Divorce: The End of the Beginning?

It took her only 24 hours. 24 hours to turn our lives upside down and change everything. 24 hours to wipe the whole slate clean.

My mother had recovered fairly quickly from the divorce. At least to the point that she was able to function in day to day life and put forth a brave face for her daughter, who, incidentally, did not recover quite as quickly, nor really understood exactly what had happened to their family.

I was angry. That’s the only emotion I remember. Actually, now that I think about it, my anger was more like rage. I was miserable and confused. I didn’t understand why my father had all but disappeared and why my mother seemed to be perfectly okay with this turn of events. My grades suffered, I acted out in school, and my friends dropped like flies. I retreated to my room and shed a lifetime’s worth of tears. I’m sure it was enough to fill at least one, small swimming pool.

The only light in this dark tunnel was a rather horrible case of chickenpox. Yup, because things couldn’t get any worse, could they? Now, at least, I had an excuse for my misery. It was nice to stay in bed all day, to avoid the world outside of our comfortable apartment. I could watch tv whenever I wanted and homework was an afterthought. It was worth the itching and constant discomfort. I was happy to be sick and the fact that my father chose this time to make an appearance was icing on the cake.

He came quietly, bearing my first ever bouquet of red, long stemmed roses. He sat with me, read me stories, rubbed my back. It was so comforting, until he left. I thought he would stay. Maybe, he’d changed his mind. But, he and my mother barely spoke while he graced us with his presence and she seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when the door closed.

Their relationship was like this before the itches came and continued after they departed. My mother and I settled into a not-terribly-uncomfortable routine. When I was six, I got a dog. My mother got a boyfriend. He treated her well and was someone I looked up to. He was also married, with two sons. Interestingly enough, every man she dated seriously, after my father, had two sons. If I remember correctly,this happened four times. Unfortunately, my wish for permanent older brothers, never materialized.

What did materialize was my mother’s desire to make a change in her life. She wanted to be truly independent, without help from anyone. The child support was a laughing stock, at best, and barely put a dent in our monthly expenses. She had a full-time job, but yearned to have her own business. She wanted to be successful. To show “everyone” that she could make this life work. That living in a foreign country, with no family and no husband, was going to be okay. After all, she hadn’t let my father drag her halfway across the world and then abandon her (and me), to give up and slowly slink away.

So, her quest for a new life began. In Germany (circa 1978), starting your own business was no small feat. It was an arduous process, filled with red tape, baby steps, and months and MONTHS of waiting. My mom planned to be a buyer/set dresser for photographers. She had lots of experience (courtesy of my father), connections, and potential business. But, the German government’s penchant for dragging its feet was legendary and did not disappoint. There was always another piece of paper, another phone call, another few weeks. So, when the approval letter arrived in August of 1979, my mother could hardly believe her good fortune. She was on her way to freedom! But, freedom threw her a curve ball.

My mother was perpetually well prepared, for everything. She put in notice with her current job (a photo publishing house), coached me in the ways of “the latch-key,” found a microcosm of an office space and called all of her current clients. “Good afternoon, Mr. So and so, I regret to inform you that I will no longer be able to handle your account, as I am about to embark on a journey of global domination, one photographer at a time.” The last person on her list was also her favorite. A scruffy, alcoholic, smart ass who happened to be a damn good photographer and an even better client. He worshiped my mother or, at least, her uncanny ability to sell all of his photos, successfully and repeatedly. For him, she was a walking dollar sign.

She expected this call to go like all the rest. “I’m so sorry to hear that”, “Who will be my rep now?”, “You will be missed.” Not necessarily in that order. But, this conversation with the smart ass, it was different. He thought they would make a good team. He had lots of business and not enough time. He paid well (enough). He lived and worked in Philadelphia. “Would she consider a move?”, he asked. And, consider it, she did. Within two days, there was a plane ticket. Within ten days, she had flown to Philadelphia, surveyed the scenery, considered turning our lives upside down, and returned to our apartment, exhausted. Exhausted, but strangely empowered and enthusiastic. Within 24 hours of returning from the City of Brotherly Love, her mind was made up. THIS was a brilliant idea. Gone were the days of independence through small business ownership and bureaucratic red tape! Gone were my father and his insufferable new wife! Only to be replaced by a whole new can of worms and, possibly, a whole new life.

We packed like our lives depended on it. We packed all day, every day, for one week. Friends and strangers alike bought whatever wasn’t in a box or suitcase. The movers came, with a small shipping container and left nothing but dust bunnies and one, crying nine year old in their wake. This was it. My mother had made this life-changing decision and everything that came with it, in less than 3 weeks. And the worst part? My father put up absolutely NO FIGHT AT ALL. When my mother asked him, his reply was something along the lines of “Well, I can’t stop you. It wouldn’t be fair. Besides, I might make that move myself, soon.” My mom knew, with a new spouse and two young daughters, this would never happen, but she took the opportunity and his permission, and ran with it. All the way to Philadelphia.

Getting there…. Now, that was a whole other story.

This is part 3 of a series. Part 1 and Part 2 are recommended reading.

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