Shelby the Spider Slayer is Busted

****This post is part of my series on Real Army Wives. This series follows my husband’s first deployment to Iraq in 2003, but it’s the story of the wives back home more so than the men at war. Click here for the previous chapter, The Fork in the Road*****

 

I love telling you the sweet, happy stories every week, but the truth is not everyone’s story is either of those things. When one tells a story, one must tell the whole entire story. I would be amiss to leave this part out.

 

Shelby, the duplex neighbor I mentioned here, was still in this downward spiral. Her husband, Dylan, was overseas just as the rest of ours’ were, but she’d taken up with this Muslim man. His car was always parked in her driveway, so Shelby wasn’t bothering to hide this.

Meanwhile, she was still cussing her husband out on the phone, as well as occasionally cussing out the new boyfriend, and this was all Shelby’s general pattern so it didn’t feel like anything new to me.

One time Katherine, my other next door neighbor, asked me, “April, what about Shelby, are you not going to try to save her?” Now Katherine was saying this half-sarcastically anyway, as she had sworn off all “organized religion” for herself.

I just looked at her with big eyes.

“Nooooo, no. I am not about to deal with that level of crazy.”

I could not save Shelby. Dylan could not save Shelby. The new boyfriend couldn’t save her either. No one but Shelby and Jesus himself could save her.

My actual interactions with Shelby were few and far between, though I heard her everyday on the other side of our ridiculously thin wall.

I could count our actual conversations on one hand. There was the time I mentioned before when the police came, the time she borrowed my vacuum cleaner (and two months later I was STILL waiting for her to return it…), and the day of the spider incident.

Did I ever mention the spider incident? Well! Let ma tell ya.

I had just returned home from the grocery store. After bringing all my bags in, I was putting groceries away from off the table, and there in the middle of my dining area floor, was THE spider. I was later told that this was a garden spider, but to me it looked like some sort of gigantic Harry Potter spider. This thing was as big as my hand, and I am not exaggerating a bit!!

Terrifying!

So there we were, and what was I to do? Alan wasn’t coming home for months yet, and I certainly couldn’t kill it. No way could I get close enough to it to kill it. I do NOT handle creepy-crawly things. I do NOT. It is not in me.

“Who in the world could take care of this for me,” I thought, and it came to me. Shelby was 2 things:

1. She’s a mom, the only mom on the street, and moms do gross things… and

2. Shelby is scary herself. She could totally take this spider.

I was desperate, so I knocked on her door. It was 12pm, and she answered in her bathrobe. I’d clearly woken her up. Her bleached blonde hair was all catty-wompus, her eyeliner which is usually an inch or two thick, was all over her face, and she looked annoyed. Ha! But who was I to judge? Back then, I routinely slept until lunch time.

“Um…” I definitely stuttered through this, “Do you, um, kill spiders? There’s this ginormous one in my living room.”

Then it was her turn to get the wide eyes..”uh..Okay, I’ll come see.”

I escorted her into my living room and pointed at the offending monster.

“Ewwwww, do you have paper towels, or a napkin?”

“What!!!???” I thought, and probably SAID out loud. A paper towel!!?? I had thrown a lamp at it, and that hadn’t worked. How was she going to kill this thing with a paper towel!!??

I dutifully rolled off literally 20 paper towels and quickly handed them to Shelby.

She looked at me like I was complete bonkers and tore off ONE.

And then, y’all! She grabbed that spider up with that one little old paper towel and squashed it.

My eyes were popping out of my head. This was both horrifying and amazing.

I don’t remember if she flushed it or threw it away, but wow.

So…..all people have their redeeming qualities….and I had to respect her for this!

******

Shelby didn’t know much about me either. She knew I helped her out with her kids sometimes and the cops that one time, and she knew my husband was gone too. She probably knew all the neighbors hung out without her.

Also I should confess…..I used to sing to Shelby.

Say what?? Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it wasn’t really. See, remember we had the  thin walls. The bathrooms and the master seemed to be the thinnest, and by nature I am a singer. I can’t help it. It’s what I do. If I’m not singing, I’m humming or whistling.

I keep it in check in public, but at home, that’s my space to sing out as loudly as I want. And we all know that bathrooms have the best acoustics, right? So that’s where I sing the loudest when I really want to belt out a powerful song.

Shelby’s family needed some powerful songs, but not just Brittney Spears. They needed the gospel. So what do you think I sang? I sang How Great Thou Art and It is Well and my favorite Jaci Velasquez and Point of Grace songs.

So you might say she knew me better than you think. Was it annoying or endearing? Judging by the state of mind she was usually in, I’m guessing it was annoying. But I could no more not sing than I could just not eat, so it was what it was.

************

Fast-forward a few months, and one gossip talking to another gossip who talked to another gossip. Rest assured, I was not involved in this particular gossip trail, as I didn’t know any of Dylan and Shelby’s friends or co-workers….but the thing is your sins really do eventually find you out.

