I am soon to be divorced, for the second time. I should be ashamed, but I'm not. Mostly, I'm inconvenienced: Sometimes sad, sometimes grateful, as though I have been untied from the train tracks of life. One thing I've learned is that you can be sad and grateful at the same time. Another revelation I've experienced is that property is everything. Buy the bastards out if necessary. As is always the case with a major breakup, I feel devastated yet freed. Like one of Lincoln's slaves, I don't know quite what to do with myself, but I am aware that pressures have been lifted and constraints broken. For example, I am writing this while eating an individually wrapped Ding Dong. Could I do that while married?
My estranged ex -- he's my second husband, so let's call him Soon-To-Be-Ex #2, or, simply, S2BX2 -- is 42 years old. We've been married for five of those years, and ever since my second trimester, when I began to look like a gourd with legs, S2BX2 has been having affairs. He is, on the surface, remarkably trustworthy and likable. Perhaps that has been the problem: He has been too well liked, mostly by people with pumpkin breasts and an i at the end of their first names. He sells luxury cars for a living and is strikingly good looking, in a way that makes you want to strike him. He cannot pass a mirror without doing the Sears-model half-turn. There is, of course, X1, my first husband of two years -- who is convinced that we should have stayed together, even though he tried to poison me with Snail Death after an argument concerning joint checking. He sprinkled some on my English muffin.
"Just a little," he said. "I didn't mean it. If I had meant it, you'd be dead now. I always follow through on the things that are important to me."
So it was just a gesture. A shot across the bow. I ate half and was fine, if you don't count the vomiting and headaches that persisted for a month, which proved to be too long for X1 to suppress the brilliance of his plan. I did not press charges. Instead, I filed for crucifixion (his), otherwise known as divorce.
X1 has never remarried; perhaps because he is far too busy making my life a living hell and going through mental scrapbooks of our sordid years together.
"Reagan was president," he says, in his own defense. "A lot of bad shit went down."
X1 will call and say, "Do you remember the time we made spinach lasagna in the middle of the night?"
"We were stoned," I say. "I don't remember."
"Well, it was raining," he'll say. "We were watching Bewitched on Nick at Nite, the episode where Dr. Bombay cures Darren from telling the truth."
X1 is like a damn elephant, never forgetting anything, except the small detail of the Snail Death incident.
"Why can't you forgive me?" he says. He says I need to work on my doubts, jealousies, and insecurities before I can rediscover our love. X1 also says that we will always love each other and that it's because of my karma that my marriage to S2BX2 is breaking up. He generally feels that the fact that I got married and had a child with X2 was just a minor passage. He will not validate any portion of my life that took place after October 11, 1990, which is the day we divorced. Every divorce anniversary, he still sends sad, funereal flowers, with a card that says We are Mean to Be Together. I don't know whether he means to leave out the t in Meant or not. It's the kind of joke he would enjoy, especially the not explaining part. He is about an inch away from being one of R. Crumb's brothers. The kind of person who swallows string and then pulls it back out his ass and starts over.
Then there's the Crazy-Ass Bitch, or, CAB -- the woman my husband (S2BX2) sold an Audi TT to and had his most recent affair with. Then she turned out to be a bit of a psychotic -- sewing his boxers shut and Krazy Gluing one testicle to his thigh when he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps theirs was a "transitional relationship." So whereas once he was proffering yellowfin tuna down her lily-white throat and knocking back sake as if it were oxygen, he now wishes she would fall down a cement stairwell. I'll give her this: She turned out to have stamina and imagination. Yes, she has taken the job of torturing S2BX2 right out of my hands. It's truly delightful -- now that he wants to get rid of her, he attempts to hide out at my house.
I almost never allow it, except for when he comes to see our daughter. There's a grease spot where his car used to be, and I like seeing it. I don't like his car covering it up again.
"I told her we reconciled," S2BX2 says. "Can I just park my car here in the driveway?"
"Absolutely not," I say. "I don't even want your toothpicks here."
The toothpicks I packed up along with his martini shaker in the large box of his belongings, which he was loading into his car as he asked for sanctuary. Imbecile. The silver martini shaker, which he brought home from Restoration Hardware, should have been my first clue that there was serious trouble on our tidy domestic front. Its "James Bond time in the suburbs" vibe should have been a dead giveaway, a red flag of dissolution. James Bond was the ultimate bachelor. He was an international spy. He never got old, he was simply recast. S2BX2 was trying to be James Bond, and I was in the way, like someone standing in front of the television. It's even possible that CAB was originally cast as Pussy Galore.
