The church basement was cold. The chairs were folding. The cushions looked like something from your grandmother’s 1980s kitchen, if she’d gone crazy with ruffles and country decor. The coffee was perced. All the treats contained sugar and gluten.
For three hours, though, it was Vegas, a garden of delight in its way, because everything that was said there, stayed there. Pretty much every separation/divorce story, every sad tale, every expression of shitty self-esteem or rage at the ex-, every twitch, every sniffle, every flat affect, every deep belly laugh, every “fuck that, no way!” expressed on the teller’s behalf? It came out in the wash of voices inside the circle, seventeen strong earlier on tonight. My first meeting. Turns out they call it AA for divorced people, too.
No matter that one of the folks is someone I know from my work because they use it as a location for their custody swap. (I knew I knew them from somewhere, that jolt of recognition and jar as you readjust people to put them in context.) No matter that the group of people skews widely on gender orientation, class background, current sources of income. No matter that some people have been divorced and done for years, and other people have just made the decision that they might need to leave. Kids, no kids, alimony/bitter child support battles v. “keeping it clean,” still friends or bitter hatred– cut this meeting’s tree open and you can see the whole lifetime of a marriage– really, all of the possible marriages in all of the possible worlds, including the best ones before they declined, or why would we have married in the first place?
I have “in real life” friends I’ve known for a long time, all of whom know my husband and still care about and worry for him– I have the many wonderful yous– I have friends and colleagues at work who have been through divorces– I even have my own parents– to talk this through with and tell me this too shall pass. There are people who mean well to whom I’m not close who find out (the world is covered by a huge grapevine, either that, or we’re all still in high school) who offer me counsel, and that’s always inherently awkward, because if I wanted to talk aloud about it, I would, but I didn’t, so why on Earth would they bring it up? They mean well, however, so I stifle the impulse to tell them to fuck the hell off whether or not they’ve been through it themselves– my response is always partly a lie because there’s no way to shrug off an inquiry into the state of your marriage or emotional health without shading the truth. (What? They want me to say “Of course I’m not fucking okay, I left the love of my life because our issues were unresolvable and I worry that I’m too crazy to ever find anyone else if I ever feel up to that task and I worry that I’m incapable of being happy, ever, and I worry that I’ve hurt him irrevocably and he won’t ever be happy either, not that I was doing any good at that toward the end?” Yeah. I don’t think so. “Hanging in there,” will suffice.)
I deadpan respond to the people who flirt with me when they find out I’m single because often I don’t know they’re flirting or even when I suspect they might be. I don’t know if I want to flirt, much less date (at the moment) and anyway, I don’t know how (it’s been 14 years, after all) to respond, except to stutter and blush because the attention isn’t something I’m used to, so while a little attention is nice, some is quickly too much. Plus, I’d just fuck it up, at least now, possibly always.
But in this version of Vegas, I can pretend like there’s no ulterior motive, and everyone is there for the purposes of support and venting, perhaps even friendship. There’s something about hearing the things you tell yourself you’re not crazy for thinking (the same things your friends who know you tell you, but they know you, so maybe they’re just being kind?) from a new group of strangers, or someone who’s only known me in passing to look up a book for their children and pass polite conversation– I knew it. It’s something to know, in a general sense, that I’m not alone in this experience of doubting, of feeling stupid, of feeling worried and guilty and all the other parts of my story– and another thing to roll the dice, go to Vegas, and be in a room full of people in a crappy church basement who are all having totally different and yet at the end of the day totally similar problems, even as your legs get tired and you twitch and cross and re-cross them and try to make interested noises and faced at the less interesting speakers because– everyone has a story, and everyone has their turn to tell it, then be told that even if things stink in the meantime, sometime, hopefully soon, it gets better, and they will be okay, even if some days are rough, some weeks are shitty, and sometimes you just have to rough it through on your own.
“The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train,” one of them joked, about their slow but real climb out of Shit Self-Esteemville.
Especially if you like percolated coffee.