THE NEW AGE OF DIVORCE The Ordeal

My parents’ divorce was awful, but it gave me a story to tell.

I AM 3 1/2-YEARS-OLD, AND MY BED folds down from the wall, its outer edge suspended by two piano wires. My dad built the bed. The piano wires sometimes snap in the mid’ the of the night, and 1 fall to the floor.

I can hear my parents in the kitchen. They try to keep quiet, but their voices are full of tension. 1 listen hard even though it hurts. Then one of them comes apart and bits a wall, and 1 can tell it’s my mom because she’s crying between the screams.

But after all these nights, I’ve learned how to be brave. I’ve taught myself a trick: 1 count. Quietly. Because it helps if I do it out loud. And the rule is, when 1 get as high as I can count, which is 10, 1 have to yell, “Mom!” Sometimes I get to nine, and I can’t say 10, because I know once 1 say it, 1 have to yell. That’s the rule. So I start over, at one. And when 1 make it to 10 and yell, then they know I’m awake, and they have to stop yelling.

Gripping stuff, isn’t it? The story of my parents’ divorce is the most heart-rending you’ll ever hear. It’s a regular made-for-TV movie. That’s why you shouldn’t feel sorry for me.

Listen, no one should have to go through what I did. It was a horrendous ordeal, and there are literally years of my life that 1 can’t remember because some part of my brain won’t let me, It has hidden those memories, buried them so they won’t wreck me.

But that’s exactly what my parents’ divorce was: an ordeal. It was a trial. That i survived the test, walked through the fire unharmed, is proof of my innocence. And I am stronger for it.

More to the point, it gave me something to write about- It gave me a story to tell. Here is some more of it:

1 am 13, and it’s happening all over again. A year ago, my mom married a man. Now we live in his house, both halves of a duplex. The sides of the house are joined at two places where the wall was knocked out and doors were installed. But at each point, there are two doors, with two separate locks, so that it is possible to open a door and find yet another, locked from the other side.

At 3 in the morning, 1 can hear them goirig at each other on. the other side. Then I hear my mother scream, followed by a crash. 1 can’t tell if somebody has thrown something or slammed one of the doors.

1 don’t count to 10 anymore. 1 have a new trick to help me be brave. I’ve learned that a bad light is like the ocean. The yelling comes in waves; its volume and intensity ebbs and flows. So I decide when it’s time, and 1 force myself to jump in when the next wave washes through the house, at the next scream or curse or crash.

I walk into the kitchen wearing my pajama bottoms and see my mom’s mascara smeared with tears, making her look like a puffy-eyed clown. And 1 swear at them, tell them they have to stop yelling.

See what I’m talking about? And, of course, there’s much more. Maybe one day when I’m tough enough or drunk enough, that protective part of my brain will let me remember all of it. And the words will come.

So don’t feel sorry for me, A less tumultuous childhood, one with parents who understood that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, might have robbed me of my material From my pain creativity springs. I truly had a storyhook childhood.

A reminder of that gift hangs on my living-room wall. My mother is an artist. She weaves. Big things. The size of bedspreads. When I moved out of her house after college, she let me have one, told me to pick whichever one I wanted. 1 chose the weaving that has made people cry.

It is 36 square feet of impressionistic pain in brown wool and cotton and nylon rope that tells the story of her second marriage. In it, a woman opens her mouth in an Edvard Munch scream, but nothing comes out. There is a hole in her belly from which purple and red ropes snake, winding their way over the rest of the weaving. She holds in her left hand a window. In it, there stands a gray mummy man wearing glasses.

If my house were burning, I’d rush in to save that weaving. I’d walk through the flames and rescue it off the wall. And 1 would emerge from the fire unharmed, with a story to tell.

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