“Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.” –Warsan Shire
Rain fell heavily outside, yet the occupants inside the office gathered around the large conference table, hardly noticed. The mood was somber enough and the gloom inside seemed to have a direct effect on the weather outside. The tension in the room was thick as final details were confirmed. Papers would be signed for the final dissolution of a five year marriage.
Agreements were negotiated by third parties as the two represented parties merely stared at one another across the table. Not a single word was exchanged between them during the last few months. They watched and listened as others talked on their behalf. Few words were spoken once a decision was agreed upon three months before, and contact was to be restricted between them.
Distant blue eyes stared almost pleadingly into tired, broken brown eyes. The light disappeared sometime in the last two years and had yet to return. Sometimes he wasn't sure if it had ever been there.
Time had turned them into battle hardened warriors. The life had been stripped away until not much was left of the people they once were. They were mere shadows of the young, fresh faced graduates waiting to set out in the world. The fights stopped and soon enough the bed emptied. Hearts broke as the struggle continued daily. The struggle to talk without arguing, or to listen without objecting and passing blame. The passion remained, but the love was torn away and twisted into something unrecognizable, something ugly and destructive. They were empty shells, and not the people they were supposed to be.
“I need you to sign here Mrs. Fraser.” The woman brushed away a tear as she picked up the pen. Her hand slowed as it moved towards the paper and she hesitated. Her eyes lifted and caught his. He stared at her and his eyes dropped to her hand. There was sadness, but he didn’t protest as her hand moved in brisk flourishes across the paper.
She pushed the paper away, wanting it as far away as possible from her. It was a representation of the end of ten years of her life with the man across from her. The woman’s head turn away as tears fell freely down her face. She knew it was truly over between them now when he couldn't speak the words to stop her from signing.
He didn’t want to make it any more difficult for her, so he quickly added his signature to the documents. It was the last time their names would sit beside each other on documents listing them as married. “Okay, from here we will file the paperwork. There will be a hearing date where the judge will decide whether or not to approve your divorce petition and the custody agreement. For the most part, you're done with the process. Once the judge approves, a temporary judgment of divorce will be entered after thirty days. It will become permanent after ninety days.”
The announcement caused a knot to form in her stomach. They weren't words she imagined she would ever hear. She was officially getting a divorce.
Mrs. Fraser stood up and quickly exited the room before Mr. Fraser could approach her. Mr. Fraser was on his feet instantly and grabbed her hand before she had the chance to make her escape. She pivoted to face him, anger swirling in her dark orbs. He took a step back.
"What do you want?"
He shuffled, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Can we talk?"
She scoffed. "I think we've done a lot of talking. I just want you erect," she closed her eyes, her fingers rubbing her temples as she muttered incoherently to herself. "I've seriously got to work on that. Regardless, I want to erect some space between us even if you are leaving soon because I- every time we are in close proximity I'm confused. I mean I'm not confused about the events that led us here because hello we were both very clear on that and what transpired and blonde harlots who desire other women's husbands and so not the point at the moment. I need time to figure myself out after this disaster." She straightened her shoulders, her face hardening as she stared at him expectantly. He had a purpose for stopping her and she wanted to know what it was. She sighed as she hadn’t meant to lose her temper. The fight faded from her and she lowered her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all of that. I did mean some of it about the time and space because Jamie ten years is a long time and I need to figure out how to separate myself from you.”
Mr. Fraser lowered his eyes as he finally saw it, the cracks in her facade. In truth, he hadn't given much thought to how she was handling the situation after they decided this was their best option, but he never imagined he would see her unravel. As it dawned on him, his carefully prepared words drifted away. He didn’t want to put anymore stress on the situation. "I get it."
For a moment, her face slipped and he saw the old her before she put her mask in place again. She nodded at him. "Bye Jamie," he heard the catch in her voice as she turned away from him. He watched her walk away, helpless to do much but give her what she wanted. They tried and they cashed and burned. It was time for them to pick themselves up off the floor and start anew.
"Goodbye Claire," he whispered to the empty lobby.
The drive home seemed to take longer than usual, but it allowed her time to think, to reflect. She thought about the day they met, the day they married, and everyday between then and now. It was as if she were on a tightrope. She kept trying to balance it all. There was school, marriage, family, and work. It was hard and the fragments in her marriage began to show. Each year, the cracks spread farther and farther apart until one day she discovered she slept next to a stranger. It was unbelievable, almost unthinkable. She had known the man for so long, and could barely hold a conversation let alone look at him anymore. All she felt when she stared at him was an overwhelming amount of sadness and guilt. Most of all, she felt alone.
Her phone dinged as she pulled into her driveway. She debated whether to peek or not. With a deep sigh, she picked up the device and felt her heart break all over again.
Claire, I’ll always be there for ye and the lasses. The end of our marriage changes nothing for me. Don’t forget that.
