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.