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

Neither my ex (let’s call him X) nor I had really wanted a divorce. What we’d wanted was a baby. I believe we shared a frustrating sense that during our few years together we had not had a fair chance—almost as if we were teenagers whose love had been muddied by the adults. In fact, we were old enough to be the parents of teenagers (X was the father of three terrific adolescent boys), but we had conducted our relationship with the kind of abandon you’d never want your kids to indulge in: work tossed aside for three-hour phone calls in the middle of the day, urgent (overpriced) rendezvous travel, lots of anywhere-anytime lovemaking. We married five months after we met. The wedding happened four days after the proposal. It was a romantic binge, a spree.

What followed was equally intense, a marriage that accordioned time and distance. I left the Pacific Northwest, where I was a visiting professor, and moved to the Midwest city of X’s university, where there was no work for me, so I flew in and out of New York City, where I did have work. When we weren’t in airports, we were in medical offices, dealing with two pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, two surgeries and innumerable visits to doctors, who ranged from dismissive (“You’re 39. You don’t have many good eggs left”) to disquieting (“There are tests we can do to see if you are allergic to your husband’s sperm”).

Infertility and geography, along with the tricky economics of maintaining and traveling between two households, were among the stressors that turned us into overbearing adults who muddied our own young love. Two weeks before our third anniversary was our court date. Though neither of us had contested the dissolution of our marriage, we felt battered, bruised and very tired. “Listen,” X said as we exited the courtroom, “I’m following you home to make sure you’re all right.” It was a seven-hour drive to the city where a year earlier I’d begun a new job and bought a house. When I had to pull off the interstate to nap, X parked his car next to my rented van and read.

We got to my house late, so he slept on the couch. The next day, he helped me unpack the van. One day’s help turned into a couple days’ visit. After X got home, we indulged in long e-mails and phone calls and tried to ignore the irony that in the aftermath of our divorce, we were turning to each other for comfort. Unsure if we were being brave or rash, we decided it would be OK if he drove back up for a weekend visit.

Is anything lovelier than reconciliation? You both say such gentle things. You treat each other to sweet, small attentions. You offer favors, half your dessert. In fact, it was at dinner on the second day of X’s visit that my fever and abdominal pains began. “Really,” I said, sliding over my plate of pie, “you’re welcome to the whole thing.”

The pain got worse, wrapped across my middle and swung around to my back. The only doctor I knew in town was the fertility goddess I’d visited in my last-ditch efforts to conceive, and she was away at a conference. X took me to the ER, where my suspicion was confirmed: The fibroid tumor discovered during my pregnancies had grown and was now infected. I was admitted for major IV antibiotics. X canceled his classes and stayed with me until my doctor returned to schedule surgery. “Next Monday,” she told me. “You can go home until then.” Offhand, she added, “But you’ll need to continue the antibiotics through the weekend.”

“OK,” I said. “If you’ll call in the prescription, we can pick it up on the way home.”

“Oh, no, you need IV meds.”

I was confused. “A nurse comes to the house?”

“No nurse,” Dr. Goddess scoffed. “You two can do it.”

“No, we can’t. We’re writers.” When I had the chance, I pulled her aside. “We just got divorced. We don’t always get along. We’re not medical people.” For emphasis, I added, “He’s a poet.”

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