CAB calls me on the phone, making heavily nuanced statements (for example, "You need to let him go, you bitch!"). CAB sends me Chihuahua turds wrapped in heart-embossed tissue, a dozen clam pizzas, and nasty notes in her childish scrawl. Like Glenn Close, CAB will not be ignored. She is the artist formerly known as Small-Foot Bitch, because while we were still together, I found a charge on S2BX2's credit card from Neiman's, and he swore it was a gift for me and that it was in his office. So he brought it home that night, and it was a pair of Manolo Blahniks -- size four. He said he was going to just give me the sample size, and then I could exchange it for my own size, which is nine. And I believed him. That was during the time when I wanted to believe, was desperate to believe. If he had said that the earth is flat, I would have said, "As a fucking pancake."
But that's all over now. We're in the vortex of uncoupling. Working on the legal settlement, alternately hating each other's guts and waxing nostalgic, still having occasional sex. It's complex, and you can't explain it to people. They make you feel pitiful, or guilty, and neither are emotions that I covet. No one got this excited when we got married. They just showed up and drank too much, ate roast beef and poached salmon. It was over in a day. But divorce is much slower, more protracted. Divorce has a crazy schemata all its own. It's like the soapbox derby that they have at the top of Twin Peaks every third Sunday in San Francisco: There are no rules. You can put a 1950s stove on wheels and wear a chef's hat, and that can be your soapbox derby racer. Or, you can make a ratmobile with a long, hairless tail made of licorice. My racer would be a Pottery Barn couch on wheels, with me, a baby, and no husband careening down the hill, screaming. CAB would be right behind on a Ninja bike. X1 would be on a huge, Styrofoam English muffin that's embroidered with live snails spelling out COME BACK, BABY!
S2BX2, too, is always saying he loves me; the way he expresses it is through filing for divorce and screwing the Crazy-Ass Bitch. "And that's just the one we know about," my sister says. "Yeah. Right," I say. My sister would like to see S2BX2's penis fall off, the way a baby's umbilical cord does, in the middle of the night. "No-o-o-o," I say, thoughtfully, "I'm still using it."
See, this is my divorce. I can do it however I want. I can have a party or frame the divorce petition. In fact, I have framed the divorce petition; it's in my office. It makes a fantastic conversation piece.
Although S2BX2 is admittedly great in bed, he is a lifetime-achievement cheater. He was the kid who insisted on being the banker in Monopoly games and then won, pulling five-hundreds out of thin air. It's all he knows how to do. He's never been faithful to anyone. He's like a legally blind pilot who should not be working for Air Monogamy. But here's something interesting: Since we separated, we are having more sex than ever. I have become the Other Woman. And, I get checks now. I never got checks before. They're called Spousal Support monies. They should be called Keep Quiet, Bitch monies. Stay Away from My Lexus With That Icepick monies. Why don't people call things what they are?
I am through with clever, charming men. I want someone simple, maybe even a bit slow. I can call my girlfriends when I want to talk. Men don't want to talk after the first year; they just want you to do their laundry and screw doggy style. Men are not strictly necessary, the way ketchup is to french fries. I will do without them, for at least the next few hours. God, this celibacy is grueling. Divorce is also grueling. But I will keep going until I get it right. Either marriage or divorce, one of them I must perfect. This is my apparent life plan.
Tomorrow, I will see S2BX2. He's coming over to visit our daughter. What should I wear? I must look fantastic. I must harm him in at least this one aspect. Even though he filed for divorce, winning still seems possible. I will meditate on it. I will go to the closet and exclude mercy from my selection of attire. This is war. I decide on the outfit from Bebe, a store I used to avoid because its clothes reminded me of the dishy prostitutes on Nob Hill. And yet, last week I could not resist the blatant allure of the flimsy and the stringy and the clothes that say, "Come get me, you great big hunk of a man."
