International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Single Parent Skills
Items needed for starting your life over at 38:
* A new futon.
* Kitchen utensils (dont forget the garlic press
* That repro poster of Metropolis that you couldnt talk yourself
* TV / DVD combo player.
* Subscriptions to Maxim, The Onion and Mens Health
He caught himself
staring at the list hed stuck under the fridge magnet with a real
estate agents smiling face on it. Chewing on a piece of Mexican white
cheese, he stared at the face while trying to figure out for the millionth
time why their smiling faces frightened him so much.
The boy would be visiting on Saturday and he knew shed be there
to drop him off. She offered to do it in a neutral place but he loftily
said "no, no my place will be fine". She muttered "whatever"
and hung up. He played the Allman Brothers and drank a beer in the shower.
He washed his dish and put it away in the cupboard. He took the trash
with him when he left for work the complex he had moved into
was curiously silent for those several minutes he could feel
the heat building to one of those scorching summer days. The contrast
of the dry, stale air coming from the AC felt good and he left the radio
off. The swish of air, the muted thrum of the engine it gave
him the space to think all those thoughts he was afraid to have when
the lights were out and he was alone.
He still banged awake at 2 in the morning, heart thudding and sweat
beading on his brow. What the heck was he gonna do now? 38, divorced
and staring down the barrel at alimony and child support. The awkwardness
of his sons visits the inevitable moment when his son would
look up at him and say, "Why did you have to leave Mom?"
* Frozen chicken breasts
* Nerf Football
His clothes were piled on the floor of his living room and he slept
on a futon pad that he still needed to buy the frame for. His dirty
laundry was piling in one corner he was going to have to make
a run to the complex Laundromat before long and needed to buy a roll
* Laundry detergent
* Fabric softener
Driving to work was the worst time he wanted to call her up.
There wasnt anything else to say, he just wanted to hear her voice
to feel her knowing he was at the other end of the line. It felt
like emotional chicken; he wanted her to know he wasnt afraid.
Let her take everything Ive got
Ive still got me
be better this time my life is a do-over.
He listened to The Velvet Underground.
He listened to Ugly Kid Joe.
He bought a heavy bag.
He took a drive after work on Friday to Pigeon Point and fell asleep
behind the wheel watching the sun go down. When he woke, the fog had
crept in and he made the drive back over the summit with his high-beams
stabbing the night.
Total Loss. Total Failure. The words kept reverberating in his ears
when no one else was speaking. To prevent them from bothering him too
often, he left the TV on and played his radio at a volume that annoyed
the old lady downstairs. She left notes on his door and he used it to
focus his rage how dare she tell him what to do? The resident
manager was an older Russian guy who had seen it all. In his thick Gorki
accent, he tells him to call him "Joe".
"I know how it is," Joe is saying. "Youre just
getting back to your feet, yah? Just take it easy on the sound, she
is saying shell call the cops and then I cant do anything."
He bought a bicycle he takes long rides. His thinning sandy hair
is cropped close to his head and he browses personal ads on Craigslist.
No, he thinks after a couple of weeks. There are no normal girls out
When the boy visited he packed their Saturday full of trips to
the zoo and a ball game at night. The boy fell asleep on the drive home,
his five-year-old shoulders were slumped under the burden of Mommy-and-Daddy-love-you-but-they-dont-love-each-other.
He could never get used to sleeping next to him as an infant but let
him sleep on the futon rather than the floor. The boy twitched and jerked
in his sleep just as he did when he was a baby
move, just let the boy sleep and attempted to doze with the scent of
his sons hair filling his nose.
His performance at work was just coming out of the post-divorce slump
his boss had told him would happen. A sympathetic man, he was gay and
had never been attached to anyone permanently or as long as he had.
Therefore it all sounded like the same things hed read in Who
Moved My Cheese? "I knew this would happen," he said.
"Ive seen it three times before
every guy going through
a divorce needs about four months to turn around and figure their lives
* Thai Green Curry Paste
* Pinot Noir
* Chocolate-covered Espresso Beans
He experimented with his cooking and with his clothes and with his hair.
