Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Paper/Work




Books, essays, cards, letters.

Over the years, I have come to associate paper and ink with good things.

However, when the packet of divorce papers was plopped on my doorstep just before Thanksgiving, (Happy Holidays!) I knew I was about to enter a new landscape, one foreign to me—the frozen tundra of purposefully emotionless language. I felt the chill of the white papers immediately.

Indeed, so forbidding is this landscape to average people that we need to hire high-price guides just to make our way though it.

I had known this day was coming and had tried to prepare for it by looking up the forms in advance, so I opened the packet slowly, mentally reviewing what I had seen online and I bundled up emotionally, preparing for the bitter cold of the paper blizzard within.

Yep. There were the frosty forms all right, put together and topped off with a cheery little letter from HOB’s attorney. She had thoughtfully provided a little rundown of the action to follow in the packet.

I scanned the letter and then took a deep breath and flipped to the next page.

That’s when I saw it.

At the bottom of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, I saw his signature--the familiar scrawl of the man I had lived with for thirty years, of the man who had once loved me with all his heart. How well I knew those loops, the way the "i" in his name was dotted, the curl at the end of his (our) last name.

In all the years of our marriage I had associated that signature with good. Love letters, the co-signature on the deed to our house, birth certificates, cards (one beautiful one proclaiming his undying love just a week before he left). I sat and cried seeing that familiar ribbon of ink, starkly contrasted with all the block, uniform lettering that otherwise covered the documents.

I rubbed my finger over that signature as if I could discern his attitude at the time of signing.

Did his pen hover above the line with any sort of hesitation? A forced suspension of all emotion? Was there a gritty resolve? A giddy feeling of elation?

The paper, of course, revealed nothing. The signature just sat there, looking maddeningly ordinary.

I knew in order to get through the rest of the papers, I had to distance myself psychologically.

Since I am an English teacher, a writer, and a sometime editor, I have done my share of reviewing writing and passing suggestions on to writers. I went into that mode. It was the safest one for me. In my head I started a draft of my review and suggestions for improvement. It went something like this:

To: HOB’s lawyer. Re: Your cover letter.
Nice job in being succinct and to the point in what was enclosed in the packet of papers. However, you may want to reconsider the use of the line “Looking forward to working with you on this matter.” Is this appropriate in this case?

Perhaps if we were planning a brunch or a charity event, this sentence might work, but are you really looking forward to participating in the sad task of dissolving a marriage of thirty years? This well-worn (and perhaps a bit too revealing) line may be seen as insensitive to the involved parties. Consider a simple, understated “Sincerely” instead.


To the State of California: Re: The heading of "You Are Being Sued" (followed by the culturally-sensitive Spanish translation.)
First of all, I find the use of the passive voice an interesting choice here. Seriously consider why you are using it and proceed from there.

In addition, I understand that that brevity and clarity is your goal here, but the connotation of this language cannot be overlooked.

Breach of contract, personal injury, property damage: these I understand warrant the bold “You are being sued” heading. However, participating fully in a relationship, providing a warm and happy home, doing the bulk of work of raising children, and finally, offering to work side-by-side with the aggrieved party in the salvage of the marital union, do not, I believe, warrant such a austere announcement.

Consider instead that the recipient of these forms may have simply been a victim of a spouse’s midlife crisis, a bystander at the collision of a man’s realization of his own mortality and his dissatisfaction with a life that he himself chose but in his later years found too restrictive and prescribed.

Consider that perhaps he aimed the laser beam of that unhappiness at the most obvious of ties in his life, thereby avoiding the painful inner work needed to achieve long-lasting peace. Consider all that and then consider a softer approach to this announcement.

(Perhaps a simple transposition of the “s” and the “u" in “sued”? Just a suggestion.)



I have come a long way since that day in November. The mountain of paper grows; the divorce notebook groans with the weight of them. So many documents to arrive at a final, and probably relatively simple, document that will signal the end.

I no longer run away from the task at hand. I file what needs to be filed, I ask my guide for help when I need it, and I gather strength and hope from my friends who have been through this before.

Someday, these papers will be stuck in a file cabinet, locked away in the dark, frozen in time and place, weighed down, saddled with the burdens of this confusing period of life.

