In 1973, the year my parents separated, the only single parents I knew of were on The Brady Bunch and Family Affair, and they were widowed, not divorced. I was traumatized by the breakup, not because I no longer had a father — I saw him often — but because everyone I knew treated me like a freak.

Whenever I was unhappy about anything, whether it was a scraped knee or a bad day at school, my relatives would try to trace the problem back to my broken home: “Poor girl, you want your father back, don’t you?” What were they talking about? I just wanted a band-aid, or a cookie to lift my spirits.

In school, teachers whispered behind my back. My classmates peered at me as if looking for some physical mark that distinguished me from them. A few stated, with horrified fascination, “Your parents are divorced” (as if I needed to be told). I countered with the only defense I had: “They’re not divorced; they’re separated!” which didn’t mean a thing to another seven-year-old.

Gradually, I adapted to my new family life until I couldn’t imagine it being any other way: I lived and fought with my mom, went to movies and restaurants with my dad. Then, eight years after they’d separated, my parents informed me that they were getting back together. “Why?” I asked, remembering what life had been like when I was six: screaming matches with me caught in the middle; my mother working a second job at night because she couldn’t stand to spend evenings with my father; the tension whenever they were both home at the same time.

My parents didn’t explain why they were getting back together, but insisted it was what they wanted. When we all moved into a new house, the arguments started again almost immediately, and I knew their decision hadn’t been based on love but more likely on financial concerns, with a little fear of growing old alone thrown in for good measure.

Now, seventeen years later, my father still insists he’s going to leave one of these days, and my mother continues to find fault with everything he does. The best times we ever had as a family were when they weren’t living under the same roof.

Jayne A.
Geneseo, New York

We met while studying in a rabbinical seminary in Israel. She was beautiful, intelligent, and a native of this land. We fell in love, and then a strange thing happened: I began to wake up in the middle of the night with terrible dreams of drowning in rabbinical texts. I dismissed them as symptoms of stress.

After we married, the nightmares changed slightly: Now I awoke in a panic, gagging on organic solvents. (I had started working in a chemical lab.) I could smell ether on her breath, in her hair.

As time went by, my nightmares grew more serious and troubling. I’d wake up paralyzed, unable to move a muscle. It even began happening during afternoon naps. I consulted doctors, dieticians, neurologists. I underwent CAT scans and EEGs: nothing. There was not a thing wrong with me — at least, nothing medicine could find.

Then came the big one: a full-blown attack with drooling, spasms, the whole bit. My wife panicked and called the paramedics. I finally agreed to check into a sleep lab, where I spent the night hooked up to a machine. I had another attack, and the lines on the chart went crazy. The doctor diagnosed me with epilepsy, even though there were no telltale signs. I was put on drugs and began to sleep deeply, without dreams.

My wife and I had a child and tried hard, but after half a year of counseling, we agreed to go our separate ways. Three months after moving out, I experimented with decreasing my medication: I took half a pill instead of two and slept soundly. The night after I made love with a new woman, I put aside the pills. And I haven’t needed them since.

M. K.

I don’t remember my mother ever crying before that day. Tears weren’t her style. She was always either pissed off, busy working, drinking heavily, or aloof. But that day, a summer Saturday, my mother was heaving and sobbing as she pulled me into the downstairs bathroom and said, “Your father wants a divorce!”

She searched my face for sympathy. I didn’t know what to say. I was only fifteen and rather pissed off myself — especially at her. Why was she asking me for advice and comfort? It wasn’t as if she’d ever given me any. I struggled to say something kind, yet honest: “Well, things haven’t exactly been going well, have they?”

“No,” she admitted, “but how could he leave me?”

Though the word divorce had initially caught me off guard, I was hardly shocked. For as long as I could remember, they had never even appeared to like each other. My only memory of their showing affection was the obligatory Christmas kiss: a perfunctory peck on the cheek after opening a gift. If divorce meant an end to all the anger, yelling, and tension, then I was all for it.

My mother’s chest continued to heave as she looked to me for answers. I had truly never seen her so vulnerable. This was my first adult conversation with her. Looking into her wet eyes, I asked, “When was the last time you two had sex?” I thought it must have been years, at least.

“Last week,” she said, without hesitating.

“Really?” I gasped.

She went on to reveal that my father had recently called her another woman’s name during sex. This was more than I’d bargained for. Suddenly, I wanted the conversation to end.

Within a year, the divorce was final. Dad remarried, and I’d never seen him happier. For Mom, though, it was a wound that would never heal.

