So it’s been a while, and there’s some Yeatsian upheaval going on, to the tune of my spending winter break alone with the two kids in a house snowed in by a freak blizzard, barely eking my way to the local grocery every couple of days when my heroic dad appeared in his bechained Prius to relieve me for a morning. Christmas day — and yes, we still don’t celebrate Christmas, but you know, we respect the Jesus, and it is a holiday — was an epic low, spent alone and disconsolate, milling about the house wishing the snow would stop for long enough so that we could take the bus to Powell’s and mill about disconsolately in the company of other people abandoned on the B.J.’s birthday, but resigned to the fact that there was no way I was going to brave the blizzard for a bus on holiday schedule when Transit Tracker said “there is no data on arrivals” and the two small children were terrified of falling down in the snow.

Where, you ask, was their father?

Well, on that very day, he was over at his high school pal’s house, eating fondue and smoking the Mary Jane. I know because I called him. But in general, he was gone, living in a sublet a couple miles away. A sublet that just happened to belong to the woman with whom he’d been exchanging flirtatious Facebook messages and sharing the occasional late night out before he told me, on December fifth, that he wanted to get divorced. Without preamble.

I could go into the litany of ills, real and perceived, that I feel he’s perpetrated. Or I could talk about the Bipolar II diagnosis that I just learned was given when he was 20 and now, seven years later, seems to be rearing its ugly head in a variety of ways, including an oracular certainty that “we never loved each other as we should” and that “we were never happy” and that “we’re just wrong” and a frighteningly reactive pattern of discipline (including explaining to our three-year-old, when he was acting up during an early visit, that “Daddy is leaving because he doesn’t like the way you’re acting,” in the wake of Thing One’s having articulated that he understood that Daddy was staying at a different house and that he wanted both his daddy and his mommy home with him) and anger with the kids (to the tune of “The baby is so annoying! The toddler is such an asshole! He just needs to be punished!”).

There’s a long, long story there. And I could list all the ways this doesn’t make sense to me, all the reasons I’m bewildered that the one rock in our life, the certainty of our longevity as a couple and as a family, the articulated consensus that divorce sucks and is a never-to-be-imagined resort, has been abandoned so rudely. Or my shock and hurt at the fact that he is now saying “we’re getting divorced. I’m never coming back. The decision has been made.” But I’m not going to do that. Because what really matters to me is that we are a family. I thought. And that I am still married to this person who has disavowed all relationship with me. And that I believe that the only thing I can do as a spouse and as a parent is to try to love him and to love and protect our children and to continue to suggest that perhaps this is not the time for him to make such a life-altering and unequivocal decision. And that as I was driving home from work today, I took his wedding ring out of the ashtray, where he tossed it when he ceremoniously took it off on that Friday, December 5, and I held it to my lips.

Gold is warm to the touch. Even when nothing else is.


The family I babysat for from age 11 to 19, a stunningly successful power couple with three lovable and reasonably-behaved children, pots of money, and excellent hair (both of them) provided me with an example for marriage that easily outshone my parents’ (not hard, since my parents’ marriage imploded only two years into my tenure as a babysitter). It may have been the way they called each other ten times a day to whisper sweet nothings while she was busy being a perfect, attentive, thoughtful mother dressed in the latest French fashions or the way he manfully bought and sold empires in between squiring her to symphonies, Democratic Party fundraisers, and restaurants with $10 mineral water. She was sensitive, beautiful, artistically inclined, and fluent in French (which made the shopping easier), with a storied past of dating future geniuses and Middle Eastern princes; he was handsome, tall, and just a little bit brooding (or maybe cranky; they looked the same to a teenager), with a taste for German automobiles and a fascinating, immigrant childhood. I never went so far as to wish they were my parents, but that is only because I was an adolescent; I wished I didn’t have parents (especially given the ones I actually had). And I never forgot one thing he said to me, during one of the private chats we always had on the ride home:

“Divorce is not an option. Death is an option.”

