Sunday Morning ~ Harsh Winds and Anniversaries
Mau ndi mphepo, sungachere msampha. ~ Words are like the wind, you cannot catch them in a trap.
February 5, 2023
Friday night, I laid awake listening to the wind howl and the house crack. The temperature was twenty below zero and the wind blew constantly with gusts to forty miles per hour. I knew if the power went out my pipes would freeze quickly. The furnace chugged away but the house couldn’t stay warm. I got up several times when I heard banging, worried it was the furnace or a door blowing open or something hitting the house. Each time I’d find nothing amiss and crawl back under piles of quilts to lie awake and pray we didn’t lose power. I thought of the comfort I have and worried about those with less insulation, an unreliable furnace, or exposed pipes. It was harsh. The wind chill was forty-five below zero, the warmest place in Maine.
This weather event coincided with the anniversary of another sleepless night twenty years ago. Hard to believe two decades have passed since my life changed course, jumping the track from married to divorced. I wondered what kind of couple we’d be now if that twisted turn had not sent us into new worlds. Would I feel less worried about the cold? Or would I be trying to reassure him? Would he make more work for me? Or would he take care of things so I could rest? I fantasized various scenarios.
I was twenty pounds underweight back then, having eaten only enough to stay alive for the previous six months. Food would not go down my throat, so I lived on a few tablespoons of yogurt a day. The “heartbreak diet” my friend calls it. On February 3rd of that year, I’d tearfully accepted the reality he wasn’t coming back. I knew I’d need to take care of myself if I were to get though it and, for my kids’ sake, I wanted to. If it weren’t for them I imagined withering away into nothingness rather than face what I saw then as failure. That evening my sister called and I cried to her as I did every time we talked. I was going to court the next morning where it would all become final. “I can’t do this!” I wept. She told me to cover my head with castor oil and go to sleep. “What? Castor oil?”, I choked out. Yes, she assured me, it was an Ayurvedic remedy guaranteed help me get grounded. “Cover your head with it, wrap a towel around it, and leave it for the night. I swear this will help.” she said.
At the time, I would have done anything to feel better, and it was a healthier option than drinking myself to death. I opened a cabinet and saw I had some castor oil. I thought, what could it hurt? So I did it. I stopped crying, poured castor oil on my head, rubbed it into my scalp, and wrapped my head in a towel. I planned a good breakfast. I needed to start eating I decided, no matter how I’d have to force myself. I’d get up in the morning, make a nice breakfast for the kids before school and I’d eat some myself. We were going to be starting a new life as a new family. I wanted it to be a healthy first act. See! The castor oil was working already!
The court appearance was at nine the next morning. I set the alarm for six and made a list for myself. I’d get up, shower, and wash the oil out of my hair. I pondered what to wear: what does one wear to get divorced? A power color? An outfit he liked? Should I be worried about how I looked to him? Make him regret this? I laid out a skirt and sweater I felt good in. I decided I’d be in good cheer when I woke the kids, give off the air that all was normal. I’d have a special breakfast ready for them as they ran out with wet hair and no hat. I wouldn’t complain about that. I’d be nicer.
I went to bed. Twenty years ago the night was cold but the only wind was in my head. I tossed and turned, I had nightmares, I cried, I prayed for a huge meteor to hit the earth so morning would never come.
At 4 a.m. the phone rang and a nurse told me a patient was in labor and moving fast. Shit! I jumped in the shower to wash my hair. Water. Off. A. Duck. The oil wasn’t washing out. After three rounds of shampoo, I toweled it dry, looked in the mirror, and saw my hair sticking straight up. Ugh! I patted it down, jumped into jeans and a sweatshirt, threw on a hat and coat and ran to the car. It took me twelve minutes to get to the hospital at night driving over the speed limit. The police knew my car and sometimes followed me but usually just let me pass. I parked and ran up the three flights of stairs into my role as midwife.
It was her third baby, so I thought surely she’d deliver in plenty of time to be home for the morning I’d planned. But she lingered at seven centimeters. At six o’clock I thought, ok, scrap the breakfast for the kids. I called them to say I was at the hospital so get themselves out the door. Who knows if they ate anything. “This baby will be here any minute”, I thought. “I’ll still be able to feed myself before court”, I thought. As six o’clock gave way to seven, then eight, with no baby I started panicking. I called the doctor I worked with. “Mary, can you come cover my patient while I go get divorced?” She said she’d be right over; my friends were so good to me. The court was only minutes away so I had until 8:45, but had no idea how long it took to get divorced. The laboring woman was in the shower so I stuck my head in to tell her I had to go run an errand and I’d be right back; the doctor was covering for me. She panted through a contraction and nodded.
I jumped in my car and sped to the courthouse in my scrubs remembering the hour I’d wasted deciding what to wear. I ran in and saw my soon-to-be-ex-husband sitting in the hallway looking terrified. It should have been a moment when I’d comfort him. I thought of his refusal to talk to me, how he walked away as I cried. and thought, “Wow, he looks like shit.” I said nothing. I started pacing, hoping the whole thing would be quick. I was neither sad nor devastated as I’d imagined, only impatient. I needed to get back to this birth. We had no lawyers, no witnesses, no nothing. This DIY divorce cost sixty-one dollars. We were the first case and were called in right on time. Raise your right hand, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, blah blah blah, yes yes yes, hurry this along. The judge read our names, the date and place we were married, and asked if this was correct. This should have been a very sad moment, but all I could think was, could this judge talk a little faster? We both said, “Yes.” He read the terms, he asked Joe if he knew what he was agreeing to? He said, “You know by law you are entitled to half of the house?” I thought, will he shut up? Don’t drag this out! I didn’t want this! Joe did! So let him lie in the bed he made! But I tapped my foot and said nothing. White-faced, Joe said, “Yes.” There was no mention of all the money missing, all the secrets he held, all the months of me begging to understand what was happening. Nothing. And all I thought was, I need to get back to the hospital.
It took less than five minutes. Twenty-four years of marriage was over in less than five minutes. How very strange. My best friend. My rock. The father of my children. Now a ghostly stranger sitting there, someone I didn’t even know. I put on my coat and ran down the steps to my car.
I got back to the labor floor as the woman was getting out of the shower. The nurse and I helped her to bed and the baby was born twelve minutes later. A boy who turned twenty years old yesterday at 9:46 a.m.
My hair was really soft and shiny after that.
Love to all,