April 2009

Even tonight, as I was telling him he had treated me shabbily and continued to treat the kids so and that I didn’t appreciate it, I had been imagining what it would be like if he told me he wanted to come back and lie down in the bed we made.

I’ve actually never had a root canal, but when I had my wisdom teeth out, having declined general anaesthetic in favor of some fairly ineffective local, I remember lying there repeating the mantra, “Time passes. This will be over.”

This is like that.

The week was eventful: two emergency trips to the courthouse to intercept the divorce papers on their way back to me and check a box or fix some minor clerical error, then re-submit in the hopes that it would, finally, go before the judge, get signed, and be final. Both of the trips were thanks to my lawyer friend, who checked online and saw there were issues. On the second one, I watched them dig the file out of a pile on the floor (after much searching), which did not inspire confidence.

I want it to be done. I need it to be done, not just for my peace of mind but so that I can move forward and make plans. I need to know that the judgment has been signed and the waiver (of the waiting period) has been granted and that I do not have to live in this limbo of worrying that K. will try to take the house or we’ll somehow have to renegotiate everything forever.

And so I find myself straining to push the rock of this divorce up a hill, which is ironic since I never wanted this rock in the first place.

It’s hard having my in-laws stay with me. They mean well, but, well, there is no neutrality to be found here; I feel grievously injured by K., and I continue to be infuriated by his irresponsibility with the children, and so we cannot meet on neutral ground, and his parents’ visiting, while helpful and probably necessary, also involves them making a pilgrimage down to the bar where he works so that they can admire him in action, while to me that bar represents The Lure of The Twentysomething Lifestyle and his involvement with his coworker (of the famous text message and housesitting; and no, I don’t know if he is (still) (or did) fuck(ing) her, but it doesn’t really matter; the text messages reveal enough betrayal of our relationship all by themselves, and whether his penis got there before or after the move-out date doesn’t make it any better). And the in-laws’ pilgrimage to the bar reminds me of that late November trip to same, where I ended up having to stay home and watch the kids and which somehow seems to signal the beginning of the end, and it also reminds me that, for example, my sister-in-law no longer has time for me now that she doesn’t hope to get closer to her brother through me.

And I am trying to find tickets for us to go to the Hawaii reunion at the same time as I wonder if that is not a completely insane thing to do. Because the truth is that I can’t stand it. I can’t stand being around people who don’t acknowledge K.’s perfidy, his disregard, his betrayal of our marriage and family, and his continued flakiness. Not to mention his total obliviousness to it, like “What? You mean I should feel bad that I forgot I was going to a concert and am canceling parenting this week? You mean I should try to find another time to visit my kids when they ask me to work on Sunday?”

It drives me crazy. He’s never been a great father. The quality of his parenting has not gone up since he left. The children’s security with him has declined (Thing Two continues to cling to me and resist going to him, Thing One to act conflicted before and after). He’s pretty passive most of the time, at best.

It’s so much less than one could hope for. And, as my friend Joaquin says, it’s hard to be neutral in this situation. Joaquin started out wanting to be neutral (apparently on the premise that I must be hard to live with). Then he went out with K. and was disgusted by his abdication of responsibility, his rebelliousness, and his lack of caring for anyone but himself. And, of course, hearing about the umpteenth time K. was late to see his kids doesn’t help either.

So it’s hard for me to countenance neutrality. Because even if you think what K. did to me, in terms of the way he ended our relationship, is just fine and dandy, the way he continues to disappoint/neglect the kids and his clear failure to understand his responsibilities is pretty egregious. And so when his whole nuclear family makes a pilgrimage to his bar, I don’t feel neutral about it. I feel like they’re condoning all the ways he’s a shit to his kids, and I wish they wouldn’t. And maybe that’s just my style and not theirs. But that is how I feel.

But in the meantime, I have a ton of work to do. And I have not much time to do it. And I’m feeling particularly frustrated and ugly and unlovable today. And I guess I’m just going to have to sit with that. Because I don’t have time to get some instant freedom or gratification by dumping my kids and moving somewhere else and having an affair with some random person and because I can’t really muster much interest in that kind of five-minute solution anyway.

My in-laws are staying with me.

A lot of this divorce business underlines how much we can, or can’t, be expected to do. How our selfishness and entrenched loyalties and human limitations, unwillingness to believe ill of those we love even in the face of their clearly doing, or being, ill, color our ability to be in the world, and especially to be with truth.

Part of it, of course, is that I used to represent their shining hope at being closer to and understanding their son. Now that I don’t, there’s some attention missing. From my sister-in-law too. Now that I have nothing to offer but myself, it’s not enough.

I have a lot more to say about that. But I just got a call from my lawyer friend saying that the judgment is held up YET AGAIN because of some box that needs to be checked. And so I have a lot to do.

And I have something to say about the email I got from K. this morning, an email that says he has to cancel May 10’s visit (a Sunday, Mother’s Day) because he has to work.

