“Are you and mom going to get a divorce?” I asked my dad. We were walking down York Avenue and had just made a turn to our block. Seventh grade would be starting in a few days.
A moment of silence had fallen between us. I had just cut my hair to the shortest it had ever been, and I beared more of a resemblance to a Beat Generation poet than a 12-year-old girl on the verge of getting her period.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I think so.” We continued walking down the side street, passed the cleaners that I had never seen anybody go into. “Okay,” I said. And that was it.
The divorce of my parents was not a defining moment of my childhood — or at least it didn’t feel like it at the time. In fact, it seemed to only help — we were all much happier and less stressed afterwards.
Their inevitable split had been on the table for a long time before it happened. I remember being in first grade and announcing to my friends at lunch, “My parents might get a divorce,” before going back to my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It just didn’t feel like a big deal.
At 12, when the divorce was officially happening, I did not yet have access to social media or the authority to call a town hall meeting, so I did the next best thing: I told my friends at a bat mitzvah.
In between shoveling cookies onto a plate and awkwardly eyeing other gawky and adolescent boys from across the room, I decided that, over the blaring sound of the Black Eyed Peas in a New Jersey country club, I would announce the divorce of my parents, the end of a union, to my friends who were just trying to have a good time.
“I’m really sorry,” one of them said. “Eh. It’s fine,” I replied. I went back to the dessert table to replenish my supply.
Fast forward to high school, and I became encased in angst, candy, and sardonicism, all wrapped together by a Doc Marten shoelace. I thought I would never be kissed.
I would never date, and I would never marry. I would walk the Earth alone, in a dramatic fashion and against the backdrop of a field and an undiluted sky.
There was an undercurrent of anger in me, usually mild but sometimes with peaks that would resolve themselves in slammed doors and crying while listening to music that I was trying to find meaning in. High school: what a time to be alive and self-important.
It was around that time I started to think that nobody’s parents were really in love. How could two people living together and raising children together love each other wholeheartedly?
How could people that get into arguments about how the other one eats an apple — no doubt veiling actual feelings of overall life dissatisfaction — love each other?
To me, love was for people who didn’t have kids or a mortgage or blood pressure medication to pick up at the pharmacy. Okay, so maybe my parents’ divorce did affect me, after all.
But still, I loved love. I watched romantic comedies routinely, I voraciously read stories about the Meet-Cute, I day-dreamed constantly about insane situations where I’d make out with a cute young actor with floppy hair, and fuck, I did want to meet someone and fall in love and live happily ever after with our yard and fully functional historic library and maybe one child or at least a spaniel.
I wanted all that. I just assumed that I couldn’t get it, that I’d watch everyone around me meet someone while I stood in the background of a blush-colored existence, probably scarfing down an oatmeal raisin concoction.
Our parents are supposed to be examples of how to live your life. But what happens when we realize our parents are just people? Your dad is your dad, but he’s also Jeff.
And Jeff saw his mother crying in the car once as a kid from his perch by the front window and it stayed in his subconscious forever, unknowingly coloring his interactions for the rest of his life.
Our parents are people, and they’re just trying to figure out how to live and hold on and be complete while juggling drop-offs and homework help and the general temperament and emotional spectrum of a child.
And maybe, along the way, they had less time to love one another and realized that they didn’t even want it anymore. Or maybe none of the above. Maybe we just have to forgive them for their mistakes, or start to.
Our parents are not invincible — they are people with their own traumas and thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and we just happen to be birthed from that.
Somehow, along the way, I decided to go cold-turkey on my cynic views about love and marriage and just be, for goodness sake. And strangely, it’s the example of my parents’ dissolved marriage that gives me the most hope:
One can always get a divorce. Sure, it is a signal that a union has been dissolved, through mountains of paperwork and arguments over who gets that Aztec ceramic dish.
But it also means that both parties are now free to find more love. (Divorce is obviously a bit more complicated than this on both a practical and emotional level, but if you really take the time to think about it all, you may need to swallow a sleeping pill and wash it down with a nice Cognac so let’s not.)
As a quasi-adult, I now know that love isn’t just looking at each other all googly-eyed and wanted to bring them in from the cold. It is nagging and fighting and getting on each other’s nerves, but finding a way back to each other in the end.
And maybe that end isn’t “forever” — maybe love doesn’t last until you’re interred in the family plot or scattered around a tree that means something to you.
It is exhilarating when you think about it — there are so many things we get to feel in our lifetime. A lot of the things we get to feel are quite scary and vulnerable and heartbreaking and at times, uncomfortable, but we are better for it.
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