...Except not really more real. Because from where in the world did I cull such a detailed drama about parents getting divorced? Not from my own household, that's for sure.
Check out this convoluted tale of a family in anguish, as documented in my 1991 novella, The Parent Fight. Please note it was published by a renowned local agency - my elementary school's "book publishing center" - when I was a 10-year-old fifth grader.
The Parent Fight
By Cathy Gorga, May 1991
"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!"
Tony and Drew (my two little brothers) were fighting. Tony was chasing Drew around the house, and obviously Drew did not enjoy it. Drew and Tony are four and six. (Tony's older.) Dawn, my sister, is eight.
I'm Melody Austin, and I'm ten. I'm the oldest in my family. Personally, I think it's really okay. You get more advantages. But you do get blamed for most everything.
I've noticed my parents fighting a lot. I really don't like it. It makes me real nervous. I hear them fighting at nighttime mostly. Hopefully they will get over it.
"Help! Melly! Melly! Help me!" Drew was still shrieking.
"Hold it!" I said. "Tony, stop that! Drew hates it. Why are you chasing Drew anyway?"
"He started it!" Tony exclaimed.
"By doing what?" I asked.
"Hitting me," Tony replied. "Besides, it's none of your beeswax."
I sighed. "Drew, go tell Mom."
"Okay. Thanks, Me-"
Drew was cut off by the sound of...
"Pam, where did you put my keys?"
"Derek, I'm telling you I didn't touch them!"
"Pam, I know you have them somewhere..."
"Derek I didn't take them! Don't you trust me?"
My parents were fighting again. Dad stomped into the room.
"Daddy?" Drew said in a small voice.
"Yes, Drew?" Dad stopped stomping for a minute.
"Daddy, I know where your keys are." Drew reached into his pocket.
"Oh," Dad said sheepishly as Drew handed him the keys. Then he walked off into the kitchen. Whoa, I thought.
That night I laid in my bed listening to Mom and Dad fight.
"Derek, I can't believe that you can't trust me!"
"Listen, I trust you. It was all a simple, little old mistake."
"You said so yourself - you don't trust me! It's not a simple little old mistake. Drew took your keys but you blamed me! Why?"
"Pam, listen, I'm sorry but -"
"Nothing! But nothing!"
I heard some mumbles. This went on for quite awhile. Finally I heard something.
"We're going to have to work things out, Pamela."
"Well, there's only one way..."
"Pamela Austin, I think that...that a divorce is the only way."
A divorce? I gasped.
I didn't know for sure about Mom and Dad getting a divorce until five days after they said so. I was dying of suspense. Were my parents going to be - divorced?
After I got home from school on Wednesday I walked in the kitchen and saw Tony Drew and Dawn already there. Mom and Dad were also there.
"Honey," Mom said, "we need to talk to you."
Dad took a deep breath and said, "Well, kids, you know your Mom and I have been fighting a lot lately."
"No, really?" I thought sarcastically.
"So we've decided to do something about it," Mom said.
"Kids, we - we're getting a divorce." Dad looked at us.
"Now I'll be like Rachel," Dawn wailed. (Rachel Corn is her best friend.)
Drew asked, "What's a divorce?"
"It's when two married people decide they can't live with each other anymore, so they decide not to be married anymore," Mom explained. Drew started crying. Tony just stood there looking bewildered.
"How could you?" I cried. "How on earth could you? You promised me that you wouldn't get a divorce and now what are you doing? Getting a divorce! You lied to me! You lied!" I ran off crying tears of anger and tears of sadness.
I woke up the next morning and a question came to mind. Who was I going to live with? I asked Mom that question at breakfast.
"Well," she replied. "Dad and I decided Drew and Tony were too little to make choices on their own, so they will live with Dad. It's up to you and Dawn to make choices for yourselves."
Wow, I thought. This will be one of the hardest decisions that I will probably ever have to make. It took me days and days to make my final decision. Dad was moving to Kentucky. Mom was staying here in Florida. Dawn and I sat in my room talking.
"I want to stay here, I guess. I mean, I know Mom better than Dad. I have more friends here. I like the beach but I still love Dad and I might like Kentucky. Oh, this is so hard," Dawn said.
"I know," I replied. "I feel the same way. I love Dad, I might love Kentucky, you know..." I sighed. "I just hope I make the right decision."
"Oh, no!" Dawn suddenly cried.
"What? What?" I shrieked.
"I just thought of something else. We have to decide about - well, it's either you go with Mom or you with Dad. And Drew and Tony, remember?"
"Oh, my gosh! I totally forgot! Oh, great."
"Well," Dawn said, "Mom said we'd be visiting whichever parent we didn't live with for three months each year. So, really, we'll still live with each of them."
"I guess you're right," I said.
"Well, I'm going with Mom," Dawn said.
"Yeah...okay," I said. "Um, Dawn?"
"I've got some homework," I lied. "I better do it now, alone."
"Oh, sorry. Well, talk to me later," Dawn said. "Or else."
I smiled. "All right," I replied.
As soon as Dawn left I closed the door. I had to think. I soon found my answer. I would be staying with...Mrs. Pamela Austin. I made my decision by taking Tony's t-ball hat, putting two slips of paper saying Mom and Dad in the hat, jiggling the hat, closing my eyes and picking the slip that said "Mom" on it, so that's who I would live with.
