A bill of divorcement

A Bill of Divorcement is the title of a film from the 1930s that I’ve never seen, but that my maternal grandmother would bring up from time to time as it seemed to have made some kind of impression on her. Now, “a bill of divorcement” is something I say sometimes to make myself laugh. “I have been served a bill of divorcement,” I’ll say, out loud, to myself because I can never say it with a fully straight face. I did this, too, while having my first-day-of-divorcement nervous breakdown when I feared I would have to actually show up in court or some shit, on top of everything else, and I would say, out loud, to myself, “I have never appeared before in a court of law” like Socrates in The Apology, and the phrase would make me laugh. Really, speaking in antiquated ways sometimes just makes me smile because, in years past, speakers of English sometimes made utterly banal things sound a bit “fancier.” Like I’m sure a “bill of divorcement” is just a divorce paper. “Bill of divorcement” sounds far more serious and way fucking fancier.

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing fancy about divorce. I have been returned to the financial state I was in at nineteen. Some of this is my fault. Some of this is not my fault. Some of this is just the nasty nature of divorcement. Someone’s gotta get fucked, and it appears that in this divorcement, the fucked party shall be me. Or maybe not. I once referred to someone as the “Queen of the Bounce Back,” but maybe that’s me. Maybe I am that queen. My apartment is shaping up really nicely, I see friends regularly, I just secured an appointment with an oncologist at one of the American Midwest finest Cancre Centres, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far (with helps, yes), and today I’m feeling hopeful about my future.

Reader, I have a confession, divorcement has rendered me speechless. Not because I have some allegiance toward the “sanctity of marriage” — I don’t. The things I endured, put up with, accepted in honor of the “sanctity of marriage” left me with nothing more than a broken heart, and a pit of debt. The best thing about my marriage, in retrospect, was that it forced me to move out of the Midwest for a while, to see and learn another part of the country, of the world. I don’t see the value of all this displaced love. I don’t see the value in the “happy memories” that only break my heart further.

I learned some things in the marriage. That was good, too, I suppose. I learned what I am like in a long-term committed relationship. I learned where my weaknesses and triggers lie. I learned that one person cannot be one’s all. And I’ve learned that sometimes, no matter how much faith you put in trust, you will be betrayed. That’s the inherent risk of trust. Doesn’t happen always, and I remind myself of this every day. “This doesn’t happen always. Trust is still necessary and good.” Because my impetus when someone breaks my trust is to burn it all down.

I wanted to. Really, I did.

But rage has never served me well. Anger is one thing, but for me I have to make sure the anger doesn’t become a festering rage/resentment. Rage, resentment brings me toward the darkness, and I’m all about the light these days. Gotta stay in the light, or at least leaned into it. Can’t totally escape the darkness because there are assholes in this world who know how to bring it and bring it and bring it.

Yellow. My apartment is full of yellow. Yellow is a healing color. Teen Me would have barfed at that statement, and the yellow motif in this apartment. Teen Me would have also barfed at the fact that I got married. Teen Me knew two things: 1) she should never have children and 2) never get married. And I defied Teen Me, and now I’m licking my paws. That young person was a real trainwreck, but she also knew some things, and saw some things with great clarity.

Like the monkey mountain I wanted. If you read my first book, you know that as a teen, I wanted to go live in the mountains with monkeys like Dian Fossey. Didn’t make it to that mountain with monkeys, but I made it to another mountain with the one thing that is better than monkeys: kids, young people, youth. That’s better than monkey energy, and exactly like it at times. And I would have had none of this had I not gotten married.

So thank you, American Marriage, for allowing me to travel.

Before my ex, I had never loved someone like that. I had fallen in love, dated, hooked up, etc, but never like that. And I remember suddenly “getting it.” And I was “getting” something my peers started to get by their early twenties — latest — at the tender age of thirty-seven. I was queer in the 80s and 90s. My sexuality wasn’t even represented much less encouraged. I was delayed. I suddenly got the love songs, and the films, and paintings, and stories . . . this felt important, and it was important to me. And I was in love. Truly and completely. And I got it. And I am thankful that the universe allowed me one opportunity to know that type of love for the feeling it gives is quite distinct.

