Announcing our divorce is pressing play on “Monster Mash” as we open up our cobwebbed closets and let the skeletons crawl out. We crack open packets of dry ice from the party store, hoping to create a misty haze as costumes peel away and bones creak and rattle, making their way out from shadows.
Skeletons are joined by our bats and our witches, coming into the sunshine on a bright Summer’s day. The secret is out, our failure displayed, as we stand in silence and let the world have its way.
We haven’t signed papers yet, but the decision has been made, our families have been told and we’re onto logistics.
Nine days after telling our kids we were splitting, I was at home with my boys and tidying the kitchen, stacking unread mail in a pile, then shifting dishes from one dirty side of the sink to the other.
My oldest son startled me out of my delirium by screeching from the hallway:
“Mom! Spider… BIG Spider!”
I shut off the faucet, dried my hands and nodded with confidence, “Be right there!”
As I headed toward my son’s voice, I anticipated a spider the size of a nickel- but as I turned the corner toward the laundry closet in the hall, I saw that I was sorely mistaken: this beast wasn’t the size of any loose change I’d ever seen.
If the Pinterest obsessed Mom-friend you know spent hours making a smash cake for her baby’s first birthday, it might come close to the wingspan of this fella. It would use an entire roll of toilet paper in one sitting. If the spider had been animated, it would be voiced by James Earl Jones. If searching for a suit, he’d need to search at the Big and Tall Store.
It was that size.
This Shaquille O’Neal of spiders would determine my abilities as a single Mom. It was symbolism I could feel in my core.
I thought to myself among the panic and sweating: “Save your children from this eight legged intruder and divorce will be smooth and seamless.”
I’ve often bargained my way through life’s mundanities- making deals with myself to get through uneasy times (I’ve done it since I was a teen) “If this light turns green before I come to a complete stop, Mike from PE will totally ask me to prom.” (Spoiler alert- he didn’t)
This spider was simply a test that needed to be conquered and I did what any mother would do: tried to convince my sons to take care of it.
I offered them a binder to smash it with, a drinking glass to capture it in, a spray bottle to help hose it down. My sons’ voices turned falsetto as I wheeled out the vacuum, bribing them with a future of increased screen time and five dollar bills.
“Look, all you have to do is suck it up, then we’ll empty it into the outside trash can.”
I tried to remain calm and keep my breathing steady, as I offered them the handheld portion of the vacuum with a promise of supreme suction power. We banded together, supporting each other in the hallway.
My six year old wasn’t involved, at the suggestion of my two older children, but my eldest boys and I stood together, a conga line of cowlicks and freckles, ready to face the beast that deserved its own zip code.
After minutes filled with false starts, my 10 year old finally worked up the nerve to suck up the wolf spider, but once he moved into proximity, an earthquake began rumbling through the house as the spider’s 8 furry legs spasmed in our general direction. Tectonic plates weren’t shifting, but the spider was. We ran for the front door as the giant scurried under the dryer- I write this months later and we still don’t know where it’s gone.
I’ve lived in Tucson for the better part (maybe not the best part) of a decade and during my residency, I’ve been exposed to creatures no human should ever confront. There was the tarantula that popped out of my backyard umbrella when I expanded it in 2011. Then the chubby mole that peeked its creepy blind face in my direction as I watered my parent’s garden in 2015. And the dehydrated lizard shriveled around the wheel of my son’s Radio Flyer scooter in 2016.
My move from Southern California to Arizona was supposed to be temporary. The relationship with the father of my two oldest sons had melted in the heat of our second floor Huntington Beach apartment, and I needed a place to go. My parents and sister, my closest allies, lived in Tucson and were ready to welcome me and my children with open arms. My ex would stay in California, my sons and I would go to Arizona, and eventually, when the logistics were handled and the dust was settled, I would return to the land where I was raised.
Ten years later and I’m still here… now with a third son and another beginning, to another ending of a partnership.
And it hurts more than words and it’s too sad. But we don’t need pity and we don’t need sympathy, as we enter into it with eyes wide open. Our view is much different than what we envisioned, diverting so far from promises we made, two long years ago.
While we’re not staying in our marriage, we will both stay in Tucson, this city that I’ve learned I can live. There are the things that I love here, like Monsoon season, beautiful sunsets, gas prices… but there are events that I’ve learned to avoid, like the local fair that happens every Spring. During my first year as a resident, my sister and I took all of our children to the Pima County Fair. It was your typical, run of the mill fair. And as it turns out, I just don’t like them.
It hosted competitions (my son got a blue ribbon for an erratically-colored orange cat), had the usual livestock events that I’ve never understood but always thought I’d do well in with my body type, and offered fried food varieties that visitors wearing socks with sandals gleefully imbibed. There were rickety rides run by men with freakishly small hands and carnival prizes that anyone could buy at a Dollar Store, but instead earned by spending $40 worth of over-priced tickets. We didn’t attend any live concerts but I think I read that they once presented “Himalayan and Peppercorn: A Salt N Pepa Tribute Band”.
One room featured a rubbery life-sized cow that you could milk with your kids, prompting a stream of cloudy water to dribble out over the milker’s hand, which made my sister and I uncomfortable. There were vats of hand sanitizer to refresh yourselves with, but I found myself needing something more substantial, like a boiling pot of bleach and turpentine.
Another area we stumbled upon was a petting zoo that had been erected in the middle of a parking lot, with animals contained by metal road blocks and hay thrown about to disguise the painted wheelchair emblems of the handicapped parking spots. Goats and sheep brayed and snarled, as they pitched up on their hind legs and fought over tiny cups of “feed” purchased by the petters for $2.
