The Changeling

And just like that the world as Nathan knew it was about to change. It hadn’t even been a year since his world changed the first time, when moving from his home in England to South Africa, and now a bigger change was coming.

I had been trying to keep it together, pretending that nothing was wrong, but Nathan knew something wasn’t right. His father was suddenly gone. Although it wasn’t unusual for him to be away, Nathan could sense this time something was different.

Days, weeks and nearly three months passed since Nathan last saw him. I took Nathan to see a therapist and told him it was for a school-related test meeting. It was not. It was a meeting where his father and I, together with the child therapist, would tell Nathan his family as he knew it was broken, and his dad was no longer going to be living with us.

After the therapist (who did most of the talking during the meeting) finished explaining the reason for the family gathering, Nathan’s eyes went straight to me, he needed my affirmation that that was the truth. ‘I knew something was wrong,’ he shouted.

His father tried to explain that it was a joint parental decision, but when Nathan looked at me, he knew I disagreed. He could tell I was upset.

That night, like many nights before, especially when dad was away, Nathan crawled in bed with me and the cats. He could not sleep. His mind was buzzing with questions and confusion.

‘When will I see dad?’
‘Any time you want, munchkin. And you can stay with him every weekend if you would like that. It’s going to be ok.’

At first, it all seemed fine, Nathan would stay with me during weekdays, and every weekend he would visit his father.

Not long after the initial arrangement, his father brought Nathan back to me and decided he needed more time for himself. He demanded to change the initial visitation agreement of every weekend to every other weekend on the official separation contract.

Nathan was shocked and heartbroken when he heard his dad saying he didn’t want to see him that often. Still, he managed to smile and asked his dad; ’When will I see you again?’

Not long after the visitation agreement changed, Nathan’s behaviour started changing too. Although his grades didn’t drop, his relationship with friends at school deteriorated. He would often be bullied and would spend most of his school breaks alone.

Every day at home, Nathan would complain about schooling and his school mates, and I would be called to the principal’s office regularly, something that never happened before.

Nathan’s view of the world changed. He suddenly could not see anything positive about his everyday life. He started to blame South Africa and wouldn’t enjoy any social activity or road trips I took him on.

Although his father and I had worked out the new weekend routines Nathan couldn’t get used to it. He struggled with having to navigate between ‘two homes’, and being two ‘different people’.

One day, not long after Nathan heard the family wouldn’t be the same, his father introduced his lover to him – a much younger woman who now was also moving into his dad’s home.

Nathan was only 10-years-old at the time; he didn’t know who this sudden new girlfriend was or what it all meant.

Back at home, Nathan felt confused about this new woman in his father’s life, but he did not talk about it with me.  He knew I knew, and that I was upset about it…so we both did our best to avoid the girlfriend topic.

“A divorced parent might be able to totally start over with a new partner, feeling the freedom from the first marriage and carry on with a new lifestyle. For the child, however, his/her world will be split forever. The divorce is not a one-time event, but rather an ever-changing and ever-growing gap that only the child gets to experience, balancing and adjusting time after time and change after change,” the therapist told me

Already feeling different from everyone else at school, Nathan became quieter, insecure, and pretended to be invisible to avoid the other kids preying on him.

Time after time and day after day, Nathan felt more like the wounded, bleeding elephant in the room, a wounded animal no one seemed to see.
‘I don’t exist. No one cares,’ he would tell me.
‘I see you. You are all I care about,’ I would reply.

‘You and dad can make your own decisions, do what you want and like, but I get  told what to do all the time. I don’t have a choice. This isn’t fair.’

‘No it’s not,’ I would reply. ‘But we’ve got to make the best of it. Change has come to us. We can’t pretend it hasn’t. We have to change too.’

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