How strange that a simple fact that’s substantial enough to mention here, that my divorce is final, can still feel taboo or like I’m uttering a bad word even though it’s long overdue and a piece of news that’s been expected for a while now. I guess that’s because of the indoctrinated idea that even when divorce has been “visited upon you” like in my case, and you yourself didn’t go out seeking it just because you felt like it one bored morning, it’s still unmentionable. But it being unmentionable implies a sense of shame or something to hide, which is far from the truth for me. And somebody important once said, fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.
I feel like I’ve been pregnant with this post for a while, and in light of all the stuff I said here, it seems the only cure for that is to birth it. These thoughts have been rolling around in the clothes dryer of my mind, getting fluffed up and taking shape gradually. I shared some about the state of my heart here during the early days, but from the beginning I purposefully didn’t launch into the kind of detailed play-by-plays that I feel like we’ve all winced through before on Facebook. And I hate that a lot of times we only pick up the pen when we’re in one of our rare angry moments, so that social media is just a catalogue of our rants. It gives an inordinately large amount of attention to a small percentage of time. I definitely didn’t want that to be the case for this period in my life, which had some pain but was also full of deep relief from the get-go. So I documented everything exhaustively for legal purposes and to get it out of my system, for sure, but other than that, focusing on getting my little family’s life back on track sans interloper seemed like the thing to do. Of course, then I ran the risk of letting so much time pass that no coherent post could even be formed about this strange experience, of finding myself going through an unexpected divorce and dealing with the various reactions I encountered. Anyway, it’s time to get it all out and addressed as best I can, and afterwards hope to give it as little time and blog real estate as possible.
* * *
Besides my parents, in the days following my sad revelation I reached out proactively to three or four people: one was my best friend (hey Lianna hey, thank you!), and I’ll never forget the tears in her eyes while she listened to what had happened, and the frankness of her voice as she doled out the first of many hard truths: “I wish I could say I’m surprised.” I talked to a couple of friends who I thought might be able to point me in the right direction for a lawyer, and they were endlessly comforting and helpful. Finally, I reached out with a few emailed sentences to one friend whose husband was close to mine, because I hadn’t seen her in a while and wanted to make it clear before too much time passed that there needn’t be any weirdness between us. The vitriolic, long-winded attack I got back was the polar opposite of the kind, common-sense reactions of the others I had talked to, and the polar opposite of how I’d known her to act in the past, and certainly to how I would think she’d act toward anyone who was clearly hurting. It was so incongruent, but it was the first clue I had that whereas I wasn’t talking about it to anyone unless they asked, there was a very aggressive impression-management campaign going on with the other side. I was absolutely gobsmacked by her reply, but as it was no one I was ever super close with and I merely wanted to remain on friendly terms, I responded as politely as I could, shrugged, and counted it as a sunk cost. Really, I should have expected the PR machine to be rolling with its usual evangelical fervor as it has done with similar results in other years, in other parts of the continent (and right here in RVA, in 2007), so I should have also expected to run into something like this. But hey, at least I tried. I think 99% of the time when you’re like “Hmm, should I reach out to this friend?” about anything, the answer is “Yes.” So I’m not saying “lesson learned,” I’m saying I think this time was an outlier. A very educational one.
Divorce is one of those things that I had zero experience with, but had made plenty of lackadaisical assumptions about whenever the topic came up. It’s been a surreal opportunity to see it from the inside, being plopped suddenly into the gears of an institution that touches most families in our country and is actually an enormous money-making industry. One of the most surprising things was that I expected the initial heartbreak and rejection of it to be the worst part, but it wasn’t. And as rotten as it is, neither was the super laborious divorce process. Besides the obvious thing with the obvious person — the continued ability to feign utmost earnestness publicly while slashing at us as much as ever privately — it was the death-by-a-thousand-cuts method of having to find out who your real friends are (and aren’t). These tiny little realizations from a post here, a tweet there, a picture here, an invitation there, of just who is excited to cast their lot with your oppressor.
