On Getting a Divorce and a Cup of Coffee

The divorce itself was relatively anti-climactic.  We aren’t fighting.  I no longer feel angry.  I think we both felt relieved.

There’s no pomp or circumstance in a divorce.  It wasn’t even a real courtroom like you might imagine.  It was a tiny room on the 16th floor of the courthouse building in downtown Chicago.  The judge did have a raised bench and probably a gavel – though he never pounded it.  There was a grumpy woman who stamped papers and swore everyone in whom my ex (he is now officially my ex-husband.  I never thought I’d have one of those) suggested may have recently transferred from the DMV.  She was THAT grumpy.  Apparently her job makes her unhappy.  That’s too bad.

The most exciting moment was when my lawyer said “impractical” when she should have said “impracticable.”  The judge called her out on it.  Other than that…yeah…not too exciting.  A few minutes later it was done and we were back out in the cold.

I walked across the street to get a celebratory coffee.  The woman crossing next to me, wearing the unmistakable bandana of a cancer patient, looked at me and laughed and said, “Beautiful day!”

“Oh, man,” I thought.   “Things could always be so much worse.”

The woman who took my order at The Corner Bakery woke me from a daze by saying, “She was diagnosed with lung and pancreatic cancer.  The doctor gave her 30 days.”

Startled, I said, “I’m sorry…who?”

“My friend,” she said.  “I’m going to her funeral in an hour.  She was given 30 days by her doctor and she lived exactly 30 days.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“No.  She really lived.  I’m not sad.  She did it right.”

“Oh, man,” I thought.  “I’m really, really lucky.”

I turned to put cream and sugar in my coffee and had to step over the feet of a young lady who was sitting on a bench waiting for her order.  I looked up to smile at her and her face was heavily scarred – probably burns – mostly around her eyes.

“Oh, man,” I thought.  “That’s just overkill.”

Earlier in the morning, before the courtroom, we were in a conference room signing papers.  I looked over at my husband (he was still technically my husband then) bending over a paper, signing our marriage to a close and our life together flashed through my mind – just for a moment.  The early days when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other…our beautiful wedding…the great trip to New Orleans.  The plans we made.  The way we made each other laugh.  Our ability to make eye contact across a room and know what the other one was thinking…(actually, we can still do that.) The other papers we’ve signed – a marriage license, a mortgage, birth documents, countless medical consents…and now these….

I only lied once today in court.  I was asked if all attempts had been made at reconciliation.  The truth is, none were made.  But I smiled at my husband and said “Yes” to the judge anyway.  It would have been impractical to say “No.”  And, really, almost impracticable as well.

My grandmother had a large, clear plastic oval disc filled with white and blue sand that leaned on a stand on a table in her living room.  I played with it every time I visited.  If you were careful and worked very hard, you could get the sand to separate into even parts – with white sand filling the top half and the heavier dark blue sand filling the bottom.  Or you could turn it and bump it and jostle it and the sand would make new images that looked like an ocean wave during a storm or clouds swirling in an evening sky.

You can try to make a neat, balanced picture but the reality of life is that it is constantly turning and bumping and jostling.  Stand back and look at the picture every once in a while.  It might be different but just as beautiful.

In the elevator, the lawyer said, “I’m not gonna say impracticable.  It’s a dumb word.”  We laughed.

I turned to my ex-husband as we stepped off the elevator into the lobby and said, “What is right and what is practicable are two different things…which president?”

“Harding.” And then he waved goodbye and turned and went out the door.

When in doubt about what to say to put a final button on a momentous occasion, always quote an obscure dead president.  Always.  We’re such nerds.

Also, it was actually Buchanan.

Yeah.  He and I will forever be in the same picture.  Our children make that inevitable.  And I’m glad.  It should be that way.  He is a man I loved enough to pin all my hopes to.  No more regret about that.  He is a man I loved enough to create other human beings with.  There can’t possibly be any regret about that.  There would be a void if he were not in the picture.

Sure, the picture’s been shaken up quite a bit – not just by divorce but by years of bumps and turns along the way.  I’m grateful for this opportunity to stand back and look.   It’s really something extraordinary we’ve made.

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  • Well, I'm sitting at my dining room table and crying like a baby. It could be that I've had a really trying day. It could be that your words brought me to tears. Most likely, a combination. Somewhere in the distance, I hear the mariachi. Can you hear it, too? I love you, lady. You are a human being I am so glad to know. All my love.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    Thank you, lady. I'm sorry you had a bad day. I think the mariachi was faint because I didn't need it. It was an occasion that was neither joyous nor sad. Just a little bittersweet.


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    I've been reading you for a while, and I was thinking about you on Wednesday(my time) and how big this day was going to be for you and this was so beautiful to read.

    I don't always comment, but I felt I needed to. To let you know you are less alone, and to encourage you.

    You see, I was that same girl, years ago, with that cup of coffee(except mine maybe had some Bailey's in it), sort of in a daze of relief and finality and processing, and the friend I went to meet after, told me to take a picture. She said, remember this moment. Remember this because someday this moment will make sense and this picture will be beautiful and not hurtful.

