My parents got divorced shortly after Sept.11. It happened, like the coup de grace of a one-two punch. So every time I think back to that October afternoon when they sat my brother and me down in the guest bedroom, I involuntarily think of burning and collapsing buildings. I don’t think I need to explain the symbolism any further. I was in seventh grade, my middle brother in fifth and my youngest in pre-school.
It didn’t really come as a surprise to me. In fact, I was expecting – and dreading – it. In the preceding months, I heard them fight more and more through closed doors and from upstairs to the point that I thought it was normal. That’s when the dreading began.
So when my mom asked my middle brother and me – they didn’t tell my youngest brother until later – “Would you please come into the guest room with us for a second?” a pre-recorded message punched on in my brain. Please don’t let them be getting a divorce, please don’t let them be getting a divorce…
But they were. Damn my ESP.
I don’t remember everything in specific detail, but I think my mother did most of the talking. She sat with us on the floor against the bed, my dad in an office chair. My mom started by gently informing us that they had been fighting a lot recently – as if everyone within a two-house radius of us hadn’t heard.
There was more easing-into, and all the while I had this sinking feeling in my chest that kept growing heavier. When she finally uttered the words, “So your father and I are getting separated,” I felt like 15,000 volts had jumped through my body.
My middle brother buried his face in my mom’s shoulder and cried a lot. Loud and shameless sweater-muffled wails that I’m sure made my youngest brother curious about what was going on behind the locked door. I didn’t react for a while, and the three of us just sat in silence, while my brother continued to cry.
I know my dad said something to break the silence. I don’t remember what, but I remember how. My father was an old-world man of fifty, serious and down-to-earth, but also full of love and jocularity. He had survived religious persecution, poverty, war, immigration and three boys. In short, he was and still is my hero, the person that I base so many of my life philosophies on.
That day in the guest room was the first and only time in my life I have ever seen him cry. Seeing his eyes wet, face redden, nose sniff until he finally buried his face in one hand and shook silently was like watching Superman plummet from the sky. That moment was one of my burning towers and even though I’ve tried, I can’t forget about it.
I must have said less than ten words throughout the whole ordeal. My parents kept trying to get me to talk but I refused. My brother, in stark contrast, bared his soul to the guest room and cried himself hoarse.
But I seethed inside. I was surprisingly wrathful. When we were done some three hours later, I promptly got up and left without a word.
I remember a lot of anger the following months. I leapt at my brothers’ throats for piddling reasons, was cold to my parents and there was some spontaneous crying on everyone’s part – except the youngest brother’s. I don’t really know when they broke the news to him.
I was angry at everything and everyone. I hated my math teacher because I sucked at math. I hated my school whenever some kids made fun of me. And I hated my parents for not loving each other – for not loving me. I felt betrayed and lonely.
There was a lot of anger. My parents gave me a blank sketchbook and suggested I write down what I was feeling as a source of emotional release. I won’t repeat what I filled that sketchbook with, but I will tell you I put down a lot of hateful – and now that I think about it – scary thoughts and images. Over the years, I evened out. But it’s scary to think how much fury I had in me.
Eventually, my father lost his job and had to move up to the Silicon Valley because he couldn’t find a job down here. The rest of us stayed here, and he supported the whole family from afar. He was nearing his sixties, and I suspect ageism played a filthy hand in denying him so many jobs.
By then it was just me, my mother and two brothers. I wasn’t nearly so angry by that time. At first my father came to visit every weekend, then every two, then every three, then once a month. That’s as bad as he let it get.
Soon he refused to come inside the house because it “held too many memories.” I initially scoffed at this and wrote it off as weakness because I was young and knew everything.
Then I experienced my first bad break-up and found I could no longer enter my ex-girlfriend’s house – the smell, the furniture, the atmosphere were all too much. When my mother got re-married, my father made it a point to park around the corner from the house to pick us up during his visits so he wouldn’t run into her husband. I don’t think he ever did.
My dad would drive 300 miles so he could see us, his only kids. An eight-hour trip, one-way.
I’ve heard some kids go through the phase of wondering what they did wrong to make their parents choose to get divorced. They take fault for something that they could in no way have prevented. I don’t think I went through that.
I wholeheartedly, 100 percent put the blame on my parents. That may or may not have been a result of my immaturity, and as I said, I was an angry kid when my parents broke up.
That’s more or less where I am now. My middle brother has gone off to college. My mother divorced her second husband (I only felt sad for my mother) and has now moved up north near my father with my youngest brother. Not to get back together, but so the youngest can develop a relationship with his real father before he gets too old.
It puts a small emotional strain on me when I go back to my hometown for my friends – namely, by making me homeless – but I want my little brother to see his real father, too. And secretly, I just like seeing them all together at once when I go home to visit.
We’re not a “real” nuclear family like before; my parents live in separate apartments and shuttle my little brother back and forth between them. But it beats the hell out of my father having to drive sixteen hours total just to see us. All I want for them is the stability and peace of mind they deserve so much.
My parents get along fine now, and my mother even goes out to dinner with us sometimes when we’re with our father. I’m never sad at those dinners.