It’s a line that echoes in my head to this day. At the time, I interpreted it to mean that he would consider homicide if things got to that point, which they of course would not; it now occurs to me that maybe suicide was in the offing. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the idea a lot lately as I’ve negotiated the murky waters of year four of a marriage that is as much the result of fate or chance, depending upon what you believe in, as anything else; as I see it, I am in an arranged marriage with the universe as matchmaker. And due to my sino-inscrutability, and the fact that I don’t see anything worse about arranged marriage than any other kind (come on! Look at all these chumps around you arranging their own marriages and then having those marriages die ignominious deaths after six weeks – or months, or days. Don’t you think they should get a professional to do the job?), I’ve been mostly OK with that.

But I have my moments. Moments when I think about how death is an option. Like this morning, when my husband, who promised to take care of the taxes weeks ago, was ignoring Thing One, who has been very high-maintenance lately, like a thoroughbred, needing a lot of currying and brushing and occasional blinders in order to avoid completely losing his shit and trampling his trainers to death. Why was he ignoring our son when I was supposed to be getting time to work? Because he was looking for a bunch of tax forms he lost in his desk in the hopes of making an 8 p.m. appointment with H&R Block tonight so that we could avoid late fees. Because he completely flaked on the taxes for months on end. Because time management is not his strong suit, and so our son is running around the house with no pants on screaming bloody murder and throwing random objects at walls and our daughter is responding by bursting into tears and their father is digging through piles of cut-up Vanity Fairs and letters from old girlfriends hoping he will find the tax forms that he has actually lost due to massive incompetence and carelessness and I am realizing why, in the past, I have always done our taxes: because the man I married has never dealt with his own paperwork, and in fact, when I met him and he was a multiple-offending college dropout his mother routinely filled out the FAFSA for him, and apparently even driving all our forms to H&R Block is too complex a task and my head is echoing with the refrain that death is an option, which is the point where your survival instinct kicks in and you start to understand why so many people pick divorce instead, and you take a deep breath and step back from the abyss you’re staring into, but it’s a close call.

A very close call. And let me just be clear on this: I still think, all things considered, the universe did a decent job tricking me into marrying someone. I mean, look at Britney Spears.

I mean, I love my husband. And come to think of it, he strongly resembles that guy I used to babysit for. He’s kind of cranky, and he has excellent hair. Too bad he’s poor.

I probably would have posted this earlier in the week, but I’ve been trying to sublimate the dread I have for Thanksgiving. You could say I’m a party pooper, and you’d be right, but I have no use whatsoever for Thanksgiving, except perhaps as an exercise in self-flagellation.

Anyone with an interest in American history can tell you that the Native Americans have gotten a pretty shitty deal. I was reminded of this recently, when my husband forced me to watch the heinous Colin Farrell-mobile The New World, in which scores of sweaty, grimy colonialist goons exemplify the ethos of the title, i.e. that This World is New Because We Didn’t Know About it Before, in a plodding celebration of the white man’s mental limitations. Not even the presence of the talented Christian Bale, here totally emasculated by a role that shows him slavishly lapping up Farrell’s leavings (in the person of Jewel’s Peruvian cousin), can redeem more than two hours of this kind of self-congratulatory drivel. But I digress. This movie is only relevant to Thanksgiving in the sense that it gives a pretty accurate idea of what Thanksgiving celebrates, which is that Europeans came to America and fucked it up and the inhabitants saved their asses anyway with a gift of corn and beans before being rounded up and herded off to Oklahoma.

Are you hungry yet?

So anyway, somehow Thanksgiving just doesn’t give me the urge to stuff myself full of massive quantities of stuffed bird swimming in greasy gravy filled with giblets, and since I spent eighteen years as a vegetarian before succumbing to the lure of foie gras on the Ile St.-Louis one spring afternoon, I don’t fully understand what giblets are, anyway. I think they come in a clammy, string-wrapped bag. I suspect them of being gristly. Or maybe just gummy. I must admit I’m not quite comfortable with them. I have no quarrel with giblets, but they should keep to their own.

