On December 9, 2012, I will have been married for twenty-eight tumultuous years. Unless, of course, the divorce my husband just filed for in Palm Beach County, Florida is finalized by then. I have no experience with legal proceedings of any kind and can’t seem to focus on the undeniable fact that the divorce papers, served while I was in Manhattan at my weekly trauma therapy session, are still on the kitchen counter under the window ledge where they were immodestly left, without even the demure cover of an envelope, casually tossed on top of the scattered post-its to myself, reminders to do ordinary things that I cannot do.
The papers are official, inflexible and now damp from the East Hampton spring fog that has floated in through the partially opened window. They are stamped with a coffee ring on the back where I inadvertently put down my pretty blue and white striped espresso cup that I use every morning. This is a cup that I bought after a trip to Paris last year, a trip that was supposed to give me a sliver of light and hope, a belief in myself that I can climb out of the rubble of trauma. The cup and saucer, duplicates of the ones room service delivered within minutes of my request on an elegant silver tray, remind me that I must find a way to love again, to take an axe to the frozen pain that fills my chest, that I must continue to struggle out of the agony of my daughter’s suicide to find the way to a meaningful life even if it may no longer be a comfortable one.
It will be four years this July 25th that I knocked on my dazzling twenty-two year-old’s bedroom door, the way I did whenever she was home and then every morning since she had graduated from Skidmore College that May in 2008. It was a sunny morning full of the glorious promise of yet another unstructured summer day. I pushed the door open, carrying Gus, Olivia’s wriggling long-haired dachshund who was eager to be dropped into her bed for his morning ritual of licking her face, kissing and snuggling under the covers while she sleepily stroked his red fur with her long graceful fingers. I looked forward to leaning into her warm bed and inhaling the delicious scent of her perfumed skin, kissing the back of her neck under her ponytail and gathering both my girl and her dog in my arms with pleasure and the relief of knowing that my fragile Olivia, my brilliant poet and fearless equestrian was finally at home where she would be safe, where I could keep her safe.
The eulogy I wrote and gave at her funeral poured from my heart in a stream of pure love, but the disbelief, the disconnect, the white-hot agony that followed shattered me. My precious family life that I built and nurtured with care for both of my children imploded in the nanosecond of seeing, but not believing, that she was dead. My volatile, impetuous husband, blue eyes blazing sat in the chair at the end of my bed where I could not move, could barely turn my head or take a breath. He was not seeing me eviscerated and blown to pieces because trauma is an invisible wound. I imagine that his pain was also huge; he was in Palm Beach and not home and so had the shock of my brutal phone call the next morning when I found her.
Our marriage was broken irretrievably a long time ago, but probably fully severed when Olivia was in her difficult high school years. My husband’s currency, as the CEO of his own company, was living well and he unleashed his unrelenting energy on providing a high quality lifestyle for his family. The phrase he seared into my brain with repetition was, “You are nothing without me.”
But I did not for one minute believe this. I made excuses for his anger and explosive behavior, letting him bully me into signing things I shouldn’t have. I told myself he didn’t mean it, but he wore me down just as she wore me out. My husband’s rage and my daughter’s pain were too much for me to balance and finally, when she died, an iron curtain slammed down in my mind emblazoned with the two simple words: NO MORE.
When my mind flashed those words, my heart and mind exploded, but I didn’t realize that by killing herself, my beautiful child had also, in a certain way, released me. Perhaps the divorce too, in the guise of more unbearable change, is really my path to transformation.
I need to focus on finding a lawyer, a prospect that slips and slides out of my conscience mind. Some days when I feel like my old self before Olivia died, I call friends and get references, I interview lawyers on the phone in Palm Beach, have actually managed to make arrangements to go down and meet them in person in the hope that one will feel right, that there will be one attorney who will hear my story and not just look at my case as a splitting of too few assets, but who will take the measure of my enormous suffering and trauma even though the law does not. I know this is their profession and their business, it is how they make their living, with retainer fees and hours billed, but I can’t imagine a process that is going to take the mesh of our private and corporate life and snap it clean and fair. My mind balks at the myriad of complex details, the raddled strings that are entwined beneath the surface of this long marriage. There is a boggling lifetime of accumulated objects and patterns of behavior as well as, to my naïve surprise, an eye-popping accumulation of debt.
When I said for better or for worse at my wedding almost twenty-eight years ago, I meant it, although I surely fulfilled the vow imperfectly. Coping with a divorce on top of my daughter’s death is stupefying, unthinkable and unimaginable at the same time that I know it is ineluctable. For better or for worse apparently did not include the worst of all.