For about the past month, I’ve been in a state of waxing and waning dread: low-level, then sharp, then low-level, then sharp again. And for more than six years before that, ever since I left my marriage and started the process of separation and divorce, I’ve been in limbo, first guilty, sad, and nervous, and then, over the years, increasingly angry, resentful, and at times, murderous (show me one person mired in a divorce battle who hasn’t fantasized about a handy bus coming along and killing his or her would-be ex, and I will show you a saint, or at least a martyr, or maybe an exceptionally mature person, which I obviously am not).
My dread this past month was caused by the fact that in the end, in order to get free of my long-defunct first marriage, I was forced to go down to Brooklyn divorce court and face my ex-husband, with our lawyers, before a judge. It was, as one friend suggested, like ripping off a bandage and reopening old wounds. I had nightmares about it. I realized anew why I’d left. I remembered things I’d worked hard to forget.
On Thursday morning at 6:00, my plane took off from Portland. We landed at JFK at 7:30. For an hour and a half, I sat in a cab in snarled, ugly, potholed rush-hour traffic. It was a grey morning with hard, dirty air.
What is the opposite of nostalgia? Is there such a word?
The divorce ceremony was surreal and quick and painless. The presence of my lawyer, a smart, kind, charming Brit, was like a security blanket. My ex and I had no eye contact, didn’t acknowledge each other, a skill we’d perfected in our first year of marriage, when we’d sometimes go as long as a week in the same apartment, sleeping in the same bed, without speaking.
Divorce is never easy, of course. Dissolving a marriage can take years, emotionally. But legally, once agreement has been reached and especially when there are no kids involved, it’s over in minutes. I left the courthouse with my lawyer, exchanging stories of Maine. I felt light-headed with relief.
I got into a cab with trepidation: how long would the return trip take? But this time, it sped me to JFK: no potholes, no traffic, and the city looked brighter than it had earlier, less dreary, intriguingly dense, full of stories, and I remembered why I’d loved it once.
At the Jet Blue terminal, after I went through security, it was only 11:30. I had nearly two hours until my 1:24 flight, well over an hour before it boarded. And I was starving: I’d eaten nothing but a banana all day. Luckily, as it happens, the Jet Blue terminal at JFK has a kickass food court. I perused the row of menus then wandered indecisively to the hostess stand. “What’s my best bet for gluten-free food?” I asked the two young women who stood there.
They instantly took me in hand, a special-needs project on a quiet Thursday. One of them went off to interrogate the chef of the Thai place about the pad Thai, which they assured me was excellent. The other looked through the menus with me, discussing my options: the French bistro had salads; the tapas place had plenty of things I could eat; the steakhouse might not be the ideal place for me; but really, the Thai place was their favorite.
“Okay,” I said. “Thai it is.”
The young woman who’d gone off to interview the chef came back. She was my waitress, it turned out. “He can’t say for sure,” she said. “But he’s happy to make you something off the menu. Some sautéed vegetables?”
“Can I have rice and shrimp, and can he make it spicy?”
“Done,” she said. “Anything to drink?”
I ordered a glass of cava. “I’m toasting myself,” I told her, and then I explained why I was drinking bubbly wine before noon on a weekday.
Her expression wavered: compassion? Solidarity? Congratulations? I banished her doubt. “It’s long overdue.”
She smiled and brought me an enormous glass of pale, bubbly celebration. “I brought you the prosecco instead of the cava,” she told me, and then my lunch arrived: oyster, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms in a spicy sauce with spears of broccoli rabe, alongside a mound of rice and a heap of grilled shrimp. I ate every scrap, drank every drop, left a huge tip, and flew home.
Brendan and Dingo came to get me at the airport, which is a seven-minute drive from our house. Everything felt solid again after that weird morning in divorce court. Our little city looked so beautiful: the snow was white, the houses were elegant, even the shabbiest ones, and our house, when I walked into it, was warm and snug and safe. I went upstairs and wrapped myself up like a burrito in a duvet and slept for two hours, a deep, dreamless, stress-free sleep, the first one I had had in weeks.
Congratulations! Whew. And a drag you had to cover all those miles to do it – or maybe, perfect.
I fantasized too – and it came true. Oh, that sounds terrible and certainly was – but was also long enough ago gallows humor comes easy – although I am always inclined that way. And the fact is, while it really was terrible, I know he spared me more grief – in every sense of the word. There was no miracle recovery from his addiction anywhere in sight after years of looking.
Still, were I have an option for a redo, I’d really rather he be alive still to be an imperfect father to my daughter – although who knows what damage might have been done and she’s such a joyful, healthy young woman now. Suicide just leaves you with an abundance of ‘ifs’.
But what I was struck by, in reading your lovely piece, is that you said “first husband” – that knowing what hell it is to extricate yourself, it seems you married again. I love my guy but can’t say I have any interest in ever getting hitched again. Although – never say never I guess. So I’m impressed with your faith.
I kept wishing my ex would just disappear, go away, leave…if that meant death so be it, so I filed for divorce. With no kids and finances settled it was done 90 days later. I felt all the emotions you felt but left the courthouse sobbing, inconsolable. It was pouring out which seemed apropos. No regrets from that day on, we really should not have been married in the first place.
It’s over! That brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad it went smoothly and appalled that the actual divorce took so long. So overdue. Love you!! xoxo
Congratulations 🙂 You deserve it.
congratulations Kate … you’re very brave to invite us so deeply into your interior life. Now when are you going to marry that handsome boyfriend of yours?
Wonderful news! A chapter closed so another can open.
Much love to you, dear Sister.
This post made me cry. <3 For many reasons. I've experienced the kindness of random strangers too in airports traveling alone for work since 1999. Also, I'm relived for you.
Prosecco instead of cava.
That waitress definitely knows her bubbly.
I’ve had plenty of rotten cava but only the occasional duff prosecco.
It’s a bit like women – I had to work my way through plenty until one agreed to put up with me for life.
And you never let go of a keeper.
What’s so sad about this whole thing is that I had had the impression that you and John were a well met couple in so many ways. Anyway, I’m glad this immense psychic burden has been lifted from you. Now if it would only stop snowing on you. . .
I love how you are able to talk about hard things and intertwine some good food into the mix. Makes me remember how good food can be such a comfort. And I think the opposite of nostalgia is a sock in the gut. I am happy this part of your life is over ,,,,my heart is with you.
From my experience, my divorces (yes plural) had some similar qualities. The separation is like an mental/heart passing of the stone. I did not carefully allow time to vet my selected partner. To be honest, she might have not selected me after some time either. This is so important and now I have found a wonderful woman that after being a pair for over 5 years, we finally said to each other is there any reason that we should not be married. We have both seen each other at the best and not so good times. At the end of the day, I know that I would do anything for her and if that means swallowing my pride and admitting being wrong or sharing a touching moment at the spur of the moment. At least my point to share, there are some good men out there as well as outstanding women. We should choose carefully in our partner in life and have fun in life.
Beautifully written, as always. I went through a divorce a few years ago, too. I got married too young, but to a very good man so leaving was confusing and heartbreaking but in the end, the right choice. I’m happy for you that it’s finally over, and that you can rest easy 🙂
Haven’t you waxed and waned long enough now old girl ?
It’s been three months without a peep from you !
The opposite of nostalgia? I propose “dystalgia”.
(just read the book excerpt in DownEast, really nice, especially the storm parts!)