“D. I. V. O. R. C. E.”
Can you hear Tammy Wynette singing that country song in your head?
As I work on this section of the manuscript about the death of my father, I’ve been considering the word “divorce”: both the divorce of my parents; and the book titled The Great Divorce, which is a heaven/hell reflection by C. S. Lewis. (Which reminds me, I’m pretty sure I still have a friend’s copy and need to return it!)
On a recent Delta flight, I sat next to a pilot and we began talking about the “old days” of flying. I’ve been flying since I was a pre-teen to visit my dad in the southwest. I reminisced about the wing pins they gave me on TWA, and getting to go into the cockpit as an unescorted minor under supervision of the flight crew. They always made me feel safe and I would arrive home from each flight with a new pin, or playing cards.
As I told these stories to the Delta pilot sitting next to me, he asked me “Are you still a kid at heart?” to which I answered “I like to think so.” He reached in his bag and handed me a pair of Delta wings to pin to my shirt.
Within a year or two after my parents’ separation I began spending parts of each summer with my dad. When he lived in the southwest he would send me a ticket at the end of a few school years so I could come stay with him. If divorce had an upside (for me, at least) it was the summer adventures with Dad in rural Utah. When he lived in Emory, he owned horses, and we would ride into the canyons and around town. We took road trips to the California coast and Redwood forest, taking in rodeos and camping along the way. We went rock climbing and fossil hunting, and he tried very hard to cram all his “Dadness” into a couple months of summer.
I lived with him a summer in Las Vegas, where he tried to teach me to drive a stick-shift down the strip. It was the summer before my senior year and he asked me to move to Vegas permanently; to live with him for my senior year of high school, so I could go to college in Nevada for free. I wrote to friends back home, trying to work through my feelings and come to the right decision. I didn’t want to hurt my mother by leaving her, but like my dad, I inherited that wanderlust and passion for the desert southwest.
His final heart attack came before I could make my decision. I still wonder what my answer would have been.
Writing is both catharsis and, if you let it take you deep enough, discovery. This chapter about the death of my father and summers spent living with him have opened new memories and new insight for me.
Divorce is a painful experience for both parents and children. Studies show that our bodies and minds take the trauma of divorce the same way we take the trauma of death. Whether slowly or suddenly, we lose both the physical and psychological connection to someone who was previously a daily part of our “self.”
When I first began writing short segments about the divorce of my parents and death of my father, I was nineteen. I could barely bring myself to address the painful parts of those years. It has only been in recent years that I’ve been able to lift that veil and see my attributes from growing up as a child of divorce: mainly my fierce independence and fearlessness in taking on any new adventure.
What parts of your childhood do you think shaped you the most? Was yours more traditional or unusual?
Today’s post is from the Amtrak lounge in Union Station, Chicago, where I hope my train to Boston leaves before Winter Storm Saturn hits the city.
P.S. FITNESS FRIENDS! You’ll be so proud of me. In addition to packing a cooler of healthy options, I packed a workout outfit and researched to find a gym here. Turns out there is a full service fitness club in the upper floor of Union Station. It has a swimming pool, beautiful strength training area, more cardio equipment than I can count (with a tv on each and every one), plus a full-size spa, massage parlor and smoothie bar. I hit the elliptical HARD for an hour. I have this new phrase I keep saying to myself when I feel intimidated by some bunny flying through her routine nearby, and that is “You can’t fake sweat.” (At least, not in the gym.)
In other words, I no longer feel I’m not working hard enough because I’m not going as fast as someone else. I gauge my workout by the sweat pouring down my face, by my heartrate in the zone, and by feeling my body tightening and contracting as I stay mindful of the muscles working. When I catch sight of someone I might envy, I realize I’m no longer intimidated by her, unless I see a bucket of sweat pouring down her face. And if I catch sight of that, I try to sweat even harder.
“You can’t fake sweat…not at the gym.”