I think we can all offer a collective ‘aww’

“You know, Tash,” I gave a sincere smile, “I think the important lesson here is to listen to yourself, irregardless of others’ opinions or advice about what your life should look like.” 

It’s easy to sit back and think ‘oh hell no, I wouldn’t be with a guy in prison’ or ‘I want a guy that will treat me like a princess’ but the truth is, we all have different needs and desires.  And how boring would it be if we lived in a world where we all looked and acted the same? 

Might as well be living in the SIMS computer game.  Woah… I actually only just now realized SIMS stands for simulation.  Don’t judge me.   

As for their visits, Tasha gets to see Wayne through Zoom (what else?) every Sunday; they also email each other regularly which makes their time apart much more palatable. There’s also a group of prison wives that can lean on each other when someone hits a rough patch. Having a like-minded community around you is imperative, through both the highs and lows.

And although Wayne has seven more years to serve, Tasha has a beautiful perspective on her life… their life, together.

“Honestly, the time doesn’t mean anything to me.  I figured out what’s important to me and I’m so happy, and that’s all I want… the rest is just details.” 

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