Because I don’t think you understand (and I know I don’t) *Updated*

I got in trouble yesterday for a comment I left on my sister’s blog about her soon-to-be ex-husband. My sister is extremely circumspect, and, while she is open with our family and her friends, she isn’t one to badmouth or vilify or be vindictive. In other words, she acts in a saint-like manner where I would be slashing and burning, verbally, if not with sharp knives and blowtorches.

I just finished reading Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order. It is fantastically well-written, and, like the best writing, both original and yet completely inevitable. I felt that the “index” organizing scheme wasn’t entirely successful, but I appreciated the metaphor of not being able to organize thoughts on something as traumatic as suicide in any totally coherent manner.

Wickersham, with Mozart-perfect prose, discovers her father has shot himself and then circles back and back, like the ripples from a pebble, trying to understand the why. But I had a why of my own.

Why should I care? Somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people commit suicide in the United States every year. It seems self-indulgent and morbid for a brilliant writer to spend seventeen years obsessing over her father’s. And why should I, a reader who likes a good dollop of romantic escapism in her free time, spend 316 pages reading the (no matter how exquisitely-rendered) stark, painful accounts of a brutal childhood, a financially-failing adulthood, and, finally, the suicide of someone so removed from my own life?

Though I resisted caring, it was compelling, and so I recommend The Suicide Index without reservation. It’s a stunning piece of writing, and, to anyone who has ever known a suicide (noun, verb, adjective) or who has ever felt like a failure, it offers, if not soothing comfort, a wealth of understanding and not-aloneness.

Still: Why? My second reaction is Why not? Should not every life be examined in such great detail? On the one hand we can shrug and dismiss this particular suicide in light of all the others and all the other tragedies, petty and catastrophic, that occur everyday in every country. Or, we can hope and demand that each life, each choice means something, matters. Wickersham succeeds in making me care about her pathetic father and selfish mother, her supportive husband and her inconsolable self. I don’t ask more from a novel.

I did get one more thing, though. I finally figured out why it is so hard for my sister (and me) to come to terms with her coming divorce. Wickersham says of suicide: “When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying ‘I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.'” When you leave your spouse out of the blue, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You say ‘I want a divorce’ and we will never be sure who you were, because, obviously, we never really knew you. Even if we are not as surprised as we should be.

On the very last page, Wickersham remembers what she first thought on hearing that her father had shot himself, and it is exactly what I thought myself on the 16th of March, a Sunday morning four and a half months ago:

“Oh no,” and “Of course.”

Divorce, it seems, is not so different from suicide. It is the killing of one’s marriage instead of one’s self. And if that marriage was an intrinsic component of one’s self, one’s perception of one’s self, it is almost worse than death.

And so, even though I thought the “index” organizational scheme wasn’t perfect, it’s a helpful way to catalogue my sister’s husband’s leaving:

The Divorce Index

Divorce
announcement of
necessary “strong language”

We are rushing to get ready for church. My mother calls. She knows when our church is, and I imagine she suspects how frantic we are at fifteen minutes to nine. She tells me she and my father are at my sister’s house, and that my sister’s husband has left her. I say, “That f—— b——.”

announcement of
to my sister

I would prefer a big fight at the end. My sister does not get that. One day he loves her and the next he is gone.

death and

I cannot imagine Dick leaving me, but if he did, I know it would hurt less if he died, “loving me.”

dreams and

The only thing my sister ever wanted is to be a wife and mother.

factors contributing to

?. If I understood, I would probably be able to make small talk with him again.

feelings of disgust and

The day before he leaves, Saturday, my sister and I dress our younger sister up and take pictures of her with our six children. He is working, and then he comes home for dinner. My parents are there. We eat lemon chicken lasagna my sister has made. I sit next to him, on his right. I drink one of the special Barrel Brothers vanilla rootbeers he stocks especially for his guests, for me. We talk running strategy. He runs marathons; I’ve just finished my first 15k. He is charming, friendly. I worry sometimes that my sister is unhappy, but I think he will never leave her. He loves his cars and his iPhone, but he is not a bad person.

impact on my children and

My 3-year old daughter asks if she will be getting a new daddy soon. My girls wonder why their aunt is crying all the time. My 7-year old asks, when Dick and I argue, if we are going to get a divorce now, too.

state of my sister’s heart and

Broken.

state of their family and

Destroyed.

timing of recovery and

Like any mourner, my sister has good days, accepting days, and she has days when she thinks she will never laugh, never relax, never be happy, never understand. She will probably write 316 pages in her journal before she is done.