She didn’t have it in her to respond back to him. So many tears were shed over this man, and she wanted to start anew. A clean break was what the doctor ordered. The damage had already been done and now it was time for some repairs.
While they were tied in technical terms, their romantic relationship was over.
I entered the house to pure chaos as two girls shouted back and forth. “Gran, where’s my favorite hoodie?” My eldest child’s voice called out impatiently. I was tempted to scold her for her tone. She and her sister were running around the house in an attempt to gather the belongings they wanted to bring with them for the summer.
I found Bree first as she dug around in the hall closet, while her sister was pounding around somewhere on the second floor. “What’s going on here?” I asked, placing my hands on my hips.
Bree paused and craned her neck. “Oh hello mom, I’m trying to find my riding boots. Daddy got a new horse on the estate and said we could ride it.” I ran a hand through her wild, red curls. They normally were much more tame, but it had rained most of the day causing them to frizz. “We got home late so we haven’t had much time to finish packing.” Their flight was leaving at ten tonight to make the time transition easier. Jet lag was horrid, especially for children. We purposely scheduled their flights so they could sleep on the plane and be less likely to sleep after traveling.
“This is why I told both of you to start packing a week ago.” She smiled sheepishly and my heart stopped at the sight. Bree was the spitting image of her father, and sometimes it hurt to have the reminder. It didn’t stop me from loving her, it actually caused me to love her more. “Your boots are in the car from the last time you went riding.” She flushed a light shade of pink before running out the front door.
I shook my head in defeat. I could lecture the girls until I was blue in the face to stop procrastinating and they still would, probably to spite me. They were this way about everything. It was definitely not something they inherited for me. There was too much of their father in them. I preferred everything to be neat and orderly.
I made my way up the stairs of our Cambridge townhouse to find my mother standing in my daughter’s doorway. She smiled at the sight of her granddaughter attempting to stuff as many things into her suitcase as would fit. Her room was in complete disarray as she tossed her shoes and clothes.
“Isla, love, it would be so much easier if you actually folded your clothes before placing them inside.” Isla wasn’t phased at all and continued to search for more items in her room that she could bring with her. The girls acted as if they were packing for a year abroad instead of a couple of months.
I rolled my eyes and entered her untidy room. I usually re-packed their suitcases for them as neither was particularly organized. “How was your last day, darling?” Isla an all girl’s Catholic school. Bree was at another school until fifth grade when she would switch over to her sister’s school.
We considered as a family allowing them to attend through eighth grade at Bree’s current school, but after looking into other schools we found Newton Country Day. It was 5-12, which kept the girls at the same school through high school. I much preferred this option. Luckily, both schools were each about twenty minutes away from my workplace. I could be there at a moment's notice in case of an emergency. My mother took both girls to school each morning. Bree was dropped off first as her school was the closest to the house. It took some time for us to fully settle into this particular area of Cambridge. We used to live far closer to the Harvard Medical campus when I was a student, but after the divorce, I could no longer stay in our former apartment. There were too many memories. I wanted something that would be mine instead of ours where I could build a new life.
My mum came over from England about a year after Jamie moved back to Scotland. She knew how much I struggled with managing two younger children, and one just beginning to start school. She was a true godsend.
“Mum, do you think you could assist Bree?” She sent me a tender look and chuckled. “I’m afraid her suitcase might look something like this as well.”
My mother, Julia Beauchamp was a force to be reckoned with for sure. She raised me and my brother all by herself after my father died. She was left with a broken heart, yet somehow stayed strong enough for us. She was my hero. She was moving out in a few weeks, which meant more changes on the horizon for our family.
“Of course love, I was already planning on intervening before your arrival. I fear your children are far too much like yourself.” I shot her a dirty look quite offended by her accusations.
I was not nearly as terrible as my children when it came to packing for holiday. They made everything so bloody hard and insisted on several trips to the store; often with remarks such as “I’ve run out” or “it’s eight weeks” or my favorite “they don’t have that in Scotland.” I found it hard not roll my eyes constantly at their ridiculousness.
“Mom?” I glanced up from my folding to find Isla Faith with a pensive look. “Do you wish that we didn’t have to go?”
I stared uncomprehendingly at my daughter. She was older than her sister and was able to remember the years after the divorce a bit better. “Come here sweetheart,” I patted her bed beckoning her to me. She cuddled up beside me and I loved it. As she grew older, moments like these were few and far between as she claimed she wanted her independence. Although sometimes I could entice her into my bed for a good cuddle session. “I don’t mind you guys going to visit your father. I lost my own when I was five, and I don’t begrudge the time you spend with him.” I stroked her dark red hair. It wasn’t as bright as her father’s or sister’s. “I do get lonely, but then I think about all the time I have with you that he doesn’t. He lives an entire ocean away and relies primarily on FaceTime and phone calls to get him through until your next visit.”
