“Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things.” – Ansel Adams
Many marriages grind slowly to a halt. Hers exploded midflight, like a space shuttle torn asunder in the blue sky as the stunned crowd watches in disbelief. And then, over years, the hazardous debris from the catastrophe just keeps raining down. It was late October, still warm but way past the last stretch of the Indian summer. She had waited for a day cool enough to roast a turkey for her husband and her son. By the time she pulled it out, she found out her husband had left a long time ago and he imaginably stuffed his suitcases with clothes slipping off their hangers. Her son did not notice. But later he asked “What’s wrong, Mom? Are you okay?” and came over to give her a hug. She literally smiled through her tears.
It was her call to the bank to check their balance that caused one of the fatal blow-ups. Although her husband’s destructive compulsions with money had threatened their marriage before, she believed those days were long behind. But that afternoon, without even trying to, she discovered the truth: far from changing his ways, he had simply become more secretive. She confronted him and asked about certain expenses. Nobody touched the turkey that night. Nobody dressed up in a Halloween costume.
She is a well-educated woman, smart, with a decent work history, who actually made more money than her husband when they got married. She prided herself on being self-sufficient. But they both wanted someone to be home with the child and decided it would be her, so she stopped working and let him support them. And now she ended up in the same vulnerable position she once thought was the fate only of women who married straight out of high school, with no job experience beyond summer gigs a the local newspaper or the café around the corner.
She has valued the time with her son more than any other experience she has ever had. But for a stay-at-home mom like her, divorce isn’t just divorce. It is more like divorce plus being fired from a job because you can no longer afford to keep your job at home, the one you have up your career for. She started to work again which financially saved them. Her husband chooses to pay no child support and she wonders almost daily how he can live like this knowing that there is his own flesh and blood on this planet and to show zero responsibility. To her, her son is the major thing on earth. Her everything. His little hand in hers needs a lot of support.
Divorce is its own job, with its course of study, its manuals. It is nerve-wracking. But time heals all wounds. She has overcome so much. Struggled so much. For her, grief was like a house. One day she was in the room of sorrow and the next day she might be in anger room. Then in the grief room again followed by taking a break in the “fuck-you” room. At Mother’s or Father’s Day at school, she is stoic, detached, nodding philosophically as a married mother would. She goes to both events. “Mommy, I want you to be like THIS mom. She has superpowers,” one kid said.
She kept it a secret but eventually she had to tell people. Everyone who hasn’t heard through the grapevine. Some people get the “whole story” and some just get the abridged “we are separated/divorced” version. She avoids the “whole story version” because it is exhausting. At first, it is all re-lief and adrenaline as she recounts the moment she realized the shuttle was breaking apart. But then, she is overwhelmed with dread as she comes to understand how many whole-story people there are in her life. Still ahead are countless oh-my-god-I-cannot-believe-he-does-not-pay-for-his-child and I -am- so sorry’s and You-must-be-kiddings. She hears sympathetic and understandable questions coming at her, and her tongue grows thick and unfamiliar forming all those words one more time.
Then the day of the divorce. He chose not to attend court. Why doesn’t he care? In the end, she got sole-custody. While the judge read the transcript, she remembered spending time with him. Hanging at restaurants all night while talking. Living together. Then, everything turns blank. Like a white sheet.
When she took off her wedding ring, her finger had atrophied underneath in a manner that seems excessively symbolic. For some time, she protected this white band with her thumb like a wound. She looked at other women’s ring fingers: gold, diamond, simple solitaires. At this point, the fact that they all have managed to keep those rings in place seems miraculous to her. When she wore her engagement and wedding ring, she was a different person, emboldened in the way one can be in a Halloween custome. She was married. Someone loved her or so she thought.
Sometimes, lying in bed at night, she thinks of this divorce business as something like the flu. The feverish beginnings, as miserable and sweaty as they are, are somehow easier to get through. Then the many half-well, half-sick days that follow, days when one is not sure what to do. One is well to lie in bed watching Netflix but too sick to go out and do all the things well people are expected to do. Then her son wakes up. He has to go to the bathroom and on the way back curls up in bed next to her. Which is nice.
She then fell asleep easily and sleeps deeply. Just before, she resorted to the old routine of counting her blessings. She counted her family, her son, health, happiness, and work. She knows now that it is up to her to hunt, to gather, and to always keep the shelter warm. And she will. Because she is strong and full of wonders.