Every time I see him, Chuck asks me the same thing while I make his drink: "Have you become a raging, firebreathing bitch yet?"
"Not quite yet, Chuckles," I answer.
"Well let me know when you do. When you do, you can represent me against that raging bitch ex-wife of mine."
For years I've listened with sympathy to men experiencing divorce, commiserating with them and marveling about how their ex-wives could go from being the woman they once loved to such bitter, wrathful creatures. Now here I am, an ex-wife. And now, I get it.
Break-ups make us do crazy things. Think, Alanis Morrissette and the "You Oughta Know" Guy; Carrie and Berger and the Post-It note; Left-Eye and the burning house. Men, especially ex-husbands, make us do crazy things. A bad marriage can push a person to the edge, but a divorce can send them over.
A friend - an intelligent, beautiful, spirited friend - talked with me today about her divorce. As we talked, this bright, confident woman started to crumble right in front of me. Her posture became hunched and her face red and her eyes fought back tears as she talked to me about what an manipulative man her ex-husband is, and how intimidating it is to battle him in court. I admonished her to take charge of her life, and to stop allowing herself to be his victim, and reminded her that he only gets under her skin because she allows him to. She was allowing herself to become irrational over this man.
Even as my mouth spoke the words I was struck by my own hypocrisy as my mind drew back to the text message exchange I had with Ben over our cell phone bill. We've stayed on the same calling plan but talked recently about separating that too. Although it's clear our marriage is over and he lives on the other side of the country, something about splitting off from our shared calling plan feels like a final nail in the proverbial coffin. And so the following exchange took place:
Me: I know this is a pain, but I'd like to stay on the calling plan until my name changes.
Ben: You mean in December?
Me: Yes. When our divorce is final.
Ben: Can't you just get your own calling plan and change your name with the phone service later?
Me: You have no idea what a hassle it is to change your name! I only did it because I thought I'd be married forever, not two and a half fucking years!
That was that. Two days have gone by, and neither of us has mentioned the phone plan again. Probably because we haven't spoken to each other in two days. Probably because I still see red when I think about it.
Why should it be that something so petty should get me so wired? I don't want to stay married to him. I still wish him happiness. But sometimes the anger just takes over. Yes, it makes me irrational.
For every man who has wondered out loud to me how the woman he once loved became so bitter and angry, there was an ex-wife. And she was somewhere wondering what happened to their love, what happened to his commitment. Maybe, like me, she thought about the hours of labor she went through to deliver his son. Maybe the occasional piece of mail still gets delivered to her mailbox and her anger ignites and burns her again. Maybe she thinks about all of his socks that she turned right-side-out or the pants pockets she emptied for him before she washed them because he never did. Maybe she was complaining about how he never paid his child support on time, even while he was tipping me every round and always had money for one more. Maybe once in a while she finds a t-shirt that he's left behind and she shreds it and it makes her feel a little bit better, and crazy all at once. Maybe, like Chuck's wife, we can all breathe fire.
In an episode of the Golden Girls, Dorothy is unwittingly conversing with her ex-husband's soon-to-be-bride. When the woman says, "He's got this ex-wife," Dorothy interrupts and says "Hold it! I happen to be an ex-wife." It's like a club. A club that, like the "Mommies of Departed Children" club, I never wanted to belong to. And still, when I meet a fellow ex-wife now, I find myself relating to her and understanding every crazy thing she says. Because we're not really crazy. We're just getting divorced.