Who You Gonna Believe

Chapter 10: Irretrievable Breakdown

It took a few days, but I did pick up those DIY divorce forms again. I waited until Rodney wasn’t around to froth my rage so I could focus. I accepted that I wasn’t going to get any real help, let alone free help, from the associate pastor slash marriage counselor who had only a few weeks earlier promised the church would “protect” me. Which, so far as I could tell, was less about holding Christian men accountable and more about devotion to misogyny.

I filled them out during a break between classes. I bought a protein bar and a pint of chocolate milk and sat down with Liz in the University Library café. “I can do this, right?” I said, holding up the asset division section.

“Course you can. And the sooner you do it, the better. I need you to help me get a D in Finite Math so I can graduate at the end of the semester.” She took a bite of an Otis Spunkmeyer blueberry muffin while waving a twenty-dollar bill in my face. I couldn’t tell if she wanted to pay me to try tutoring her again or to complete her homework. “By the way, I saw your husband getting on the elevator in Cavanaugh this morning. He is super fucking creepy.”

“I know,” I said, slightly miffed. I hated it when people pointed out how obviously horrible Rodney was. Not because I was the only one allowed to say disparaging things about him, but because I felt like such a fool for marrying him. I didn’t just miss a couple of red flags, I missed 7,416 of them.

In retrospect I could see them everywhere. And they weren’t all just 3-inch plastic squares on flimsy metal sticks. Most of those fuckers were large enough to cover a queen-sized bed, flapping atop forty-foot poles in a thirty-five mile per hour wind, snap hooks clanking against the aluminum post while spotlights trained on them from below strobed S-O-S in Morse code.

“Maybe you have a bad picker,” Liz offered. I was  visibly offended by the plausibility.

Liz pushed a cellophane muffin wrapper and napkin to the center of the table and then rested her chin in her palm. “That’s for uncontested divorce, right? How you gonna get him to sign it?” Her hazel eyes twinkled. I loved Liz. I couldn’t have made it through those last couple of semesters at IUPUI without her—she introduced me to Carrie Newcomer and hot boxing contact highs at a time I really needed them—but sometimes she could be a little insensitive.

(Like the time her mother, who’d dedicated decades of her adult life to being the Other Woman, visited from Oregon. “I told her you’d be coming over,” Liz said. “And she was like, ‘Oh, God, she’s not going to be crying all the time, is she?’)

“I don’t know if he’ll sign,” I deflated, “but first things first.” I checked the box for “no children” and filled out the part requesting a return to my maiden name. I compiled the papers and tapped the edges on the table to admire my work. After clearing my throat, I read aloud in my most official sounding voice: “Part nine. This marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown and should be dissolved.”

“Poetry!” Liz swooned.

Heh. Poetry. Liz gave me a thought. Maybe I’d type that shit up using Rodney’s antique Underwood, frame it, and hang it on the wall next to that poem he so thoughtfully plagiarized for me.

***

When Rodney got home that night, I called him into the office. I’d hardly spoken to him all week, so he was genuinely curious what I wanted. He sauntered in smelling like a vat of gumbo. I can’t say for certain he did it intentionally, but at the time I believed him to be so committed to his I’ll-do-anything-to-spite-Emily phase that he chose lunch based on what would make him reek most intensely when he got home. That day he’d been to Yats.

I rolled my chair back a few inches so I could breathe in something besides sausage, seafood, garlic, and hot sauce. “I’m filing for divorce,” I said, presenting the papers. “You have two choices: sign these in front of a notary with me on Thursday or get a lawyer.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned divorcing him, but it was the first time he’d seen the smudged laser-jet ink spelling it all out, detailing asset division and my name change. He plucked the pages from my hands and stared at them for a moment. Then he laughed the only way he knew how—fakely. “You see these numbers?” He pointed to the left margin. “Even if I sign, they won’t take them like this. How much time did you waste on these?”

I forced a serene smile. I knew I had him rattled if he skipped the “why don’t you just trust me” speech and jumped straight to gaslighting. “Then sign them so I can make a fool of myself,” I said sweetly. Rodney eyed the paper shredder by the desk a little too long, so I snatched them back quickly.

I switched to my super-serious tone. “These are straight from the court’s self-service website, and they are your one shot at walking away from this without being sued for alimony. If you think it’s hard paying back sixty grand in student loans now, try doing it after I get fifty percent of your paycheck for the rest of your life.” I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair. I had no intention of taking his money even if it was an option, because I didn’t want to be reminded of his existence when things were final. But he’d already shown his ignorance on the matter, so I knew it would be a good bluff.

“Find a notary then,” he spat. “And tell you what—you do me the favor of divorcing me and I’ll pay the filing fee.” He didn’t think I would really do it. His underestimation of me was more obvious than his lunch choice—and fifty times more insulting—but it always worked to my advantage.

With Rodney still thinking that he was the one calling my bluff, we drove to the Brownsburg police station together before the week was out. They notarized documents for a buck. The bank we used would have done it for free, but our neighbor was a teller there, and I thought it might get awkward.

“What do you need notarized?” a middle-aged civilian woman asked from behind a bulletproof window. As she inked her official stamp I replied, “these divorce documents.”

“Pardon?” she said.

I leaned closer to the round metal speaker in the plexiglass and raised my voice. “DIVORCE. PAPERS.” I held up the forms—prepared and collated in triplicate–in front of her window. I don’t know if it was the volume of my voice or the lack of emotion that accompanied my words, but a hush fell over the lobby in that suburban city hall. She and two police officers eyed me uncomfortably, as if they’d never encountered a woman who didn’t need a man before and secretly wondered if I might be dangerous.