The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Witness to a Divorce January 22, 2012

So, am I divorced yet? Did things go well? I don’t mean to be coy, but yes…. and no.

Before I disclose the results, I just have to thank you for helping me. I fairly sailed through my day in a subdued, sober form of good cheer. None of the old, familiar feelings of fear and doubt gained on my spirit. Even as I sat in the historic courtroom, the afternoon sun spilling over the large oak table strewn with piles of documents, I marveled at the sense of peace I felt. Not sure whether it was the intentional, energetic help of yours, the very passage of time since the drama began and my gleaned wisdom and insight since – likely all of it – but I sat there in a state I can’t remember experiencing before. Tranquil, yet poised for action and clear thought. Ready. Ready to speak for myself. Ready to be an individual taking responsibility for her own future. At last I was ready to face the disarming, story-spinning charm of my husband Fareed.

I’d love to share the delight of the day as it unfolded for me, yet I realize that some may want to get to the bottom line without all those extras. For those of you who are mostly interested in the lowdown, please just skip the body of the post and head for the final few paragraphs at the end. I have some images of the past twenty-four hours I want to share, and hope some will remain here with me to bear witness…

Tuesday night, in darkness and freezing rain, I’m flat on my belly under the chicken coop trying to encourage a couple of errant birds to exit their cave and allow Elihu’s waiting arms to deliver them back into safety. With the help of a rake I manage to get our miniature silkie rooster, Felix out. But two remain. I have no choice but to leave them there for the night. I still have to get my son a full ten miles across town on this slippery, foggy evening to my friend’s house for his overnight stay, then I need to return in order to fill out a financial affidavit for court the next day. And I need to leave the house by 5 am latest. Elihu and I make it to Ceres’ house, and as I unzip his suitcase – I discover it’s empty. Of the two identical bags I have, I left the packed one home. A true friend indeed, Ceres follows me back the ten plus miles in her car (after filling my tank up on her dime – too much to understand) and gets the correct and packed suitcase. I’m relieved of having to make another 25 mile journey. Onto the homework.

Luckily, having just prepared for bankruptcy, I’m pretty together with my financial info. After inputting the data my attorney’s asked of me, I punched the lot with holes and inserted them in a three ring binder. I can’t remember feeling so prepared. Faced with such an important day, I just had to write something on the occasion. So I created my post, leaving just four hours for sleep. Seemed I’d gotten into an intoxicating bit of REM sleep when the alarm clock told me it was time to head for the airport. The importance of my quest helped rouse me out of it.

Everything went smoothly. Things don’t always go like that for me. Last time Elihu flew, they had to write information out manually on his ticket in order for us to pass through security. For some reason, the system wouldn’t recognize our reservation. Thankfully, the Albany airport is small, they all know us there, and we made it, even if they were waiting for us to close the plane door. Drama. Sheesh. Fun, but too much is tiring. Thankfully I had NO drama all morning on Wendesday. Crazy. Found a shuttle to the car rental, and was nearly on my way. I had cheerful, serendipitous little encounters with folks all along the way, and enjoyed many personal exchanges that I will keep in my memory as a happy part of that day.

Among the many benefits of travel is the opportunity to meet people, and to become exposed to ways of living other than your own. As chatty as I tend to me, I naturally make an effort to get the story out of the people I talk to, and on that day, the stories flowed. It was so very interesting. I learned a lot. I learned more about the extremes that live side by side. The incomprehensibly massive budgets required of those who must travel professionally, the barely sustaining paychecks of the clerks and workers who make it possible for the travelers to do what they do.

I talked with a clerk at the car rental desk who had two daughters in college and had to make his modest paycheck cover not only their expenses, but his mortgage as well. I met a former restaurant owner who now worked selling magazines and gum and like me, depended upon food stamps to eat. When I thanked the pilot and asked if he enjoyed his job, he told me that he did not. That he made only thirty grand a year as a United pilot, that on his salary he could not afford to pay back the loans for the schooling the job had required. He planned to get out, and open up his own auto body shop instead. He sounded disgusted and fed up, highly motivated to get on with his new life. I met so many others, all hustling, working hard, putting in time at thankless, invisible jobs, all just to make it through. My eyes were opened. I was humbled. And you know what? Every last person I met had a positive spirit about them. Not a one was feeling sorry for themselves, although as I saw it, they had a right to. They shared their stories and we commiserated, but the mood was hopeful. I was inspired.

And doubly inspired, friends, when I saw my bright red, brank-spankin’ new Mini Cooper waiting for me! An older gentleman was getting into a large tank of a car next to me. “Mine’s cuter!” I shouted. “I win!” He laughed and mentioned something about gas consumption, adding to his defeat. Soon I was off onto the Chicago byways as if I’d never been gone. I turned on the radio. Bad Company and then AC/DC pumped me up and ushered me onto 294 South. I laughed at myself. Middle aged gal rocking out in her little red car. Goofy. Nothing rough or rebellious about it. But joyful, that’s for sure. Ok. Checked the presets. No XRT? Geez. Found it on my own and sank into a luxurious bath of some forgotten gem followed by Marty Lennartz signing off and welcoming Terry Hemmert on next. How Chicago can you get? This was starting off right fine. The sun was shining and I was making good time on my way out to the cornfields of Dekalb.

