It’s 5:30 am on Monday morning, much too early for your husband to be up and dressed and leaving for work. He commutes an hour each way, but he doesn’t generally get up until after 6:00, and he doesn’t leave until around 6:45. He’s trying to be quiet as he heads for the stairs, but the wood floor creaks. You meet him in the hallway. He says, “I need some space.” He needs space? Sneaking around without even saying goodbye to his kids? You ask him if he’s going to say goodbye, he tells you that it’s not like he’s not coming back. He leaves. You get the boys up for school, one in kindergarten, one in first grade. They brush their teeth, comb their hair and get dressed. Your older one is particular about his clothing. Everything must coordinate. He come downstairs wearing his Bimini blue and pink high tops and belt, pants the same shade of blue and a pink polo shirt. He loves color almost as much as you do. Your younger one doesn’t care, as long as there are no seams or tags; they bother him. He wears his OshKosh jeans and his favorite blue and white striped pullover with his favorite sneakers, the ones with the Velcro strips. You fix them each a bowl of cereal and fruit, drink your coffee, and think about what this means. They ask where Dad is. You tell them he already left for work. They want to know why he didn’t come in to say goodbye before he left. He always comes in to say goodbye.
You drop them off at the sitter, who will see them to the bus stop. You go to the studio, but you cannot stop the flow of thoughts. Now what? You call your friend who has been divorced twice and you tell him what has transpired. “Go home at lunch and look in his closet. His clothes will be gone.” He gives you the name and number of his attorney. You go home, check the closet and sure enough, all that remains is the red and white striped shirt the boys gave him for his birthday four days ago. You wonder idly when, how he packed his stuff without you noticing. Back in the studio, you try to get some work done, but you end up dialing the lawyer’s number. He will see you tomorrow.
In this morning’s confusion, you’ve forgotten to thaw something for dinner. The boys want to know when Dad will be home. You distract them by having them help you make pancakes for dinner. You have never made breakfast for dinner before. Cleaning up afterward, you listen apprehensively for the familiar key in the door, foot on the steps. Seven-thirty passes and you let out an enormous sigh of relief. You know he is not coming back. You help the boys with what little homework they have, let them watch half an hour of television, and then it’s upstairs for baths, story time and bed. You tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. Your five-year-old asks, “Mommy, did you and Dad have another fight?” You tell them no, Dad just needs some time to think.
Just after midnight, the telephone on the nightstand rings. You’re half asleep and the caller is clearly agitated. It takes you a moment, but you figure out that it’s the husband of one of your husband’s co-workers. He demands to know where your husband is. You tell him you have no idea, but he’s not at home. He is extremely angry. He believes his wife has run off with him, leaving their 3-month-old infant and 3-year-old child. He wants answers and he wants them now. Still half asleep, you ask him, “What makes you think he would tell me where he is if he’s run off with your wife?” You hang up and turn off the ringer. Your older son comes in and climbs up on your bed. “Mommy, was that Dad on the phone?” You feel anger rising from deep in the pit of your stomach. How could he do this to his children? He knows how it feels. His own father disappeared when he was 8 and never came back.
Tuesday afternoon, you file for divorce. Wednesday morning, you are working in your studio and the phone rings. It’s him. “Are you sitting down…? I have to tell you, I’m with someone. I’m not coming back.” You tell him, “You’re damned right you’re not coming back. I filed for divorce yesterday. He says, “OK. Did you tell the boys?” as if it’s nothing. I tell him no. He’s the one who’s run off. Shouldn’t he be the one to explain it to them? “They want to know where you are. When are you planning to see them?” He doesn’t know. He tells me that he didn’t leave me for her, it just “sort of happened.” Something snaps inside and you hang up on him. The phone rings, but you don’t bother to answer it for the rest of the day.
Thursday morning during breakfast, your six-year-old starts in with Twenty Questions: “Mom, did you make Dad leave? Are you guys getting a divorce? Why did he leave the shirt we gave him for his birthday in the closet? Are you sad? Doesn’t he love us anymore? Is he coming back? Will we ever see him again?” Your five-year old just wants to know can he have Dad’s baseball cards if he never comes back. You do your best to answer the barrage of questions. “No, I did not make him leave. Yes, we are getting a divorce. I don’t know why he left that shirt. Yes, I am sad. Yes, he still loves you. No, I don’t think he is coming back. Yes, I think you will see him again soon. And no, you may not have the baseball cards.” Understand, these are oldies—mint condition Mickey Mantle rookie, Pete Rose rookie and others just as intriguing. These are no ordinary baseball cards, they’re money in the bank cards someday.
You head to the studio and because you are only too well aware that your life is chaos, you start making a to-do list. Lots of little things need to be done to the house before you can put it on the market. That’s a list. You will need to notify your clients of a change of address and phone number. That’s another list. You haven’t told your parents, yet. You have a slew of bills, mostly his credit card charges, to go through. You will have to work out a custody agreement and property settlement. You will have to break your lease and give up your studio. You hope they will understand. So many things to do and figure out and it’s all giving you a giant headache. You shut the computer off, set the answering machine, get your things together, lock the studio door behind you, and walk down the hallway thinking, “Well, at least it’s over.”
How incredibly naive you are.