The custody situation was decided on when he chose to move back to Scotland. Both of the girls were born in the United States. While the girls hold citizenship in the U.K., neither of them have lived there for a period longer than two months. They only use their U.S. passports as it was easier for them to leave and re-enter the country without any issues.
“Would you ever get back with dad?” From the moment she had a good grasp on the situation between her father and I, it was the question she thought about and asked the most. She liked to think she remembered what it was like when her dad was around. She was almost three at the time, so it was clear whether or not her memory was reliable or not. It was fuzzy for her, but she told me she remembered how I kissed her father when he came home from work every night.
I pressed a kiss to her strawberry scented hair. She smelled like strawberries, outside, and something that was just Isla.“No darling, your father and I don’t fit together anymore. We live here and he lives in Scotland. It’s already hard to manage a long distance relationship, imagine having an intercontinental one. However, we both love you and your sister, and that won’t ever change.” It was perhaps the only thing we agreed on at the end. We wanted to do what was best for our children, and I think ultimately we have. I try to give him as much time with them as I can without compromising their schooling or my plans. She nodded, seemingly okay with my answer. I knew she would never fully be satisfied with anything I told her. Like any child of divorced parents, her dream was for us to get back together. It was evasive at best, but explaining the situation to an eleven year old was difficult. It was an adult problem, nothing little girls needed to worry about.
“I’m kind of nervous about going to dad’s.” I hadn’t the slightest idea why. She loved going to Scotland every summer. No one else in her class regularly spent their summers abroad. “Now that my body is starting to go through.. you know… changes, it’s weird. I can’t talk to him about these sorts of things. Like what if I get my period? He’s a boy, and dad isn’t the greatest at female stuff.” Her face was one of horror at the mere thought of starting puberty with only her dad around. I couldn't imagine how Jamie would handle it either. I could only imagine what Jamie managed to mangle with her. It wasn’t until we were married that he would go out and buy tampons for me.
I knew it was a worry of hers, especially now that she would be twelve soon enough. Several of her friends had already started their cycles, and she was eagerly anticipating and dreading when it would happen to her. She so desperately wanted to be a woman, when I just wanted her to remain a little girl forever. She was growing far too fast for my liking. I don't recall being this way, but I'm sure my mother would contradict me.
I chuckled. “If it does, you can always have your father call your Aunt Jenny. You can also call me at any time. I’m only a phone call away even if you call and wake me in the early hours of the morning.” I smoothed down her wavy hair.
She reddened at the reminder of her first visit with her father. My baby had not quite grasped the concept of time zones, and forced her father to ring me at two a.m. east coast time. I couldn’t stay mad though as soon as I heard her voice. She cried a bit because she missed me and home. She was a mere three years old, and didn't quite comprehend why she couldn't see me. Trying to explain distance wasn’t an easy task, and it was years before she fully comprehended how far it was. At that point in time, it was only Isla visiting her father. Bree was still too young as she was still several months away from being two and I couldn't subject my mother to two cranky toddlers. My mother flew with Isla to deliver her to their father. Jenny flew with the girl back and visited for a few days with us. We still talked, but she knew well enough not to mention her brother in my presence. There were topics that we ignored to maintain a balance and to help me keep my stability.
“How was your last day of school?” Isla recently finished sixth grade, and she was such a magnificent student. A change of topic was best to distract her from her favorite topic.
She beamed happily at me. I knew then that I asked the right question. “It was great. Ms. Andrews gave us time to sign yearbooks during homeroom. She signed all of ours. Then during assembly we shared our plans for the summer. I wish I was going to be here so that I could participate in the summer service project.” She was such a generous soul. I knew it came from her father, who was always willing to help out the tenants who rented out land on his estate. He would argue it was a trait inherited from me.
They had such huge hearts and did everything to help those in need. “My big sister gave me a gift. Soon enough, I get to be a big sister.” Big sisters were eighth graders assigned to the students in the 5-7th grades. Each girl received one during orientation. It was good for building relationships between grades and creating a positive school dynamic and tradition.
Isla’s big sisters were regulars at our house. It was usually filled with many of their classmates during the weekend. There was no shortage of noise in our house. The school year was busy, and I relied on my mother and the other parents at school to assist with getting the girls to their activities.
“We had our last mass this morning. It’s going to be weird to attend mass with daddy again. We always go with grandma or you when you are off work. It’s different there though with the whole accent thing. Sometimes I can’t always tell what’s being said. I’m going to miss choir and seeing my friends everyday." She dropped her eyes to the floor. "We mostly cried today though. Kara is moving to California. I won’t even be here for her goodbye party.” Her face crumpled and a tear fell down her cheek. I brushed it away with my thumb, wanting nothing more than to hold her in my arms forever.