These little heartbreaks (or little earthquakes? insert Tori Amos fangirling here) really blew my mind and forced me to examine the company I had kept, in all its glory. And the opportunity reared its head on so many occasions. For the robots out there, try to imagine your bewilderment as a recently-dumped human being with a real-live heart and actual feelings confronted with the following tableaux. There were the ones who…
- Slept next to you for so many years and then decided to stab you, like the subjects of so many hackneyed hardcore songs, in the proverbial back
- Didn’t technically do anything to you but who immediately leaped over your bloody corpse to congratulate him on how awesome he is
- You knew since college for like 15 years and introduced to him in the first place, but who’ve now bustled around eagerly to throw a kegger to celebrate his majesty, or just skipped all pretense and went directly on a lavish tropical vacation with him
- Told a mutual friend “But you haven’t heard both sides of the story,” when they themselves had never asked to hear a single syllable of your story and therefore had also not heard both sides of it
- Condescendingly remarked how they knew you’d been “having problems” for a long time and how “tough that must have been,” letting you in on the fact that he’d been priming an entire sub-population for this scheme long before you had any inkling of said “problems”
- Reached out to console you with one hand and with the other invited him to Thanksgiving dinner
- Said dismissively “Welp it’s not healthy to dwell on the past,” cavalierly ignoring the hands still very much placed resolutely around your throat which can in no way be considered “the past”
- Peppered their conversation with tsk-tsks and concerned grimaces, only to be seen later yukking it up at a certain local business that was entirely complicit in all your pain and has always profited directly from your daughter’s neglect
And so on, and so forth. The trickling scratches of a dozen mini-heartbreaks at weird intervals, popping up long after you expect it. My reaction was always commensurate with the person involved: sometimes it was an eye roll, and a couple times it was a sudden burst of sobbing at an inopportune moment. But each time I’d collect myself, and remember that it hurt this time and there’s nothing I could do about that, but that I could go about the business of unfriending and unfollowing and what-have-you to minimize it in the future and to work on healing instead of reopening the wound like I reopened phone apps. Feel it, process it, then fold it away.
The best part about all of this was that I didn’t lose any friends, because anyone who would drink the kool-aid so willingly without even thinking to themselves for an instant “hmm, maybe I shouldn’t automatically believe what the person who stands to benefit from lying is telling me right now,” was never a friend in the first place. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
* * *
You can overcomplicate it and use every one of the typical “um well uhhhh, these things are hard” excuses, but it’s not complicated. It comes down to this: either you’re our family’s friend who, like any real friend, would help to remove a boot from our neck, or you’re there egging on the bootwearer. Either you stand up for your friend or it’s just too “inconvenient” or “icky” for you to bother. Plain and simple. There’s no wiggle room there. I’ve heard too many horror stories about unsavory characters with flimsy standards around kids to be lackadaisical about it. And my power to regulate this is limited, but when I’m on the clock I’ll do my best to surround her with people who love and care about her genuinely, forever. That’s a pretty basic, central role as a mother: protecting and encouraging. If I’m not going to be her biggest advocate, who will be? On days when I’m tired of it all and feel like burying my head in the sand, I remember all the grown-ups who’re walking around on this earth right now just because their mothers said “Hey wait a minute, no, this is not okay.”
Sometimes the mature thing is to stand up for what’s right instead of taking the easy and passive way out. Knowing that anger should be the exception and peace the standard, I’ve accepted that this is one of those (blessedly few) important moments in life where no smooth handle will do. That my complicity in what’s going on would actively help the oppressor to keep the agenda going without so much as a blip. This is where I say no. No, I will not in my silence and my comfortableness promote and excuse it. I won’t help it to continue by downplaying it and sweeping it under the rug.
So let the lies and manipulation and toxicity swirl around. It’s always very important to distract away from the simple facts by introducing a seductive new narrative, a fiction so sparkly that once someone’s invested in it, one will dismiss the clear evidence rather than the new narrative. Think back about great instances of evil in plain sight, and how key it was for the proponents to take a black-and-white matter of right and wrong, and make it seem complicated and therefore mysterious and un-condemnable. In time, the truth will out. It doesn’t have to be on my schedule. The sun will rise and set, the years will go by. And the next round(s) of the cycle will have the unfortunate pleasure of having that same oh-crap moment I had — “Dear God, there’s nothing unique about this, we’re just the latest iteration!” He can complicate and cloud, spin his webs and turn on that sad sausage wounded persona that catches so many flies (I was once one of these flies, so I get it) but I’m going to be over here telling the truth in the meantime. Because I’ve learned that surviving a shark bite doesn’t mean you go put your head back in the beast’s mouth. And forgiveness does not mean you get down on your hands and knees to pave the path to allow evil to more easily roll down it.
