You block it out, not entirely but enough so the ache of it is dulled and the sequence of events is muddled. You cannot remember the words you used, if the two of you told them together, or if you handled it on your own.
You decide it must be the latter since you handled nearly everything on your own in those days, as you did in the years after.
At least, that’s how you remember it.
Yes, you would have told them but you can’t swear to it just as you can’t swear to much over those months. They remain painful which is an understatement and traumatic which others claim is exaggeration.
So you say little of what you recall and what you don’t, and you do not speak of floating beyond the borders of your body and the only time you don’t, when you’re with your sons.
With them, you’re sleep-walking but you’re present, you’re guiding them through the routine of their days, you’re holding them in their growing anxiety. With everyone else, you’re forcing focus as talk spills into the air and you’re arranging syllables to respond appropriately.
If you cannot remember then perhaps it’s all for the best. If you must remember with precision, your journals are your witnesses. And you have journals in stacks, journals in drawers, journals on tables to remind you of the proceedings. You have journals into which you poured your bewilderment, and journals into which you eventually tried out new wings.
You consider searching for the volume you need and the correct year and month. You anticipate a shaky hand. You open one journal and put it back.
* * *
How do you tell your children about divorce?
You write out the ways to approach it, write out the events to make it real, write out the phrases to soften its impact, write out the ways to explain it, to expunge it, to push rewind by three months or three years or three comments you offer when you should have been silent or three different responses when you should have spoken up.
You do not miss the man or the marriage. You miss living your life without the constancy of ache.
You write out the variations in anguish, in hopefulness, in a trial run of the best case scenario and a refusal to accept the worst. You write out your bargain with God, your bargain with the devil, your bargain with the aging attorney who repeats his thoughts and doesn’t seem to listen.
For months you plead, you negotiate, you argue, you bite your lip. You follow the recommendations of counsel. Your estranged spouse sleeps in the guestroom when he’s in town, you care for him because he’s come down with the flu, then later you drive to the courthouse for a first appearance.
“This is silly,” you tell yourself. “There won’t be a divorce. I’m taking him to the doctor. I’m making him soup. I’m fetching him a prescription.”
You fuss over him like a loving wife and a few hours later you face him across a conference table. There, his attorney declares you may be an unfit mother, and everything that occurs next sits behind a veil, a sort of screaming, a reckoning with the death of dreams that is icy and deafening.
It’s a gambit, your attorney says, but in the worst case scenario your children may be temporarily placed in foster care and though it’s unlikely that’s all you hear. Then words go missing and your rage is boundless and your terror more so and you will not subject your boys to even the remotest possibility of “the system” and its dramas.
Not for a week, not for a day, not for an hour.
The reason for this unanticipated move is to lower the initial temporary support despite the fact that you’ve just lost your job, because after all this is a poker hand, a war game, a challenge, and your boys are the chips.
You say whatever you have to say and retain little except this: he was the man you loved, the man you married, the man whose face you gazed at as he slept, the man who lived on the other edge of the gulf of the bed and still you loved him. He was the man you made soup for, the man you took to the doctor, the man who used your sons as chips.
* * *
They say we all refashion memory to suit us and you’re certain you’re no different. So you try to cut him a break when you can. You acknowledge that everyone experiences their own version of truth.
You can try your hand again at turning the pages. The specifics are there but you’re trembling. The words are there but your eyes are filling with tears.
Somewhere you would see the words: God help me do the right thing, God give me the strength to get through, God help me protect my sons.
How to tell your children about divorce?
You dig for phrases that you want to believe in: Your dad and I are having problems, your dad and I are trying to work things out, your dad and I are living separately, your dad and I will always love you. You finish the only way you can: your dad and I are getting a divorce.
You have an image culled from a corner in the darkness. Your hair is short, your eyes are swollen, you’re wearing your favorite rust-colored sweater. You’re 94 pounds and your flesh is sallow. You’re holding your boys to your body and they are crying. You’re crying too, and telling them over and over again: “There is pain in life, but there’s always more joy. I promise. There’s always more joy.”
* * *
You tally the days and write out the words: How did I rise to some four thousand mornings?
Here’s how you tell your children about divorce. You do so with tenderness. You hold them as they cry. You reassure them that there will always be joy.