The trick to getting divorced when you're still in love is, of course, to focus on the bad things in the marriage. To intentionally not focus on the way when you were fighting about who does the dishes more, and this is a very important issue as it speaks to, at least in your mind, who does more in the relationship in general, and he said, "all I did was eat a bowl of cereal" in such a way that you burst out laughing and then he burst out laughing as well -- and then the fight fell apart. Or when he set up the pup tent in the living room so the cats could play with their electric spinning ball without losing control of it. Or the way he secretly bought you flowers at the Farmer's Market and somehow smuggled them home amongst the tomatoes and sunflower sprouts and cheddar-chili bread without you noticing. It also helps to not focus on the fact that he's still in love with you too.
Instead, put your attention on the late nights riddled with promises of being home early and then nothing, not even a phone call. Or the times he swore he'd book a flight while the prices were low or pick up the gift you needed that night for your boss' birthday party, but instead he met up with a friend. Or the dish in the sink, again.
I wasn't particularly skilled at dwelling on the bad. When Kory and I divorced it wasn't so much that my mind suddenly wandered toward the good, it was that it had established a well worn path there. He was smart, astoundingly kind, funny, playful, sweet, beautiful, talented. He had good taste in literature, music, food, home decor. He loved animals. He loved people. We always joked that we could walk into the same room and he would like everyone in there until proven otherwise, while I would dislike everyone until also otherwise proven. We almost always ended up agreeing on the same folks. He was a talented musician in a moderately successful band. He was loyal and loving and fierce about family. He also loved to drink.
I'm hesitant to say he was an alcoholic. Not so much because this is intended for publication, though that too, but more because if he was one, he wasn't your typical alcoholic. We rarely had booze in the apartment. He never drank in the morning, hardly ever in the afternoon. Almost all of his drinking was social. And he would often go weeks and months without a drop. But there were certain nights when he became carried away with his drinking that were, for me, unbearable.
To be fair, there were plenty of things about me that he found unbearable. For one, my desire to control his drinking.
But the love between us ran deep, and in many ways we balanced each other out. On sleepless nights we would lie in our white iron bed beneath the domed skylight, he'd read aloud a line of Burroughs then I'd read a line of Faulkner. Back and forth. We created our own tales that way. "I could never love anybody but you," he'd murmur as we drifted off to sleep and he would kiss me so gently that if I closed my eyes it would feel like the breeze. The day we were married, I wept so much the priest had to hold my lines in front of me, which I whispered while Kory squeezed my hand.
Years later, in an effort to keep our vows intact, we went into therapy with an insightful woman named Joan and learned a lot about ourselves, each other, the sometimes lousy way in which we communicated. We practiced more fully embracing each other's lifestyles. He joined the gym, took up juicing, and read more fiction. Once a late-nighter myself, I helped him close bars and clubs and parties and I drank almost as much as I did back in the day. On the nights I stayed home, I didn't yell at him when he rolled in late smelling of stale smoke and beer. I didn't cry. I didn't judge. Instead, we learned to articulate our struggles to one another; in fact, we became so good at understanding one another we often didn't even need to explain much. For instance, once, after he'd been to a therapy session alone, he was helping me fold laundry. He folded a towel the wrong way, so without any fuss I simply folded it the right way. "I was just talking to Joan about that," he said. And without another word I knew exactly what he meant.
Rather than sleeping apart after a disagreement, we huddled into each other, the cats curled at our feet, terrified at the notion of our relationship not spanning forever. "I'm sorry," I'd say. And I meant it. "I'm sorry too," he'd say, his head snuggled into my neck, his arms wrapped tightly around me. "Let's never be apart," he'd say. "Never," I'd say. Though soon enough he would start drinking and I would start controlling. Or, from his perspective, I would start controlling and he would start drinking. But I never stopped loving him. Or liking him, for that matter. I know so many couples who, when they split up, hated each other so profoundly they sought vengeance and justice and punishment. Or they ended their marriages by having affairs. Or were so physically repulsed by their partners they'd stopped having sex, sometimes years before. All variations on the same theme: They did not want to spend any more time together. This wasn't true of us. We wanted to stay together. In fact, right up until our last night we were having the most beautiful and connected sex of our marriage -- I believe now this is because we were finally seeing each other for who we were and not who we wanted the other person to be.
