I invited my former husband over to my backyard to enjoy some beers and toast s'mores with our kids several evenings ago. Serge lives three doors away. As in; his house, a house, a church, a house and then my house. This guy I've been clocking some time with was also enjoying our backyard fire pit with his boy, who shares a daycare class with my Charlie, so the seven of us - three adults (allegedly), and four kids - made for an interesting get-together.
This morning. I'm watching YouTube. Early. I'm drinking coffee and eating my oatmeal with peanut butter and chocolate syrup and watching, on a whim, a School of Life video about polyamory when someone is bashing at my front door. What the fuck. It's 5:45am. I stand up, make a fist. That'll run 'em off if it's Isis or home invaders, I figure. It's dark out and rainy and I squint to see that it's neither. It's Monica from down the block. My kids' mom, my ex wife. She's crying hard.
Your world drops out from under you a few times in a life. I think about the kids. I think about the house fire from years back. I head towards the door and I don't want to hear it because I'm shaking now. She's a mess, bare feet, pajamas, sobbing, pointing down off my porch at the middle of the road.
The thing I'm discovering about divorce with children is that not only is it one of the most miserable experiences you will navigate in your life, the experience has no expiration date. What I mean is, awful situations and realizations sneak up on you on a regular basis; things you hadn't even contemplated dealing with are suddenly sliding into bed with you in the middle of the night. Three years later and it still happens all. the. damn. time.
I smoke a cigarette in the parking lot behind the therapy joint.
I'm sliding-scale fucked up.
I smile as I think up that line, blow a beam of smoke up at the thunderstorm hanging tight to the sky.
I look around and wonder which car might be my therapists' car. I've never met her. I don't know who she is or what she drives. I don't know anything about her at all.
Jetta, I figure. Maybe a newer Pilot, came with the satellite radio. Heated seats. Heated fucking seats. Whatever. She has no idea. She's gonna ask me the same stuff they always ask you at the start, the things I guess they have to ask you. How do you start it all out, you know? How do you get to know a person who desperately needs you to get to know them as quickly as possible.
"Do you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or others?"
Because of the chaotic nature of solo parenting and life in general I haven't written much about my son, Charlie. I ran into my midwife at a party a few weeks ago. She's the pregnant one now. There was something thrilling to me about casually enjoying a beer (me, not her!) with the woman who pulled my son from my body. Empowering. Just a coupla kickass broads over here who brought a human into the world on our own, no big deal (huge deal). I pushed, you pulled, no drugs, no nothin' but you and me and here is a tiny, perfect person and that's that. char
Sometimes, usually as a result of the inbred nature of Facebook, I stumble onto my ex-husband's words about me, our marriage or divorce, and it sucks me into disorientation. It's hard to move forward when you're constantly yanked back into another existence.
First song lyrics, and now these articles, his written words have always been my weakness. Better than the reality, usually. Oh, sure. I absolutely believe he loved me so much he'd die for me, open a vein and bleed out right in front of me if I needed, as he vividly phrased it once. Threatened it a time or two way back in the day, even. Theatric more than threat, it was still scary as hell for a twenty-something fresh from Mormonville trying to make a go of it with a stranger in the Big Apple. That first year of marriage was wild. Coupla crazy kids who didn't know each other abandoning reason and following pounding hearts all the way to Brooklyn, New York. I still believe it's one of the best things I ever did.
I spend a lot of time writing bullshit. Not bullshit in that the stuff I write is lies, bullshit because it's not what I want to be writing. It's a watered down version of what's really happening in my post-divorce life; diluted so that it fits the brand of whatever website the piece is for and doesn't hurt someone's feelings or embarrass certain family members.
I think it's time to edge closer to the truth.
I didn't anticipate it would happen the way that it did. Me doubled over in the darkness, swallowing sobs. But then again, I didn't anticipate pretty much anything that's happened over the past two years, so there you go. If there is but a single take away it is that: life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. I'm no longer much of a planner. Nothing surprises me now; plan nothing, expect anything.
At night when the kids aren't here I do my thing. Some nights I make my salad or whatever. Other nights I push my fingers deep inside the fridge-cooled carcass of some long dead chicken with one hand while I work the remote with the other. Flicking through the stuff on my DVR I have to laugh at all the movies I've recorded over the last year or so.
There's so many good ones, but what am I doing?
I never watch them.
I've been dragging Slumdog Millionaire around with me for so long that it feels like I've seen it just by looking at the damn title night after night, week after week, month after month after month.