And now that I have been served a bill of divorcement, and I’m making weird little toasted sandwiches in my divorcement apartment, and sleeping better at night because my marriage was sometimes a scare-iage for me, and because my doctors finally started to figure out my head problems and medicate me appropriately, and I’m listening to music whenever I want, and able to say “yes” more often to friends, and I’m being gentler with myself, I feel a new appreciation for this simple life that I had lost completely in the course of my marriage. And I understand why, and I will be discussing this at my earliest convenience with my next therapist.

And, reader, I think I had a baby nervous breakdown in the weeks following my ex leaving me. I am so fucking grateful I was not drinking when that went down. What an unholy mess I would have made. I was fully in control, but I felt myself slipping into old, angry, sad, hopeless ways of thought. And I leaned in heavy to writing (much on this blog) and my spiritual practice and my friends’ ears. I did not take a single sip of alcohol. Not a single drag off a cigarette. Nothing outside of that which has been approved by a professional. And this was hard because I always drank when bad things happened and the bill of divorcement felt like the worst thing ever.

Now I get the other songs. The ones about heartbreak. And the books. And the movies. Now I’ve seen Joni Mitchell’s goddamn “both sides.” Fuck. I’ve reached the Life-as-Joni-Mitchell-Song-Lyrics level. I don’t know how I feel about this yet. If you have the courage to listen to that song, this is my preferred version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCnf46boC3I
I get the catharsis of really angry breakup songs, too. Art is a safe space to express anger, and for the consumer an equally safe space to experience said emotion. No one will be harmed if I get really in my anger and blast “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” Annoyed, perhaps, but not harmed.

I would never harm anyone, anyway. Which is yet another reason why divorcement confuses me. I always thought of divorce as being pre-empted by some singular, big event — a burst of violence, an affair, gambling away the car . . . I was so naive. I thought that there were specific “things” one could “avoid” in order to stay married, and I stayed married at all costs because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

Reader, if you are in a loveless marriage, just go. Save your life.
Also, know someone for at least two years before you go marrying them in a state where they can take everything up-to-and-including your ring finger in a divorcement which is a bit like a disembowelment for your heart and soul.
American Divorce, at least mine, forces me to make a choice “feel sad about relationship” or “feel sad about financial ruin,” and I wish I could have at least a week to feel my feelings just about the relationship. Maybe someday.

I took this picture of an orchid at the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which I attended with my friend Randi who has a membership. Honestly, Randi is one of my friends who has alll the memberships. And I love that about her because memberships in community gardens, organizations, etc. means you care about your community. And I think we should care about our communities . . . I mean, demonstratively, through service or money or both. Randi and I agree on this.

Anyway, I was excited to go to the Botanic Garden, because when I was feeling really awful, in the weeks following my divorcement, I was trying to remind myself of places in Chicagoland to look forward, and the Botanic Gardens were one such place. They really are magnificent.

Anyway, I have conflicting feelings about Orchids. One, they’re named after testicles which may be accurate in that all flowers (I think) are just plant genitals, and two, they’re pretty but I never have thought holy-shit-that-orchid-is-the-best-flower-I’ve-ever-seen. I’ve seen better flowers. Here and there. Don’t question me.

That should be the name of the consulting “gig” I’m in the process of building for myself: DQM — Don’t Question Me. Wouldn’t that be nice. A world in which we are not questioned. A day in which we are not questioned. And I’m never barraged with a flurry of interesting questions, these days. Like the guy at the oncologists’ isn’t like “What are your thoughts on the state of American literature?” Or “What forces have shaped the current iteration of American pop music?” Or even “fancy a game of Backgammon?” It’s always like “What are the last four of your social security?” And “What is your date of birth?” And “Who am I speaking with?”

Next week, as I begin to meet my new doctors, it will be a flurry of more questions. Slightly more interesting, but also traumatic and upsetting and boring to me because I remember everything about all of that shit.

While I think covid has scrambled all of our memories, some, when I’ve slept well, when I am feeling mostly safe, I have a good memory. This is great for me as a writer and an educator. This is less great for me when I’m just trying to sleep, damnit. Then my brain turns into this Dracula Teri Gross, “Tell me, what is your worst fear?” And “How do you think you will really die?” And “You write of embarrassing moments in your life. But what is the embarrassing memory so haunting that you cannot speak, much less write, on it?” And when Grossula* simply will not relent in her line of questioning, then I often need medication to mute her.

*No offense to Teri Gross. I love Teri Gross! She’s such a good interviewer. Like my brain. At two a.m..

And with that, I am off to enjoy some relaxment in my divorcement apartment.

Be good, hooligans.



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