Bebe. The saleswomen all appear to be from a planet without pores or breasts. Not a menstrual period among them. They twirl about like skeletal tops and pay no attention whatsoever to me, and for this I commend them. I need none of their attention. I am more than capable of humiliating myself and prefer it thus. One of the girls is on the store telephone to her boyfriend, telling him that she hates him. She is laughing maniacally, letting the phone drown down to her bony chest and then bringing it back up to trill, "I do. I do hate you!" She has a diamond, a precious rock, fastened onto her very nose. I have nothing fastened anywhere and resolve to keep it that way, for aerodynamic speed and efficiency.
I choose a pair of Gucci-knockoff capri pants; bright '60s paisley against black background, side zipper. My blouse is sheer silk chiffon and terrifyingly expensive; it matches the pants perfectly in its let's-kill-all-the-homeless aplomb. These clothes are the opposite of wifely clothes, and for this, I am thankful, because wifely clothes are what got me into my current situation. I need new and elaborate costuming -- the more inappropriate and scanty, the better.
As soon as I return home, S2BX2 calls on his cellular telephone to say he will be late. He thinks -- no, he is certain -- that CAB is following him in a red Ford Escort GT. I ask him how he knows it is she, and he says she has a lacy pink garter belt hanging from her rearview mirror. I wonder aloud how far one has to search to find her exact blend of intelligence, wit, and style. S2BX2 screeches around a corner, announcing that he has lost her, breathing heavily. It is entirely possible that he is masturbating. I put nothing past him.
When he finally arrives, S2BX2 is red faced and somehow icy at the same time. He seems to feel a sense of effrontery at my having kept the connubial home. He wanders around, picking up cigar ashtrays and candlesticks and coasters, his lips curled tightly. He is taking a mental inventory of everything I have bought since he left. It seems to insult his memory, his legacy. I am certain he felt that after he left, I would transform our home into a museum, like Graceland. He may have also believed that I would transform my vagina into a museum. He is so often mistaken about the most basic truths of life.
"When did you get this?" he asks, holding up the edge of a heavy, handknit chenille throw.
"Oh that," I say brightly, walking close enough to him for him to smell me. I have taken the liberty of daubing Jil Sander No. 4 behind each ear. I have spent perfume on him, and it is not in vain. I can see by the way he shoves his hands into his pants pockets that he is nervous and excited. He wants to discuss CAB, but I wave my hand in the air, as if to dry my fingernails. My work is done here. I escort him to the door, kissing our daughter and telling her to have a wonderful time with Daddy. I am channeling Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. I shut the door behind him and twirl the deadbolt shut, so that he can hear its sound. So that it is the last sound. Not only have I had the last word, I have had the last sound.
Shifting into intestinal self-destructive mode, I drive through Burger King for lunch. Waxing maternal, I decide I am a growing girl just as my daughter is and that I need protein. I order a five-piece chicken nugget pack. After nearly maiming a pedestrian who has stepped out into traffic as if it were his right as a United States citizen, I grab the paper bag, take one bite and am startled. It turns out that the food handlers have lapsed in their competency and given me a jalapeño cheese nugget pack. Outraged, I take another bite: terrifyingly delicious. I save the rest for cocktail hour, reheating them in the microwave -- even better than I had originally estimated.
Meanwhile, it occurs to me that S2BX2 is coming on Saturday with movers to get his furniture and boxes. Arguments loom over who gets the pewter pepper grinder, electric pencil sharpener, and weather vane. I think this will be the last horrible thing we have to go through, until he moves in with a size-zero receptionist and the whole travesty begins again.
I myself have an invisible sign that reads DON'T DATE ME, I CHAIN-SMOKE, I'M BITTER, AND I INCLUDE A GRABBY TODDLER; this has dramatically decreased my social life and doomed me to a lifetime of jalapeño cheese bites, midrange wine, and Seinfeld reruns. I begin to wear stained sweatpants and logo-festooned XL T-shirts. Save for the recent escapade with the Bebe attire, I just can't seem to get back into the daily donning of intelligent-slut-for-hire outfits that lure men. Shoes with laces evade me, and my hair is Fran Lebowitz-esque. I think my eyes are getting closer together. Judgment clouded.
Why has no one proposed yet? If I were really attractive and vibrant, I should have been asked by now; the divorce will be final Tuesday. I'm lowering standards by the minute, but still nothing. Not long ago, I decided that the contractor working on a construction site down the street looked like Harrison Ford. I slowed the car down and tried to look available, despite toddler seat in the back and Elmo sunshade on the backseat window.