And Shelby left a steady trail. Dylan’s superiors in Iraq knew all about her affairs, and they did something that might surprise you.

They shipped Dylan home to get his house in order, and they switched him to rear duty, so he was home to stay.

Around the first of October, Dylan just showed up at home one day.

First, there was an epic fight. Of course. Then Dylan packed himself and his two children up and left.

For two weeks, things were fairly quiet, and the boyfriend’s car was never seen there again.

Then as suddenly as they’d left, they were back, both Dylan and the children. They moved back in with Shelby. I guess this was their attempt to work things out.

Shelby’s defense was that their marriage was over even before he left. Emotionally that was true for her, but technically it wasn’t true at all.

It didn’t take long before Shelby moved out, and for the rest of our time there it was Dylan and his kids living there. Actually, it was them PLUS Shelby’s oldest son, who wasn’t Dylan’s, but he said he was the only person that kid had who’d really take care of him.

Elsie and I went over and introduced ourselves to Dylan. He asked us if we’d be willing to testify if it came to court as a custody battle. We said we would, but we never had too. Shelby willingly surrendered them over to him.

All in all, it was a heart-breaking saga to watch play out from the very beginning, though I’m thankful that those kids do have a dad who cares for them and was looking out for them.

In situations like that, you hope for the best, but I’ve always wondered if there was a happy ending of any kind for that family. Did Shelby ever face her demons and calm down? What ever happened to them? Did those sweet children go on living with Dylan?

I like to think they did.

 

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My First Colossal Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

***This post belongs to the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. A new chapter appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com.***

My First Great Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

 

My last post was about how miserable I was as a teacher. Alan must have called me the morning after my first or second day of teaching from Iraq.

What he wrote in response to my hardship is one of the most touching, empathetic, heartfelt letters I have ever read. No, he wasn’t physically there, and yet with this letter you can see how he was still obviously there for me when I needed him most.

Tues., 19 Aug., 2003

6:35 am

April,

I love you, April. I just got off the phone with you, and I’m bursting with feelings of grief, sorrow, sympathy….things I’ve never felt so strongly for anyone else before…only myself!!! April, I hurt so bad for you right now, but indeed, I am giving it all to God RIGHT NOW, our Rock, our Fortress, our Comforter, our Lord.

Oh, April, how I wish there were something I could do, there! Aaaugh!!!

But what this has done is it has forced me to go to my knees and begin this battle by asking for help where the most help will come from!

April, I know you can do it (teach) and do it EXTREMELY well….However, enjoying it is a completely different story! April, if it’s still this bad by the time you get this letter then I have no problem with you quitting.

When you feel bad, it really makes me feel sick at my stomach….literally. And when you said you’ve been too stressed out to eat all day long, I could have cried! Now I don’t have an appetite!

Oh, April, I just love you so, so much. I want so badly to be there with you. God knew this was coming all along just like he saw everything coming that’s happened over here. He wants us to turn to Him for strength! He loves us so much more than we can even imagine!

Oh, April, I love you so much. I feel so terrible, but I know God will get us through this and when it’s passed, the three of us will all be that much closer!

1 Peter 5:7   “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”

April, I love you…and I am praying for you harder than ever!

Always Yours,

Alan

 

*******

Y’all must think I am pathetically weak to fall apart at such a thing as having a job that I hated. Ha! That’s how it felt at the time though.

Alan took this trial on as his own, not just as mine, even though we were oceans apart. That’s how you support your spouse from overseas. He never once downplayed my unhappiness, even though he was in a WAR zone, and I was simply unhappy at work.

I forged through the first four weeks of teaching.

There was the day I even got to work so early, I set off the school alarm and caused all sorts of trouble. But gracious, why did they give me a key if I also needed an alarm code!?

There were parent/teacher conferences where I faked “happy teacher” as well as I possibly could.

I was an emotional mess. I lost 20 pounds and got down to a pitiful-looking 110 pounds, on a 5 foot 6 frame.

During this time, three soldiers from Alan’s unit, 4-42 Field Artillery, were killed in action in Iraq.

Up until this point, I’d built Alan’s Iraqi world in my mind as not a super dangerous place. This wasn’t anything like the Vietnam War, I figured. Alan was hooking up utilities and working with the Mayor’s office of Ad Dwar. He worked with the local civilians, so he must be okay, right?

Then came the three deaths, and these weren’t faceless names on the news. These were men in our very own unit. Reality once again nudged at me with a pitchfork. “Wake up, April, your husband is in combat. That’s why he gets “hazardous duty” pay. This is real, and anyone you know, including Alan, could be next.”

I didn’t say much about that to anyone, I stuffed my feelings inside…

only to let them come roaring to a head when children in my class made fun of the pledge and danced around making faces and wouldn’t stand up straight and put their hand over their heart.

