Back Again By Popular Demand: Kevin on Divorce and Flesh-Eating “Amicables”

Press agents for Hollywood couples always make a point of saying that the couple’s separation and divorce is “mutual and amicable.” People scoff as they will scoff at any piece of self-serving boilerplate designed less to convey actual information than to keep them buying movie tickets. Experience can alter our perception, though. Being recently and finally divorced myself, I can say that the proceedings were both mutual and amicable. In my case, my wife moved out. Even though I didn’t have a vote in the decision, we both ended up being not married to each other at exactly the same time. Divorce, chosen or imposed, is always a team sport. So all dissolutions are, in that way, mutual; they just happen to be slightly more mutual for one side than the other.

And amicable… well, it helps that I’m not exactly sure what it means. I’ve got it narrowed down to a general sense of cooperation characterized by good intentions or a kind of South American river fish. I admit the second one doesn’t really work when you plug it back into the phrase “Yes, divorce is always difficult, but in our case it was mutual and a kind of South American river fish,” but neither can I easily shake the image of a school of frenzied amicables stripping a wading cow to the skeleton in under a minute. It makes me a little sad that only one of those can be correct.

The process of divorce is itself wrenching, of course. But given the right mindset, it can be therapeutic. It forces one to take a full accounting of one’s life to that point, to see it as a whole and assess not only the entirety of your life experience, but the assumptions that color both recollection and perception. In that way, divorce has exactly the same emotional effect as almost being decapitated by an industrial band saw.

Except in the case of divorce, the assessment process is also kind of court ordered. And way, way more literal. Full accounting actually means full accounting. Like with the help of an accountant. You line up all your shared experiences and the corporeal possessions either born from or representing those experiences and at the end, you come up with a monetary figure you then endeavor to divide roughly in half. To get both halves of the ledger to balance, some of your indispensibles will have to be divided fractionally, but if you do it right, that won’t include the children. Laugh if you like, but you’d be amazed what people insist on.

The therapeutic part is where you understand, at last and only briefly, not only that which you can live without but the sort of things you forgot you were living with in the first place. And no, I don’t mean the cold stomach-pit stone of loveless resentment; not because it isn’t there, but courts have very handy reference charts stipulating the non-negotiable cash value of loveless resentment (in my case, $8.34 before taxes), so it merits almost no discussion. I mean for example I was told I could keep the jade plant in the window behind the kitchen sink so long as I made a good-faith effort to keep it watered. To which I replied: we have a jade plant in the window behind the kitchen sink? Yes, in fact, it turns out it had been there every day of the seven years we’ve lived in this house. But I never really noticed it was there because no one had ever asked me to consider its ownership status or its divisible value before. And because it’s a goddamned jade plant. Navy SEALs swim into enemy territory in the dead of night carrying shaped demolition charges, weapons that fire underwater and a jade plant. One clears obstacles, the second kills enemy frogmen and the last one assures that, even if seen, nobody will ever be interested enough to take notice. There is no better camouflage than being utterly unremarkable.

And that’s what my divorce experience has been: unremarkable. It’s been a jade plant. Mutual and amicable are nice, but mostly they’re weasely show-words of the worst kind: adjectives that fail to describe. They’re more like dandelions. Sure, you get a nice flower, but if we’re going to be technical, they’re still weeds. I’ve passed through all the landmarks and the firsts. First weekend without the kids, first date with a strange person (read that how you will), lawyer wrangling, paper signing, schedule-making, kid-shuttling, first holidays apart, final settlement.

Unremarkable is no holes punched in walls, no raised voices, no stretching of the name-calling vocabulary, no child-custody brinksmanship… or maybe the absence of all that is less unremarkable than I think? All I know is I’ve come through it all safe and intact. Part of it is luck, sure, but part of it is knowing not to swim where the amicables lurk.

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