My mother pushes a box of tissues across the kitchen table, waits as I destroy four with devastating blows engineered to take out my frustrated tears, and then leans back in her chair to deliver her state of the potential dissolution of the union address. I can’t help but be reminded of another day she’d found me crying. She walked up quietly, leaned in, and whispered, “You do know you don’t have to go through with this, don’t you?” On that day, I thought about how she’d yelled at me six months earlier that she’d never once heard me say I loved the man I was now, years later, considering leaving. I loved him then. I love him still, truth be told. That’s why reaching this point where trying on an ill-fitting word like ‘divorce’ brings another exhaustive round of tears. I imagine my mother is president of the world’s most depressing fortune cookie company (“Our motto is ‘We told you so!’”), but she’s the only divorced woman I know, and by all indications, her company’s benefits program has helped her live up to her words. Of course, the last fortune cookie I received attempted to temper its horribly stale state by assuring me “It is not in your character to give up,” as I spat soggy remains into a napkin. An ironically fine how do you do for a life now clouded over by anger, exhaustion, and resignation.
Can there possibly be anything worse than getting divorced?
There’s war, of course. No battles waged between two could ever be so great as to compare.
Being ill-prepared for divine retribution? Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.
Finding myself in my early 40s and still looking to my mother for guidance? There are no words for that other than quiet ones of annoyance that I mutter under my breath while thinking about how often she’s right.
Maybe a zombie apocalypse. Yes, in the category of “Well, isn’t this a shitty state of affairs,” a zombie apocalypse might actually trump a divorce. That, or, hey, what about being married to an actual zombie? Isn’t that exactly what my marriage has become? When we’re together, we lumber through the house, shuffling from room to room to escape the other. We’re incapable of saying the words that need to be said, and when we’re forced to address the other, monosyllabic grunts seem to be the only noises we can produce. If I were the heroine of a zombie movie, I’d have by now given up weeping in fear and steeled myself for the fight for survival. The reality, though, is I see only one potential direction to take in my marriage to achieve that, and it leaves me wondering if that’s one of the reasons zombie movies seem to have so many sequels. My only hope now is this man I’ve spent so many years with doesn’t attempt to eat my brain, because, let’s be honest, the bitter thoughts that race through it would likely force him to spit out the chunks.
“There are worse things that can happen to you in life than getting divorced.”
I let my mother’s words race toward me like over-eager acrobats, the “ooohs!” and “awwws!” of a wide-eyed audience below help push them further up, up, up the seemingly endless ladder to their fate. It won’t be until they finally reach the top and rest breathlessly in front of me that I’ll join them, peering over their shoulders to look down into the black space below where the once fearless have now come to hesitate.
This is where I either find the courage to close my eyes to the blinding spotlight and step off the tiny ledge I’ve been clinging to and decide whether to grab hold of the outstretched arms of the one I used to count on, or be suspended, untethered, in mid-air, realizing within seconds that he, too, is as tired of the act as I am. The former still sways me and fills me with hope. The latter means plunging violently to the ground. I can imagine it no other way. Yes, there may be worse things that can happen to you in life than getting divorced, and one of those things may be realizing too late that the safety net that’s always been there has been rolled up and put away when I most need it to be in place, leaving me splattered across the hay-strewn dirt, my heart shredded and dripping off the rim of the ringleader’s top hat.
And what about the children? You think 20 overzealous clowns throwing confetti, tossing buckets of water and honking horns as they spill out of a tiny car isn’t scary? Then what about breaking up a family?
The choice might be easier if the reasons for considering it were stronger. There’s been no infidelity, but there has been rejection. Apathy has settled in to spaces where arguments would have been better served. “I don’t want us to be over,” he sometimes tells me, but he doesn’t want to do the work that ensures the story we started writing long ago has a happier ending. I, on the other hand, want to get angry, to scream into pillows, kick at lines I’ve drawn in the sand, and sink his battleship. Perhaps things would be clearer and decisions less difficult if we lived on a fault line, a ragged, obvious edge where the earth would rumble under us as it split us apart, and blame could come crashing down around us along with the sturdy pieces of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware we’d picked as our wedding gifts. No fine china for us!
There’s been nothing fine about us for a very long time, which brings me to this table, seated among these tears and clotted tissues. Maybe there are worse things that could happen to me in life than getting divorced. Surely I wouldn’t die without him if that’s what it comes down to, but honestly, I’m not sure how I’d live, either.
Perhaps it really isn’t in my character to give up.