My personal history with Thanksgiving doesn’t help this aversion. Since my parents’ divorce when I was in middle school, all holidays involved splitting the day in half; a noonday meal at Dad’s followed by a chilly trek down to the 54 bus, which was running on “holiday” schedule and inevitably made me wait an hour, followed by a grimy ride with an assortment of bums, crazy ladies, and other odorous folk reduced to bus-riding as a survival tactic, followed by having to shove down a second holiday dinner at Mom’s. Of course, not eating was not an option either place; Dad is, of course, Chinese and would have found it massively insulting had I not eaten Herculean quantities of his over-salted meal, whereas Mom, occupying second tier as usual, might have felt slighted had I not done her undercooked Brussels sprouts justice (and for added guilt, it was usually her birthday).

So having to convincingly dig in to two Thanksgiving dinners is probably enough to give any adolescent a dislike of the process, but there’s another piece to the puzzle: the hereditary eating disorder. Those who have experienced this know what a scourge it is and how difficult it is to escape: you spend your early childhood watching your mom act out her bizarre relationship to the refrigerator, sometimes even implicating you in it (in my case, her refrain was, “Oh, Honey, why did you make me eat so much?” — as if a six-year-old could make a thirty-five-year-old consume an entire half cheesecake). You watch your mother glance in mirrors and moan about how fat she is, and when you hit puberty you decide that that’s what womanhood is, it’s a cycle of self-loathing and guilt-mongering, and you also become convinced that you are fat, so fat that it’s repulsive to even look at you. Even if you are 5’4″ and weigh 86 lb., because (thank God) you take after your dad’s side of the family. Even if the other half of your heritage involves competitive speed-eating. With chopsticks.

So that was my Thanksgiving: two dinners, lots of guilt, the trauma of the parental schism reenacted viciously (he wouldn’t so much as give us a ride in her direction, she couldn’t mention him without tearing up). And then there was my sister.

I’ve written about my sister in these pages before, and I think it’s only fair to get a third party description of her, um, unique character. So I’ll give you my dear friend Grant’s assessment, in the context of a conversation we had some years ago. I had apparently told him about something my sister planned to do that, to me with my skewed vision of reality, didn’t seem that outlandish, and he responded,

“Yeah, but your sister is ka-RAZY.

Out of the spirit of generosity, I should say that in this case, we can lay the blame for my sister’s insanity directly at my parents’ door. Not only did they pass on the twin streams of Chinese eating duty and hereditary Body Dysmorphic Disorder, but sis was a little younger than I when the Iron Curtain of Hatred fell down between our parents, so maybe it wormed its way deeper into her subconscious. By the time she was fourteen, she was subsisting on a diet of water and lettuce. Every three weeks she’d indulge on a Roman scale and eat a whole loaf of bread in one sitting, and then presumably hate herself, but her net daily calorie intake was still probably only in the double digits. She was all too eager to walk a mile through frigid rain to the bus stop (having been kicked off the track team), and she didn’t even mind the hour-long wait, which gave her the opportunity to jog in place in the little ditch on the side of the highway while we both got hit with sheets of rain churned up by passing cars, but once we sat down at the table, she was no picnic.

My parents were united in their bafflement at her refusal to ingest food, so they tactfully ignored it and urged me to eat twice as much to make up for it. And, well, my sense of self-preservation wasn’t so strong in those days. So by five o’clock on Thanksgiving Day, I was usually either lying on the floor as my bowels rioted in protest, or trying not to throw up in the ditch by the bus stop.