And I think, “Oh no,” and “Of course.”

—-

*Updated*

I have changed this post as much as I can to respect my sister’s privacy. One thing about this whole situation is that I have hurt worse over this than I did over my miscarriage. The miscarriage made sense. The baby was a mistake, God didn’t intend for me to have that baby. Divorce, in this case, still doesn’t make sense to me, and it hurts, because I liked and trusted him, too.

I don’t know how that feels

I’ve been telling my sister to get over the Prince of Darkness (PoD) since March. Except for the days when I agreed with her that “Sure, he might get an accidental lobotomy and a heart, and everything will be fine.”

Then last week he threatened to sue for custody of the kids if she asks for the financial records the judge needs to determine allocation of assets, alimony, child support.

And she realized, after all the things that he has done, What He Is. I think this is common in battered women. They’ll take anything a PoD dishes out, but when he threatens to treat the children as his chattel, they’ll finally, PRAISE EVERYTHING HOLY, see him for What He Is.

My sister started house-hunting, even talked about opening her own checking account. She and I ran a 5K race (her first) on Saturday.

Today I got a voicemail from her asking if I knew anything about a boy I went to school with. He’s a dentist now, divorced or widowed, with three kids. A friend wants to set them up.

I told her last week, when she called, sobbing, overwrought over the PoD’s blackmail, that I promise her: In two years we’re going to sit down, and you’re going to tell me that you are transcendantly, radiantly happy now. Now that you know what marriage is supposed to be like, you’re going to tell me that the only thing bothering you is that you stayed for so long, and would have stayed forever if he’d let you.

Today I listened to her almost-normal voice on the phone, asking about someone new, and all I could think was, If Dick ever left I would be in my cave of devastation for years and not thinking about dating.

Maybe because I would also be mourning his death, as not many would survive what I can do with my Pampered Chef paring knife.

Or maybe because Dick is someone I cannot imagine ever being shallow, selfish, dishonest, narcissistic, or without honor. Or because he keeps his promises.

Or because: I do not know how that feels.

A Day Without French Fries

My lovely sister, who is going through a divorce, is down to 107 pounds. That’s high school weight, or maybe junior high. While she wouldn’t recommend the Pull Out Your Still-Beating Heart And Allow Your Spouse Of Seven Years To Stomp On It diet, she is looking good.

I think she’s too skinny now but maybe I am just jealous, only not of the misery part. Next to her, I am the jolly fat lady. This lardy feeling is compounded by my recent surgery. You might be surprised to learn that when you have shoulder surgery your legs stop working too, and you can no longer go running. Odd, but then medical science doesn’t know EVERYTHING.

Also surprising is that in order to lose weight you have to eat less and exercise more. I KNOW. But it’s true: I once won a weight-loss challenge by switching to Coke Zero and sugar-free hot chocolate. So I’ve decided to resume running because it’s more likely that my legs will start working again than that I’ll go back to a sugar-free existence.

Luckily, Andrea’s bucolic town has a 5k Run Through the Lavender this month. Once I pay the entrance fee, I’ll be motivated to start training, since the race is two weeks from Saturday and it wouldn’t do to collapse under a lavendar bush. (If you’re in Utah and want to run, send me an email!)


I don’t even like the smell of lavender, but it sure is pretty.

Exercise more: check. Eat less: hmm.

I love French fries, but maybe they’re not the best nutritional choice. Or are they? Potatoes are high in potassium, which your heart needs almost as much as it needs to not be stomped on. In fact, a well-rounded diet might consist of ice cream for your bones, fish sticks for your brain, and French fries for your heart.

Some French fries are even more beneficial, having beta carotene for your eyes. We recently discovered sweet potato fries at Rumbi Grill. At home, I’ve tried chopping sweet potatoes like regular fries and then either skillet-frying or tossing in oil and baking. These methods work pretty well, but the resulting fry isn’t as crisp as the unifrom crinkle-cut. Then I found (and modified) a Sweet Potato Wedge recipe:

Dick says these are even better than Rumbi’s. They’re not very crispy, but they do absorb much less oil. Don’t forget the fry sauce!