A week before I turned thirty, Mom died of organ failure brought on by alcoholism. It was a terrible loss, yet also a relief to know that her self-imposed torture had come to an end. In the three years leading up to her death, Mom had been arrested, kicked out of bars, and repeatedly admitted to hospitals for her failing physical and mental health. It had been heartbreaking to watch her lose her sanity and, finally, her life.

In her safe-deposit box, my sister and I found old love letters from Dad, some of his navy papers, their marriage certificate, and their wedding rings. From the bank sign-in book, we learned that she had been visiting the box once a week for the last six months of her life. The woman at the vault desk even knew her by name. She described how, each week, Mom would retrieve the metal container, then pull the curtain shut in the little gray room and stay there for up to an hour at a time. I’d had no idea.

M. Leigh
Taos, New Mexico

My husband had left our home in Utah to accept a new job in Texas. I was to follow as soon as I had sold our house. We’d established this pattern in his Marine Corps days, when he would depart immediately for his new duty and, after packing up the household goods, I would trail at a more leisurely pace with the three children. The children were now grown and gone, however, and I was left alone in the empty nest during the worst real-estate slump in Utah history.

At first, I made sure my husband and I were reunited at least monthly. I even spent a week’s vacation with him in Texas so that I could experience our new hometown in person. “Why did you come so soon?” he asked. When I traveled to Florida to be with him during a business convention, he said, “I won’t be able to spend much time with you.” For our anniversary, I surprised him with a plane ticket to Utah. He hid in the garage to escape performing small repairs that would have made the house more marketable. And so it went for nine months.

After one visit, while driving me to the airport, my husband suddenly emerged from his usual preoccupied state and said, “You know, we’ve seen each other about once a month since I left. I think that’s just about right, don’t you?”

In the silence that followed, I decided that if once a month was “just about right” for my husband, it was entirely too often for me.

Pat Feeney
Washington, D.C.

When a new client told me that she wanted a “disillusionment” of her marriage, I almost burst out laughing. Later, though, her mistake seemed more poignant than funny. Perhaps when it’s over, the court should stamp the papers: FINAL JUDGMENT OF DISILLUSIONMENT. Maybe then everyone could get on with their lives.

Jan Stocks
San Diego, California

We kept our black-and-white television set for years after most people had color TVs. This was just one of the things that set my family apart from others, evidence of our superior judgment and greater involvement in intellectual matters. The television was in my parents’ room, on a high shelf. When I was eight, I stood on a chair beneath that shelf and stretched up to change the direction in which the TV was facing. As I pushed and pulled, it suddenly came crashing down. I had killed our TV.

That weekend, we all went television shopping. My sister and I were excited — maybe we could talk them into a color set! But my mother and father had a terrible fight over which television to buy, and we left without one. The fight continued out in the parking lot. As our parents screamed at each other, my sister and I shivered in the cold, wondering when we would get in the car. We couldn’t understand how something so unimportant could make two grown-ups yell and curse.

Not long after that, Dad sat us down on the living-room couch and told us he was leaving. He said he loved us very much, but we wouldn’t be living together anymore. My sister bawled — she was a daddy’s girl — and I sniffled, feeling certain it was all my fault for having broken the television and made my parents fight.

A quarter century later, I still feel the guilt tugging at my eight-year-old conscience. I have a color TV now, but it’s old, no cable, no remote. I’m above all that, just like my parents taught me to be.

Thea Lawton
Whitesburg, Kentucky

After practicing psychiatry for thirty-five years, I have learned something sad but true: that more murders have been prevented by divorce than by religion.

William L. Clovis
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My husband and I wanted a divorce “with honor.” Afterward, we would remain friends and not harbor any ill feelings or desire for revenge. It was the marriage that had been bad, not either of us as individuals.

For three years after our divorce, we maintained the illusion of civility and friendship, talking cordially on the phone and whenever we ran into each other in our small community. This morning, however, in the course of what had started as a casual phone conversation, I did what I had promised myself I would not do: I flared into anger, accusing him of continuing to expect my support while offering me none in return. And he did what I’m sure he had promised himself he would not do: he got angry, too, and insisted I had misinterpreted his actions yet again. In the end, he said he was through trying to communicate with me.

I hung up the phone feeling as if I’d failed again — first to achieve a good marriage, and now to maintain a “good divorce.” For a few minutes I wandered around my little house weeping, overwhelmed by guilt.