The other morning when the kids were with Serge I accidentally started watching The Killing on Netflix. I didn't really set out to watch The Killing. Upon daylight's unwelcome arrival I broke up with my bed and was becoming one with my couch, scrolling restlessly around my Apple TV thingies - I think the kids call them apps - avoiding CNN like it was an ex-boyfriend at a dinner party because goddamn CNN depresses me anymore and I will beat myself with a giant gay dildo if I have to see Kentucky marriage clerk Kim Davis trotted out like some kind of republican show pony one more fucking time.
As is usually my way, I ended up on Netflix and there was The Killing and I clicked play just to see, kind of like you read the first paragraph or page of a book before buying it, and much like one of those all-night frat parties in college, suddenly it was eight hours later and I was lying underwearless on a couch wondering what just happened. And I was hungry.
Last year was all adrenaline. No time to breathe. Pregnancy, separation, have a baby, leave freelance writing from home for a full-time job at a real place for the first time in five years, move twice, start a kid in kindergarten, lose Max. Divorce.
Adrenaline like a coked up motherfucker. This year is adrenaline too but in a subtler way. I'm constantly aware of its quiet hum but the ferocious roar of THIS IS MY LIFE NOW is deafening. Divorced, nearly forty, a full-time job, three small kids and an ex 25 minutes down the road with whom I constantly negotiate the business of co-parenting while maybe trying to date other people, both of us knowing we're seeing people - talking about it together a little bit, even - and trying to be cool about it for the sake of co-parenting.
I hand off the kids to her with the regular goodbyes.
Henry kisses me on the lips and smiles and waves his hands around because he's high on the cookie he was just eating in my Honda not five minutes ago. Violet is already in the backseat, clicking in. She's far enough away that she doesn't want to come back up for a kiss. I get it. I smile at her and she smiles and looks out her window at the summer bashing down all over this gas station parking lot.
Charlie never stops smiling at me. He says his favorite word. "Bye." He says this gently, with soul and meaning, and it dawns on me that he knows the drill now. He knows that him sitting there in his mom's car seat but looking at my face means goodbye.
Part of Max is in a box now, fucking ashes in a bag.
I stare at him on a Monday morning sitting there on my ex-wife's kitchen counter and I wonder what the hell he's up to. Used to be that he'd turn upbeside me as soon as he heard me moving around in the early hours of the day. I'd hear his jingling tags coming down the back steps and I'd dump the coffee down into the filter and I'd know what was up. He'd show up a few seconds later, the fresh hot piss in his body slamming up against the walls of his piss sacks, he'd stare a hole in my head just as soon as he spotted me in the same place he always spotted me right there by the coffee maker.
Max lasted long enough to see me through the worst year of my life: he solemnly accompanied me through the screaming/crying/panic attacks of Spring 2014; through the move from our home of several years - a move that signified divorce was our new reality. Max was my constant companion through the bone-rattling adjustment of shared custody; through starting a full-time job for the first time after several years of freelance writing. He saw me through it all and then he let go. At the end I whispered as much to him: It's ok, buddy. I'll be ok now. You can let go. It's ok...
It's been there so long I know to avert my eyes at just the right second to avoid seeing it. If I want to. Lately I've become curious about its state of decomposition.
I was riding my bike one sticky hot July afternoon and there it was, right in my path; nearly perfect except for the being dead part. As if the magnificent animal got drowsy while loitering there on the side of the highway and decided to lie down for a snooze.
I spend a lot of time feeling like I've just been punched in the gut and am trying to catch my breath. Walloped while in the middle of some mundane bullshit like doing the dishes, making dinner, cleaning up shrapnel from the toy grenade that goes off round these parts every couple hours or so.
I take the hit, stop, double over my own body, hands clutching knees like I've just taken a line drive to the belly, eyes squinched tightly closed to roadblock tears or open wider than wide, boring lasers into the floor as I concentrate on making it to the other side of the moment. When 'one day at a time' is reduced to 'one second at a time.'
It’s close to 90, I guess. It’s all kinds of hot and muggy. It’s my kind of weather, this is. I roll the window down in the Suzuki and I rip down the valley road with the music loud. I play New Order, some greatest hits I bought off Amazon. I don’t have time for deep album cuts anymore. I need the damn hits. I skip to Track 5, Blue Monday ,and the cold English machine-gun drum machine shoots thrill bullets into my fat face.
I’m on my way to the county courthouse to get the paperwork I need to file for divorce. I’m not supposed to feel good about that, I know, but I feel good anyway. I feel wide-awake and unstoppable.
I feel fucking alive.