There’s an old understanding that you can’t choose your family. Yep, that’s true.
It’s also commonly thought that divorce is hard on kids. Yep, that’s true too.
But not in the way you think. You actually spend more time with your parents, time that matters, and you can use competitive guilt to get free stuff (I once suggested this to Mom; she said, “Don’t do that.”) Oddly enough, it’s what happens after the split that is the toughest. Suddenly your parents are in separate places and start seeing other people.
Somewhere along the way, Dad met Her, they moved in together, adopted a spastic dog, and then got engaged. Her presence strained our relationship with Dad. We hadn’t started on the best of terms: the first time my brother Sky and I met Her was when we were forced into a forty-minute car ride at Easter, and I learned that Dad was in another relationship at all by almost walking in on them at Grandma’s house. Not to mention, that dog was annoying.
The wedding was set for summer in Georgia. Sky and I rode down with our Aunt and Uncle, I researched tapas bars in Savannah, and my brother stole a pillow (he later returned it to a different hotel). We made it down to Tybee Island to have a horrible realization: we didn’t have a place to stay.
In the months preceding the trip, Dad had tried, on our weekly get-togethers, to convince us to stay with him and his fiancée in a six-bedroom house full of Dad’s friends and Her family. We were steadfastly opposed. Living under the same roof indicated a relationship, and, as much as Dad may have wanted it, we would never be a part of this new family he was creating.
Dad’s last attempt at getting us to move in occurred a few weeks before the wedding at an Outback Steakhouse- his first mistake, it’s not my favorite. He solemnly informed us that the entire family, all four of his brothers, our aunts and cousins, thought we were being immature and that they had taken his side. The allies were pulled out from beneath us, the stakes raised. I stood up, said I loved them, disowned myself from the family, and ran out of the restaurant. I hid in a Dick’s Sporting Goods, and irony is never finer than when you’re in a store full of canoes crying a river.
Through a little bit of luck and a lot of generosity from the other side of the family, we reserved a room in a housing complex. It was nice living with family, and we had a place to stash that pillow. The only thing left to do was tell Dad.
That night, we celebrated Sky’s birthday- ice cream, a late night stroll, and a brand new boogie board. Dad brought Her along, and it was the most cordial time we’d ever spent together. After dinner, we pulled Dad aside and broke the news. He took it remarkably well, nodding and laughing- that universal tension breaker.
We all got in the car, the same one from the Easter debacle, and cruised away, a great weight lifted off my shoulders. It was finally over. She turned around and told us how much we were going to love staying in the house: a lot of space and a great view.
An awkward pause.
My shoulders tightened again.
The silence persisted until Dad said, “They’re not staying with us, babe,” his voice small.
The reaction wasn’t pretty- She said “oh,” She turned to the window, She cried. The moment seemed to last forever. The muffling silence, apart for the sobs, continued until we pulled up to their house. It looked nice.
The car door clicked open, releasing the valve of the pressure chamber. She stormed out, slammed the door, and strode into the house. A quiet moment passed, but She was not gone. From the top of the stairs, She yelled at my father one last command:
“Make them walk.”
I got out of the car pulling my bag behind me. I wish I had paid more attention during the drive. How many empty wooded roads did we turn down to get here? My first time in Georgia, and I was about to die among its beautiful Southern Magnolias. I never even made it to a tapas bar.
“Get back in the car,” Dad ordered. We were in for a long ride home. He was going to chew us out, call us immature, tell us how we were ruining his wedding weekend. He didn’t. He said something much worse: nothing at all. The ride back to the housing complex was taken in complete silence.
We careened into the parking lot and hopped out of the car. The lecture was coming; Dad just wanted to look us in the eye. He didn’t. We turned around to see him out of the car and instead watched him peel out onto the street so fast the squeal lingered in the air.
As the rev of the engine disappeared, we watched the space where we had seen him, perhaps for the last time. We had nothing left to do but go back to the room- a stolen pillow and a broken heart.