Sadly, the who-we-actually-were versions of ourselves couldn't find a mutually agreeable lifestyle. When we finally decided to divorce, when we accepted that despite our very best efforts at some base level we brought out each other's worst traits, we made a pact that we would always be friends. And not just ordinary friends. "I will always love you," Kory said solemnly. "No matter what. Whoever comes afterwards will have to understand that." I swore as much in return.
But, of course, that didn't happen.
Looking back, I realize now that I thought love would be enough. It was enough to date each other; it was enough to move in together; it was enough to get married. I thought it would be enough to stay married, to soothe our differences, and when that failed, I thought it would be enough to help us get divorced. After all, I didn't really want to fold towels properly and I don't suppose Kory wanted to roll in at all hours of the morning drunk. And surely if we loved each other enough to make solemn vows, that same love could help us evolve into the people we wanted to be.
But as it turns out, I was wrong. Although I was the one who filed for the divorce, I didn't want it. On our final night together before I made that decision, right up until the last moment, I thought we'd finally found the perfect balance. We'd gone to a party in Brooklyn with two of our dear friends. We'd had some drinks, cracked some jokes, stirred up a bit of mischief. Then, around one-ish, Kory took my hand and said he wanted to go home. If there was a time when Kory wanted to leave a party before me, I certainly couldn't remember it. We can do this, I thought, delighted. Go out, each have a couple of drinks, then head home at a reasonable hour. The four of us tumbled into a cab. When we reached our place on Great Jones I hopped out and held the door for Kory. He remained in the back with Eric and Robert and very sweetly, though with a slight slur, said, "I'm just going to have one more with the boys." I knew if I let go of that handle I would lose him forever. And then it was just like in the movies, when a drowning person's life flashes before their eyes. Every flower-petal touch, every sweetness cooed, every fear steadied, every Christmas gift wrapped, every gift opened, every laugh shared, every sickness healed. All of it. In thirty, maybe forty, more likely twenty seconds or less. All of it summarized. All of it felt. All of it remembered and cherished.
Then I closed the door. And he was gone.
The last time I saw Kory, back in those days, we met at a favorite restaurant. We'd decided to split all of our belongings and bank account down the middle, so I was delivering a check. Neither one of us ate. Later, outside, we sat on the ledge of a building and wept as we held each other until finally our arms gave out. We had nothing to say. No words of anger nor of regret. Nor of healing. He walked me to the pet store and helped me carry cartons of cat food up the crooked stairs to our place just as we used to do. Then, with the cats bouncing against his boots, and the sun from the skylight catching his eyes, he gave me his set of keys, our skin touching briefly for the last time.
I received my divorce papers a year later, on a crisp, sunny fall day when I was meandering into my first post-marriage tryst, and least expecting them. The final decree was two pages long stapled, like an office document, in the left hand corner. So few words to wipe out so much. I sat at my kitchen table and cried. My instinct was to call Kory, it was still embedded in my cells to share my joys and sorrows with him, but he had disappeared a year before and wouldn't surface until another year had passed.
Now we speak occasionally. I rang him to let him know one of our cats had died. He, to let me know one of my favorite authors was reading nearby. We laugh easily, the way we used to. And we understand huge things about each other that no one else can.
When we first fell in love, Kory wrote a song for me. The lyrics went like this: Go to sleep in my arms/A soul to keep from all harm/I lie awake in a crystal calm/Your face so sweet till the end of time. And the chorus like this: A lullaby makes you feel better/The world's all but died, but we're together.
And then we're not.