I was surprised how familiar it all was. The drive, the well-loved landmarks (the smiling barn near Bliss Road on 88 to Aurora – know it?). As I drove into Dekalb, strange feelings came over me. Intangible ethers of mood and strange hauntings, like a waking dream, all inspired by the places that I passed. The landscape was so familiar; it felt as if I’d never left. As if I passed these very houses each day of my life. Forgotten memories came alive when I passed the spots on which they occurred; as I neared the library, I remembered my husband’s girlfriend, plump with her pregnancy, waving at me as I passed in our minivan, as she’d mistaken me for my husband – her boyfriend. I was shocked at how much the vision still hurt, how it arrived from nowhere. The sights brought a mix of emotions. So little had changed for the most part in my three years’ absence, yet my own life had changed in just about every way possible. A strange contrast.

I drove down the main drag of town and passed our Cafe building. The business I’d run for two years. One of the straws that piled upon the camel’s back. I dropped in on a place or two, finding some friends gone, others just as I remembered having seen them last. After a quick bite (of real Mexican food, thank you) and a free cup of coffee from Matthew at the House Cafe, I headed north for the courthouse. On the way, I passed my old house. The one in which I’d thought Fareed, Elihu, our new baby and I would pass the next decade together. I spied a big plastic climber and slide near the garden, signs of the little ones that lived there now. I saw Fareed’s big tour bus parked in the huge driveway. The one that pulled into my own driveway a few months ago. This was no longer my home in any way at all. Surprisingly, this sight hurt the least. I had no desire to live there. I was a true visitor now.

When I had passed through security and made my way up the large, central staircase of the Sycamore courthouse, I soon found my attorney, a man I’d met but once almost two years before. We were able to make ourselves comfortable in the large courtroom, as we were over an hour early. He explained that I would sit in the witness’ chair, the one beside the judge, and there I would simply tell my story, at his prompting, answering his questions as best I could in order to complete the picture for the judge. Our goal today was to inform the judge of the circumstances; Elihu was low-vision and had special needs, I worked to the best of my ability around my duties as single mother… all points the judge would need to know if we were to go up against Fareed. Had I not been there, it would have been, after these three long years of court dates, entirely Fareed’s game. Hence my pricey appearance. It was showtime. My attorney told me not to be shy or hesitant; I should make myself clear and speak directly to the judge. I reminded him that I was a performer; I was good on stage.

When Fareed arrived, it was indeed a peculiar feeling to know that he and I were not on the same side. I’d sat beside him so many times before – some times in a court of law, sometimes in heated business negotiations – and each time, whether I agreed with his methods and truthfulness or secretly did not (as was the case many times), as his wife and partner, I showed my support. I had always agreed with Fareed. It’s what a partner does. And I’d seen his craftiness up close; the way he twisted things to his advantage, living in complete belief that it was all justified, no matter how it might seem otherwise. I’d seen him and his father shimmy their way through all sorts of situations, each time the odds seemingly stacked against them, each time with them making out far ahead of the opponent. Now I was that opponent. A small voice cautioned me, but a bigger voice reminded me that I knew how he operated; there’d be no snaking around today. Besides, I had no selfish motives. That just had to count for something.

Some dynamic then began to change. The phenomenon of people being physically in each other’s space, I guess. I softened to see him, and he to see me. After all, were we not two people who’d lived over twenty years together? Made music together? Made love, made memories, made a child together? It is all still there. And so, after a short while, we were discussing the terms, reviewing the sticking points in a measured, even-tempered tone. Where I might have hissed with anger just one year ago, I was able to plainly state my case now. I was not out for blood, for anything unreasonable. I had no savings or retirement, and I needed what was fair. At the very least I needed my money back. Fareed started out adamant. He low-balled me and remained in that stance for a while. Until we spent a few minutes alone in the hall. Before long we two were laughing together. I wonder if my attorney might have thought me crazy. Here I was, in the face of the man who’d put me in poverty, created two other families, and yet I was enjoying a good laugh with him! Was I that deficient of self-esteem? Truly, it felt good to laugh. Before too long, whenever Fareed and I are together, we are laughing. Fucker.

We got down to it after about an hour’s discussion, ultimately removing the need for my taking the stand and presenting my case. I got far less per month than I’d ever thought I would. But it’s open for re-evaluation, should his (or my) situation improve. All in all, not a total loss, harsher than I feel I deserve, but livable. I know how thin Fareed is stretched financially these days and I feel bad for him. I wanted to show some humanity, engender some feelings of support. Hopefully one day he may do the same for me. Many would think I’m nuts to even think so. But regardless, I didn’t want to continue hammering away at him, creating more stress in his world. He’s got it bad enough. I did offer him my advise: don’t have any more kids if you want to get back to your projects, your profession. He laughed it off, but hey, both of his youngest boys were ‘surprises’. I reminded him that once upon a time, Jill had said she wanted six or seven kids. Just sayin.