Once I moved away for college, I never came back for Thanksgiving. I spent a lot of happy holiday afternoons strolling around upper Broadway, eating Tasti D-Lite and loitering in the Barnes and Noble when the weather got bad. But now I have the great misfortune of living in my hometown, and we’re invited to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving (I am thankful that my dad has since moved away; does that count?), and, the pièce de résistance, my sister is now living with my mother (having fled her latest fucked-up relationship once again), and so we will all be together.

I can barely contain myself. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the day, except maybe being forced to march a thousand miles in bare feet and smallpox blankets.

What are you thankful for?

When do you know you’re an adult? Really an adult, not just clinging to the I.D. that says you’re legal or pretending you feel wise and competent (say, in front of a classroom full of college freshmen, many of whom are only four years younger than you are) and detached when really, you just want to go out drinking with the interesting ones.

(Actually, a complete loss of interest in going out drinking with the interesting ones is probably a pretty good indicator, in which case I passed that milestone a couple of years ago, although it could just be the decline in quality of ‘interesting’ as my geographic situation has gone from edgy to eccentric to flabby suburban bland. But anyway.)

Or are you finally an adult when you get married? Or when you own a house? Or when you have kids?

Two words:

Britney. Spears.

In other words, the gradual ascent to maturity requires more than just its trappings. And yet there should be some kind of marker, some rite of passage by which a person knows that he or she has irrevocably turned the corner into adulthood, that those halycon days of improbably colored cocktails and inadvertent oral sex in bars or hotel bathrooms are, for good and all, over.

Clearly that marker is not marriage, mortgages, or kids, as any of the Wall Street power traders I used to temp for (and be propositioned by over Curaçao) in college could tell you. Nope. It’s something a little more ephemeral than that and, like any good rite of passage, more an ending than a beginning.

I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that the answer is divorce. Not necessarily your own, which would put the ‘adult rate’ at just slightly under 50%, but divorce experienced socially and vicariously through a member of your peer group. Since you’ll already have a marriage, a mortgage, and kids at that point, divorce, even if experienced secondhand, sheds an entirely new light on these things. Mostly, it does the unthinkable: opens the door to a possibility of returning to those days of carefree binges and haphazard sex, letting you glimpse the possible return of a time when the phrase Whoops! I slipped and fell on your penis! was a reality.

My friend “Don” is getting divorced now. He’s been living in the basement of his former home and is probably even as I write in the process of moving into a crappy two-bedroom apartment which his soon-to-be ex doesn’t want him to have; she wanted him to take possession of the one-bedroom that happens to be located about ten feet down from where I sit, i.e. in the bottom half of our duplex. Why? Because, he posits, she’s trying to cramp his style; he can’t have a one-bedroom and their daughter visiting every other night and hope to have any kind of social life, sunken living room, bearskin rug, and jetted tub be damned. I tend to give a more charitable interpretation that the lure of the familiar (i.e. a couple she knows socially as landlords) and the possibility of free occasional babysitting for their daughter (if “Don” ever has to run out and pick up his dry cleaning/FedEx a package/hire Divine Brown to blow him in his Geo Prizm) is more powerful than her concern for his welfare, social development, and healing process. But either way, she knows what’s up, and so does he. As he put it over drinks in our living room a few weeks ago,

“So now I can sleep with a different person every night if I want.” And then, gazing disconsolately at the ceiling, “Which sounds fucking terrible.”

This, my friends, is adulthood. The same man who, four months into his marriage, spent an evening sniffing around yours truly over bourbon at the Driftwood Inn for the possibility of a little sugar on the side (he actually used the term “open marriage,” while admitting that was his ideal rather than the reality), having lied to his wife and told her he was volunteering for the local independent radio station telethon, is now free, and that freedom tastes about like sawdust. He’d rather sit around watching rented DVDs of “The Sopranos” than even consider the possibility of ending up in a compromising position with some floozy(ies). And why? Because the man is now an adult. And the adult knows that nothing is worth the humiliation of waking up with a patchy memory and Bubbilicious stuck to your boxers.

About time.