If marriage were easy, or even if being married was roughly what one thought it would be like, every couple would stay married until death parted them. But of course it isn’t; statistically, marriage is a 50/50 gamble. Perhaps I should find some comfort in the sheer number of other folks for whom being husband and wife has proven unsustainable, but I don’t. I don’t, because in the end I failed. We failed. We failed to make each other happier than sad. We failed to want to make it work. We failed to keep the vows we made. Vows we found on the Internet and said in front of our families and friends and in front of the judge who married us (A judge, incidentally, who was divorced and remarried. We chose this judge because I used to babysit for his daughter—from his first marriage—when I was in high school.)
My husband filed for divorce ten days after Lev died, coincidental with the radioactive meltdown of the life we’d built. In the days between Lev’s death and when our divorce proceedings began, we had sat together and picked out an urn for Lev’s dust. We’d driven together on the morning of the funeral during which he’d held my arm firmly and with care as we stood to listen to those who’d loved Lev so that I would not crumple as our son was eulogized. In these moments, I relaxed into the realization that this man who I did not love anymore was, in fact, a devoted father, a nurturer, and someone on whom I could rely to take thoughtful care of our son. (This both comforted and confused me. Where was this man in the years when our children were tiny, when I felt lost and overwhelmed and it was all I could do not to drown in a sea of need and the feeling that there was never enough? If he’d shown himself then, would things be different now?) After the mourners left, I resumed squatting in my parent’s condo with very few of my things or Joss’ things. Each and every time I drove to the house to retrieve some sort of belonging that felt important, my blood pressure rose. And so, after the essentials were squirreled away in my new nest, I stayed away. There was fallout. There were macabre imitations of happy holidays: our first Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas without Lev were each horror revues of epic scope, full to the brim with awkward moments and well-meaning whole folk who served to reflect our shatteredness.
I think he filed for divorce because I said I wanted it, which I did. I’d insisted there was absolutely no turning back, and yet I’d made no move toward the reality of getting divorced. In the end, he knew me better than I might have liked to admit. His filing was both a chess move and a careful nudge: This is real; we’re doing this. My husband of an approximate decade knew well that I have a tendency to become paralyzed by life’s crossroads—to dig my heels into confusion or misery or terror and close my eyes until it’s over and/or until someone has made a decision for me. Trying to grieve without dying myself, to get up each day and not lose my shit, to parent separately in two homes, took all I had. I had nothing left for the logistics of dissolving a marriage. At the point when I clamped my eyes shut, covered my ears and shook my head against the responsibility of finishing either my marriage or my divorce, I’d coasted through a decade relying on my husband to make the difficult driving decisions of our relationship. He was keenly aware of this cultivated weakness of mine. And so, as it happened, even though it was I who had thrown down the gauntlet and declared our marriage to be over, it was he who had filed for divorce, he who hired a lawyer and he who saw the process through until it was done.
Over the decade we’d spent as a couple—though we’d wanted to keep things together, tried to cover our bases as we pursued our diverging interests—we’d behaved badly in times of crisis. I suppose we’d not had the maturity or the coping skills to treat each other well. Grudges were held; bonds eroded. Our marriage limped on, if only just barely, through many chances to stay or go. In the end, most of our trespasses against one another were brought to bear. Knowing the details of each other’s base ugliness left us with a coldness, an incredulity at how far off the golden path we’d traveled. We’d devolved into unpredictable strangers who’d known each other well a long time ago, but not anymore.
In the state of Texas, if both parties want it, it’s not particularly complicated or time-consuming to get divorced. File some paperwork, wait 60 days, file more paperwork, and boom—you’re divorced. Although it could have been this simple, the official legal split did not go so quickly or easily for us. In the end, our very mutual divorce dragged. By the time i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed on the legal document dissolving our union, we had been living apart for a purgatorial year. During that nebulous time, there was my husband’s pilgrimage to Israel. There was bullshit. There were my attempts to regroup in Albany, in St. Louis, in Los Angeles. There was dating for both of us. There was psychology and psychiatry. There was renewed fighting and forced mediation before there was peace. There was the sale of our house and the exhaustive preparations that presaged it. There was Joss’ first day of kindergarten. There was love. Everything—as ever—was impossible and possible and happening.
One morning in September, I woke up to a call from my husband (followed shortly by an email from his attorney) telling me our divorce had been finalized and granted. And that was that. I went to work, Joss went to school, it was as anti-climactic as a thing that life changing could be. Though we had been by all rights over for years, I had expected to feel more of a punch to the stomach when I became marriage status: Divorced. But instead, I bore the scarlet ‘D’ with calmness. I’d earned it fair and square.
As I settle into the unfamiliar calmness of this next, sweet phase of my life, I’m happy and in love and writing and living alone (with son) for the first time ever in my life. I feel lucky. And I am so very grateful. I’m grateful for my ex-husband’s wholehearted embrace of parenting, for his delight at being Joss’ dad. We are and always will be Joss’ family. Throwing in the towel as spouses made us that much more determined to take the one unassailably good thing left of our relationship and elevate it beyond reproach. To continue the détente we needed to be equal parents to our son (on whose tiny shoulders our legacy now rests), we needed to keep moving forward, to not get stuck in some terrible resentful place—a common place; the worst place—where fingers are pointed and no one wins. We’ve committed to be gentle to one another in service to the happiness of our remaining son (who has been through enough and does not need his parents’ petty bullshit raining acid down on his life). I’m grateful for his taking control and seeing our divorce through, for his being even-tempered enough to realize that this was the only way forward, even though it maybe wasn’t always what he wanted. I am grateful that, after all of the shit we put one another through, he still loved me enough to finish what I’d started. He let me go.