The Most Terrible Divorce

Divorce is a terrible thing, and the most terrible divorce of all is your own.

Oh, I know, many healthy post divorcees will trumpet about renewed, reinvigorated relationships with their children, about an end to seemingly endless domestic sniping, about a chance, after the divorce, to discover a personal identity that has been lying dormant since age 16.

And there is something undeniably exciting about disattaching from the constraints of the family and stepping, ever so tentatively, out into the new world, alone. Not only is one rid of that lunkert, that harridan, that slimy toad who was responsible for all one’s problems, but one gets a chance to experience a second adolescence and, this time, to bring to the experience some of the hard won wisdom of an adult.

All of us have fantasized about it; going back, back to high school or college, back to the first girlfriend or boyfriend, back to the wanderings, the unmade decisions, the steps taken and immediately regretted or not taken and even more regretted. To go back and, this time, not be so stupid. It is a dream that divorce dangles tantalizingly before us, this second, conscious adolescence, a chance, at last, to be oneself and to know oneself in the same moment. In short, bliss.

One wonders, then why it looks so ridiculous; the tinted hair, the sagging muscles desperately, hopelessly, fortified through long hours at the club, the personal ads – “SWM of a certain age searching, still, for his woman of destiny” – the visits to the nutrition shop where one stands, alone, furtively scanning the small print on the latest exotic vitamin bottle, as serious and shameful as if one were devouring pornography. It’s not easy being nineteen when in reality you are twenty or twenty five years older. You understand, once again, why adolescence was so hard in the first place, and you wonder, just as you did back then – will I make it?

There are many who didn’t make it through the first adolescence and so remain there still, and even more who don’t make it through the second. They crash and burn, literally or figuratively, with the literal being clear enough and the figurative being the tranquilizers, the Prozac, the terrifying midnight dreams of falling, falling, with no one there to catch you, no net, no bottom but pure, unending, unmitigated silence. You realize, when you’re alone and forty five, that it’s scary out there, man, they’re shooting real bullets and you left your body armor back in the fourteenth century. You best get your head down, man, maybe even crawl on your belly for a while.

I wonder, sometimes, if the people who sing the praises of divorce ever were really married, if they ever really immersed all the tendrils of their being into another, if they ever really allowed themselves to experience the moments of contentment and pride that come when children look at you like you’ve given them the safety they deserve. I wonder if they live on the surface, like water lilies, so they can be quickly scooped up in a hand and transported to another pond. I wonder, in other words, if living means something very different to them than it does to me.

I wonder because the ripping out of the tendrils and its replacement with a stomach of steel and a heart of stone, the smashing of the visage of safety in your children’s eyes and its replacement with the world weary cynicism of the prematurely old, the terrible realization that all the joyful memories exist and will forever only exist as shards of something broken, is a vision so hard, so unresolvedly painful, that not even the dancing fantasies of second adolescence can redeem it.

Life is a journey, the professional sages say, and always in the middle of a journey there are going to be some endings. There are some people, some parts of the body, some relationships, that just weren’t built for the long haul, and there are some hauls that are shorter than others. The problem is that the more deeply you know something, or someone, the more painful it is to lose it, or them, and that realization can lead you to realize that that kind of knowing carries with it a considerable price.

The terrible truth is that, if you were into the game of marriage with all of yourself, then part of you will always be open to the dream of what could have been and therefore the you that moves on after it is over will be less than the you that was before. You will go on, consciously one-legged, hopping through the rest of your life. I guess that’s what the sages call being older and wiser, and the price of that kind of wisdom is not cheap.

So I guess the only answer, however unsatisfying, is to let go and let God, as the twelve steppers say, to surrender and live the day for what it is and be thankful for the chance to sniff the air and scuff the ground with all the other creatures stumbling around this planet. Lord knows, we’ve had our chances, and to have blown a few of them is the kind of odds a gambler has to accept. And, face it, were all gamblers, every damn one of us, and getting divorced, like death and taxes, is one roll of the dice that most of us will have to endure.