Would it be presumptuous of me to claim that I know a thing or two about being a child of divorce? Not of the parental kind (although I do remember praying for that once, in a moment of adolescent lunacy). I mean the best friend divorce.
Some friendships are like marriages in how deep and how far back they go. The “couple” have been with each other through/at their best and their worst, they have shared life’s milestones, and they know things about one another that nobody else knows or will never know.
When you are a late arrival to such a union and both parties take you into their circle with equal enthusiasm, as I was lucky to have been, you can’t help but feel like an adopted child. And just like such a child you can’t believe your luck – that two such awesome people exist and that they both “belong” to you as much as you to them. You may still remain a bit of an outsider in some small ways, but that’s far from being a cause of sorrow. It makes perfect sense, actually. You don’t always understand everything that goes on between those two but, as someone wrote in a book I read somewhere, the secrets of a marriage are known to no one other than the two people in it, least of all the children.But the opposite applies too. Children may not fully “get” the alien code by which their parents seem to operate, but children can definitely sense shit. On some primitive level, they know when something is off with the ‘rents. Not through what they say but through what they leave unsaid and undone.
I was on the other side of the country thousands of kilometers away when my gut told me that relations were going sour between my mamas. Naturally, I went into denial, attributing my premonition to a trick of distance and different time zones. But the evidence started to pile up, as shit will. I would have entire phone conversations with one or the other of them during which the other’s name never came up. This was unprecedented for two people who might as well have been joined at the hip. Pretending to exist in a universe in which the other person did not exist any more. Never even existed, apparently. Something told me to keep my mouth shut and stick to unrelated topics, so I did. Until I got back into town, that is, when there was no ignoring it. What tipped you off genius? You say. When only one of them showed up at the airport? Wow, Sherlock. Don’t give up your day job.
So I faced the fact that, in my absence, some accumulation of events and non-events led to a tipping point from which there was no turning back. I had to learn basic functions all over again in a skewed, booby-trapped world in which I have to be careful what I say and when I say it and to whom I say it and when to mention names and when to speak in generalizations. It was dizzying and resulted in my dissolving into tears more often than is attractive for a grownup who should know by now that all relationships are fragile and some level of hurt-swallowing is needed to maintain them until, of course, one or both persons decide they just can’t eat any more.
And then, just when I was finding my feet, when I had the new operating manual down pat, the divorce devils played their nastiest card yet, known as “reconciliation”, “cease fire”, “truce”. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Someone could have solved the Middle East crisis and I wouldn’t have been more impressed. I was over the moon. The timing was perfect since I was in an ugly mess of my own creation and having my human fortress back in play was nothing short of life-saving. Sure, I was a little suspicious of how long it would hold, but the glue looked like it had been well applied, left to dry with long talks and so on. Still, that funny feeling lingered. The pieces were back together but the cracks would never be gone. But as long as they held I was safe. I could go about my business, secure in the knowledge that I could talk to and have both my parents, at the same time, in the same room, on the same phone call, doing their back-and-forth like only they can, etc. So much so that I even flew the nest again.
And, again, within months, that time-traveling dread, followed by a confirmation. It was some cheap dollar store glue after all. This time, I wasn’t sad. I was mad. What. The. Fuck. People! Get it together! You only have this one life and you only get this one chance to have someone witness you through it. (That was another thing I read in a book somewhere, that we marry because we need that someone to witness our life, to see us through it, to acknowledge it in all its gory and glory.) This time, I didn’t even properly listen to accounts of what allegedly went down. I already knew that neither version would bear any resemblance to the other. I attempted to be a mediator of sorts, something I hadn’t tried the first time around, knowing instinctively that have zero talent for it. I think I could have tried harder, dug deeper until I found some hidden reserve of the right words to say and the right emotions to trigger and the right memories to appeal to so that they would stay together. I will always feel guilty for not having tried harder.
Once I was back at the scene of the crime formerly known as “home”, I got to work learning the new lay of the land. There was no violence in the air anymore, that was different. There was no anger. Just surrender. Just a we tried, and this time it really is over quality in the air, to which I silently added even though you promised that you wouldn’t fall apart again no matter what?
Now I’m a pro – albeit a reluctant one – at what goes into keeping the peace. It’s bitter to have to act ok when you’re anything but. When you are constantly keeping track so that you don’t appear to be favoring one person over the other, when you’re constantly having to edit your stories, leaving out the best/funniest/wackiest/deepest parts so that two people who previously couldn’t live without each other can now continue being dead to each other.
I used to be completely against the idea of a couple staying married “for the sake of the children”. Now I’m backpedaling faster than Lance on Oprah. On an intellectual level, I get it. There is a time when two people are happy to be one half of a whole. Maybe its because they’re young enough or maybe there’s another reason why it works, but it does. it feels natural. Then they become individuals, and suddenly the whole is too big to sustain itself, so that the parts can’t help but fall away from each other. And there, floating in the gap, is you. Like I said, on an intellectual level.