When we finally sat down across the table across from each other in the courtroom, I remember feeling a sense of tranquility that was new to me. And when we were told to rise and approach the bench I was equally calm. This was it, and finally, there was no fear. I’d lived absolutely steeped in fear my first year in New York. And I admit that every single email from Fareed since has raised my heart rate quite noticeably. Now, my pulse did not even quicken. It was here that a poignant and unforeseen thing happened. As the bailiff called us up, I said aloud, “oh no, are we really going to get divorced now?” and at that moment, it hit us both. Tears sprang up in our eyes, and we instinctively reached for each other’s hand. How cruel, how strange is this divorcing of someone you’ve spent half your life with. But before the sentiment could be fully appreciated by either of us we were made to approach the bench.

I watched the judge, fascinated by his inner process. At each point, he paused, looking at a spot on the desk before him, as he thought the multiple scenarios through. Then, like a speaking textbook, he said the agreement out loud in perfect, unrushed legalese for the record. There were some pauses, as he picked up a book to look up the exact source of a few ancient laws (one of which addressing the question of whether either one of us taking up with same-sex partners would legally be considered ‘conjugal’ relations, thereby nullifying the support – the mood here was playful and we all chuckled over the archaic rulings), yet in spite of his slow, deliberate method in less than a half hour he had finished what had taken nearly four years to accomplish.

So, are we divorced or not? As I understand it (and there may yet be another step as regards the official filing) not until my attorney gets our agreements down on paper in the correct format and presents it to the judge on March 7th and the judge then signs it, are we divorced. Yet with respect to Fareed’s pension, and the share I’m entitled to, our union did come to an end on January 18th.

And the numbers? Are they better? By a little. Elihu and I will still need foodstamps and heating assistance (more to the point, we will still qualify for the aid). I am very grateful that there exists such a system. We may need it awhile yet. The happier news is that my near-ex has agreed to pay me back the money I invested in our first home so many years ago. Plus a little extra. Not a whole lot extra, but enough that if I sock it away (that language sounds like my mom, yikes) and don’t use it up, it might end up being very helpful in my aged years. In that I have no savings or retirement, no other source of future income except that which I earn or have saved, this feels like it makes up a bit up for our situation. Elihu and I will still exist below the national poverty line, but it won’t be quite as dire. We will receive $1,000 a month from Fareed. I’ll make what I can teaching piano lessons, and if I can get this Studio thing going, hopefully I can glean something from that. And who knows, maybe I can self-publish some material and get a little from that as well. Although I’m really not where I’d hoped (and thought I deserved) to be, at least I know exactly where I stand. There is some peace and satisfaction to be had in that.

Our marriage wasn’t actually legal on the day of our ceremony. I take full responsibility; mistaking the marriage certificate for a parking ticket, I couldn’t find it on the day of our wedding in order to have the judge sign it. I had to wrestle with this one as the guests stirred about downstairs in our living room, anxiously awaiting the event. In the end, both Fareed and I agreed that it was the witness of our friends and family that truly made our wedding binding and real. That felt right and true. Legally, we weren’t married for another ten days. And now, it seems we’re in the same place. We went before the judge, stating aloud our intentions, but we won’t have the docs to back that up for a few weeks yet. Strangely inconclusive. Plus it just felt so sad. Those who’ve gone through this know what I mean. All that ceremony in getting married, all that lack of ceremony in getting divorced. Sad.

In the end, we were truly married by the witness of dear friends. And with your witness here again today, I think we can consider both the marriage and the divorce of Fareed and Elizabeth to be concluded. Amen.

 

4 Responses to “Witness to a Divorce”

  1. Johns Yvonne Says:

    Congratulations, both for your accomplishment in De Kalb and for capturing the event so promptly on paper. It is fascinating to be taken on your journey via your encounters and observations with strangers with whom you intentionally connect, finding in that effort our shared humanity. My parents taught me, by their examples, always to initiate contact and I know it is this way of being in the world that brings me joy daily. It is not what most of us do so be grateful for your gift, no matter how it came to you……………………Yvonne

  2. After my separation it took about six years for my divorce to be final. My ex took me for everything and l didn’t recover anything. I know how hard divorce is and how hard it is to make it, especially with children involved. I send nothing but best wishes and congratulate you not only on your divorce, but on your strength. You are an inspiration those who are in similar situations and show them that things are not always ideal, but will always be alright.

    • wingmother Says:

      It’s amazing how unfair it can be. And there’s not a lot online to show us
      all the inequity that does exist. Still don’t understand that. And the legal
      system only works to a point. So sorry you lost out. It’s so wrong, but I’m really
      glad you’re past it now. You hung in there longer than I did! Thanks for
      getting in touch and all the best to you in your future –
      E


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