    At that time, I thought that maybe there was too much Bailey's in her cup and if so, I wanted her cup. But I did it anyway, and it took me a while to get it. But I'm grateful for that picture, because it reminds me of so much and it reminds me how far I've come.

    So, take a picture of today.

    Because someday, I promise you, today will make sense.

    p/s: Here's my coffee cup: http://rachealkate.blogspot.com/2010/06/sweet-ass-faith.html

  • In reply to Racheal Khong:

    Thank you, Racheal. I took a mental picture. I really wanted to take some actual pictures inside that weird little courtroom but I think I would've gotten in trouble.
    Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • This was beautifully written - I really felt your experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • In reply to Cathy Cassani Adams:

    Thank you, lady. Thatnks for reading.

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    I don't normally make comments on blogs but I wanted to tell you that your story is a wonderful, almost dream-like telling of how divorce should be when there are kids involved. My hope is that life is actually like this in the day-to-day, post-divorce. I'm into my 4th year of a post-divorce life while raising kids and I had a "hippie dream" of something like this sentiment but it's turned into a nightmare of epic proportion. And the kids always lose in the end. Congrats on you and your ex's capacity to "pull it together" and be grown-ups. I wish you well.

  • In reply to Kathryn Jackson:

    Well, sure...it all remains to be seen. If you read other posts, you can see that it wasn't long ago that I was really struggling to come to any kind of balance. Like....a week ago. I can only write what I feel in the moment. That was what I felt yesterday. I hope I can keep it up. I wish both of us luck with it - it's a complicated mash-up of a whole lotta messy feelings, ain't it?
    Thanks so much for reading.

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    This was a lovely article. Thank you.

  • In reply to AmyR:

    Thank you for reading.

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    I just wanna say, Damn you got chops! Your writing ability floors me. And I'm not easy to impress, in fact, I'm kind of a dick. How are you not earning tons of money writing? If you keep writing, I'll keep reading. May all the bad feelings fade until only happy memories remain.

  • In reply to Jason Baerhold:

    Well, that's a nice thing to hear from my Indonesian crush. Thank you.
    Earning tons of money would be a really great thing. I'm gonna work on that.

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    I've copied the above blog and will be presenting it to them as an example as they are struggling with writing their final monologue project....we will be paying no royalties. Oh,,, I guess THAT's how you aren't earning tons of money doing this.... ;0)

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    Best column ever. Must contact Book Club immediately to see if they agree.

  • Wow, that left me speechless. You should submit that to the Modern Love section of the New York Times. modernlove@nytimes.com

  • as a newly divorced person myself, this really hit home. we had a post divorce breakfast. it wasn't really sad, it wasn't really happy, but i had that flash you spoke of. it just amazed me that at some point this man and i were all over each other and now i struggled to simply chat over breakfast with him. life certainly does shake you up especially when you least expect it. good luck in everything. it could be worse, way worse, but i will never been in that room on the 16th floor again.

  • In reply to mauraheizer:

    Sister, neither will I. Thanks for reading and for reaching out.

  • What struck me was that you admitted that no efforts were made at reconciliation. Why not? Was this the easy way out?

  • In reply to Curmudgeon:

    Well, Curmudgeon,
    What struck me is that you feel entitled to that information.
    I'll say this - relationships are complicated and it takes two to attempt reconciliation and there is no such thing as an easy way out.

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    In reply to B and P’s Mama:

    It's great that you are expressing yourself, but you raised the fact that you swore that there had been attempted reconciliation when there hadn't been. It's not unreasonable of Curmudgeon to question this. It is puzzling, especially since there are children involved.

  • In reply to Valerie Ursini:

    If anyone is too puzzled, they can always read other blog posts right here on this very site that describe my divorce as shocking and random and arbitrary and not my decision. There have been other adjectives used as well - many many of them - but those are the ones I can recall off the top of my head. I think that makes it clear how easy it's been and the type of divorce it has been and possibly even what the impetus was for his sudden departure if you think about it hard enough. That's all I want to give and I don't actually owe more. Anyone who is too puzzled has access to all of it.
    I think of this blog as being an ongoing saga - especially as it pertains to the divorce - and I don't do a whole lot of exposition each time. That would be boring.
    And I guess I do think that if you would rather ask a blunt, fairly accusatory question of the author rather than do a bit of investigation.... Well, maybe Curmudgeon is just taking the easy way out.
    And, of course, my analytics look so much better if you stick around the blog and read numrous entries so, you know, throw a girl a bone, will ya?

    Anyhoo - thanks so much for reading.

  • In reply to B and P’s Mama:

    Oh! It occurs to me that as "attempts at reconciliation" is inherently undefined by the court, you are left to define it yourself and we may simply have different definitions. My definition is fairly strict. To me, you cannot attempt a reconciliation unless both parties agree to honor their vows and make a sincere effort to fix any issues. The court doesn't ask the question "Did one of you beg and plead exhaustively while the other one stood there like a rock?" If that were the question, my answer might have been different. But did we both, as a couple, agree to make attempts to make our marriage work? No. Not once. I think that is often the case, really. It takes two to reconcile. Does that mean it was easy? No. That idea ruffles my feathers a little.

  • What a beautifully written bittersweet story - thank you for sharing!

  • In reply to ArielPlath:

    Thank you for reading!

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