I spent an hour being angry with him for not offering or at least professing a desire to find another time to replace it with and see his children.

I then thought, well, I can’t make him want to see them. And I definitely can’t make him honor his Sunday parenting time (a fact which should be obvious, based on the past few weeks). But I can make it clear that these decisions have consequences.

So I sent the following reply:

I see. Well, I’ll need to hire a babysitter to get my work done that day, so let’s discuss your financial contribution to that at our meeting. Thanks for letting me know.

Really, it gets to be too much.

K. was supposed to come at 11:15 today. Thing One had a birthday party to attend in a distant suburb, and rather than drag Thing Two there, she was going to stay home with K., who would have been starting his parenting time a bit early (and ending it early).

A couple of days ago my intuition told me not to bet on it, so I had both ready to go. When he didn’t show or call by 11:20 (we have gone over The Importance of Calling If You Are Going to Be Even One Minute Late ad nauseum), I piled everyone into the car.

At a few minutes to noon, as we pulled into the party, the phone rang. “I’m waiting for a cab,” K. said. “It’s late, so I’m going to be a few minutes late.” (I guess he’d slept in and needed to take a cab rather than budget the extra time for the bus.)

“Well, you’re actually already 40 minutes late. And we’re in Tigard.”


“Remember? We talked about it at our meeting last week? You were going to come at 11:15? Because of Thing One’s friend’s birthday party? You wrote it down.”

“Oh, crap.”

Yeah. That’s right. So I told him to cancel the cab, take the train, and that I’d let him know when we were approaching by calling. He agreed to be at the local coffee shop by 1:30.

I called at 2 precisely to ask him to be at the house when we got home. When I told the children that Daddy would be at the house when we got there, Thing One said, “I don’t want Daddy to come. He’s too rough.” Then he said, “Where’s Uncle Tim?” (Uncle Tim is my brother, visiting for the weekend. He loves children and they think he’s a gas. I hear screams of laughter from upstairs for hours.)

“Uncle Tim is visiting other friends this afternoon,” I said. “Other friends” being my sister and her son, who live downtown and who won’t speak to me, answer our party invites, or go anywhere we’re known to be. The short answer is that she perceives that I’m judgmental of her life choices, though there has been no falling out.

Anyway, so we were expecting him to be there when we got home. He wasn’t. After a few minutes, I called again. He was sitting on a street corner, he said, “waiting.”

He showed up at 2:30. A full 3 hours and 15 minutes after his parenting time had been meant to begin.

You might be thinking, why didn’t I have K. take Thing One to the party and make sure he got here by calling. After all, the party started at noon, when K.’s parenting time typically does.Two reasons. Well, three: 1)He wasn’t actually invited to the party, nor did he show any interest in going; 2)I wanted Thing One to actually get there; and 3)I am trying to operate on the premise that it’s not my job to babysit him.


Postscript: since there is so little time (3 hours total) until he leaves today (the early departure being occasioned by a family dinner with my brother and dad, lest you get the impression that everything is K.’s fault), I’m just working downstairs in my room. It’s beautiful and sunny today, so I made a bottle of lemonade out of the organic lemons that had been languishing in the fruit basket and brought it upstairs. K. was parked on the couch. Each child was playing independently.

I don’t know why I’m amazed that he doesn’t try to impress the kids a bit more.

It’s Saturday evening, and I’m making dinner for the kids while singing “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” — because Thing One informed me that he and Thing Two were bears. Of course, I had to alter the words a bit, as when I finished the first round: “At six o’clock their mummies and daddies will come to take them home because they’re tired little teddy bears,” he objected, “No, we’re real bears.” So the song is now “Real Bears’ Picnic.” For good measure, I edited the “mummies and daddies” to “you know that their mummies,” to avoid any confusion. It’s bugging me how much heteronormative two-parent family representation dominates the mythology of early childhood. But it was too late.

Thing One: “Our Daddy Bear is sick.”

(long pause) “Even though he is sick and doesn’t see you very much, he loves you very much and he wants to be a good daddy.”

Thing One: “But he doesn’t love you.”

This last was not said to hurt or challenge (though Thing One is totally capable of that), but as if to rebut my assertion.


As I wait for the divorce to become final, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it will mean when K. and I are no longer legally tied together. Mostly, it has become a way for me to set terms that will keep the children safer and happier, and that is well and good, but when I have more than a fleeting moment, I think about what is gone.

My partner, my lover, my husband, my friend. The person I could come home to, feeling overwhelmed with weltschmerz, and go under the covers with for a mutually reassuring hug. The person who had promised to be my family forever.

I wonder a lot if I will make one last speech to him — for they have been speeches, all my carefully-crafted attempts to get him to remember our promises, to think about the children, to be gentler with us and with himself — in which I enumerate the things I feel he must, someday, own. I am filled with my own regrets, of course; I know that I was not the best partner. The most loving partner. The easiest or the kindest or the most forgiving. Although I was, perhaps, the most constant.

