Divorce didn't happen to families like mine. It happened to people I didn't know, who fought all the time. People whose fathers slept on the couch and whose mom's cried themselves to sleep. It happened to people that lived down the street, whose names I didn't know.
The day my father moved out was the worst day of my life. At least in the eyes of my 9-year-old self. My older sister was angry and my younger sister was too young to realize what was happening. She hugged my father goodbye, squeezing the sleeves of his plaid shirt. She hugged him like she did each morning when he left the house for work. Part of me wanted to shake her, tell her to stop being stupid, that he was never coming back. But that would have been cruel and unfair. She was only 4. She didn't know any better.
My mother didn't even come to the door to say goodbye. She sat at the kitchen table, pretending to eat leftover peach pie when really she was just pushing it around on her plate, nervously tapping her foot on the ground. My older sister sat in the armchair against the far wall of the living room. Her white shirt appeared bright and pure against the dark red upholstery. She looked unaffected - bored even. Her legs were crossed at the knee and she played with the laces on her white Keds.
My father turned toward me. His brown hair sat messily on his head, a large piece falling across his forehead, preventing me from getting a clear view of his eyes. Those brown eyes that watched me in my 1st-grade play. The eyes that read me bedtime stories and math equations. The eyes that helped guide my bike as he taught me to ride and cover my scrapes when I fell. He forced a weak smile. I couldn't force one back. Instead, I buried my face into his stomach and wrapped my arms tightly around his hips. I can remember the feeling of his cold, hard belt buckle pressing firmly against my nose. My tears fell freely and got caught where my flesh met the metal, falling awkwardly down my cheek. He placed one hand on my shoulder while the other patted the top of my head. I don't know if I begged him not to leave. I did in my mind but I'm not sure the words ever made it out my lips.
The rest is a blur. He was gone and we didn't see him again for a long time. Each day after school I still expected to see his blue pick up truck in the driveway. On weekends, I woke hoping to smell cinnamon toast and bacon cooking, but I didn't. When I heard my mom tell my younger sister daddy was on a long business trip I felt disgusted, sad and angry all at once. Liar, I wanted to say. I wanted to scream it. She lied that we'd always be a family. She lied when she told my dad she loved him and she lied when she said we'd see him soon.
My older sister tried to explain what was happening but nothing she said made sense. I didn't know the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce and I didn't care. I didn't know what irreconcilable differences meant. She used words I'd never heard and it made me even angrier. Nothing she said helped, it only confused me more. I didn't understand her lack of emotion. I never saw her cry.
How do you explain away sadness? When does the hurt stop? What do you do with all those unidentified feelings?
I still don't have all the answers and I may never find them. So many questions, so many unresolved emotions. What I do know is that each night, I will hold my husband a little tighter and hug my children a little longer because I cherish my family.
Divorce doesn't live here.