This is an excerpt from some of my memoir writing. I don’t share it to be morbid. It’s simply the record of my life. I am a writer and if I do not write, my health suffers. I can’t help but think that God created me to analyze my life, find meaning in it, and mold it into something artistically attractive to share with the world. So in the flawed way I am able to fulfill that calling, this is part of it. Don’t feel sorry for me and please do not try to make it better with your words. I am OK. I am actually great. Just think of Genesis 50:20 – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
The day in late summer 1979 that Dad told Mom he was leaving, we were all there. He broke the news to her in private, back in their room, but Mom wasn’t interested in keeping the information to herself. She was wailing, falling to pieces, right there in the family room. Natalia and I ran out of our rooms to see what calamity was in store for us today. I’d never seen her lift her hands to heaven before that day; she sat in a kitchen chair; why was a kitchen chair in the family room and why did she sit on it like it was a throne? She was center stage; holding court in a pack of wolves, playing it for dramatic effect right there in front of her version of God and her children. The last little bit of my mother that was still human dissipated into a sea of despair and darkness that day when she found out she had lost Skeeter for good.
“He’s leaving meeeeeeeee! Heeeeeee’s leavinnnnng meeeee!” Her wailing came from the bottom of her, as uninhibited as a distressed and wounded animal. As I stood looking at her, sitting there on her awkwardly placed perch in the middle of the family room, I took in the scene and let the reality descend on me and for one giddy moment the thought occurred to me: perhaps he will take me with him. I would have gladly left my mother behind and gone anywhere with Dad; he was still the love of my life. I didn’t feel obligated to obey him or respect him, yet I pined for him like little girls do for their daddies. Maybe we will live in hotels and get up every morning to go for a drive at 3am and go swimming in pools that don’t belong to us and watch television on beds that you don’t have to make. But as I saw the terror and grief on my mother’s face, as my spirit witnessed her inner death right before me, a burning anger rose up to replace the initial desire to leave. How dare he? How dare he do this thing to her? How dare he do it to me? To me? Why did I care about what happened to me? It was the last self-respecting thought I would have for a long, long time. I ran back to their bedroom and confronted him.
“Are you happy? You see what you’ve done to her?” He stood in the middle of the bedroom looking at me. He was a man on the precipice of escape; he could afford to be calm and patient with a daughter he’d pushed over the edge of insanity. My rage was unchained; my body was clenched in anger; I leaned forward onto my toes and my hands balled into fists and I screamed at him. “Are you happy?” I repeated the question with all the intensity I could summon, as if the power of my words might force him to realize the gravity of his actions. As though a teenager knew more about right and wrong than a forty-year-old man. “Are. You. Happy?”
Still he stood looking at me, speaking a silent response to my question. Yes.
After that day nothing was ever the same again. Dad must have already had his bags packed, or maybe he’d just bought new clothes and shoes and toiletries and had stored them wherever it was that he was going. He disappeared, not wanting to hang around to experience the calamity that he’d stirred up. His new life was calling; it must have felt like a life full of potential and a clean slate. The left-behind empty shell of my mother collected herself and became rather cold and business-like. Somewhere along the line she and my father made some arrangements about the way things were going to be done and it was decided that they would sell the house. It was decided that Mom would have custody of Natalia and that Dad would pay fifty dollars a week for child support. And, apparently, it was decided that no one would be responsible for me. I would not be mentioned in the divorce proceedings; there was no need for my mother to be saddled with the gruesome task of caring for me, and there was no need for my father to have to dig deeper in his pockets to come up with support. I was going to be an emancipated minor; I was going to be officially divorced from my parents.
Here I am, 34 years later, in the Seminole County courthouse. I’m running microfiche through the reader, searching for evidence of what they did to me in 1979. Thousands of records scroll before my eyes, magnified by the old-fashioned contraption that shows bits of insect dander and snips of hair next to the hand-typed lists of names. I search every record from 1975 through 1982; someone has to know what happened and there must be a record of it here. Fifteen years ago in a fit of rage and despair I threw away a piece of paper I’d had in my box of mementos: it was a legal document applying for my emancipation. I didn’t want to see it anymore; didn’t want to feel the vague untethered emotions that passed through my body when I picked it up and tried to imagine the events that led to its existence. In a ceremonial fashion I’d gathered up the things I’d kept to remind me of my worthlessness, and I threw them away; today I wish like hell I’d kept them. There is nothing in the official court records to indicate what happened. I scroll through the names and I find them: Geraldine G. Reynolds vs. Winfield S. Reynolds Jr. The letters DOM indicate a dissolution of marriage. This is something anyway.
I go to the desk and ask for the record. There’s an efficient woman there in her homey cubicle, the place where she spends a third of her life doing things for the government. She has her own contraption to scroll through old hand typed lists. She scans the lists much quicker than I did, her expert eyes able to parse the words in milliseconds until she finds the name she is looking for. There it is, she says. She is proud of her efficiency. She prints out an official copy of the divorce decree and gives it to me. There is Mom. There is Dad. I run my fingers over the typed letters of their names. They exist in two dimensions, in words flat on this paper that has only now been ejected from the printer, but somehow the paper is now the holder of the essence of my parents and what they did to themselves and to me 34 years ago. I hold the document copy in my hands, reading it over and over again. I am not there. My sister is there; she will be living with Mom in an apartment on Debora Ct. My father lives in a place called Indiantown. He will pay $50 a week and be able to visit Natalia whenever he likes as long as it is reasonable. I am invisible. I am a floating ghost in this paper representation of our lives 34 years ago. I am the inconvenient truth they wished would go away. I read the document over and over again, somehow expecting that I will appear there in this final piece of our family, this lone remnant of proof, thinking that there must be some mention of me, but finally I concede: I do not exist.
Image courtesy of Christopher Windus