There was no one to give him the eye or to say "Uhhhmmm
in that tone hed hated so much. He could banish the concept of
potpourri from his life with no fear of reprisal. He watched late-night
episodes of corny TV shows and drank wine out of a Mason jar that started
life as a spaghetti sauce container before he washed off the label.
This is great
this is so liberating.
He started back at the gym. Going back to the gym after not going for
several years has several different stages. First, you feel completely
intimidated by the gym rats who were so much more in shape. Then, as
you start feeling those pounds coming off, you start noticing the hot
chicks who may or may not be looking for a date. Youre still not
in their league but its nice to dream all the same.
That first alimony/child support payment hits and its a bear.
You remember screaming at your lawyer, "Its costing me more
than when we were together!" before slamming the phone down. Yes,
yes it is welcome to California Divorce Law. You thought those
guys who were divorced and complaining about how much it sucked were
On Saturday mornings he wakes up with needles behind his eyes and a
pile of Michelob longnecks to remind him about the night before. He
didnt mean to drink that much her sister-in-law called
him and although she started out the conversation with "I dont
want to take sides," it was clear she did have a side, it wasnt
yours and now you can add "Worthless Pig" to the list of names
people are calling you.
For about five minutes, he seriously considers suicide.
Does anyone else do this, he wonders to himself as he idly considers
the least messy, least painful way to drop down the rabbit hole. Why
not? Shes taken everything else might as well leave her
with a nice painful reminder of what her emotional violence
can do to other people. The final middle-finger-salute. So long, sweetie
Ive just said something and you cant say anything
back to me now
hope you enjoy explaining it to the boy.
The whole episode leaves him feeling very unsettled enough to
write the local suicide hotline in dry-erase on his fridge. He doesnt
title it who needs to explain that one away? Im doing fine
just ignore this phone number here
its no reflection
on how Im doing I write random phone numbers down all the
time. Ha ha.
The heavy bag and the mitts are getting a lot of use he smashes
a hole in it and duct-tapes it shut; that only holds for two or three
days. He makes sure its out of sight when she drops the Boy off.
Its weird how divorce focuses you on the quality of raising your
kid, he realizes. Before he left her to do the doctor visits,
the shots, the PTA conferences. Now it doesnt matter if the teacher
has already met with her hell meet on his own and he will
be involved with the Boys education.
"Good for you
youre such a great parent ('sarcasm'),"
she writes in a recent email. His attorney is getting tired of being
forwarded these little barbs, he finds out. Turns out, you can say all
kinds of mean things to each other that have absolutely no bearing on
how the divorce turns out. It doesnt mean anything, Lawyer Bob,
"Face it," Bob says one afternoon. "The fact that you
guys dont get along isnt a surprise to the judge. It has
no bearing on how well shell do having full custody. You get what
you got that might change later, but this stuff," he gestures
to the 15 or 20 emails he was forwarded and printed out for the file,
"doesnt mean anything."
For that bit of information, he paid $300.
* Liquid Drain-O
* Cottage Cheese
* Fried Pork Rinds
* California Salad Mix
Six months later and still no dates. He begins attending a nearby church
divorce support group. Some of the women look date-able and his stories
about not being around his boy seem to strike a chord. One agrees to
meet up but not for drinks. "Im a recovering alcoholic,"
she says. "Thats why he left me."
* Self-help books
* Book shelves (particle board with oak veneer)
* Futon frame
* 15 Western and Action DVDs
One day, the transmission on his Jeep decides to go and hes stuck
for a ride to work. Post-divorce issues like this are what makes him
the most depressed about breaking up. He mentally goes through the list
of his co-workers who live nearby and might be in a position to give
him a lift. Its a toss-up between the emotionally brittle maintenance
tech and the guy in Sales. The brittle guy is in recovery the
12-step-speak is exhausting after a while, he decides. The guy in Sales
would be awkward to ask a favor of, you can only call someone a putz
to his face so many times.
In the end, the brittle maintenance guy jumps at the chance to give
him a ride to work. He gets to listen to how management has it in for
him, right-wing talk radio discussions and the latest in home medical
cures that the drug industry doesnt want you to know about. Hes
exhausted by the time he arrives for work.