But then I said to myself, “Wait a minute: this is exactly how I felt over and over again during our marriage.” It was all clear to me now. My ex-husband and I were still trapped in the same dysfunctional pattern we’d been in for twenty years. I felt the misery lifting.

Fuck a good divorce, I thought. What I’d needed was a divorce — period. Maybe now I could really begin to have one.

Name Withheld

Our family was getting ready to move, and I sometimes went with my parents to look at houses. We even cleaned one place up and painted it. But somehow we never bought that house, or any other. Instead, my mother drove us kids to a pink apartment building with a rutted gravel driveway. We moved into a tiny apartment in back, up four flights of steps. I wouldn’t have my own room. The bunk bed I shared with my sister was crammed in next to the five-year-old’s cot. Because of the apartment’s size, I wasn’t surprised when not all our belongings showed up there. As we settled in, I made a mental list of missing items: The World Book Encyclopedia set. My bicycle. My father’s aquarium. My father.

Later that summer, we visited my father. He told me that he loved me as much as ever, despite the fact that he and Mom were getting a divorce. I promised that I would never doubt his love.

Within a year, my father remarried. His new wife told us that now she was our mother, too. We visited them one Memorial Day weekend. While my father was grilling hamburgers in the yard, his wife came out of the house wobbling and crying, with a gun in her hand. My father quickly got the gun away from her.

Despite such scenes, I still loved and believed in my father, and even asked if I could live with him. He said that while I was young it was better for me to be with my mom, but that we could talk about it when I got older — when I was a teenager, perhaps. I was eleven. I decided to bring the matter up again when I turned thirteen.

Meanwhile, my mother and sisters and I moved to a thin-walled house near the edge of town. My mother held down two jobs and went to college part time. My father paid her some of the child support he was supposed to pay and didn’t always visit when he said he would.

When I turned thirteen, I told my father I was ready to come live with him. In a vague, roundabout way, he made me understand that this would never happen.

Nisi S.
Seattle, Washington

My divorce was both the worst and the best thing that’s ever happened to me — like an amputation without anesthetic, that saved my life. It caused me to set off on a completely new course, and after twelve years and no remarriage, I’ve finally finished uncovering the layers of it. Well, perhaps.

Just this week I went to a cafe in San Francisco where, I’d heard, a photograph of my ex hangs on display beside pictures of other regulars. I sat amid the murmur of voices and tinkling of glasses and looked around the cozy, dimly lit place. Sure enough, there it was, high up on a wall.

I was married to that man, I wanted to say to someone. Don’t ever take that picture down.

Kathleen Edwards
Woodacre, California

During my marriage, it was always inanimate objects that felt the force of my husband’s violence — a wall dented by a fist, a glass suddenly smashed to pieces, a light fixture angrily yanked from the ceiling. It wasn’t until after our legal separation, brought on by my husband’s affair, that I found myself on the receiving end.

One evening, I planned to have dinner with a new male friend. When the news reached my husband that I was “going on a date,” he searched all the local restaurants until he found us. Then he marched into the dining room and demanded to know what I thought I was doing. All conversation stopped. To calm the situation and put an end to our embarrassment, I agreed to leave the restaurant with him.

Once in the car, my husband started calling me names and threatening me, as usual. Feeling a new sense of independence growing inside me, I began to protest, but was cut off by the back of his hand striking me across my forehead. He threw open my door, pushed me out into the snow-covered street, and sped away.

It was close to midnight and near zero degrees out. I struggled to pick myself up, trembling more from fright than from the cold. As I stood dazed beneath the street light, I became aware of something warm and wet on my cheek: I was bleeding. His ring had caught my eyebrow, tearing it open. I saw a house with a porch light on. Pressing a tissue to my forehead to staunch the flow of blood, I inched along the icy street in my dress shoes and stumbled up the porch steps. A man answered my knock. Quietly sobbing, I explained that I had been injured and asked him to call the police.

On the way to the emergency room in a patrol car, I heard a report coming in over the police radio about an attempted suicide. The woman, who had swallowed an overdose of something, was being taken to the emergency room of another local hospital. Through the static, her name came across loud and clear: it was my husband’s girlfriend.

The doctor stitched up my wound and gave me a strong sedative. When I awoke twenty-four hours later, he was standing at my bedside, ready with some advice. He had spoken with my husband while I was asleep and felt sure that our marriage could be saved, if only my husband and I would go on a vacation together. “Maybe a cruise,” he suggested. I was confused enough to think that he might be right.