Then, today, he looked like Ray Liotta. I know my vision is impaired and that I cannot be trusted with even the simplest tasks, much less dating. Not that I have come within talon distance of a man. I would have to run over the Ford/Liotta contractor to meet him: jump the curb, ruin the German car, chance arrest. Even running him over may not ensure an introduction. Maybe I could just clip him as he crosses the street? This would require keener eyesight than I seem to have. I would probably clip him into a coma.
To make matters worse, my brother is getting married next month. It's all I can do to keep from chopping his foot off to deter him. Instead, I feign happiness. Their wedding should be interesting. It's in a Catholic church, and I plan to wear something smart, like army fatigues. I may accessorize with an assault rifle. I don't want anyone to get married right now. Why can't people consider my feelings? The selfishness of the world continues to astound me, and I continue to withdraw from it.
And so, mail-order shopping is shaping up as an issue. I bought a floor lamp last night, plaid cashmere pajamas, and 12 pairs of cotton raglan socks. This should fill out my divorce wardrobe nicely. New lines on my face are popping up with hideous regularity. The beginnings of a mustache intrigue me -- surely, not the right response. One of my legs seems longer than the other. Where will it end? Yet, just now, I am unexpectedly cheered by a news item appearing on my computer screen:
Chronic work stress and divorce can be a deadly combination for men, a new study has found. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the State University of New York-Oswego studied data from 12,366 patients who participated in the seven-year Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial. Of 10,904 men who were married at the beginning of the trial, the researchers found that those who stayed married were less likely to die from a number of causes than those who divorced. Of those who divorced during the trial, 1,332 died from various causes, including some 663 from cardiovascular causes. (Reuters)
New information is so invigorating. So much of it on how to get a man, so little of it on how to get rid of one. To this end, I proffer a handy list, which I have been compiling for my divorcing girlfriends, some of whom have clearly been born yesterday and need my advice as well as physical intervention:
Ten Simple Yet Elegant Tips on Divorce
- Change the locks.
- Make him pay for the divorce -- and anything else you can.
- Keep everything beginning with consonants (children, money, house, cars, furniture, real estate, medical benefits, retirement funds, linens).
- Allow him to keep everything beginning with vowels (armoires, umbrellas).
- Sequester precious items at a friend's house. Men never remember what they have -- if they did, they would not have ruined their lives by running around with whores.
- Don't fight in front of the children.
- "Children" includes your X/STBX. Fighting only adds gasoline to the fire. He won't care how angry you are, because he exists wholly in his own tiny birdcage of a brain.
- Take lots of baths; get manicures and pedicures; have your hair expensively cut.
- Everything, no matter how ludicrous and squalid it seems at the time of the split, will get better and better, until you will wonder why you cared so much in the first place.
- When confronted with a question regarding fairness to your ex, err on the side of Lifetime Vendetta. That way, you will never feel a fool, and you will also have kept everything of worth in your rightful possession. In short: You may have once been in love, or you may still be in love -- but you are not crazy.
One of these girlfriends actually moved out of the FAMILIAL home after catching her husband -- a rabbi -- with his hand up the nanny. I alerted said girlfriend to the folly of her action. Then I installed her back in her rightful home and changed the locks myself. As for the mezuzah on the doorframe, I bashed it off with a sledgehammer and mailed it to his temple, along with some Polaroids (one needn't ask what was in the photos; Polaroids are never lucky, I am afraid, unless properly dealt with). She looked on as I sealed the envelope, tears frozen on her once-blossoming cheeks, which had turned the color of ash.
Yes, it is sad what ignorance does to women without resources who have been struck with an infidelity. It can and will render them childlike, like palsied Shirley Temples, throwing themselves on the floor and crying about the general unfairness of life. I try to be kind but firm, and in the end they all thank me. It looks like a hothouse here come Christmas, so numerous are my bouquets of thanks from women who have lost neither their minds nor their shirts.
I hope that no one reading this will ever be faced with the travesty of divorce. It should not happen to any good woman. But if it does? If you fall in with the wrong kind, the way I did? Be glad for divorce. It is God's way of telling you, "Girl? You have fucked up again! Now, here, I'm going to give you a chance to start over. Go out there and please, please, please show some sense. Don't make Me come down there again and bail your ass out."