Memoir: The Joy of Ex

Divorce is the kiss of death for a relationship—or maybe not. Can a medical crisis heal the wounds of the past?

by Anna Monardo
divorce reconciliation
Photograph: Brian Cronin

“Oh, come on.” Dr. Goddess actually laughed. “You two I’m not worried about. You should see some of the people who go home with these procedures. Really, it’s easy.”

It was complicated. I left the hospital with an IV port inserted into the top of my hand. A nurse came to my house once, to show us the ropes, and then she left. X would have to flush out the line by injecting a syringe of saline solution. After the drip was administered, he’d have to flush out the line again. There were two drugs, each injected within one hour of the other and given four times daily. The schedule: noon, 1 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, 11 pm, midnight, 6 am, 7 am. For four days, X set the alarm for the early-morning treatments. Coming downstairs to the “sickroom,” he was unfailingly upbeat, but we were both bleary eyed. Flushing the line was the scariest part. We referred to the nurse’s notes meticulously each time. Watching X’s steadiness and precision as he filled the syringe and flicked it to dislodge air bubbles, I remembered how much I’d always loved his hands. “I’m sorry you got stuck doing this,” I whispered. “You’re a good nurse.”

“I’m glad I’m here,” he whispered back.

As he completed each of the treatments successfully, we were giddy with relief. We laughed a lot that weekend, but we never got over being frightened. We were in over our heads. We were sleep deprived. We were divorced.

And yet, during those days I felt profoundly married. How easy it suddenly seemed—to be not only in love but also in alliance, to have each other’s back. What was that divorce all about? Had a loaf of bread really flown across the kitchen and smashed against the wall? (Me, on Clomid.) Had there really been predawn scream fests in the garage? (Him, as I was leaving, again, for the airport.) How many couples counselors’ offices had he stormed out of? Had I really packed a U-Haul one day and then greeted him when he returned from work with the news “I’m outta here”?

During marriage, so many doors had slammed shut on us that we’d begun to slam them shut, literally, on each other. But now, postdivorce and trusting my care to my ex, I finally felt admitted into the deep heart of the secret of what goes on between two people when they conceive a new life—conceive as in visualize, believe in. How could this potent feeling, at once newborn and sage, not bring forth something as monumental as family? I remember thinking, If I ever have children, this kind of love is the air I would want them to breathe daily.

Married, X and I had had sublime times, but they never lasted longer than two weeks before some skirmish erupted between us. Our letdowns and flare-ups, along with our passionate truces, had whipped us around in an endless loop. Desperate for clarity, I’d clung to logic to carve out a path: “Fact: We’ve not been able to stop the chaos in our marriage. Fact: I will not give up hope of someday having a child. Fact: There’s no way I will bring a child into chaos. Therefore . . .” Divorce had seemed the only logical solution. But it was a terrible solution, and I’d needed a lot of handholding from friends. Now, when those friends heard that I was sick and that X was taking care of me, all they could say was, “What is going on?” I had no idea. I just knew it was powerful and beyond logic.

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