Of course, we never went on that vacation. Several weeks later, my husband and his girlfriend — now recovered from her near-fatal overdose — flew to Haiti, where he quickly divorced me and married her. But even though he had remarried, his violence against me continued through the summer. I finally had to leave town and stay with my sister. I’ll never forget the sense of peace I felt when I put my head down on the pillow at her house and knew, for the first time in several months, that he wouldn’t break in during the night in a drunken rage and try to kill me.

Name Withheld

Ours was the nicest divorce! No one ever heard us screaming or cursing, like all the rest. There was enough money for both of us. We wrote our own agreement (two pages), then hired lawyers to put it into legal jargon (thirty-seven pages), leaving them perplexed by the ease with which we’d come to terms.

Ours was a nice divorce, but sad. We still felt deep love and respect for each other. Without visible signs of cruelty or harsh feelings, it was hard to explain to our six-year-old son why we could not all live together anymore. I couldn’t tell him what his father was not yet ready to admit: that he is gay.

Laura Bloch
Peterborough, New Hampshire

“I want the bitch served with the divorce papers on Christmas morning,” my client said, “right in front of the kids, so they’ll know what kind of mother they have. And if you won’t get it done, I’ll find another lawyer who will.” He probably found one. There are a lot of us out there to pick from.

Here’s a story I’ve heard more than once: “I came home from work and there wasn’t a damned thing left in the house: not one stick of furniture, not one knife, fork, or spoon. She even took all the light bulbs! And I didn’t even know she was unhappy.”

One client insisted, “I know he’s going to hide assets, cheat me, do everything he can to screw me!” When I asked how she knew, she responded, “When we were dating, he did the exact same thing to his first wife.”

Once, I filed a declaration on behalf of a client, detailing years of abuse: She’d been beaten, kicked, and burned. He’d ripped the telephone out of the wall, taken the battery out of her car, and stolen all her money. The judge read all of this and told the husband he had until seven the next morning to get out of the house. After he left the court, the husband went to the children’s school, but they weren’t there; they were with their mother in a shelter. Then he went home, put a pistol in his mouth, and blew his brains out. His insurance policy paid a large benefit. Within six months, my client had spent it all. “But we had fun,” she told me. “The kids and me, we never had any fun before.”

Another father took his little five-year-old girl from her mother, in violation of a court order, and kept her hidden for two years before he was caught. When the mother rushed into the courtroom, the little girl refused to look at her. The judge gave custody to the mother. She reached for the child, but the child wouldn’t go to her. As the bailiff handcuffed the father and led him out of the courtroom, the little girl started to scream hysterically, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy, I want my daddy!” The mother picked the child up and carried her, kicking and screaming, out of the room. We heard her screams for a long time before the elevator doors closed behind them.

In the Central Division Courthouse, I can enjoy a cup of coffee not five feet from the spot where an irate husband shot and killed his wife in front of their five-year-old daughter. The county said there wasn’t enough money to install metal detectors in the courthouse. I suppose it costs less to clean up the blood.

When I’m not in court, I’m constantly listening to stories of betrayal and broken dreams. California is a no-fault-divorce state: all marital assets are divided fifty-fifty, right down the middle. In the eyes of the law, it doesn’t matter if he snorted cocaine, or if she slept around. But people need to tell their stories, so they tell them to me. Sometimes I’m the only one who will listen.

Of course, if the husband and wife are arguing over possession of children, rather than bank accounts, conduct and character do count. In some cases, I work with a private detective — a small, white-haired, grandfatherly man who looks like an accountant, handles his car like a stunt driver, and is a whiz with a telephoto lens. The wife of one client was under court order not to drink alcohol when she had the children with her. She paled when this detective came to the witness stand and produced pictures of her in the local pool hall, drinking a glass of beer, her little girl asleep next to her at the bar. The judge awarded custody to my client, and I got hugs from him and his parents, who assured me I had protected the children from certain ruin. The euphoria lasted only as long as it took to drive back to my office, where another client was waiting, with another story.

Josephine A. Fitzpatrick
Lakewood, California

When I was eleven, my father left us and moved into a seedy motel on the outskirts of town. I know it was seedy because my mother made a point of describing how awful it was — paint peeling off the walls, bugs under the bed, drunks stumbling around outside in the middle of the afternoon. My mother said a lot of awful things about my father, too. I heard about his drinking and gambling, and about that “slut” he’d met at the convention in New Orleans. Slut was a new word to me then. Divorce was not.