But I won't be.

I now know that without a doubt. I won't be.


47 comments:

Laura Eno said...

Well done! You had me laughing over a sad business.
No, you won't be frozen in time or weighed down. You're already reaching for the sun.

Old Kitty said...

So glad you wrote your letters of riposte down! There's that unique fighting BB spirit shining through! Bravo!

Take care
x

Mamma has spoken said...

I am glad to read that with time, you've found your voice again.
Welcome back.

Slamdunk said...

I like how you have been able to find a little humor in what was such a devastating experience. Definitely admirable Betty.

john said...

you rule.

McGillicutty said...

What a powerful post... love how you have taken the situation and put it right in it's place and can move on.. you are a strong and intelligent woman not to be trifled with... may you go on to more wonderful and happy times..xxx

busana muslim said...

Very good article. Congratulations.

Leanne said...

No. . . . You won't be. Amen to that. I think of you so often Betty, sending little bits and pieces of positive thoughts out there into the universe just for you. You are amazing, and I adore you.

Shelly said...

You courage awes me. I know this is a role you never intended, but you are so very inspirational.

Flartus said...

Phew...I was relieved almost to giddiness by your conclusion. (I was about to suggest you go back and read yesterday's poem.) How searing the memories of those early days must be! Here's looking forward to the time when they are dim and dulled and not worth recalling.

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

It is just SO good to see how far you've come. It would be fun if you could actually send those responses. ;)

Susan in the Boonies said...

This is a powerful, powerful piece, Betty. Just excellent, in every way. I wonder if you could submit this to SOMEONE (I don't know who. BlogHer, maybe?). To whoever recognizes excellence in writing.

You've given voice to the sentiments of thousands, here, I have no doubt. But (maybe because, so far, anyway, I haven't had to read books about divorce) I've never read anything quite like this before.

Well done!

(And I don't mean to sound like the teacher grading YOUR work. It's just what I really think.)

Hugs!

Tabor said...

You have certainly opened wide the door to this room of activity that keeps lawyers in their nice homes. I did not realize it was so involved and your succinct Congrats! I also gained a little insight into the soul of the other. Strange man. Not your fault.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

You are so strong! I can't imagine how hard something like this would be. But you're handling it so well! You're inspiring!

SueAnn said...

You have grown...you are so much more than you were. You are so strong...I am so impressed!!
You turned devastation into your strength.
Hugs
SUeAnn

laughingmom said...

Bravo!! You are one mighty woman!! You seriously need to think about sending those thoughts to that attorney or the whole practice (if there is one) after all is settled.

Out on the prairie said...

I like your assessment of all the proceedings.I might be more apt to use this stack to start a lovely fire when all is over. I often wonder how divorce lawyers look at their lives, having helped wreck others.

Brian said...

Good for you, we know you will be Betty, now, and in the future!

jenny_o said...

I believe that what you suggested, about divorce being easier than looking inward for solutions, is only too true for so many who feel discontented in marriage. I am so sorry that you are the one to suffer. But you will find others who understand what it takes to live well, and you will have happiness again - in fact, it sounds like you're already part way down that path...

Sarah said...

Well corrected! The tone couldn't be more impersonal and cold. I hope you got a good guide to go through and put behind this process.

Marg said...

Good for you Betty. You haven't lost your sense of humor.That is terrific and you had me laughing out loud. Well done. Take care and keep laughing.

Kristina Streeter said...

You are a very strong woman BB! I'm glad you have found your voice, and a little bit of humor along the way. Hugs to you sweet friend!

Madi and Mom said...

Hi BB...I'm running late today...decided to traipse about on this gorgeous day. Madi thanks you for your kind words on today's WW.
I thank you too but it really is all Madi...for w/o her there would be no blog.

OK WOW this post has opened my eyes. I had no idea what you have going through. Bless your heart.
I especially question, 'you are being sued'. To me 'sued' means you did something wrong, NOT!! You are right the transposition of the s and u says it all.
Big hug you my friend have more strength than you realize!!
Madi and C

Kazzy said...

