Monthly Archives: July 2011

A post about divorce? How novel!

Every divorce is unique. And every person who gets divorced reacts to it in a slightly different way. But the more I talk to people, the more I find that the divorced seem to fall in one of two broad categories – those for whom divorce is a traumatic shock, and those for whom divorce is an inevitable relief. It’s not always the same divide as “those who leave” and “those who do the leaving,” either. Some people leave their spouse and regret it intensely, while others are left and find themselves surprisingly capable of coping.

I was solidly in the “inevitable relief” camp. I am pretty sure my ex-husband was, too. Our marriage was brief and ill-advised, and the only good thing it produced was our son (which more than makes up for all the bad). We were entirely different people, and we wasted a lot of time trying to force each other into boxes. I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when we split up.

For the last four years, I’ve had a hard time understanding how the other half lived. I’ve had a hard time understanding people who are truly surprised by their divorces. In hindsight, they ALL seem inevitable. “Oh, Jack and Jill? Yeah, I saw that coming a mile away. No, I wasn’t going to say anything to her – why would I interfere?”

Yet, for some people, it really is a shock. Whether it’s through self-deception, delusional thinking, or actually unforeseen circumstances, they really don’t see it coming. Even when the ink is dry on the final judgment, they cannot comprehend that this has happened to them. And it destroys them.

A woman I recently met put it this way, “Everything I wanted for my life was gone. Everything I’d planned to build was destroyed. Everything that was supposed to happen, wasn’t going to happen. And I was stuck.”

(In the movies, this moment is usually followed by a montage of Crying To Dramatic Music, and Possibly Throwing Things. For examples, see the collected works of Julianne Moore, who cries awesomely.)

I never felt that way about my divorce. But I sure as heck felt that way about my house. I realize that the last three weeks have allowed me to experience, in some small way, how those other divorced people feel. Traumatized. Disbelieving. The floaty, displaced, dislocated feeling. The deep sadness that too often expresses itself as anger. I have a confession – Tuesday was the first day since the fire that I didn’t visit the house. Part of me couldn’t bear to leave it in the first place. I wanted to camp out in the unscathed sunroom, pretending that it hadn’t happened. That somehow, if I wished hard enough, closed my eyes and counted to three, everything would be back the way it was. Everything I wanted for my life was gone. Everything I’d planned to build was destroyed. Everything that was supposed to happen, wasn’t going to happen.

When she said that, I nodded. Because I finally understood.

And yet.

Long, long ago, a wise counselor told me we are teaching our children how to be married. If you persist in a bad or unhealthy marriage, your children will accept a bad marriage as “normal.” If you treat your spouse poorly, your children will assume that it’s acceptable behavior.

In the same way, after a divorce, we are teaching our children how to cope with life-altering trauma. If you give up, if you remain stuck, you are teaching your children to give up when life throws them a curveball. Or fifty. If you dwell on the past, pore over your wedding albums, fixate on how things “used to be” or “were supposed to be,” then you are teaching your children to avoid facing their problems head-on.

My new acquaintance described a woman who has been divorced longer than she’d been married, “She’s 65 years old, her children are grown and gone, and yet within two minutes of starting a conversation with her, she’s talking about her deadbeat ex.” She is stuck.

That same wise counselor described Jason’s ex in this way: “She’ll probably be stuck for a long time, maybe the rest of her life. Every morning, when she wakes up, it will be like that first day. The worst day of her life.” Some days I think she will always be waiting for someone to tell her that this has all been a terrible mistake.

People who get stuck may feel like they’ve had all their choices taken away, but this is not true. People who are stuck are faced with perhaps the most important choice of all. Stay and wallow, until the anger and the bitterness consume you like a cancer, or move on.

It’s tempting to stay stuck. There’s often a lot of perverse fun in it. It’s cathartic to destroy things, to lash out at your ex, to scream and cry and eat ice cream for dinner. But it’s not healthy. And eventually, people stop feeling sorry for you.

I’ve been stuck for the last few weeks. I have been eating poorly (well, it’s all been delicious, but you know what I mean), not exercising, and not sleeping well. But Sunday night I decided I was done using the fire as an excuse for holding the pause button on my life. I found a scale at the rental house and stepped on it.

Boy, was that a bad idea.

The key, I think, is making choices within the limited sphere of your control. I decide how much I eat. I decide when I will go for a run. I don’t get to decide when the adjuster will finish his report. I don’t get to decide whether the insurance company will cover everything I feel should be replaced. I don’t get to decide when we can move back into our house. Those things are out of my hands, and I am learning to let them go. I am teaching the children how to get un-stuck.

This has been a good week. Next week will be better. And eventually, all the “after” pictures in the previous posts will become “before” pictures for something else entirely.


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Week Two

This week we finally got situated in a rental house and met with five general contractors to get bids for the repair work.