$2500 to rebuild the transmission he throws it on his credit
card. His budget is only good for the minimum payment and he hasnt
the slightest idea when he could pay it off. Credit card counselors
seem to sense this and fill his mailbox with ads for improving his credit
In lieu of therapy, hes taken to talking with some of the other
gym rats. One in particular, a grizzled veteran of 65 years speaks with
authority. Hes sympathetic in his time he was putting away
a quart of Jack a day. You move on, he says. Nobody says this, but the
suggestion isnt too deeply buried. You need to move on.
At 38 years old, he just expected to have this figured out. He sure
wasnt planning on this when they got married even during
the dish-tossing days that marked their second or third year. They had
some crackerjack fights, boy but they were sticking it out and
the boy seemed to strengthen their resolve. When the divorce papers
were served he was at work and the sudden shock of them, the
hey-this-must-be-a-joke-no-wait-it-isnt, the universal cream-pie-in-the-face
feeling left him feeling like a child once again.
Were all children when the lights go out.
When youre staring at the lights that climb the wall as cars go
by in the night. When youre staring at the green LED of the clock
radio as it goes from 12:30 to 4:45am. When youre in the fetal
position on the floor of your bathroom crying and playing the
music loud so that no one will hear. Yes, we are all children. The thing
that makes us children is that feeling that youve never felt before,
the ones you used to feel all the time when you were younger. And now,
after all this time, after all the yeah-yeah-yeahs of the past 15 years
shes giving you that mad, out-of-control feeling that only
comes when you are feeling something for the very first time.
Youre surprised to know just how vulnerable you can still feel.
Are men supposed to feel this way? Did John Wayne feel like this? After
one too many hangovers, you know the answer isnt at the bottom
of a whiskey bottle. Nihilism was never much of a policy. The nagging
doubts are something that only you can resolve youre sure
not going to admit to them to your friends and least of all, to her.
Theres a whole subsection of malehood being accessed here and
the way you were raised leaves you completely unprepared on how to proceed.
In a moment of weakness, you call her. Youre drunk and lonely.
Youre planning to beg her to come back or let you come
back to her. You made a cute couple once it could work again,
couldnt it? There may or may not be tears; you havent decide.
The drunkenness is by design you wouldnt dare make this
much of a fool of yourself sober. She takes your call calmly
been waiting for it, no doubt. After gibbering mindlessly, saying whatever
is on your mind, she interrupts you with a single piece of information.
Its touching, she says, but Ive met someone.
There isnt enough booze in the world to deal with this.
He hangs up suddenly another whiskey-fueled cryfest ensues. He
calls in sick to work the next day and spends it drinking water and
slamming punch after punch into the heavy bag. Somehow being
away from work is worse. The daytime TV schedule does nothing to improve
his mood. However bad this is, hes gotta move on to stay
here is slow suicide.
Several months go by, of course. The nights arent looking as dark
and you and the boy have developed your own happiness ritual.
Lazy Sundays that start with breakfast at the coffee shop around the
corner and a trip to the batting cages. Or sometimes youre going
to the zoo. Or sometimes youre just driving somewhere and theres
nothing more to it than being together in a single moment of time. You
can start to look at him and see his mothers features and not
feel that single stab just below your breastbone.
Just before you drop him off, you tell him to tell his mother hello
for you. He gives you a significant look but says, "sure",
with all the resilience that a six-year-old can muster. Its getting
close to summertime and with school letting out soon, maybe everyone
can take a trip together. You, the boy, his mom and the new guy in her
There isnt anyone in your life right now. Save the boy and the
constant presence of your former relationship. Youre not misogynistic
enough to pretend that your relationship didnt matter. It did
matter it still does. Even if that relationship is now only about
the boy and whether hes okay. She still needs you and even if
you wish youd never met her sometimes, theres still the
little guy and your love for him is larger than that.
Youre cleaning up on Saturday afternoon and a half-erased phone
number is on your whiteboard. It takes you a minute to remember what
it is. When you do remember it, you stand there staring at it in rueful
reflection for like a minute.
And then, you reach out and erase it completely.
© Daniel Haight
firstname.lastname@example.org 1 October 2009
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