Page 19

At first it’s smooth enough, and you say to yourself This isn’t so hard and you settle into a sense of belonging – in a good way – not just to an institution or even a person but a new status, a new acceptance, a new way of being, a family that welcomes you, a feeling of family.

So this is marriage, you tell yourself.

Then kids come along and you’re rapturous and overwhelmed and exhausted and the two of you are closer than you’ve ever been, and then you’re not. You look up after a year and then two and then three and you realize you’re miles apart and you try to ratchet it up but it doesn’t work and maybe it never did and maybe there were signs all along.

But you say “I made my bed” and you look at your kids and things are calm enough so you keep going as long as you can and then you can’t any longer and things happen that you could never have imagined and then it’s really over and you’re sleepwalking through a fictionalized version of your body and your mind and your voice and your gestures; it must be someone’s idea of a joke. It’s Candid Camera but there is no Alan Funt and no “reveal” because you’re sitting in a leather chair in a legal office scrawling checks in five thousand dollar increments, you’re sitting in a metal chair in a conference room under deposition, you’re sitting on a cold bench in a courtroom, you’re sitting in judge’s chambers where your attorney seems unconcerned while his attorney says “my client is out of town on business” – and it works every time.

So it all drags on and drains your resources and then your credit and now months have turned into a year. And you cave.

Because.

Because there’s only so much borrowing power and only so much rage and only so much you to go around, and your kids are devastated and they need love not the battlefield, solid ground not the Titanic, and you look up and it’s two years later and finally you’re divorced. One of the kids says Dad has a girlfriend already and Mom you haven’t even been on a date and you nod and say “I’m not ready” and so you stay not ready, until you are.

Of course, that’s another year because there’s a home you can’t keep and jobs you can’t get and a child who is tearing his hair out, literally, and that’s much more important than whether or not Dad has a new girlfriend and you continue taking kids to school and driving them to activities and fielding questions on insects and why women shave their legs and the eating habits of raptors and how to do square roots, and you drum up anything you can to make a buck and you have other problems besides Dad’s New Life like what else you can liquidate and how much more to cut off your resume so you can find a job that doesn’t expect travel because kids keep needing something and well, that’s what kids do, and that’s why they need a parent who doesn’t travel.

Middle Aged Man Intense LookThen there is the Narcissist an old friend set you up with and you sort of like him but not in that way and he’s pushing 60 with a bad hip and you tell yourself he has a good heart, and then you come to see that all he really wants is someone to drive him and cook for him and listen to him but that’s okay for a little while because he’s kind to your kids and you’re so lonely you could implode, and you aren’t ready to date yet anyway.

So this is divorce, you tell yourself.

Finally you sell the family home well below market and you buy a tiny house in the same school district and maybe the move will do you good because the space will be about new memories so you jam your stuff into the new place and your kid says Mom, Dad met his girlfriend online so you can do that too and isn’t it really time you started dating but first you need to grow your hair because guys like that.

And you look at your 12-year old with such love and amusement and you tell yourself you are a lucky woman and you tell him you’re not ready to date but you’ll grow your hair so when you are ready you’ll be all set.

And then you do.

You grow your hair and you’re happy to grow your hair because your little one’s hair is coming back and you know he’s going to be fine and apparently, the secrets to life have much to do with hair.

So the Narcissist stops calling and now another six months have passed and you join Match and you provide your real age and you write something clever and authentic and you watch those movies on sex and the single mom and you admit to yourself that your libido isn’t dead but all the men who get in touch have pickups and hang-glide and love Nascar though your profile specifies that you like Paris and Diebenkorn.

And even if all that’s okay, several are cross-eyed and that’s one thing you can’t abide. Then there is the fact that half of them are bald and you have nothing against bald men because a good man is a good man, but your ex is bald and you really don’t want to have a coffee date with someone resembling your ex so you say yes to every man with hair – even the cross-eyed, hang-gliding, Nascar-loving ones – and no to the rest, and you have hair to your shoulders so you figure odds are, eventually this will yield results.

And you date.

You coffee date which really ought to be a verb because there’s Coffee Dating at Starbucks and Coffee Dating at Borders and Coffee Dating at Starbucks again because by this time the Bulgarian Barista knows you by name and the Poet Barista knows you from Open Mike Night and you feel safer with this parade of coffee dates at “your” Starbucks and finally one of the dates leads to a little something and it’s been years since anything and you’re relieved that something still works and then there’s a flurry of somethings.

But.

You weary of that pretty quickly because you’re not a kid and you have kids and it isn’t really your thing and you’re out of babysitting money anyway and losing your taste for Double Venti Skinny Lattes.

