Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Divorce Marathon: The End as a Moving Target

The last picture, 14 months after their separation began.
Given that my dad left my mother for another woman, you'd think their divorce would have proceeded in short order. But they separated in the same manner as they navigated their marriage; the next 3.5 years were full of twists and turns. Slight hopes that the nightmare would end were repeatedly deflated.

I recently read an account of gray divorce where from separation to final papers was a space of three months. I'm sure the disorienting speed of that added greatly to their heartbreak. But the way it went for us was awful in the opposite way.

My mother had plugged away through other affairs - I mean, my dad was married to one of those women in between marriages to my mother, and yet even after that my parents managed to reunite.  It was an absolutely brutal time, but still, deep down I believed this could be overcome too.

I found out that my dad was leaving from my mother. It's taken me several days to recall that memory - I'd almost blocked it out. But I did finally dredge up the sight of her, shell-shocked on my couch, telling us that my dad had given her a pamphlet on mediation and that he was moving out. There was no conversation with my dad. He didn't want to witness our reactions, and for that act of cowardice, I didn't talk to him again for almost 4 months.

A full year into the separation, my parents still saw each other sporadically.
We went to a U-Pick Pumpkin patch before Halloween, my parents, my sister, my son, his dad and I. My dad bought us all $100 in pumpkins. I spent the entire time manically photographing us all. That Thanksgiving we hosted both my parents and my sister at our home. My mom hosted everyone for Christmas. Every time was unbearably crushing, even as I desperately grasped at any shred of familiarity: is this going to be the last time we are all in the same room? Or is this it? Or is this? What the hell is happening? Are they going to work this out?

My mom turned 60 that winter, and my dad paid for an old friend of my mother's to fly out here as a surprise. We had a surprise party planned at a mall restaurant. He picked the friend up at the airport and brought her there to meet up with all my mother's local friends. (It looked like a nice gesture until I found out that my dad had his girlfriend and her son waiting upstairs at the mall. Seriously. But I didn't know that at the time.)

At one point that winter they met at the grocery store nearest my house to talk while my mom shopped. He bought her groceries and loaded them into the car he'd picked out for her. I don't know what happened, but every Christmas since, when I've heard Dan Fogleberg's "Same Old Lang Syne" on the radio I fall apart a little. That will never be my parents, but when I hear it I can practically see the snow that night falling through the column of parking lot light, the way it would look on my mother's silver hair, my father's black leather driving gloves as they said one of their last goodbyes.


***


Things did not continue on in that vein. Both my parents talked about wanting to re-enter counseling together. But who got to choose a counselor? My mom presented a list of options to my dad and not a single one was acceptable. My dad presented options to my mom, and she was willing to choose one of them with one condition: that my dad stop seeing the other woman while they were in counseling. And there, finally, came the more obvious end in a lot of senses, because he refused. I had my answer.

Fifteen months after the separation started, Christmas 2006 in my childhood home: the last time I'd ever see my family together.


***


My dad's take on the end remains, I assume, that my mother was unwilling to play ball. Of course. He was willing to go to counseling, after all. Maybe he could have brought his girlfriend too.

Do I sound bitter towards him for this? Yeah. It's hard to shake.

Eventually they entered divorce mediation after all. They couldn't agree on anything. Allegedly my dad wanted half of a large sum of inheritance money of my mother's that had never been co-mingled. That was a bone of contention for months though he had no legal claim to it whatsoever, and I'm sure the cost of arguing about it was significant. My dad started freaking out about things he'd left in the house: a particular lamp that my mother had purchased, a framed piece of art he'd bought her as a gift was denied until the inscription on the back was produced, heirlooms from his parents that he didn't take with him when he moved out.

Lists were made. Some were passed through lawyers, some were handed to me.

Values were totaled.

The Waterford Wedding crystal split in half, the divorce went through in the first weeks of 2009, and 7 months later my dad and his new wife were toasting with it.

2 comments:

  1. it's crazy to think of those last moments as a family. you never realize they will be your last...until they're behind you. great entry--i think many will find it helpful.

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  2. Thanks Michelle! Another thing I've thought about is how certain memories suddenly feel more important. There was a particular day of a vacation we all took together maybe 10 years ago... and now in my memory, what was previously just a wonderful, memorable event starts to feel like some sort of watershed moment in the history of our family. The "going back and recasting" of memories that the book should be closed on part of this process really sucks. :/

    Anyway, I've been doing some googling in the last week or so, and I feel like I'm cyberstalking you - there aren't enough ACOD links to keep me from walking in your footprints. :) I'm enjoying reading your blog as well.

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