Ask most eight-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll get answers like “princess” or “cowgirl” or even “a famous rock star.” But if you asked my eight-year-old self, you would get one definite, unchanging reply: I wanted to be married forever.
For me, divorce meant Mom moved out and Dad got the house. “Dad’s house” and “Mom’s house” became regular phrases. They are separate places, and Dad’s house will never be Mom and Dad’s house again.
Dad’s house hasn’t changed much: it’s where my bedroom is, where all of my toys are, where everything I have grown up with is, but where my dog is not and where I miss my dog. Mom’s house is in town, where I sleep on the couch because my new room is too scary at night, where I have nothing to play with but my dog, where I miss everything at Dad’s. Divorce is missing my dad’s house when I’m at my mom’s and missing my mom’s house when I’m at my dad’s.
Divorce is order. There is a schedule. Mom gets Thanksgiving, Dad gets Christmas, Mom gets New Year’s, Dad gets Easter – but where do I go in between? Of course, there’s a schedule for that too. Dad gets most weekdays and every other weekend. Mom gets Wednesdays and the weekends Dad doesn’t. What about when it’s Thanksgiving but it’s Dad’s weekend? Divorce means holiday schedules overrule regular schedules. You see, divorce is like math. Holidays are like multiplying and dividing, and regular weeks are like adding and subtracting. You always multiply and divide before you add or subtract. Math is complicated, and so is divorce.
Divorce is packing. It’s packing clothes for the weekend at Mom’s or my favorite shirt for the school day at Dad’s. I get there and unpack. When it’s time to go back, I pack up again. Divorce is my mom writing a list of what I took to my dad’s and expecting to see it all come back with me. Then, a few days later, it’s time to go back to Dad’s, and what do I do? Pack again. Divorce is repetitive.
Divorce is fighting, back-and-forth accusations, making small problems into bigger problems just to prove who-knows-what. Neither parent ever takes the blame, so I do. Who didn’t clean up the mess from lunch? I didn’t. Who didn’t put the clothes in the dryer? I didn’t. Who didn’t put a new gallon of milk in the refrigerator? It was me.
Then I block everything out. I block out the lectures I get because I didn’t do this or that. I block out the pity as they tell me why they don’t have time to do it because they don’t have a spouse to help them get it all done. Divorce is learning that divorce is an excuse for everything.
Divorce is being the middleman. The middleman never wins. I go to my mom’s and she tells me one thing. Then my dad tells me another thing – which has nothing to do with what Mom already told me. But when I get back, she says, “Don’t you remember? I already told you last week.”
The truth is, I don’t remember. I forget who said what when. Even though I have to remember to clean up my mess from lunch and get a new gallon of milk out if I empty it and pack my clothes for the weekend and bring back every single thing I packed, I also have to remember what they said. I try to explain, “I’m just a kid. How can I remember all of this?” Trust me, you learn. You learn to remember everything because divorce is remembering.
I will always remember that divorce is separation, schedules, repetition, packing, fighting, blaming, excuses, being the middleman, never winning, forgetting, then always remembering. Divorce is a finished puzzle with one missing piece. I look at the hole where the table shows through, but I can’t remember where I dropped the missing piece. I can’t remember because I have so much else to remember. Instead I remember everything that I don’t want to. I try so hard to find it. I have already blamed myself, but that didn’t help. I just want it to be complete.
Divorce is realizing that it will never be complete again. So I pick up the puzzle and put it away with the piece missing, and I deal with never having that piece again.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.