That was it, the proverbial final straw. I was leading my 3rd and 4th graders in the pledge, and THAT KID kept goofing off and disrespecting the flag, the teacher, the country, in my mind everything, and of course, it had to be the very kid whose mother was constantly bothering me. (Look, I still treated him very nicely. I was professional, but this day his behavior set me over the edge that I was already falling off of.)

So what did I do?…..Well, I went on a tirade, giving the offending boy, his buddies around him, and the entire class, a very thorough lesson on the reason we say the pledge with respect. I reminded them that many of their mothers and fathers, and step-fathers, and cousins, and my husband were overseas fighting for us, and the least we could do was show proper respect. They were passionately instructed on sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I exalted the importance of respect in general.

The class was silent and wide-eyed. They were like 10. What did they know?

It wasn’t really them I was losing it with. It was me, it was the world, it was everything. That morning I had a high school student in my classroom as a teacher’s assistant. I instructed her to watch the class, and I fled to the bathroom to cry and get my act together.

I stared at my sleep-deprived, red, mascara-streaked, freckle-covered, miserable face in the bathroom mirror. “What kind of a teacher am I? I have got to get out of this!”

Soon after, the administration announced that it was time for us to sign our contracts.

My mind reeled.

Then the moment came. Mrs. W. asked me to come by her office to sign my contract, and I had to tell her.

Mrs. W. was the principal’s wife, but she was also the assistant principal. She was an adorably cute but commanding and accomplished, small African-American woman with super curly hair. If she had asked me to please stay, I might have caved, as she was such a great leader. I looked up to her. It was humiliating to have to confess this to her.

“I can’t sign the contract because…because I don’t think I can finish this job and stay here all year.”

Mrs. W. looked so surprised.

Cue the waterworks. I tried not to cry, but there was no stopping them.

“This is so hard for me to quit, admitting defeat, and leaving these children with no teacher, but this job is too much for me. I cannot do this. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to admit this. You know Chelsea?”

“Yes, Chelsea, yes,” she listened intently. I know she was in shock. They all seemed to think I was doing just fine.

Chelsea was a student in my class, well known for being capable and working hard. Her mother also supported her well.

“I was Chelsea. I was that girl. Success mostly came easily, and now here I am, and this is it for me. This is my first time to completely fail at something.”

“Oh,” she said, and she said other things, motivating things, and she asked me to please sleep on it, but I knew there was no turning back. I put in my 2 weeks’ notice.

I wanted out of this job as much as you’d want to escape a 0 degree dungeon infested with rats and cockroaches. Teaching was so very not a match for me.

**********

The first week of my notice, I still struggled to get out of bed and go to school. One day I called in sick with a “migraine.” I didn’t have a migraine. I had a bad-life-choices-hangover, the kind you get from regret and confusion.

I felt guilty from lying about the migraine, so I went to work all the other days of my notice.  People there were kind. A replacement followed me around that last week.

She leveled with me, “Why are you leaving? You’re doing great. You should stay.”

I began to actually consider it. That last week wasn’t so bad. Some things actually started to click. It was week 6. My LD kid was learning his own spelling words and reading his own beginner books. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I should stay.

I came in the Saturday after my last day to finalize the 6 weeks’ grades for the report cards. Mr. and Mrs. W. were there going through my class’ papers too.

Mrs. W. talked as she sorted, “All of the assessments are here, April. This is good. You know, we didn’t really believe that you’d quit. We thought you’d change your mind and come in Monday.”

Ever so young and dumb, and still excited about not being a teacher anymore, I didn’t get the hint. She was totally giving me another chance to stay. Perhaps I should have taken it.

I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision that year.

Did I just quit when things got hard? Yes. Yes, in the career realm that is EXACTLY what I did, which sounds weak, wrong, and disappointing.

I re-hashed that decision in my mind for years, but the thing is you can’t go back and fix the past. What would it have been like had I stuck it out, and why didn’t I??

Looking back now, I see so many different things going on. I was immature, and my deal-with-it- tank was already full from the moving away from home and sending my husband overseas in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There was nothing more anyone could have done for me. It was simply more than I felt I could handle at the time, and I have to make my peace with that and move on. Could I handle that job now, at 36? Yes, it would still be hard, but not the horrible misery it was at 22.

But that’s the thing about the past.

Our mistakes and failures are what make us sweeter, humbler, more merciful people, and sometimes also tougher, more dependable people, so long as we learn from them. I regretted quitting mid-year so much that I have been loathe to ever quit mid-stream again in anything.

You accept the past for what it is and learn from it all that you can.

 

 

 

 

When Alan First Deployed: My New Friends at 9-1-1

******This is the 11th chapter in the series The Real Army Wives, stories from a young military bride from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003.******

I tell you this particular chapter with hesitation and humility. It’s an embarrassing story, but at the time, this was my reality. I hope you can laugh with me now, and rest assured that I am not normally this paranoid. I promise.

When Alan first deployed, it was suddenly like….cue the sound of crickets. » Read more

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