Written by David Schel
Like most people, I reached age 49 never experiencing a lotto win, surgery, or fighting in a war. I have, however, experienced the painful fallout of divorce throughout my entire life.
When my wife and I got married, we had no family in our lives because of the devastation that occurred during the multiple divorces in our own upbringings. My wife’s parents had five divorces between them, all of which brought new children to the mix. My parents’ divorce and complicated remarriages led to numerous broken relationships as well. Even I divorced once in my 20s, although thankfully I had no kids. And my sister? Well she and I got split up when our parents divorced. And then she divorced twice. There was so much divorce around us that my only sibling and I were never able to build a bond. As if all that wasn’t enough, my wife had one divorce behind her when we got married, too. That split and the ongoing legal and other battles with her ex-husband took its toll on her son as well as on us.
And so my wife and I took our time — seven years in fact — before having children of our own. We talked extensively about our backgrounds over the course of those early years together. I needed to be certain our marriage would be a lifelong commitment so that our children would never experience divorce. Nor did I want to relive my horrible childhood either. That’s why we both vowed to break the chain and never let our children live our pasts.
I was 40 when we had the first of our two daughters. Seven years later our best friends, who were our children’s godparents and the closest thing we had to family, divorced. Two years after that, after 15 years together, my wife also left our family.
With four decades of divorce-induced broken relationships in my rear view mirror, my own divorce has been incredibly difficult. I’ve lost my lifelong dream to experience what it means to have a lasting family. The pain I feel for what my daughters are going through, and the family they will never have, is much worse. And it breaks my heart. Each day brings another agonizing reminder of the beautiful memories of our wonderful family too. I haven’t slept well in two years. I know it sounds funny, but my body wouldn’t recognize a fruit or vegetable if I tripped over one. Exercise means lifting a tissue to wipe away the endless tears. Divorce, my kryptonite, has struck again.
Late August brought even more difficulties when I started losing vision in my left eye. Medication and so many doctor appointments later, I felt I should be invited to the office Christmas party. But pills and drops proved useless, and my doctor told me major surgery was necessary to try and save my sight. The fear of losing yet another part of my life took hold the week before Thanksgiving.
Prior to the surgery, my doctor explained that the required form of anesthesia caused some patients to babble while they were under. I didn’t give that a second thought. I lay on the hospital bed, the anesthesiologist put an I-V in my left arm, and that’s the last thing I remember. Two hours later I woke up in the recovery room. For two hours I was free of the misery I live with day and night.
When I woke up, my doctor was already in the operating room with another patient. I finally saw him the next morning.
“So, did I babble?” I asked.
“Let’s finish the examination first and then we’ll get to that,” he said. I didn’t need an advanced degree to know that meant; I had babbled all right.
“I told you I would let you know if I like salad, and yes, I like salad, “my doctor said after the exam.
He proceeded to tell me that I had gone on and on during the surgery about how I hadn’t had salad for two years and how much I missed it. I interrogated everyone in the operating room about salad, too, and my doctor said he told them about the painful divorce I was going through.
Without knowing any of this, a friend’s wife sent dinner over the next night, bar-b-qued chicken salad. It was good, but it wasn’t my wife’s taco salad (a California staple) that I miss so much.
I still don’t remember those two hours I spent on an operating table and I never will. But they were the best two hours I’ve had in two years. The pain was still there, of course, even though I don’t remember it. The nightmare I was living before those two hours, however, continues on.
The fate of my eye is still unknown. But my daughters? Their fate is sealed. Every day they have to endure seeing other kids have what they never will. Because the vows made to them, before they were even born, the vows that were to shape and grace their lives, have simply been tossed aside.