This Stunning Machine (or how to survive divorce)


“I, an alarm, awake as a rumor of war…”

– Maya Angelou


How to survive divorce:


  1. You forgo the use of second voice. You step into the “I” and reacquaint yourself with your life, as defined by the blend of past and future. You step into the present, and reintroduce yourself to intimacy. You close the gap, commit erasure to the emotional distance, and say “I.” I. I.
  1. Say, “I am divorced.”


I can’t say I always knew things would end in divorce, but I’m no fool. The best we do when we enter into a union is uphold the other person’s basic humanity, to remain decent amongst a marriage burned, to hold the ashes with grace, to covet the ashes as though they are in their previous state, to remember. Absent that, divorce is the culmination of tiny barbarisms committed slowly over time, much like evolution’s glacial pace.

I know very little about marriage. I was never good at it, and I never gave myself the chance to improve. I quit on the whole endeavor, unable and unwilling to do the work. This is what haunts me the most since the divorce, since the days and weeks and years after we launched in separate decisions: the guilt of giving up on the one you loved, and yourself. There are no right words, no amount of emails or text messages, which can repair this particular damage.

There’s no escape, no flying halfway around the world to dig up catharsis and closure within some foreign culture you’ve invaded. For my part, I fled to Brooklyn, but I could’ve just as easily stayed in New Jersey. The where is inconsequential, the demons are mobile. At some point, you must turn and face and fight or, at least, call a truce.

With divorce comes the question of why. It is lamentable in its predictability, as if the answer–as if it is answerable–will pour light atop the dark corners, as if what was unknowable will step forward and reveal itself. I’ve been asking myself why for years. I’ve written about why for years. In each essay, I gave the why flesh. I gave it breath. I gave why the shape of the person I loved, and why becomes messy business. My father warned me of this years ago, in my half-empty apartment, things fallen apart. But I didn’t listen. I rarely do, still.

Why is a boring question; there is insufferable banality in blindly walking through the dark; there is redundancy in rumination. I no longer ask myself why.

But…I do ask myself what happened.

This is a question which inspires a replay of actual events. The memories become spliced over time: remixed and spectral. Still, I remember conversations, fights, the silence. I throw myself into the memories because humiliation is an out of body experience; I floated above and watch myself.

I did not live through the moments as much as I bore witness. I was not present in my own life as it ripped apart, as I watched the person I tried to love grapple with the idea that maybe I no longer loved, or wanted to love, or needed to love. Years later, I live the memories as a retroactive attempt to reclaim presence of life. This is, as far as I can tell, the closest a human will ever get to time traveling. The movies and books make time traveling appear dazzling, and wrought with potential calamity. I too have experienced the perils of time traveling, trapped in the past. Defined by it. Depressed to the concrete beneath its boot. Perceived and regarded through its prism. Ruined. Marred.

People—themselves who’ve, more than likely, have never been married—like to remind me that I’m divorced. Not out of spite, as far as I can tell. But a gentle reminder that to be divorced is, in some way, a state-sanctioned confirmation of one’s failure at love, at partnership. Over time, much like depression, I’ve since stopped telling people I’m divorced or, rather, I refrain from telling people I’ve been married. A flick of the wrist, a switch of the intent, an acknowledgement of marriage as an attempt toward achievement or success.

Post-marriage, I often think about what a successful marriage looks like. I disregard my parents, who broke up before I even reached my teens. I think of my grandparents, and I don’t know if they were happily married. They stayed together, but is that the marker of matrimonial success? I wasn’t happy in marriage—so unhappy—and I lacked the tools, the bravery, to open my mouth and say “I’m unhappy.” Instead, I set a match to the whole thing—the same old script—and let the fire talk for me, let the flames spell out in blood orange the rearrangement of things, like “baby I’m sorry but I’m unhappy,” a simple, if heartbreaking, declaration overlooked when things turn to shit.

And yet, I move on. I proceed through this stunning machine. I inhabit the “I” as my way of embracing my life, past humiliations and all. I need to survive. I’m desperate for a how-to guide and lashing myself across the back because of the past just ain’t gonna do, darling. I have to find my own way.

Here, I briefly return to my parents. I cannot completely disregard the genetic disposition to repeat the mistakes of a previous generation. And I once thought survival could be found through blame, but—it’s not your fault, mom. It’s not your fault, dad. Your marriage was your marriage and you did your best. Even at your worst, you tried.

The insidious nature of rumination is that, at first blush, it appears useful—turn over the past over and over and over and over until answers come forth—but in time, it is a whirlpool doubling as your grave. So many times I’ve remembered coming home one night from work. The subtractions were subtle, an abstract inventory of what remains after the life we constructed, flensed from the skeleton, was left as carrion by the foot of the bookshelf where titles were taken, holes in our library, and next to the bed where her iPhone cord was gone, and by the windowsill where she left credit cards and a handwritten letter that has split me atomically, and scrambled me anatomically, reducing me to mere genetic code, over and over and over and over, until I reached for the liquor.

Absolution is given to self, by self. The guilt lingers, but the punishment must end. It takes a few years to adjust, so I overheard, and it’s been long enough. Villainy is a matter of perspective, and I embrace happiness as a revolutionary act; as a declaration of war called upon the old ways of living my life. I choose the unknown.


Moleskine Notebook


10:45 am central

American Airlines Flight 3632

O’Hare to Philadelphia International Airport

Behind me, two divorcees discuss their divorces. I’m the third divorcee. The man behind me was married for 30 years and divorced last week. The woman next to him listens & chimes in with advice [it takes a few years to adjust]. I’m silent, listening, taking stock of my status among them: the youngest but twice divorced. I’m ruined.