The Upside of Our Parents' Divorce


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My brother and i attended the wedding of childhood friend held on a high floor of a stylish san francisco hotel. We were standing by the florida ceiling. Windows joking with each other. When the sister of the groom approached you guys are so close. She said it must be nice. Tell me what. Can i do to make my daughter's as close as you are. Her tone was light but her eyes were searching. You wanna now. Eric said i'll you you and your husband should separate then go through an ugly divorce. That'll bring your kids together. I cracked up. Oh she said uncertainly. I didn't say it would be easy. He added. I laughed again. The lights of san francisco spread below us the dark waters of the bay editing beyond i remember the hesitation in our friends voice. The half smile fixed on her face. Eric's spoke to her but his words were for me as if he were saying. This is our history. We can claim it and make fun of it. It was snarky dark but freeing to and it made me love him all the more when our parents separated. I was nine my older brother. David was twelve. And eric was sex. Our parents had previously contained their strife behind closed doors but now no longer had the energy or the will. They loved us deeply but there were battles to be won. Emotional reputational financial. No one behaved. Well my father moved first to a nearby apartment and then to a house while we stayed put with our mother in our home in the hills of los angeles ours was a typical eighties arrangements. We spend every other weekend with our father and had dinners out with him. On wednesday evenings as we tried to adjust to our new reality shuttling back and forth households trying to tune out the fights about money and the sharpness with which they now spoke to each other. My brothers were my one constant and comfort. We didn't know we were doing it but we created a family within a family. My siblings were my allies. We had roles. David became our negotiator. The one who dealt with our parents and the endlessly fraught calendar requests he was the stalwart who communicated less than pleasant news. Eric became the cut up when our father was dating a younger woman. We got him to greet her by saying hey says once when he was eight or nine he begged for casio calculator. Watch that my father wouldn't buy for him. I'm sure my father had good reason to say no. But what i remember most was eric's crying and my white-hot clarity that he needed protecting and i was the one to do it. Why can't you be nicer about it. I screamed at our father. Me who hated arguing above all why do you have to be so mean my siblings and i still bicker constantly. We fought physically. I have a scar on my right hand from an altercation and my grandparents house when david furious threw me against cabinet. We were often left to our own devices with little parental supervision. David and i once cajoled eric to cram himself into our clothes dryer another time. We folded him up in the sleeper couch. Just to see what would happen. He was fine. My brothers took great pleasure in teasing me for my love of little house on the prairie and general hospital for my constant reading for my crush on the dodgers second baseman. Steve sags but we were comrades. When david got his driver's license at sixteen his newfound freedom extended to us now. He was the one taking us from one house to the other enabling us to avoid those awkward parental handoffs. I still remember the spiralling fear. I felt when we dropped david off at his college dorm less than a hundred miles away. Who would arrange wednesday night dinners with dad. What would we do with him. Gone as we entered adulthood and moved to different parts of the country. We didn't need one another as much but we realized something we wanted to spend time together. We took a trip without our parents. Rafting in southern oregon. We mused about how nice it would be if we lived in the same city. When i was going through a rough time in my mid twenties it was my kid. Brother newly graduated from college who came and slept on the floor of my tiny apartment. Not because i had asked him to but because he sensed that. I didn't want to be alone now. We're squarely in middle age with families of our own. Our parents moved on from the bitterness. They both remarried happily years ago For us though the time of their divorce remains a potent point of reference a shared experience that offers a wellspring of barbed humor. We three now live thousands of miles from where we grew up but within a few miles of one another just as we talked about when we were younger. We've rented summer houses together for a time. Eric and i worked at the same magazine team. You manzke my husband calls us. That closeness gives me a solace. I wish i hadn't needed recently. Five years ago at age sixty nine our mother learned she had a rare aggressive cancer and in that brutal overwhelming period. We three relied on one another taking turns visiting sharing what little information we had the last january she passed away and since then the three of us said codfish the jewish prayer that one traditionally recites for eleven months after a death often. We went to services together afterward. We would gossip and get pricey coffee and avoid our responsibilities joking about how our mother would approve. Of course she would when you recite cottage as a mourner. You stand while everyone else in. The congregation remained seated in the months after she died as i rose to say the short prayer the holidays she loved past and my birthday and hers to and still she was gone. I would glance how the synagogue window at the tree branches bear when she died last winter. Then full and resplendent for months and now skeletal again. The passage of time feels at once inconceivable and heartbreakingly normal. I miss my mother beyond measure. And during codfish i became lost in my thoughts and my own private morning but i stood with my brothers. I heard their voices chanting to one time. I walked into services and a woman who is a regular whispered to me. Your brothers aren't here yet and my heart swelled a little at the idea that even people who barely know me see me as part of this unit a few months ago. I was at a child's party and a mother. There was lamenting how her young daughters didn't get along. It's a parenting fail. She said i thought of telling the same divorce joke. My brother had made but i didn't. I wish i had said what. I truly believed that. These things can't be forced the best you can do is step back and let alchemy takeover a couple of years after the divorce. David and i were in our backyard where she and a friend were fixing up a tiny one person sailboat. They bought painting it red. Our kitchen faced the backyard with a big window over the sink and david went into washes hands. I had a decent view of him. He turned on the sink disposal. I heard the grinding noise. And then i'll never forget. He began. Screaming holding up is red dripping hands. I shrieked his hands caught mangold. Then he pulled open the screen door with disarming ease and outside laughing. It's a joke. It's just the paint he's said coming over see. I'm fine. i'm completely fine. I hate you. I said crying turning away from him. My heart knotted up in equal parts. Fear and fury. I really really hate you. I have