I was completely gutted by this revelation. It was hard to realize the things my children were deprived of because they had divorced parents living in different parts of the world. Eight weeks of their freedom was spent in the British Isles where aside from family, they didn't know anyone.
“I’m sorry.” It was all I could offer her. Kara had been one of the first friends she made at her new school. They were on the same sports team and hit it off immediately.
She shrugged. “I also have to figure out how to practice for field hockey.” Isla and Bree were quite the athletes. I didn’t have a single athletic bone in my body, but my daughters sure did. They took after their father in that respect. She joined the team this past school year. She also played softball in the spring. Isla started with T-ball at four and continued on from there. She showed such an aptitude and the coaches were impressed with her skills, especially since I knew nothing about the sport.
Bree was a soccer player as the Americans called it. She played all year round. Nothing could distract her when she was in soccer mode. She played club and for her school.
“Maybe your dad will practice with you,” I suggested. I’m sure he could figure it out. He went to a few baseball games, and it wasn't all that different from softball.
We eventually finished packing her suitcase and carry on. I doubled checked her backpack for all of her travel documents including the notarized letter, her passport, their itinerary, her money, and her tablet and charger. Her hand was constantly attached to her phone.
There was extra room in her suitcase for when she ended up bringing home more things than she left with. It wouldn’t be the first time. Jamie tended to indulge the girls wants when they visited. It mostly gave me an excuse to clean out their rooms at the end of summer.
After we were done, we went to check on the progress of her sister. Bree and my mother were just about done themselves. “How about some take out?” I suggested, not in the mood to cook after being called in at four a.m.
I knew with all of the excitement, my mother hadn’t had an opportunity to start on dinner. Both girls cheered excitedly as they did whenever we ate out. It was a rare treat in our house. “Vietnamese,” they agreed upon immediately as they shared a look.
It was our last family dinner for eight weeks. It was one of my favorite nights of the year because it was spent together gathered around the table telling all kinds of stories. Sometimes we shared new ones, and other times we talked about our favorites. It was such a wonderful tradition as I enjoyed time with both of my girls. Their faces lit up and their eyes sparkled as we all talked and laughed.
It amazed me every year how much they had grown. Bree was nine years old heading into the fourth grade. She was becoming more independent with each passing day. Many mornings passed where she no longer wanted me to style her hair. She worked on school projects by herself without requiring any assistance and when shopping for clothes she preferred to search without me hovering over her shoulder.
She was so young when Jamie and I first split, and I wasn’t sure how that would affect her in the long run. In retrospect, she probably had the easiest time with it. For her, having divorced parents wasn’t unusual. She essentially never knew any other way to live and it was just life. It wasn’t entirely uncommon amongst her classmates despite it generally being a taboo in Catholicism. Some of her friends from soccer had divorced parents though, and I'd overheard her on a few occasions talk about what a struggle it could be. Her friends leant a sympathetic ear, and they all passed along advice.
“Do you remember the first time Bree and I visited you at the hospital together?” My face flushed with remembered embarrassment. Bree had been four years old at the time. She knew the general idea of where babies came from, and she interacted with her first pregnant woman. I was coming around the corner at the time when I heard her exclaim, “I see your belly. I know what you did.” The woman she encountered flushed delicately and quickly scurried away in mortification. The nurses who observed the whole ordeal still had a good laugh about it now.
Isla chortled as Bree moaned her mortification. “I was four.” She protested loudly. Laughter surrounded us, and I knew the next few weeks would pass us quickly.
“Remember when you got your first official Valentine from a boy?” I asked Isla. She smiled weakly at me as she attempted to hide behind her hair. “Isla comes home from third grade with this card and a flower. She tells me this boy has been telling everyone he has a huge crush on her. He wanted her to be his girlfriend. I asked her if she liked him back. Isla then says ‘boys are too gross for a pretty girl like me’. When he asked if she wanted to have a play date, Isla told him she only played with girls.”
Isla covered her red face as Bree giggled uncontrollably. “That’s so funny. You were a snob.” The two of them traded barbs back and forth in that way only siblings could. I knew it was how they expressed their love for one another. It only bothered me when there were slamming doors and yelling/shoving involved.
The girls cleared up the dinner mess and soon enough the car was loaded up with their suitcases.
While the girls weren’t departing until ten, they had to go through TSA. I had to check them in and wait for someone to escort them because of their age. There was a special process for unaccompanied minors, especially since this was an international flight.
I parked my SUV in short-term parking as I helped them unload their massive suitcases. We checked their bags and print out their tickets. I waited with them for the airline representative to arrive to take them through security.
I forced back tears as I hugged and kissed them for the last time for eight weeks. It was always the hardest part of when they left. I watched them as they disappeared into the fold. It took a while for their red heads to mesh into the crowd.
Now I needed to keep myself busy until they returned to me.