But he has those small failings too. The small failings are allowed; they are not now the subject of reproach. There are bigger, more drastic acts. Acts that he does not seem to realize he has committed, much less understand the effect of on others. And so I want to say to him that he has abandoned me, that he has betrayed me, that he was a cornerstone of my life and of the children’s and that he has ripped us apart. That our family is broken and we are hurting and even as the hurt recedes, becomes dulled, becomes cocooned in whatever we wrap it in so that we can continue to go about our lives, even as this happens, we will never be a whole family again. There is a part of my identity, as a wife, and a part of all of ours, as part of the family we were, that is frozen, shattered, floating in space with a large and essential piece missing, like an aircraft with an engine broken off. We will learn to be a different kind of family — but there will always be the ghost of that wrecked craft haunting us. And maybe I will learn to be a lover or a partner or even, unlikely as it seems (and it does seem unlikely), a wife again, but there will always be a part of me that in the middle of the night cannot quite remember that when I reach out my hand, K. will not be there, and there will always be a part of this that is tender under the scar tissue and that remembers how badly it hurts, still, every day that I am alive and that I am abandoned.

When I was a child, my parents at some point decided to get rid of our two cats because we (the children) weren’t taking good enough care of them. So they drove way out into the country with them and dumped them out the window. They didn’t tell us until we asked where the cats were.

The analogy is obvious: you can get rid of the cats, if that is what you have to do, without abandoning them or betraying trust. It will still hurt. It may not scar.

Perhaps the children will get over this initial hurt in a way I will not. For them I fear, more, the continual small hurts of a father who doesn’t quite understand that it falls to him — let alone how — to love and care for them. Which is itself a terrible burden, a chronic, leaden pain, a slow erosion of happiness and self-esteem until one day you are thirteen and you hate men or you sleep with anyone who’ll push you down or you are filled with anger or you realize you don’t know how to love, or you are afraid to. And why should they not be afraid? What will they see for the rest of their lives but the wrecked hull of their mother, floating in space, trying to do two jobs with one arm, seeping hot and silent tears.

It sounds melodramatic. It is not; it is grief. I have grieved before, but I have never lost someone so central to my life. To have lost that person and have him turn up, without feelings, without ideas, without anything but a truculent sort of resignation to periodic ‘duty’ —

— sometimes it is beyond bearing.

On Monday I went in for my annual. I was seeing a woman, a Nurse Practitioner, I’d last seen when my daughter was born eighteen months ago.  I was shown into a room to wait for her and told to remove all my clothes and put on the gown, open to the front, with the sheet to drape over. And I stood in that room where I was last a young married woman about to have a baby girl to bring home to her beautiful son and the husband who loved her. I stood there in my socks and the hospital gown and I cried, and I watched my tears plop on the linoleum and thought about how much we have lost, are losing, will lose. And then I climbed up on the table and lay there, tears running onto the padded vinyl, waiting to get through one more thing.

It seems that’s what I have to do now. Get through one more thing. And drag my children through with me.

So K. was only a few minutes late today. It’s a banner day.

I’ve been stewing about the damage his lateness/unreliability/canceling/attitude does to the children. And a few things have given me pause:

Two days ago, Thing One got in bed with me and said that if he went to Daddy’s house to spend the night, he wanted to take his own bed, but that if he did that I had to make sure Daddy didn’t get in his bed and “be too scary.”

Yesterday, Thing one got in bed with me (he does this nearly every morning) and said, “Daddy’s sick. He has to go to the doctor. He’s sick from yelling at me too much.”

Today when K. got here, Thing One wouldn’t look at him, and Thing Two clung to me and cried. I got Thing One settled with a movie and K., who has had his hair cut into a Zac-Efron-esque long-bangs ‘do, started telling me about how last night he made a drink that everyone liked out of pineapple mango juice and brandy. “I called it the Gaugin,” he said. He seemed very pleased and repeated twice that everybody liked it and was blown away by it and it was the hit of the evening. Twice.

Then I revisited a conversation we had ten days ago wherein he’d said that his running a bar “would have a positive impact on the world.” I joked that it was like that Dave Matthews song where he says “hike up your skirt a little more/and show the world to me” — it’s a very limited ‘world’ that’s being ‘positively impacted.’ He didn’t react. I said, “You do realize that was a funny thing to say?” He laughed and said yes. Then I said something else and he said, “I can’t talk about philosophy or the ideas behind this. I don’t have any ideas.”

“Well,” I said. “Maybe you should get one.”

But aside from giving me a great opportunity for one-liners, I’m starting to get a clue from his attitude that he doesn’t have an idea right now. Not any. Not thoughts about thoughts. He’s a mouth and a stomach and he is existing on a physical plane. Conceptualizing, abstract thought, or emotions are apparently beyond his realm of comprehension.

Which makes a lot of sense, actually.