One day, as my mother dropped me off at my piano lesson, she mentioned that I might have to stop taking lessons for a while. With my father gone, they were just too expensive. I don’t know why this relatively minor disappointment should have set me off, but it did. Maybe, I told her, it would have been better if I’d never been born.

Much later, I learned that my mother had relayed this story to my father, and that my little outburst had revealed to him the pain he was causing his family. My parents reconciled, and are still together.

Ross C.
Fairbanks, Alaska

I’ve invented something called the Husband Registry. To earn a place on it, a man must have a legal and ethical means of support; be clean and sober; have a monogamous and honest nature; present a cheerful demeanor; and, if past the age of thirty-five, be either widowed or divorced, and only once. No bachelors who do daily meditations and listen to tapes by Thich Nhat Hanh, yet spew rage if anyone shifts the picture of their junior-high prom date in order to dust underneath. What I seek is a properly divorced man whose marriage was divebombed by chance, not terminal vanity, chronic infidelity, or a lifetime commitment to drug use.

People ask me if I qualify for the corresponding Wife Registry. I like to think so. Even with two missing teeth, my smile is as bright as a ballroom chandelier, and the curve of my seat has yet to disgrace a snug pair of Levis.

Douglas, Alaska

In the winter of 1963, my husband, Dick, was having an affair with the owner of a women’s clothing store. I knew something was wrong when I opened his Christmas gift: a sleeveless, strapless black velvet top, a rhinestone-covered belt, and an accordion-pleated pink skirt that stuck out all over like a prom dress. The outfit was many things, but it certainly wasn’t me. It was obvious she had picked it.

Dick insisted I wear the dress that night to the Christmas Eve party at Louie’s. I resisted, but eventually gave in — anything to avoid a fight during that joyous season. There’d be plenty of time for fights later.

Have you ever worn something you hated to a party? Something you knew made you look ridiculous? Needless to say, I didn’t have a good time. But Dick did, of course. He was gorgeous. Women flocked to him from the four corners of the room. Someone asked him to sing. He had just finished a recording date, and it looked as if he would become a star. With lots of people fawning over him, he was in his glory.

About midnight, Dick dropped me off at home and said he was going out by himself for a nightcap. Too weary to argue, I opened the door, threw off my hated dress, and dove into bed. Tomorrow we’d spend Christmas Day at Dick’s parents’ house. I knew exactly how it would go: Mrs. H. would be testy from the strain of preparing the perfect meal. Mr. H. would be deeply, seriously drunk, but rather good at hiding it until we sat down at the table. Then Mrs. H. would start nagging him to eat something, her voice shrill and irritating. Like most alcoholics, he hated nothing on earth more than eating. He would make faces, look morose, and pick at his food until finally the cold anger would spill out of him. He would start slowly, methodically piling on the abuse until Mrs. H. would jump up and run sobbing into the bedroom.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the sound of Dick sobbing, “Joan, Joan, Joan,” over and over. “I hit another car and broke my front teeth. Help me!” The room reeked of alcohol.

I lay there motionless, afraid to answer, afraid to admit I was awake. If forced to face him, I did not know what I would do. I might not be able to contain my anger. Suddenly, I saw the rest of my life stretching out before me, all my Christmases like Mrs. H.’s: the drinking, the abuse, the hatred, the rage.

I wish I could say that with this vision came the courage to act, but in fact it took me three more years to extricate myself from that marriage.

Joan M.
Carmel, California

I was alone in the den, sitting in the old recliner watching television, when my father came downstairs, knelt on the carpet beside me, and said that he would be moving out for a while. I heard him crying, but I didn’t turn to see his tears. Instead, I kept my eyes fixed on the TV. Eventually, he stood up and went back upstairs. I hadn’t looked at him even once. I knew he wouldn’t be back.

For six months I refused to speak to my father. I wanted him to suffer for breaking up our family, for hurting my mother, for leaving me. Even so, I grew to miss him, and finally agreed to talk. He took me to a restaurant and let me sip his Margarita. I scarcely recognized him. He had lost fifty pounds and seemed unusually nervous as he told me about my future stepmother. I was determined to hate her, as well, but she turned out to be surprisingly kind and unassuming.

My mother never told me how she felt about the divorce, and I never asked. I was thirteen and utterly consumed with my own feelings. I assumed the divorce was entirely my father’s decision, that he had deserted my mother. To me, my father bore all the guilt for leaving us.

More than ten years later, at my brother’s wedding, I saw my parents speak to each other for the first time since the divorce. The reception was winding down, and the two of them were standing together, talking and smiling like old friends, discussing what great kids they had. And I listened in disbelief as my mother told my father that, if he hadn’t divorced her, she would have divorced him.

