"Just sign where I've marked Jennifer and you're divorced."
I awkwardly returned my attorney's smile and took the pen from his hand. I scooted my chair forward and pulled the papers toward me. The smells of leather and wood polish filled my nose. I squinted at the brightness of the paper. There seemed to be a dozen different marks that needed either my signature or my initials beside it. As I signed and initialed, it occurred to me that I only had to sign once on the marriage certificate. Papers in hand, I thanked my attorney and headed for my car. After stopping at Sonic to get some of my favorite junk food, I drove home. Balancing my lunch in one hand and holding my divorce decree in my mouth, I unlocked the door.
The basement apartment I shared with my two kids was small but cozy and dark. The small windows allowed little light to filter in. I fumbled for the light switch. The light illuminated the living room making me squint. A quick glance around revealed a brand new living room set complete with TV and entertainment center. Pictures of the kids and of ocean views in black frames contrasted with the white walls. My eyes adjusted and I went in. I kicked my shoes off and plopped down on the white leather sofa to begin my relaxation. Grabbing the decree off the wood coffee table, I started flipping through it.
The first thing I read made my desire for my fries dwindle instantly. The document referred to me as Ms. Story. My brow furrowed. I could feel the emotions I had buried under tons of anger form a knot in my stomach. I turned the page and read how custody of our two children had been awarded to me. The legal wordings made it sound like they were property instead of two innocent kids caught between parents who couldn't get along anymore. More of the emotions bubbled to the surface and now I didn't just lose my appetite, I lost my composure. The dam of anger cracked and the memories and tears flooded through.
I thought of our wedding day. It was 1993. I was eighteen, and four months pregnant. It was a beautiful April day. The sun shown brightly through the windows of the church bathroom as my mother and bridesmaids fussed over every aspect of my appearance. I fought the nausea and tears caused by the excitement and morning sickness. My legs felt like Jell-o. I didn't think I would make it to the altar until I looked up and saw my future husband. He was in a white tuxedo with tails that accentuated his lanky frame. His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail making the gray hairs around his temples more prominent and revealing a perfectly groomed mustache. His hazel eyes were wet with tears. He smiled and mouthed the words "I love you". The nausea melted away as did everything around me. When he took my hands I felt warmth and strength envelope me. I don't remember saying my vows, but I could still feel his lips on mine after the bishop declared us husband and wife.
A knock on the door brought me back to the current day. I wiped my eyes and answered the door. A tall, gruff-looking man stood at the door. It was a bill collector looking for my husband. He explained that he was unable find him and since I was his wife that he was going to serve me instead. I corrected the man. I told him that he wasn't my husband and that I had been having the same trouble tracking him down. I showed him the bankruptcy papers that I attained weeks before showing that this debt was not my problem. I gave the man the last known address I had for my ex and wished him better luck at it than I was having. Noticeably disappointed, he thanked me and left. The anger welled up in me blocking all the good memories.
My mind returned to 1999. We had been married for years longer than anyone had expected us to be. We not only had a six-year old daughter but also a three-year old son to finish off our picture perfect family. I was in the kitchen of our apartment making the kids a sandwich when my husband came through the door. The long hair of his youth had been shorn a few years earlier and the gray at his temples had staked out new territory in the back and front as well. He was home early and his hazel eyes were once again wet with tears. He held a large bundle of paperwork in his trembling hands. They were from the state of Utah declaring that he was the father of a child that wasn't mine. The results of the paternity test he had secretly taken had proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Not only that, but the state wanted almost $30,000.00 in back child support from him. I looked at the paperwork and recognized the name of the mother instantly. My mind swam. I felt my reality slipping away like water through a drain. It was like looking at the negative of a picture. Black was white and white was black. The day ended with me in the emergency room forcing down charcoal to soak up the remainder of the pills still in my stomach. The flow of reminiscent tears stopped.
The swelling around my eyes and the flush of my cheeks were gone by the time I heard the crunching footsteps of my kids making their way up the gravel driveway. I thanked God that it had. My daughter was the first to come through the door. She was perfectly groomed with her hair pulled back in a ponytail revealing the same high cheekbones and hazel eyes of her father. My son bounded through the door with the exuberance reserved only for seven-year-old boys. He smiled his fathers smile. I felt the knot in my stomach tighten and the burn of emotion in my eyes. I fought it not wanting to upset their mood. They hugged and kissed me and regaled me with stories of their school day. I mentioned nothing about how my day had gone. I spent the evening helping with homework, making dinner (but not eating it) and trying not to notice just how much my kids looked like their father. My mother called to check on me. She also recited her list of things my ex had done to me and tried not to sound thrilled that he was no longer her son-in-law. My father and my sister called with the same motivation.
Hours after the baths had been taken and the kids tucked soundly in their beds, I was lying in my bed listening to the soft snoring coming from the other room. The bed seemed huge, much bigger than the queen size I had bought. I chided myself for being so sentimental. I reminded myself that he wasn’t sleeping alone tonight. I recited in my mind my mother's list of pains he had caused me and calculated the amount of child support he had refused to pay since I threw him out over a year ago. I grabbed hold of my buoy of anger and drifted into a fitful sleep full of painful dreams.
I awoke to George Strait crooning "Amarillo by Morning" from my clock radio. I turned it off and dragged my exhausted body out of bed. I got into the shower and let the warm water massage my body awake. Still in my bathrobe, I brewed the strongest coffee imaginable and poured me a cup. I put none of the usual creamer and sugar in it wanting to feel the full strength.