It was a grog-logged conversation. I think we’d both seen reality: love didn’t live here anymore. After that night the weeks unfurled; wheels turned. I offered to leave the house, but she wanted to go. Maybe it was legal advice. Our three boys seemed quickly accepting of the idea. They were 20, 17 and 16.
A year came and went. She’d left for her new digs. She’d have been receiving counsel from her friends, just as I did from mine. Mine - those who’d been secretly unimpressed all along – would reason she didn’t deserve half the equity once the divorce came through and payout time arrived.
Blokes - divorced and otherwise - were telling me things like, “If it were me, I wouldn’t want a bar of her”, and “Give her nothing”. Even women were telling me to “Grow some balls”. “But,” I’d argue, “it’s not like she left for some bloke.” Still, they saw all this amicability as timorous - a cop-out.
She had dated immediately upon leaving, and after 10 months moved in with a boyfriend. “Indecent haste,” people said. They reckoned I should have seen things years ago. I didn’t care if they were right. To loathe her might have made me less vulnerable, but I needed to learn from this disaster. This was exasperating to friends - inexplicable, sometimes, even to me.
I’d go home, remind myself: we’d endured, together, more financial hardship than we should have. She gave birth to three large boys. She’d gone through her own existential woes, crises of belief. Since our split, my life’s been no primrose path, believe me. On top of the other debts I was left with, the payout hurt. My boys have navigated difficult lives, and they’ve lived with me, not her.
But I’m emerging. I function. I probably love better nowadays. Life might be worth living. And much of it’s due to the manner of our parting. We’d made a pact. One afternoon, not long after that half-pissed Father’s Day conversation, she came out to the bungalow, where I worked, to search for accommodation using my computer. I was sitting on the step, downcast. Things were awkward. I said: “You know, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” Thankfully, she agreed on the hard way.
The hard way means crying tender tears. Reminiscing. Soul-searching. It means no blame or anger. It means recognising that there’s nearly always, after all, a lot to be thankful for. You can do this with dignity, rather than airing private grudges to some pompous wig in a courtroom.
Later I told her I was sorry. Sorry so many years of her life were wasted. She smiled and said: “I can hear mum now.” I laughed. The in-laws were never fans.
I’ve heard disagreeable things about the way she felt back then, but bitterness hasn’t taken root. When you remove it, though, you leave yourself open. There were songs I couldn’t bear to hear, like Janis Ian’s “Memories” or “Black Cow” by Steely Dan. If one caught me at the wrong time - in front of visitors, say - I’d have to turn my back while making a show of turning the snags. Or I’d suddenly remember I had something to do in another room.
There’s no doubt that objectifying the ex, squirting venom her way, would have spared me self-reflection. Instead, I can now see that the times I got angry during our union’s long death, I must have been subconsciously preparing for some kind of end - maybe even my end - because I seemed to want my family to hate me. It would have made that end more bearable.
In the still evening, something I did or said would strike me with the suddenness of a cramp. One day recently, a little more learning came. Maybe even vindication. I was cleaning up the bungalow and found a letter, written years ago. She wrote it with kindness. I see that now. I’d always imagined her as my accuser - it somehow justified my anger - so I might have disregarded it. But I didn’t discard it. She wrote a letter because maybe I was impossible to talk to, what with the work, the stress, the debt, our relationship - no hope, no help. She asked, diplomatically, if I spoke to other people the way I spoke to her. She beseeched me to stop being angry; said it was affecting the boys; said I was too harsh; was concerned that when they grew up, I’d lose them. She signed it “with love”.
I just wish her all the best.