two daughters of my own now three years apart as my brothers and i are my daughters are nothing alike. They rarely play together. They are not each other's best friends but in moments of true despair. I have seen them reach for each other and for that. I'm grateful the rest. We will just have to see. Oh oh after the break a tiny love story about a brother and sister who hold each other up when the rest of their family is falling apart. Oh if you've heard of bleeding county north carolina it's probably because it made national headlines in two thousand eighteen when a congressional race was thrown out due to election fraud but in bleed in some people think the authorities got it all wrong. They say there's a powerful group still at work in the county tampering with elections bullying voters stealing votes. The story behind that one election the only time in recent history that a congressional election was thrown out for fraud is actually the story of a series of election fights. Fueled by personal grudges petty beefs and family history history history and it's about the oldest fight of all the fight for the black vote. It was almost like they realized that we weren't done. Okay they smart. I'm zoe chase. Who's to of the improvement association from the makers of cereal and the new york times told and five parts. Find it wherever we at your podcasts. Hi kim hi mia nice to talk to you. Thank you my name is kim need. Co and. i'm going to read my piece trusting the edge. A family holiday card that year would have shown our faces scratched out father. Dead mother in assisted living one brother in a coma. I just broken up with dishonest. Possibly cheating on me boyfriend and brother. Gary took the ice skating the local ring. He was graceful and fluid i- tottered on wobbly ankles. He's skated over with ivy boven. A walkman and headphones coltrane was playing my favorite things. Trust the edge. Gary said soon. I was gliding along no longer depressed or carrying fi fell. I knew he would be there to help me up beautiful. Thank you so much. can i ask you What year this was now. You mentioned a walkman yeah that takes it doesn't it It was probably about twelve to fifteen years ago. And how old were you at the time. And how old was gary Let's see i would have been about fifty. I'm thinking and gary is a year younger. But i've always thought of him as my twin like we weren't quite separated at birth but i feel like the our mothers eggs split and no one of us just stayed in the womb an extra year and then came out. So i'm the older twin. What makes you feel like you guys are twins. We're just really really similar. You know. I really do feel like we share a lot of the same Cells somehow we have the same sort of stark sense of humor. We can talk on the phone and laugh for an hour Which we do quite often. And he's just one of those warm witty people that makes everybody around him happy. Can you tell me more about what was happening in your life during the year that you describe the story. Yeah so my brother. John had had a liver transplant a few years ago. And he went in the hospital for biopsy and ended up They had a minute induced coma. So he'd been in an induced coma for about a month at this time at christmas time. My mother is in assisted living with parkinson's trying to button her sweater and refusing to drink her. Ensure and my ex husband who i had gotten back together with after several years apart. We had bought a little house in oakland together and then it turned out that he was less than honest about some financial matters. And then snoop that. I am of course. At that point. I went looking through his email and turned out. He was less than honest about some sexual matters to. So we were breaking up and my ex's living in the basement of our house link troll or a gallon and i've run away from from all that income. Dc and so. That was sort of the situation that was happening. That urine especially at christmas was ice skating. Something that you and your family did often no but my brother had introduced me to ice skating. We did as kids on the potomac and on christmas. He just he saw that. I was really depressed and unhappy. And he just said hey. Let's go ice skating and then so it seemed like you had kind of a tough time on the is as well at least yeah. 'cause we didn't we didn't do it that often you know so. It's been a long time since i skated in my brother's just going backwards around the rink doing beautiful things. And he's so graceful and fluid. And i'm like you know just kind of tottering along trying to keep it together feeling like. Was this really a good idea. I should have just stayed home and gotten drunk or something and just wanting to to get away from it all and then of course you know there. I am with headphones on john. Coltrane is playing music in my ears. The aspirin is kicking in and suddenly. You know everything just kind of changes and turns into a place where there i am. It's just pure presence now. And i'm just there skating and and and happy you know it's just one of those moments of grace and then your brother. He says the thing to you which feels so resident and meaningful. Trust the edge. What did that mean to you at the time. Yeah it's ecorse literally you know when you skate. You just have to commit like anything you have to commit to that moment and trusting that the the edge of the blade is going to keep you on the ice in so you have to lean in a bit in order to do that and i think it's just the perfect metaphor for what was happening. You know being on that edge and knowing that everything was uncertain in not knowing what was going to happen next and then just having a moment of trust to say okay. Things will work out. How else has your brother been there for you throughout your life. I know you feel like you guys are twins. Yeah you know. Especially i think as we've gotten older and you know we're all in different parts of the country in my family was never really that close family. So he's the one. I'm closest to and i just think more and more we've become best friends over the years but he's he's always always been there to help me out. I mean when. I was in new york for three years. I'm there with very little and was sort of going sublet to sublet. And gary came up to visit me on. The training brought me qatar. Because he knew it left a lot of my instruments on the west coast. And so he brought me guitar that he hadn't said he thought you could use to do some playing while you're in new york and that's the kind of thing he would do often Just pass something along or give me something that. I didn't realize i needed in until i did. Thank you so much. Kim lovely talking to you. It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me by take care. Modern love is produced by julia. Botero with help from hans. Buteau tracy mumford. It's edited by sarah sarasin executive producer. Is wendy door. This episode was mixed by corey. Shrek original music by marian lozano. This week's essay was written by ellen. You man skiing's and read by kirsten potter kim at a neat. Co wrote tiny. Love story special. Things to julius. Simon muhima giovanni bonnie wertheim on astrum in samdahl nick and ryan wichner at autumn. I'm dan jones. And i'm merely and we'll be back next week but more stories for modern. Thanks for listening.

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