I’m entering these puppies in Randi’s Recipe Box Swap and The Natural Mommy’s Recipe Swap. I would enter my sister in a divorce carnival, but I don’t know of any. I will tell her that “A Day Without French Fries” comes from Nora Roberts, who writes formulaic yet satisfying (and racy) romance. In the romance novel world, divorce is but a stumbling block on the road to meeting a virile-yet-sensitive, sensitive-yet-macho, macho-yet-cute-with-kids Prince Charming who will love you for who you are and also give you incredible connubial bliss. Amen.


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I’d rather go barefoot

My wedding shoes made my feet bleed. Not that they were stilettos, or narrow, or flashy. They were solid white dress-up shoes (not pumps, never pumps). My mother sewed a lovely, simple dress, and I didn’t wear a bra. If I’d known how my breasts would sag after three children, I’d have worn a bra at twenty-one. I did think marriage was serious enough for real shoes, the first and only white dress-up shoes I’ve ever owned. Serious enough for lipstick too.

Dick and I took a nap after the wedding brunch. When we were dating and smooching on the couch, careful not to move against each other, I never guessed I’d feel so awkward once those shoes were off. Or that I’d even notice traumatic arterial damage. Dick wasn’t very interested in my gaping wounds. And I soon forgot all about my treacherous shoes. Until the honeymoon was over and and we fought in our tiny student apartment. I read that the Communists in Russia allocated 175-square-feet to each adult; maybe we should have finished school in Moscow.

I returned the wedding shoes. It was an easy return: I still had the receipt, and the bright red stains embarrassed the clerk more than me. Though I really should have been ashamed to return yet another pair of ruined shoes. When you’ve got the easy-bleeder feet, you should learn to be more careful.

My jelly shoes, the shoes I saved for weeks to buy when I was nine-years old, made my feet bleed. Mom said those jelly shoes were a fad, as if that should make them less desirable rather than more, and impractical, and most likely uncomfortable. I knew I would die if I couldn’t have a purple sparkly pair. Mom wouldn’t buy them for me, but she did drive me on my fifteen-mile shoe pilgrimage.

Last week I saw my sister’s husband for the first time since he left her. Only I didn’t really see him; I couldn’t look at his face, or his body. I stared at his shoes. My sister wore a puffy princess dress with tulle and beading for her wedding seven years ago. She was beautiful. Young, feminine, happy, and I know she wore a bra. Probably high heels, though her husband is not much taller than she is. I’ve got three kids; she’s got three kids. We both thought our marriages would last forever.

I want my sister to think of herself, to protect herself, care for herself. I want her to get some Jessica Simpson boots and walk all over that rat-turkey, yellow-belly skunk. I want her to listen to her favorite Cherie Call song and realize she doesn’t want to walk in somebody else’s shoes any longer. But my sister doesn’t have easy-bleeder feet. She has a tender, tough heart and I can’t tell her when it’s time to give up on making something fit. I want to say that if she hasn’t been able to break in her marriage shoes yet, it’s an impossible task, but it’s her life. Her marriage. Her heartbreak.

I am in awe of her patience, much as I’d rather go barefoot.

—-

The shoe inspiration came from Scribbit’s May Write-Away Contest. I’m not really a shoe person (for obvious reasons), so this was quite a challenge for me. Check out Tara’s shoe entry. Now there’s a shoe person.

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Makes-Me-Smile Monday: To love or not to love

I know almost to the minute when the word divorce stopped being a concept and became a possibility, a reality, a real thing in real life that could be devastating.

Oh, not for me. Dick and I fought like pole cats the first couple months of our marriage, ten years ago. We fought about the usual things: money, sex, how to spend our free time and who should be home cleaning the toilet on a fine Saturday morning. I said the “d” word once and Dick looked at me with hurt eyes; I hadn’t accepted that I could hurt him. But for him divorce was a real thing, because his parents were divorced. For me it meant “I’m really mad at you and right now I think not being married would just be simpler.” Neither of us has said that word, in relation to us, since that day.