I’ll never understand the allure of the petting zoo. Everyone within the confinement of the animal quarters is uneasy. If you’re the goat wrangler, you fear that a goat’s eye will be poked out by an unattended toddler, leading to the creature requiring a snug fitting, bedazzled eyepatch. If you’re a parent, you worry that your child will be attacked, but don’t want your offspring to sense your discomfort. If you’re the kid being pushed toward animals with wiry fur, shifty glances and often-times horns, you are going against lessons instilled upon you since infancy- you’ve been trained NOT to feed random animals, now mom and dad are insisting you stand still, with an open palm full of gritty, khaki colored nuggets, force-feeding open mouths filled with yellowing teeth.
And then there’s the poop. Ample opportunity abounds within petting zoos, with high odds that you’ll come into contact with farm animal droppings strewn about inadequate amounts of hay.
If you were to see a goat poop on the balmy Arizona concrete, then witness it walk through its own feces, then had the opportunity to lift up the hoof that had shuffled through its own mess, and took a big whiff of that clumsy goat foot, you would have the opportunity to experience the smell that comes from a child’s mouth after they’ve had their tonsils removed.
I know this because we lived it this summer. (I’m circling back. Stay with me.)
After countless cases of strep throat and weeks filled with painful ear infections, the ENT our pediatrician referred us to said it was time for him to remove the tonsils and adenoids of my two youngest sons. I was overjoyed at this news, mostly because the entire condiment section of our refrigerator was taken up with amoxicillin bottles that were almost, but not quite, empty. (Yes, the instructions state to throw away the remaining medicine once the 7 days of dosages have been dispersed, but I had grandparents that saved twist-ties from loaves of bread. And my dad has never once left a half-used travel sized shampoo bottle on the counter of a hotel bathroom. It’s in my DNA to ask: “But what if I NEED the quarter dose left of this antibiotic that may or may not be effective?”)
In the surgery center, the boys changed into hair caps and hospital gowns- Youngest wore a smock covered in cutesy animated tigers, while Middle drowned in an adult sized gown covered in drab olive green leaves. I had set the surgery appointments on a Thursday expecting the two of them to have the weekend to recoup; then we would go about our summertime schedule of camps and activities that began the Monday after. I figured 3 nights of popsicles and screen time would be sufficient and we’d be on our way to strep-free life.
ATTENTION: This is not an accurate estimate of the amount of time your child(ren) will need to recover.
The first alarm that convalescence might take more than 72 hours should have gone off when the ENT told me that my 10 year old’s tonsils were so large he didn’t know how he had been breathing or sleeping. He actually went back to the OR with hopes that he could retrieve said tonsils to show us, but the nurse with the enviable job of disposing of them had been on the ball.
Second alarm should’ve sounded with the social media poll I’d done asking anyone who had experienced a tonsillectomy what their resting period had been post surgery.
“3 weeks”, “17 days”… one dramatic friend posted “2 months”. I balked at this feedback, knowing that my children were wolverine-ish and would not be able to stay in doors for 3 days, let alone 2 weeks.
I wrote this from a coffee shop 10 days post surgery:
Captain’s Log, 6/22/19: I have left the house a total of 3 times. I’ve gained 6 pounds eating all of the left over ice cream sundaes, puddings, milkshakes and jello that my sons’ have turned down.
The first day wasn’t so bad- but both kids were stoned in the backseat of my minivan and didn’t know the number 6 let alone the fact they’d just had body parts sliced away from them. They were miserable for the first week- waking up 2-3 times a night, clawing at their throats and smacking their ears with their fists. Both boys acted possessed and inconsolable, a cross between Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and Patty Duke in the dinner scene from ‘The Miracle Worker”.
The breath is the worst part, though. No one will remember to tell you about the breath. Three days post removal and I assumed a cuddling position between the two little patients. I set up pillows and put my arms around them with the comfort only mama can give.
They whispered questions in my direction- maybe about the movie we’d started, maybe about their recovery- the words lost as I was enveloped into a cloud of funk that made my eyes water and forced my toenails to curl. It was the breath of a victim of the bubonic plague. It was the breath of a dying castaway with halitosis. It was the breath of a starving coyote found in the desert with three remaining teeth and gingivitis.
I wiped my eyes and muscled through the movie, nodding and holding my nose, as though I was startled by the developments in the animated flick. I was trying not to embarrass them but trying harder to remain alive.
And experiencing that is circling back to this:
Divorce is that breath. That rancid, putrid, foul stench.
In the early phase it stinks like hell.
Like the handling of the spider, it took weeks and several false starts for us to work up the courage, but once it was time, my husband and I sat our children down and told them.
We were met with tears and confusion, with staggered laughter in between. We told our youngest two kids first, without the oldest, and embraced them and reassured them, slowly cutting away our thoughts of how the future would be.
After picking up my twelve year old from a birthday party, we brought him into our room after the younger kids had fallen sleep. He wouldn’t let us finish telling him the news we had to share… there was no surprise, no outcry of disbelief. The oldest and most sensitive of our bunch; he knew this dissection was coming.
He cursed in front of us for the first time that night, as we nodded and held him, agreeing that divorce does, in fact, “Fucking Suck”.
And now, months later, we sit in the stink- Surrounded by the funk that follows the consultation, the removal, the recovery. We wait to see how the healing will work, wondering how long it will take for us to learn a new normal. We muster the strength for a new start- and a strong recuperation- as we move through convalescence, eager to get to the other side.
It’s a dissection and a healing. And it fucking sucks.