Of course, now the kids fly off for their dad’s wedding and you tell yourself Okay, maybe he’ll leave me alone and you’re still dealing with financial dramas and now middle school dramas and a social life isn’t even on the daily plate of crazy considerations because you’re solo parenting and then, to your surprise, you fall in love.

And it’s good.

That lasts almost two years and the only reason it works is because it’s long distance, because day-in-day-out parenting eats up everything along with making a buck any way you can and divorce itself pales in comparison to its aftermath but you keep plodding ahead because you look at those kids and they aren’t little but they are your heart and now it’s been a decade and you thank God for the deepening voices that long ago stopped saying Mom you need to date and say, instead, Mom can I have the car and Mom can I go to a concert and Mom can I have a party in the back yard. But they don’t ask for money because Mom doesn’t have any of that.

So you say yes, and yes, and yes, and only the occasional no because they’re great kids and great kids deserve yes in spades and no when it counts and then no isn’t disputed. But all those yeses mean a lot of nos for yourself and that’s okay, too, but now you look up and they’re launched or nearly and you’re living a life you do not recognize in a face you do not recognize in a body that is aching for something and everything and you still go to Starbucks except it’s to write and write alone though you say hello to the Poet Barista who is graying now but then, so are you.

And it’s the weekend.

You wake from a horrible nightmare at five in the morning and you pace and you take a breath and you say I’m going to read today because that is a gift you rarely have the time to give yourself and you’ve been going at 300mph and today you just can’t and you didn’t make this bed but now you want to lie in it all the same, and with a book. And so you do.

You dig in and begin to read and you catch yourself grinning on page two and nodding on page three and you’re caught up in the words and their quirky sentiments and the sticky sensation of the author’s reality resembling your reality and then you laugh. On page 19, you laugh. Out loud. And you’re happy your kid is asleep and his friend who stayed over is asleep and you can read some more and you’re smiling now and maybe you can squeak out another 19 pages before anyone wakes up.

And maybe, page 19 is like falling in love when you don’t expect it and your kid saying Mom you need to grow your hair because guys like that and knowing somewhere in your Reflux-ridden gut that “good” isn’t gone forever and though you don’t want to Coffee Date (the verb) you just might stop by and say hello to the Poet Barista in the days ahead.

He isn’t cross-eyed, and you’re mesmerized by his long strands of thick, curling hair.




© D. A. Wolf

Comments

  1. Love this, biglittlewolf. So very true. Was just chatting w/my sister today about the whole coffee date thing and how you just need to keep putting yourself out there…well done, you.

    Delia Lloyd
    http://www.realdelia.com

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Yes, the ever popular Coffee Date! I just don’t know that I can do it again though, Delia. Not in this country. I seem to have a better record with the Café date! However, I love it when an encounter adjoins a bookstore. If things go well, you can cruise the aisles together and find out a great deal about what a person is like – which section he gravitates to, and whether or not he’ll join you on the floor, or invite you to join him, to peruse his favorite page 19!

  2. Great post BLW. I have a friend who divorced a few years ago after 20 years of marriage. She devoted her entire married life to keeping things together for the kids, sheltering them from the hurt of her husband thinking that was the best path. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But her kids were her whole life and now they are gone (in college on with their own lives) she is lonely. Everyone deserves companionship. I truly believe this. It’s why I harbor no hard feeling towards my father who remarried after my mother died. I have no desire for a relationship with this woman, but he deserves to have that life.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      You might be surprised, Cathy. At any age, I believe it’s more than companionship. Love happens. Sexuality doesn’t disappear. And even if it is “just” companionship – it’s a great deal. We all deserve good connections to others, and I wish my kids had known better models for it growing up.

  3. I loved this, BLW, not just for the story it tells but the way it tells it. Narrative is what I study. Ever consider developing this for a literary magazine? Or the Modern Love column of the New York Times?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thanks, CT. (Chuckling.) It was just my morning ramble. What’s Modern Love at NYT? Jeez… see what happens when you only have time to read 19 pages every three months? (May the gods and goddesses of the NYT forgive me. . .)

  4. You remind me of those days after my divorice from my kids’ father, and then a bit after the second one – I’m a slow learner. And I am so glad I’m through that and the kids are grown and my Hub now is my friend because I finally figured out friend is the most important thing in a relationship. But it didn’t come until I decided living alone was not the end of the world and I could do it. Comfortably. Without regret. Your future is out there. Be patient.

  5. BLW, I really love this. You normally guard yourself a bit in your writing, yet somehow here, in a second-person piece reminiscent of Lorrie Moore’s writing, I find something that is most deeply you, yes? Funny how sometimes by adding a little distance we can actually get closer to a topic.