You have a great attitude, and I am sure you will rise above all of this. You already are!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You will get past it!
And those short notes you wrote sounded like good therapy at the time.

Siv Maria said...

You might not believe it now but some day the ink on those pages will be faded and the paper yellow and torn. Your writing is the best therapy you can get. I got me through those dark days and it will get you through yours.

Liz said...

You seem to be healing, BB. Slowly but definitely healing. Great writing on this post, too.

Ms. A said...

The day it can be filed away will be a glorious day indeed! Freedom to move forward.

Nat said...

I can sense the pain, Betty, but there is also incredible strength in your words.

Eva Gallant said...

brilliantly written!

Tracy said...

Excellent! Now, do you plan on sending it? I would...just because...Stay strong girl!

Ann said...

I honestly think that you should have sent your suggestions for improvement to the lawyer. :)
I have to agree with your final statement. Although things get easier it's impossible to erase all those years. Believe it or not I still have my marriage license from my first marriage. It's tucked neatly in a folder with my divorce papers. I don't know why I keep them I just can't get myself to throw them away

Lydia Kang said...

You've come so far. That you can even write a post like this shows that. You are right--you are not those divorce papers. Your life is not going to be locked in a dark cabinet somewhere. You're free.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Oh Betty, I've been sitting here nodding as I read, and wanting to give you a big hug. I know. I do. People talk about "divorce" all the time, but I never heard of a "dissolution of judgement" until I was slapped with one. There are so many pieces to the nightmare, and it feels like it will never end. But it will. It will end, my friend.

Love and faith to you.
xoRobyn

Daisy said...

Well done, Betty. You are such a strong and inspirational person. Nobody is going to lock you away in the dark because you are yourself a beacon. You light the world around you with your spirit and kindness.

The Green Streak said...

You go, Girl! (You already are!!)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You are the champion editor of the day. Your interpretations clearly conveyed a cleverness missing from that law school prose.

Lazarus said...

I knew that HOB was a POS when he took that first lick of the Dairy Queen cone whilst you stared helplessly through the car window. You're better off without him, move forward confidently Betty, we are all in your corner!!!!

Retired English Teacher said...

Betty, perhaps someday you can publish a handbook to help others who find themselves where you found yourself.

Bossy Betty approached the matter at hand in an active, non-emotional way. Some other woman certainly could have chosen a passive voice, but not our Betty. She is using all of her skills to handle this tragic event of the break up of her marriage in a professional, clear headed way. She will remain standing when this is over just like we knew she would.

Thanks for telling the State of California and that attorney a thing or two. I know you never really sent these suggestions on, but you should.

faye said...

What a remarkable post...
at least your papers were in English.. I opened a single envelope
to find a document completely in Arabic... even though I couldn't read it, I knew it was a divorce decree... it took me over a year to get enough courage to have it interpreted. In the end it turned
out to be a very funny read... the
bitterness was lost in translation.

Don said...

Oh man, my heart goes out to you. Our lives can take such strange turns. Know that there will be a better time.

Catherine said...

You are doing fantastic Betty ~ humour always helps a little bit in some way. I hope you gave both the lawyer and the State a very low mark. -C at the most!!

Big hugs!
xo Catherine

CiCi said...

You have worked through so much and it shows in your writing. I like the idea of changing the word "sued" to "used"; of course the state probably would not consider it appropriate but the spouses served divorce papers would appreciate the reality. The best part of the post is your last remark. Rock on, my friend. Life is for the living, and you are alive and well!

Nicolasa @ {My}Perspective said...

Hi Friend! I've been away from my blog and am checking in. I hope you are doing ok!

Zuzana said...

Dear Betty, healing is a long and complicated process, i know. Thank you for letting us be part of yours.
I thought exactly the same when I saw the small excerpt in the beginning of your post - *used* is a better term.;)
The last sentence rings so very strong.
xoxo

Nick said...

Wow. Just wow.

Kleinste Motte said...

It's a good thing you are strong and willing to move along. Sadly the situation you are now in continues to grow as partners no longer work out the rough spots. Values are become twisted more and more but you have stayed on the path to be bold and lead your way out of the painful place you were put in. HUGS!