* * *
A few times I’ve questioned whether I made the right choice when I decided not to proactively reach out to others from day one. A couple of people have said “Hey, he’s out there hustling, and hey, these people just don’t have any idea what’s actually going on. You need to make sure people know” etc. And certainly, he gained ground socially by being the swiftest on the scene with the most prepared PR statements. But I cringed at the thought of lashing out with the same jarring, Kanye-esque “I don’t know what you’ve heard butttt” tactic that was being employed out on the town, and I felt weird about making it my business to teach other people common sense. If friendships and “territory” are suddenly going to the fastest bidder, I don’t want them anyway. Let them flutter off–it hurts a little in the moment but it’s a testament to how flimsy they were.
And so despite questioning it, I stayed the course. I’ve nothing to hide, and have always been an open book. I figured anybody who was confused or curious or simply wanted to know what they could do to help would get in touch, and many did, and many will. I want to keep this space as it’s always been, a space that’s about the story of my life — not the knife that sliced into it for a few years. So if you’re like “Huh, I wonder what she means by X” or “I wonder why she’s concerned about X,” just comment or email or call or whatever and ask me.
Another one of the weird things about divorce is people not asking you about your life or in some cases, even greeting you, for fear of ruffling you in some way. Or fear of not “saying the right thing,” when a little shared moment of connection or a “I’ve been thinking about you. I love you.” would suffice just fine. Anyway it’s not very painful to talk about anymore, and it won’t be seen as some sort of intrusion. My story is my own, I can speak freely about my life, and I don’t have to lie or cover for anyone–in fact, I have a responsibility not to.
* * *
Most of the time in life, to my great detriment at times, I want to be as calm as possible and take a serene “Eh, just absorb it, don’t add more negativity to the world by reacting” stance when something pains me. Anyone who knows me well can say that I’m much more likely to shrug and smile than to get hopping mad about some perceived slight. Forgiveness I believe in deeply, even when it’s hard. And sometimes it’s hard to forgive even long after an offense. But I’m finding that it’s the absolute hardest to forgive while the offense is ongoing. This is like the ultimate forgiveness challenge, which sounds like a game show for Really Good Christians but feels more like falling through an abyss. In these cases, it’s not some hazy thing in the past that you can process and consider “closed.” After a year and a half, the agitations and continuing machinations in private have made the elaborate acting performance in public more ridiculous every day, and the incongruence means that forgiveness seems to slip through my fingers repeatedly. But I still strive for it, and I know it’s not dependent on anyone else. And I’ll get into this more in future posts…
Life has these pains, these setbacks. They come, and if you’re a grownup, you know to expect them. Throughout the divorce, even from day one, I knew this was not the end of my life. It’s uh, NOT my first breakup. But knowing that doesn’t suddenly make it painless. I’m sure I don’t have to overexplain how the brain is not good at making the heart feel better. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a predictable person doing what they do — the same thing they’ve always done. It’s not my fault and, knowing that there’s no chance for rehabilitation, it’s good for it to be over. A hundred sad circumstances can’t change the deep, cold current of joy running underneath my surface. Nothing ever can. Nothing ever will. My brain knew all of these things and so did the rest of me, judging by a quick glance back at the quality of most of my days and how wonderful life has been lately.
But I still needed to grieve and mourn this loss appropriately, especially as new discoveries about it would come to light often and giving me more to grieve and mourn. People really hate that. They don’t want to let you do that. They buy into the popular misconception that you can skip the feeling bad feelings stage and roll on to the next thing gleefully, like certain teen vampires who can “switch off their humanity” at will (which incidentally never turns out well, even in fiction). It’s almost as if I needed a t-shirt that said “Yes, I know it looks bad now but recovery is inevitable, and yes, I know everything will be alright! In fact in many ways, this is a huge relief and life is already brighter, having scraped the crust of evil off the windows so the light can get in! But I still need to mourn and feel sad and get angry as the waves of realization come over me on various levels, at various times. Thanks for letting me do that!” But that would not fit on a t-shirt and also I don’t wear t-shirts.
Anyway that’s the story of some of the biggest struggles in my first few months of divorce. I’ll talk more in my next post about some of the positive things that came once much of the shock and confusion had time to dissipate, and clarity was left in its place.
“The more we suffer, the more deeply we can experience the joys which peek through this endless and magnificent, perfect dark.” — Segovia Amil