And there was much rejoicing.

We’re still waiting on the report from the insurance company’s adjuster (grumble grumble) because nothing can move forward until that happens. But we feel that we’ve made excellent progress and have been really impressed with a few of the GCs we met.

Also impressive: this dahlia, which sprang up in our neighbor’s yard last weekend.

It’s the size of a salad plate.

It serves to remind me that, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

There are certainly times when we get mired down. We’re going to miss a whole summer’s use of our pool. It took us almost two weeks to get into the rental house due to Unfortunate Sewage Problems that resulted in the removal and replacement of the owner’s entire sewer line.

(“I had a bad experience.” “What happened?” “I HAD a BAD EXPERIENCE.”)

I found out that our house is actually a prime location for viewing our neighborhood’s Fourth of July fireworks show, which I was bummed about missing. But! in a fit of inspiration, I threw an impromptu fireworks-watching party on the lawn of the burnt-up house. (If you look closely you can see the burnt corner of the roof and the Pod that holds all the damaged items.)

Why yes, I DID keep the tiki torches far away from the house.

We have been absolutely showered with love and support from our friends and family and neighbors. We’ve received gift cards from strangers, boxes of goodies from across the country, meals from our church, and we are absolutely humbled by the outpouring of help. I can’t wait to pay all this good will forward as soon as I can.

Thankfully, I think the worst part is coming to an end – the homeless part, the uncertain part.  The drifting part. The shocked part.

We don’t have time to dwell on it, mostly thanks to this guy:

Two weeks down.

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So, that happened.

On Thursday, June 30, I woke up, went for a run, had some breakfast, and headed to work. At 4:00 I got a call from Jason about some fire trucks in front of the house. I agreed to drive by, “just to make sure everything was OK.”

The first thing I noticed was the roadblock, 1/4 mile from the house. I parked my car and started walking in the rain.  The cop manning the roadblock asked me if I was okay. “I think that’s my house,” I said, nodding to the cluster of emergency vehicles with their lights on. He hustled me into his squad car and drove me to the scene:

You know that feeling you get when you’ve cut yourself pretty badly, but it hasn’t started bleeding yet? “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay…..” That’s how I felt. The house didn’t look that bad! It was probably something minor! We were saved!

Then the firefighter in charge came over to talk to me. He said that lightning struck two pine trees in our front yard:

From there, it jumped from the trees into the attic of our house. Specifically, into the wiring in the attic. The insulation ignited as the lightning traveled, and within minutes the entire attic was ablaze. The phone company employee who first called 911 said the smoke was so thick he couldn’t see past the hood of his car. A neighbor described it as an old-fashioned locomotive smokestack, spewing black smoke out of both ends of the house.

Did I mention we just put a new roof on that house less than a month ago? Yeah.

So there was a fire.

The fire department, which was AMAZING and about whom I want to write odes, arrived on-scene and got to work immediately. They pushed most of our furniture together and threw tarps over it. They grabbed the elderly beagle and got her out of the house. And then they pushed hoses up in the attic and turned them on.

So there was a flood.

Most of the ceilings became saturated with sooty water and began collapsing into the house. This went on for 24 hours. Wet ceiling makes a stomach-turning noise when it falls nine feet, sort of a splat-thud.

Just, you know, FYI.

The insurance company sent its adjuster out on Friday. We still don’t know the full extent of the damage, but my best guess is that 60 – 70% of the house will have  to be replaced. The exterior brick walls and the windows are fine. Some of the interior walls appear to be salvageable. 

Thanks to the quick work and amazing skill of the firefighters, it looks like most of our possessions were spared the fire and the water. The most obvious exception is the boxes of items stored in the attic.   

Cue the sad music for some before-and-afters!

Kitchen Before:

Kitchen After:

Family Room Before:

Family Room After:

Kids’ Bathroom Before:

Kids’ Bathroom After:

Jason and I are… okay. There are good days and bad days, but it seems that when I’m upset, he’s strong, and vice versa. There have been some major frustrations but many causes for hope. The most important thing is that no one was hurt – the rest is just stuff, and inconvenience. Our friends and neighbors have been fantastic, opening their homes to us and feeding us and mixing drinks for us. The children seem to be handling everything well – the two little ones think it’s Tyler and Jensen’s Excellent Adventure. Even Hollyn, who usually frets over schedules and timelines and What Are We Doing Next, has rolled with the punches like a pro.

And you know what? It’s going to be okay. At the end of this process, we’ll have a basically brand-new house. New wiring, new lighting, new floors, new paint, new roof (again. grrr.), even a new front door to replace the one the firefighters kicked in.

The adjuster guesses that we’ll be out of our house for four months. I’m being generous and aim to be back before Thanksgiving, 21 Thursdays after the fire.

One week down.


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