    Lovely, and congratulations on your HuffPo piece!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      @Linda – Thanks, and second person was a fun exercise. Yes, and the distance it creates, oddly more permissive.
      @Carol – :)

  6. Beautifully written, BLW.

    But, you know, that isn’t divorce. That is some people’s experience, but not everyone’s.

    I sorta did that selfless all-about-the-kid-and-the-hubby thing when I was married. When I got divorced, I finally, finally! gave myself permission to care about myself, too. I exercised (mostly by walking — a lot! Hey, it’s free.), ate better, and “indulged” by leaving The Kid for a few hours to grab a drink with a girlfriend of read a book (other than a parenting book!).

    Yes, working full time and managing a household and getting the kid here and there and helping with homework and — well, you know the drill — is exhausting! But, it’s just what you have to do, and taking care of yourself is part of that. It has to be just as important.

    And, yeah, I did the online thing and “put myself out there.” If nothing else, those coffee dates and other mishaps gave me great column fodder and girlfriend cocktail banter. And, sometimes they gave me a kiss or sex and a nice warm hand to hold.

    Hope Poet Barista’s hand is warm, too. ;-)

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      We all have different experiences of life after divorce, at different points in time. I wasn’t generalizing all experiences of divorce, only allowing a little exploration of a small piece of my own. Not a journal. Not a statement of facts. And yes, those coffee dates do make great writing fodder – not to mention, fascinating moments!

      Over all these years – I realize, more than 10 – Poet Barista and I are friends. Graying at the temples, and with similar taste in coffee. :)

  7. Oh, this could have been a little slice of my life. Wonderful, brilliant post!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Glad you liked it Karen, and welcome. (And sorry you found something familiar in it, too… but there’s good stuff in there as well, right?)

  8. Nicely written and I love the reveal here.

  9. “Divorce itself pales in comparison to its aftermath…” This is certainly the truth. Those who choose to journey down this road and those who have to ride along against their will would probably agree that life post-divorce is not what they expected. Not only is the day to day life not what we expected, but we must face it with the incredible grief and sadness of divorce as our closest companion. I know there are exceptions to this and that is good because I wouldn’t wish this journey on my worst enemy. Thanks for sharing.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Michele. Welcome. Happily, this isn’t the same journey for all who divorce. But sadly, for many of us, on that ride against our will, it’s all too familiar.

  10. I stumbled across your website, glanced over it with my usual reservations – ‘it’s not going to make me feel any better, by reading this’ – after typing in my usual daily internet prayer – ‘oh WWW please tell me when the grief and hurt will end’ – and then couldn’t stop reading. Sometimes well meaning advice on relationship-break-up-hardship can feel a bit patronising. It’s so refreshing to hear another persons story in interesting, intelligent, engaging prose.
    Thanks, Bx

  11. What a stunning and honest piece of writing this is. I am constantly inspired by your stamina. Not to mention your ability to keep a brave and positive face in the midst of totally unwarranted struggles. You give my life perspective in some of the most important ways. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  12. Excellent. One of the very few times that run-on sentences fit. It really communicates the hectic, confused nature of single parenting.

    ( divorced dad o 2 )

  13. This was an excellent piece and catches so much of the post-divorce life in relation to dating. As an online-dater myself, I have much the same experiences… a willingness to go out but an emotional fatigue at not finding something or someone special for me. I read many, many profiles of single women over 45. It’s discouraging that so many don’t match my preferences and who never state what they might offer in the context of a relationship. But I know that Sela Ward is not right around the corner and so I have widened my preferences in regards to dating.

    And yes, I’m bald.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you, Zammo. And please pass along my thanks to Dalrock for his kind words on this piece as well. It certainly is a snapshot of a number of years, and I imagine a variation of this experience exists for many women.

      As for Sela Ward, you have excellent taste. I do find online meeting to be less than desirable, but one of the few means available to many of us. As for bald men, hair is highly overrated. I didn’t date bald men during those first few years. I have dated bald men for the past 5 or 6. That said, I no longer date men with a love of Nascar. :)

  14. The most amazing, true, moving words I have read in a very long time. Thank you.

  15. …and then you come to see that all he really wants is someone to drive him and cook for him and listen to him…

    A relationship should be sooo much more what you describe in that sentence. Keep looking…

  16. I know I have read this before and I know it hit with intensity, but not with the intensity of today, reading it again. Maybe I can only absorb so much at once. Anyway – I was blown away. By how rough life can be, by how people can cope, by how someone can express. I was moved and changed.

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