Three weeks after I made up my mind, Dad, Drew and Tony moved to Kentucky. As soon as they left in Dad's Cadillac, I ran into my room and burst into tears.
Mom knocked on my door a couple minutes later. "Honey? Melody? Can I talk to you?" she asked.
"Go away," I grumbled.
"Mel, I need to talk to you."
"Leave me alone!"
"Melody, I -"
"Mom, go away! Now!"
"Okay," Mom sighed, but she left me alone.
"Dumb person," I mumbled.
I sighed. Hot tears kept stinging my eyes. I wanted to cry. I wanted Mom and Dad to live together, along with Drew, Tony, and Dawn. This was not fair.
Not one of my friends could relate to me, either. They all had two married parents. I started crying again. Mom and Dad were being unfair to me. But really, they were doing the right thing. And I knew it.
At school the next day, I asked Miss Rodment, my teacher, if I could stay in for recess.
"Sure," she said. "Read Larson has a tiny cold, so her mother asked if she could stay in, too. Hey, Melody, is anything wrong?"
"My - my parents got...got...a...divorce." By the time I had said "divorce" I was almost whispering.
"Oh, Mel, I'm sorry," Miss Rodment said.
"It's okay," I told her. "It really is."
"Okay. But I'm still sorry."
I grinned. I found my hour and 15 minutes of recess quite helpful. I:
1. Cleaned out my desk.
2. Clean out my area.
3. Finished all of my homework.
After I was done with that, I cleaned out three bookcases. While Read and I worked, we talked.
"I'm glad my parents aren't divorced," Read commented. "It would be really hard on Lewis and me." (Read's four year old brother is Lewis.)
"Yeah," I agreed. "My Dad just moved to Kentucky yesterday. Drew and Tony went with him."
"Boy," Read said after awhile. "My parents wouldn't ever do a thing like that. Or at least, they probably won't ever do a thing like that."
"You'll be lucky if they don't," I told her.
After months and months of having my parents divorced, I began to get used to it. And after months and months of switching from Florida to Kentucky, I finally got used to that. But the only thing I never got used to was holidays. They felt so...well, empty. But I suppose I'll get used to everything after awhile. But no matter what, I always will remember the good things that happened when Drew, Dawn, Tony, Mom, Dad, and I were one family, living together in one happy house.
I can only imagine what the poor mother who typed up this story was thinking. The publishing center was a pretty awesome concept - students wrote their stories and chose a fabric for the cover, and parent volunteers would type them up and create an actual book. Even the kindergartners could participate. My mom was legendarily active at our elementary school, including at the publishing center, and I'm sure the other volunteers knew who she was...and wondered if Mrs. Pamela Austin (gotta love how I utilized that full name, and repeatedly) was perhaps based on a true story.
Trust me, she wasn't. My parents rarely fought, and when they did, they didn't throw out lines like, "Pam, I know you have them somewhere!" I'm guessing this story grew out of my inadvertently-romanticized view of divorce, which I garnered thanks to a slew of YA authors in the '70s and '80s who did their best to spin it in a positive light. Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Ann M. Martin - I spent my days and nights with my nose buried in their books, where I learned that, when your parents got divorced, you got to decorate two bedrooms, celebrate two Christmases, and potentially even be separated from your most annoying siblings (score!). But I had no personal experience with divorce...just made shit up for the publishing center. You know, though - my little sister pulled a similar stunt and published a story called The Drunk Boyfriend that is both entirely fabricated and PURE GOLD (please let me post it here!!), so maybe the publishing center volunteers were used to seeing some weird shit.
|^^ Probably WANTED her parents to get divorced, just to be cool like|
the kids in her favorite books. And maybe so she could get her own room.
Can we also examine my name choices? I know I wasn't the only one with a running list (from elementary school through...okay, currently) of my favorite names. I'd use them for my stories, but also whenever my sisters or friends and I played pretend. Melody Austin was one of my perennial top picks, likely because I had an absolute crush on Melody from the Nickelodeon TV show "Hey Dude". If I remember correctly, my little sister and I always argued over who got to be Melody when we played. My other names are pretty solid (ahem, solidly homogenous), including the surnames - with the notable exception of Rachel Corn, Melody's sister's friend. Also not sure where I came up with the name Read Larson, but can I just say that she is...kind of a bitch? "I'm glad my parents aren't divorced....My parents wouldn't ever do a thing like that." Newsflash to Read Larson: When your recess buddy is struggling because her folks just split up, don't throw your happy family in her face, okay? God. Bitch.
So, in conclusion, if you're ever stuck on a major decision, such as which divorced parent to live with, just throw your choices into your brother's t-ball hat. You, too, might get the opportunity to live with Mrs. Pamela Austin for nine months out of the year, and then with Derek for another three months, in the weirdest custody agreement and sibling configuration my 10-year-old brain could conjure.
Oh, and? If you need to suggest divorce to your partner, the coolest way is to say it just like Derek did: "Mrs. Pamela Austin, I think that...that a divorce is the only way." BAM.
Good Throwback Thursday to you, and don't forget to check out the rest of this series if you need to feel better about yourself for a little while.