On Being A Bitter Divorce Child

I was twelve years old when my parents sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce, and it wrecked me. I quit ballet, the hobby I had devoted almost eight years to, pushed everyone away, and bottled in my confusion and emotions towards my parents. At the time I attended a private Christian middle school and I still remember vividly every time I would announce the news to my friends at school or adults at church. I always got similar reactions. Most (if not all) reacted with shock and some seemed almost horrified. They would tenderly touch my shoulders as if they were broken and say, “I’m praying for you.” Looking back now, I realize that these people probably meant the best by their words and actions but being young and emotionally immature, I felt scared and worse of all, embarrassed. I remembered thinking, “What is going to happen to me?” As if the divorce was going to completely modify my DNA, personality and world, as if I was now damaged goods. My life was messy now. I didn’t have the perfect Christian home or family, my home was now a battlefield where promises were broken and doors were slammed. Friends stopped coming over. It was like there had been a death in the family. Since the church dealt with my parents as the transgressors who didn’t try or pray hard enough to salvage their marriage, my brother and I fit comfortably in the mold of the victim. I walked around with the scarlet “D” of divorce on my chest and felt paranoid that other families could pick me out from a crowd. It was easy to blame them like everyone around them did. Going through the divorce of your parents, while you’re in the key growing stages of your life, gives your teenage angst the best ammunition. I had charged my parents for taking away the wholeness and unity of our family and sentenced myself to passive aggressively guilting them for a lifetime.

As the years went on, it honestly got easier but it was always there like a raised scar I could never stop messing with. Every argument I had with my parents I could always feel the divorce comment never too far around the corner. It was too tempting to not throw in their faces. Every problem in my life I irrationally traced back to the break up of my parent’s marriage. I honestly thought the feelings of betrayal would never go away but then one day I a kind of epiphany. As I was thinking about growing up, the trials and tribulations of meeting boys, obtaining crushes, getting rejected, getting heartbroken and then doing it all again, I spontaneously thought of my parents. Sometimes we forget that our parents were once young. They stood in my shoes and most likely with the same size shoe. Even they were once lovesick teenagers. I was left scratching my head. I had never handled my parents in the same way you would handle your best friend after she or he had been broken up with. I mean that’s how heartbreaks work right? In the words of a popular song from the band, The Script, “when a heart breaks, it don’t break even.” Somebody always gets hurt. Was it possible that one (if not both) of my parents had been sent right back to the days of heartache that they thought they had left behind in their youth? I couldn’t help myself thinking about all the “what-if’s”. If they had ever looked at their phone hoping that the other was calling with words of remorse or repentance, if they had ever had lonely nights that they wished the other was with them, or if they had ever felt the stab of rejection that comes from someone you cared so much about looking you straight in the eye and telling you they want nothing to do with you. It brought me to tears. I had never looked at my parents like were two heartbroken teenagers who, through the masquerade of adulthood, made them seem cold, callous and emotionless about it. Nobody as a child sits dreaming out the window about the day they sign their divorce papers.

We the children of divorce often treat our parents with such disdain because we selfishly assume they are taking away our storybook family on purpose. And maybe they did take it away, maybe they weren’t perfect but neither am I. Neither is anybody. Sympathizing with my parent’s breakup in the way I would deal with my close friend or co-worker’s breakup helped me empathize with them. It seemed so simple but why at the time had it been so impossible? On top of the struggles my parents went through with their painful breakup, I noticed that it was far more difficult because when you share children and a home. Society can react to divorce with scorn and turn parents into pariahs. Some people even go as far as ignoring and distancing themselves to avoid catching the divorce like a highly contagious zombie virus. This is all despite the very real fact that divorce is becoming more and more commonplace in our society.

If you’re a bitter child of divorce like I was (and am still growing out of) the only advice I can give is to simply let it go. It is 1,000 times harder to do than say but remember that you are a human being, not a scorekeeper.

Namesake

According to most online namesake authorities, Natalie means nativity. This of course is ironic, given that I haven’t stepped foot in a church in over eight years. And yet, I remember how evocative this discovery had been to me as a little girl. When I think of the word nativity, I cannot help but have my mind whirled backwards to the magic of childhood Christmases. Mine, however, were always heavily steeped in religion. We weren’t celebrating the coming together of family or the closing of a year; this was our lord and savior’s b-day bash. I can hardly remember one Christmas without the neon cast on my bedroom window of our ornamental, plastic, light-up nativity set in the front yard. One year, our baby Jesus was stolen and the family consensus was that it had been the work of Satanists trying to encumber our display of Christian devotion. I would love to entertain the notion that we were indeed visited by these mythical Satanists Fox News were always talking about, but our sacred plastic baby Jesus was most likely taken by a handful of mischievous neighborhood teens. Our family went well beyond December 25th though. My parents had brought me up in the church as any self-respecting, god-fearing Baptist parents would, but this progressed from our holidays to my education. I moved from Christian school to Christian academy to Christian institution. My science, math and biology were now interweaved with the teachings of Genesis and Exodus. Every nagging question could be easily explained away with a simple answer: because Jesus. This needed not apply only to academia. My entire personality was diluted with religious teachings. This was the life that I was brought into, cultivated and encouraged by my parents. The meaning behind my naming must have been some divine sign from God that my path to Jesus Christ was assigned at birth. At this point in my life I have come to regard that ideal as absurd. I realize now that my mother most likely watched West Side Story too many times and simply had Natalie Wood on the brain. I hate to think that meaning behind my name could be so cavalier, so pedestrian, but when I grew apart from religion I felt like I was in part rejecting my namesake. It was impossible to comb over my memories without seeing how large of a role religion had played into my identity during quite a number of formable years. Needless to say I was lost when I finally divorced myself from religion completely. Contrary to R.E.M’s prescriptive experience, I needed no corner to facilitate my loss of religion. I did it entirely on my own accord. While I still feel detached to the meaning behind my name in the religious sense, I enjoy the idea that I experienced a slice of life that is unlike most agnostic upbringings. I experienced religion to the extreme. Where it reaches every single part of your life till it eventually consumes your very identity. Everything in my household, including our plastic nativity Christmas, was laden with some sort of pious guilt that somehow we were not doing enough. Eventually you begin to feel like nothing is enough and in time it comes to a head and you erect a neon Mary and Joseph praying over a manger as your lawn décor. I should say after I have written such a long and almost entirely negative narrative around religion, that I have no qualms about religion or religious people. I write this while currently dating a Roman catholic, and yes, he has invited me multiple times. However, I delight in having the freedom to make my own mind, a courtesy that my younger self was perhaps not given, and I choose to make religion my past and not my present. Of course, who knows about the future.

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