Tuesday, August 03, 2010

When I was ten I went to a friend's house to play. Her home was long and gorgeous and so unlike anything I'd ever seen. This was 1969 and everything in her house was somehow tasteful and exquisite and outrageously colorful at the same time, like one of Barbie's whoozy mod designer outfits. She walked me through the front door - there was nobody inside but us - back to her bedroom and I remember three things that floored me: she had her own walk-in closet; they had a pool (A private pool. In Oregon. In the backyard where lounge chairs waited like something out of 'The Graduate') and the house had a wall around it, which of course I thought was fantastic. She lived only twelve, fourteen blocks from me but it was more than another world. It was a world of whispers.
See, her parents were divorced.
Whispered over the dinner table like cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease or Republican or as in 'Annie Hall', Jewish. For some reason this all stands out as much as the fact she had at least 100 stuffed animals in her room. And dozens and dozens of Barbies, twice as many as me. She seemed a little sad, this girl. A little bit like the daughter on Mad Men, blonde and distant and odd. But it never occurred to me it was about being divorced. It seemed more because she had everything and seemed to want none of it. I remember she offered me any doll or toy I wanted. I suppose to be her friend. I know I declined, not because of ethics or morality (I was already shoplifting now and then by 8, so ethics weren't really my concern) but only because how would I explain it at home? Nah, keep your own fabulous offerings to yourself blonde girl.
Later I found out she offered toys to a few other girls, too. And then she moved. To California.

Now everybody is divorced. Or about to be divorced or pretty much resigned to the idea, if not the fact, of it. And what used to be called a broken home is now a blended one, something we throw in a jar and hit Liquefy, Crush, Purify, Pulse. Everyone used to say - the media, our teachers, our parents, I mean everyone - that divorce was so horrible, so radically disgusting to both God and Nature, that it would rip the beating heart out of a family, damaging everyone in myriad and complicated ways, and if you didn't stay together 'for the children' you might as well condemn them to an endless merciless hell where all the other 'children of divorce' sat next to their personal walk-in closets, weeping with shame.
My parents stayed married until my dad died, when I was 19. My mother never remarried, never even dated another man, something that equally thrilled and saddened me; a choice that was strictly hers to make, not ours. But we knew many 'children of divorce' and most of those children seemed as blissfully normal as anyone with from a non-ripped-apart family would ever be. We all had our neuroses. We all had our moments in the sun. We all wished we were adopted (if we weren't) and hated being adopted (if we were). We all wanted to be popular, perfect, adored, the center of attention, the only A students in sight, with hair that wouldn't frizz and breasts that would soon command attention and we all had outrageous dreams and hidden secrets we told no one, no one at all. In other words: we were all kids.
Time passed. In the 80's and 90's, it seemed like everyone came from a 'broken home'. I became a stepmom, or stepmonster, actually. My oldest stepdaughter got divorced, and their daughter suddenly had 'two homes' as my stepdaughter once had. My step-granddaughter turned out just terrifically. She's actually better than terrific, she's wise, humane, interested and interesting, and I'm pretty sure she's never even considered shoplifting. She loves her Papa and her mother equally, unashamedly. She loves her father's ex-girlfriend. She loves her new half-sister.
She is not, as far as the eye can see, broken.
And shame on anyone, anywhere, for making her or anyone else feel that way.
Shame on the religious or the censorial for making someone feel deficient. Less. Chipped like a piece of china.
All families are broken and missing and without all the perfect bits. All families are normal and deeply lacking normalcy, we're all a tapestry of blood and love and defiance and need, related by things we can't touch. Sometimes we're even related by DNA.
There's a terrific piece in the New York Times today called 'In Praise of A Broken Home', written and illustrated by Ellen Lupton. Read it. Please.
And then just when you feel broken, get out the tape. -- Janet

1 comment:

  1. I love this. Love it love it love it. I remember when my parents got divorced. I was 13, entering into the meanest of pubescences. But, even though there were lots of tears, I somehow knew I would be okay. One day at school, the headmistress of the upper school came up to me and said something about being so sorry that I was now from -- that lovely phrase you use -- "a broken home." I found the words euphemistic and stupid and hideous. On the spot. I remember it so well. And I snapped at this woman whom I would never have dared disrespect, even in secret. "My parents are divorced; but my home is not broken," I said to her. I feel bitter all over again just writing it. Not bitter about the divorce...but bitter about those stupid, inadequate, misleading words.

    My parents divorced because there was something wrong between them. And even though it was some months before I could articulate it, I knew even at that youngish age, that we would be more normal with them apart then with them together. Sometimes the divorce makes things whole, by letting everyone be themselves.

    And I suppose it depends on the divorce. I have a relative in her 70s who talks daily about the pain of her parents' divorce. But her parents didn't split amicably in the least. Her father just left. So what for me was something manageable was for her abandonment. And that would scar one, I suppose.

    The other thing about your post that is brilliant is that description of the times. I remember watching my friends' parents fall out of love and marriage like an epidemic of hair loss. One, then another, then another, leaving neighborhoods this patchwork of divorced and married homes. I felt immune to it though, until it happened. Just like that. I'll never forget the day my mother told me...

    and of course when she told me, I knew that I'd known all along. I just hadn't wanted to know. Anyway, it all turned out quite well for everyone. I'm not advocating it, b/c thinking about how OK divorce might be is no way to make a marriage work...but maybe, in fact it does make marriage work. B/c everyday that you are married you are choosing it, instead of being imprisoned inside it.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Beautiful. —Charlotte