But on Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at approximately 9:43 am, I found out that divorce can happen to anyone. It wasn’t me so I wasn’t hurt. It was someone I love, so I was mad. I wanted to pull newly-grown hair and smash Christmas ornaments and throw dinner on the floor.

In college you hear a lot about paradigm shifts. Adolescence could probably be characterized as that stage in a person’s life when (they think) they’re experiencing massive paradigm shifts between each class. My middle-aged humanities professor shocked me by saying that it had been a long time since he’d read a book that actually changed the way he thought about the world, and OH! How I pitied that man.

Threat of divorce has shifted my paradigm. It makes me feel rebellious. No one should have to turn herself into Clean House Barbie to keep her husband happy, or pretend to enjoy Jazz basketball or not to mind when the kids are not fed and in bed on the one night I go to the library after dinner. When I told Dick I felt like never cleaning again, he panicked, made me promise that I was just joking. Then I had surgery and had a medical excuse anyway.

I could probably turn into a model wife, for a week or so, at least. If I did, if I woke up and made lunches and saw him off with a kiss and a stack of French toast, and kept the house clean and kept up with our finances and never used the mean voice and picked up socks without asking, “Did you want these socks washed or were you going to wear them again tomorrow?” And if I made one of his five favorite dishes and had dinner on the already-set table and three happy, clean, and sweet-smelling children lined up to throw themselves at his legs at 5:52 pm. If I didn’t yell at them or let them hear me swear, would he love me more and think that I had lived up to the promise of my 30-pound lighter, not-stretch-marked, adoring, twenty-year-old bride-self?

Love me more: I don’t think so. Think I lived up to the promise better: probably. We did both promise to be our best selves. That’s not true. There was nothing in the actual sealing about setting goals or maintaining our figures or cleaning the toilets before doing fun things together on Saturday morning. Instead, though the LDS ceremony is slightly different, it including something about loving, honoring, cherishing. And while it didn’t say anything about in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, it did say forever, eternity. Which pretty much includes all the rest. And you usually think that the hard times would be the sickness and the worse and the poorer. But maybe those are the easy times — the times when you know you couldn’t possibly make it without your spouse at your side.

Without a man who will wipe your armpits with baby wipes when you can’t shower. Or laugh when your milk squirts him during an otherwise romantic, amorous moment. Or not even shout when you kill a laptop with your bare hands.

I didn’t really mean to write about what I don’t do to make my husband happy. And I meant to be humorous and light. Go read Marie’s Making Men Happy for a great, funny list of things men (at least the Ask.com men) want in a woman. And for proof that Google might be getting in touch with it’s feminine, nurturer side.

What I do try to do is: communicate to him that what he thinks and feels and does is important, significant, relevant. Make him know that he is the big tuna in my life, and always will be. That even though I wouldn’t actually rather get sick myself than see him sick, his health and comfort and life and happiness are vital to my own.

I would promise, like Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, to always be yar. But I know I’ll use the mean voice again. I’ll get mad that he is Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout. I’ll wish at least one of us were independently wealthy. I’ll even, heaven forbid, swear in front of the children again. But with my paradigm forever shifted, I’m seeing the sickness and the worse and the poorer as opportunity to thank God for knowing better than I what was good for me.

____

I think this week (month?) has been hard for a lot of people. Hard to smile when terrible things happen. Loraine has a post, Still Trying to Smile After Sunday, that nigh unto broke my heart. I usually feel pretty darn callous. What do I care about someone I don’t know? But determination to find something, anything to smile about is irresistible. My favorite line? “Likewise, Mekare finally cleaned off the coffee table- wait, one of the kids already threw her hoodie on it.” That’s my life, in a nutshell.

____

To participate in the brave new world of the Makes-Me-Smile Monday carnival, write on today’s topic “How to keep your husband (or other loved one) happy” and then follow these guidelines.

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Before you object, let me say that I believe that if anyone is in a relationship with an addict or abuser or adulterer or abandoner who is not 100% committed to changing and to the relationship, they should get out. Even (especially?) if you have kids and even if the abuse or abandonment is emotional rather than physical. Staying in a bad relationship on the strength of what once was is too Rose for Emily-ish. Get out.