Seventeen years ago my parents announced that they were getting a Divorce. My brother and I were too young to process what this really meant. I’ve never spoken to him about it so I am not sure what his narrative is. I don’t remember much from ‘that’ period of my life when we were happy as a family. I remember too much, however, the fights and the arguments and the fact that the TV room became the war zone and my bedroom became my mother’s refuge. I still find myself awake at 2 a.m. listening for the shouts and the endless yelling and never ending arguments. I remember stuffing my head under the pillow willing the noise to stop. I remember being relieved when it stopped and when the war came to an end and both armies withdrew from the battle, I remember being relieved that at least it was over.
The worst thing about wars-apart from the loss of lives, the weapons used and the waste of resources-is the collateral damage, those innocent bystanders whose lives become disrupted, who have choices made for them because of the selfish needs of two overriding powers. In the war that is Divorce, children are often an afterthought. They become just another pawn in the game, another piece to play; another way to ‘get at’ the other parent by whichever parent chooses to play them at the time. Their feelings are often not considered. They will deal with it because they are not the first to be affected by Divorce and like others before them, they too will survive.
A few months ago I hit the big 30. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (because I’ve feared the 30s for years) however it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be either. My dislike for celebrating birthdays came after my parents split. If I couldn’t have both parents at my birthday party then why would I want one anyway? My birthday became one of the many things I refused to celebrate along with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter weekends, any and everything that would remind me of love or family. When my girlfriends dreamed of getting married and having children, I fantasized about traveling to distant lands and losing myself in places and people that knew nothing of who I was and where I had come from. To me, it was an opportunity to create a life and to sell a story of a life that didn’t exist. You see, I became very good at pretending to be ‘okay’ when deep down I really wasn’t.
My mother became happily married within a year and a half of the divorce and my father became a very bitter man. So bitter that after I moved in with my mom and my brother kind of drifted to my grandparents’ house, I got the feeling that he often resented us for not standing by his side. The inclination to believe this grew as I got older and his attitude towards my mother manifested itself in the way he treated my brother and I. The thing is, I understood the why. I just never could quite put my finger on the how. If I knew that my father would read this (and perhaps he will…I’ve heard he now has an email address and ting!) I would ask him this: How could you blame us for a battle that was not ours to begin with?
I used to think that I have ‘daddy issues’. And in a way I do. There are things that I am angry at my father for that I have never been able to say to him however I’ve also realized that I have mommy issues too. Not the typical-oh my mother doesn’t love me, woe be unto me in this big cold world- type of way but I have the kind that go hand in hand with the issues I have with my father. I spent 17 years of my life not knowing how to trust the people I love. I spent 17 years not knowing how to trust the people that love me. I have spent every day since then looking out for myself because there was no one else who could have done it for me. At 30 years old at times I feel so emotionally retarded that I question my ability to love beyond the things that are temporal. I choose loves that have no roots. I run from hearts that are warm. I end things before they are ended for me. My tactic in my own battle has become to use preemptive strikes and while I no longer seek answers from my parents for what seemed like a robbery of my childhood, what I do wish for is the conversation that we, as a family, never had when the shit hit the fan.
When the first shot is fired and the last sword is drawn, when the blood is let and bodies are left out to dry, when the mess is made and the damage is caused- everyone walks away. Some do it peacefully, accepting their fate while other encourage long, drawn out wars that serve no one but the egos of those hurt. What are often left behind, however, are broken children that never quite heal properly. They grow into broken adults with trust issues and anger issues and commitment issues that are often a reflection of or a reaction to or a choice in spite of their experiences. I’ve never had the luxury of an end of war conversation or a treaty or peace talks with my parents either collectively or separately. I guess I was expected to adjust and move on with life and I did. Except it still hurts and I still listen for the bombs at 2 a.m. Anytime I hear people arguing, when I hear people shouting, when persons raise their voice at me, the blood and the bodies become too real and 17 years always feels like 7 minutes.
If both my parents were reading this, I’d want them to know that I understand the 17 years. I accept it. For whatever their marriage was, they needed to go their separate ways and I understand that. I, however, needed those critical hours, those few moments after their love bit the dust, that dialogue in the aftermath to make sense of it all, to learn that sometimes things don’t happen the way we plan them and that at the time, they didn’t know how to keep us safe and although love sometimes come to an end, life will always go on. One of the biggest casualties of my parents’ Divorce is my inability to communicate effectively with anyone that I truly love. I became too much an expert in being brave, in not showing how hurt or upset or affected I was, in hiding my feelings from the world by writing them down in my diary. I erased pain and replaced it with anger because it was a much easier pill to swallow and an easier cloak to wear.
Divorce never just happens. And when it does, it is never the easiest thing in the world to deal with. The truth is, by learning to live with something that we have no control over, we learn to adapt, to exist, to survive. The worst part, however, is that we often forget how to live. Regardless of how old we get and in spite of our own experiences as children and adults, we are sometimes just people whose lives have been interrupted and whose battles were inherited from those that taught us how to fight. In the end, we are soldiers who rarely get credit for a battle that was never ours.
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