Emily Jolley
Oakland, California

No one ever tells you the good part about divorce, but I guess that’s understandable. God knows, when I went through my divorce I was just as brokenhearted as all the people I met in my support group. On Fridays after work, opening the door to my empty house, I’d actually feel the loneliness blasting me in the face like the heat from a sauna.

But there came a night, just an ordinary summer night, when a strange sensation made me get out of my warm bed, open a cold bottle of wine, and take a glass of it out to the empty patio. Sipping the wine, I felt something I almost didn’t recognize after all those months of chaos. It was peace.

Peg Fisk
Port Chester, New York

When Cheryl had asked me to lunch, she’d warned me she had something difficult to tell me. I ended up having to guess what was going on.

Cheryl was married to a sweet man, and they had a beautiful three-year-old daughter, but she had finally realized she was gay. She’d fallen in love with a woman and was preparing to leave her husband and daughter and move several thousand miles away to be with the one she loved.

I comforted my friend and told her she was brave to have come to grips with something so big and controversial, but inside I felt panic for her child. I know her little girl, and I don’t know how she is going to make it without her mother.

Name Withheld

I was ten the summer my parents divorced. They sat the three of us kids down on the couch, and Mom did all the talking. She said, “Your father’s going away for a while, and he might not come back.” At first I thought she was talking about some kind of secret mission — something so important they couldn’t tell us what it was, and so dangerous it might cost him his life. I knew my father was important because he was gone a lot. He went skiing on weekends and took trips on his motorcycle. I thought the mission might have something to do with skiing, and pictured him speeding down a huge mountain.

That summer, I had taken to sitting in the garage, watching him work on his motorcycle. I wanted him to look up from what he was doing and see that I was like him. I’d sit for what seemed like hours, trying to make conversation, asking specific questions about motorcycle repair. But my father would not offer much more than grunts and one-word answers, which only made me try harder to fill the space between us with words, until I was babbling like an idiot. Like my mother.

Mom was still talking, saying something about how much our father loved us, and how he would always be our father. It wasn’t until she got to the part about visiting him on Sundays that my heart jumped. That’s when I finally understood.

When it was over, Mom said we were going to the grocery store, but first we were going to go to Burger King for dinner as a treat. People were going to see me, and I was afraid they would be able to tell, that it would be obvious my parents were getting a divorce. I was afraid I was going to break down and cry in public. How was I supposed to swallow my hamburger? We got in the car, and my mother chatted about what she needed to buy at the store. By the time we returned home, my father was gone.

Denise Linville
Stockton, New Jersey

Before my parents arrived at our house in Oregon for their annual Christmas visit, my husband and I agonized over how to tell them the news: we’d decided to get a divorce. A divorce went against everything my family stood for — pretense, appearance, conformity. My parents themselves had set some kind of record for maintaining an awful marriage.

They were due to arrive on December 15, my mother’s birthday. “We can’t tell them on her birthday,” I said.

My husband agreed. “The sixteenth?”

“We’re cutting the tree that day.”

On the seventeenth we would work at the food bank; we couldn’t ruin that. And so it went.

Not telling them wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined. My mother’s light chit-chat filled every gap in conversation, and each day had an activity: a trip to the coast, baking cookies, singing carols. One evening, my husband showed slides of his South American work sites. “Gone a lot, aren’t you?” my dad asked. My husband nodded, and we both almost spoke up, but remained silent.

On Christmas Day, as Mother and I prepared a salad for dinner, she described the decorations in Rockefeller Center. Another moment wasted in small talk. I wished for a mother who would stop talking long enough to listen, a mother who would say it was OK to want happiness in a marriage. But if my mother stopped to consider this, she would see the unmendable fractures in her own marriage. How could I ask her to do that?

On December 28, my husband returned to South America. My parents rode with us to the airport, where he and I clung to each other at the gate. “I should have helped you tell them,” he said.

“I can do it,” I told him, though I wasn’t sure.

As he walked through the gate, part of me rejoiced. In a few more months, the divorce would be final, and I would not have to perform this exhausting task anymore — seeing him off, saying goodbye, watching us grow apart.

As we drove home, my mother regaled me with airport stories — Dallas, Detroit, Chicago. Suddenly, I pulled onto the shoulder and parked, surprising her into silence. “Dad, Mother,” I said, before she could speak again, “I have something to tell you.”

Anne S.
Corvallis, Oregon