Saving Face

Chapter 9
Novels, stories, and more.
Sept. 23 2009 5:05 PM

Saving Face

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Illustration by Deanna Staffo. Click image to expand.

I have been sitting in the UVA medical center emergency room for five hours now, waiting for Marina to be admitted so I can be allowed upstairs to see her. I have put in calls to Bob every half hour, but his cell is turned off, his secretary at the law school has no idea where he is, and he appears to have no phone at his new apartment. I have arranged for Bob's mother—who hasn't seen him in a week—to pick up the girls at school. I am calling Marina's family with medical updates as I receive them, mostly to reassure them not to book cross-country flights yet because her injuries are extensive but not serious. Mainly, I have read the same dog-eared copy of Self magazine 17 times.   Which means I have now mentally transposed all 10 of the "Things Your Man Secretly Wants in Bed" with the 14 easy moves to "Whittle Your Waist Instantly." Never again will I go to bed with my husband without hand weights and a yoga ball. And starting tomorrow I will shed those post-pregnancy pounds using only a feather and some vanilla frosting.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

I have called Cole twice to apologize for this afternoon's argument. I left messages asking him to pick up the kids and tell Danny to start dinner. Cole's under crazy pressure right now, and I never wanted to add to it. That said, I wish I had thought to bring my laptop along so I could be blogging right now. I want to write up some of that good stuff I yelled at him about women and move cases.

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When they finally allow me up to see Marina, it's almost 6 p.m. and the halls are full of stacked dinner trays that smell like grilled cat food.   I had no idea what she might need, so I am clutching an Old Navy bag stuffed with my white bathrobe, an iPod, a new toothbrush, Cole's woolly camping socks, and a Lancôme makeup kit I got from duty-free. When I first tap at her half-open door, Marina is lying so still I think she must be drugged or asleep. It takes a minute before I realize she can't move her head to greet me.

"Hey," I whisper, opening the door a bit wider.

"Hmmmmmmmm," she grunts.

I circle the bed with its thin, white coverlet and raised guard rails and position myself in front of a face that bears no resemblance to my friend. The whites of her eyes are completely red and the bruising and scrapes around her face are raw. A purple welt across the top of her left shoulder must have come from her seatbelt. Her arms and fingers are covered with bandages.  

I try to find some undamaged terrain on her face where I might drop a kiss and find a spot near her left ear. Her lips are so swollen I can barely make out what she's saying.   She hisses, "Girls. School?"

"Bob's mother has them," I assure her. "She's at your house waiting to hear whether to bring them in to see you."

"Not ... like ..." she gestures with bandaged hands at her face.

I reach for some piece of undamaged Marina and end up clutching her left leg. "No. Not like this. I'll tell her to wait until your face is healed up a bit."

"Bob?" she says, closing swollen eyes.

"I haven't been able to reach him. His cell keeps going straight to voice mail. Cole went by his apartment and pounded at the door, but no answer." I hesitate. "I even thought about putting a call in to Quid Pro but I couldn't bring myself to do it."

"Don't," she mutters, wincing as she tries to turn her head. I reach behind her and attempt to reposition a crunchy hospital pillow but stop when I realize I'm only making things worse.

"Kevin wants to fly in. So do your parents."

"No." Her eyes fill with tears.

"Are you sure?"

"No." She swallows hard. "Other driver?"

"Nobody hurt but you, they told me. Oh, Marina, what happened?"

"Smell of airbag ...   Worst smell ...  "

"Worse than," I peer at the foil-wrapped dinner tray and read out loud, "Scrod Diablo?"   No smile.

"Bee flew up my sunglasses," she tells me.   "I couldn't see. Hit someone in a Hummer from behind."

"Were you sober?" I ask.  And then, as realization dawns, "Oh my God. Were you tweeting?"

"No."   For a natural-born diva, Marina is actually a fairly bad liar.

I pull out my phone to check the time of her last Twitter entry. 11:55 a.m. The hospital told me the ambulance cut her out around 12:30.

"Marina!" I howl. "You were going to orphan your girls just so you could advise the world in real time that ..." I slowly read her most recent partial tweet, "OMG Quid Pro Ho drives like my great Aunt Sylvia. Who taught xdfklsldkfj"

Marina crashed her car and almost died while tailing her husband's mistress.   How very Tolstoy for the 21st century. "What is it with you and Twitter?" I ask, gripping the bedrail. I can't bring myself to ask about the fact she was trailing a young woman in her car. What started as a little post-breakup Facebook stalking has morphed into the monorail to crazy-town.

"Reminds me that I'm still here," Marina grinds out, then shifts her eyes to stare out the window.

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Splitigation

Welcome to Week 3 of Your Divorce 

First, I need to reiterate that I am not, repeat NOT dispensing free legal advice over the Internet, and that I am just sharing thoughts I have about divorce and matrimonial law as they occur to me. This blog is intended for entertainment purposes only, and also maybe as a place for women to realize they aren't totally alone. If you need advice specific to your matrimonial situation, please contact a lawyer in your jurisdiction.

So here we are at Week 3. And let me tell you: Week 3 = Rock Bottom.

Right now, you probably feel like you are all alone on the planet, except for your children who are somehow needier and more demanding than they have been since infancy. You probably feel like the whole world has moved on and left you behind. You want to give up. Well, I am here to warn you about what happens to women who give up; women who are too conciliatory, too financially challenged; too plain old depressed to fight for themselves or their families from the start.

There is no doubt that women suffer more than men after a divorce. I looked it up. Virtually all the empirical literature shows a precipitous drop in the mother's standard of living post-divorce. Period. Divorced women find it harder to find jobs, harder to retain counsel, and harder to pay the kind of experts they need in order to win in a contested custody dispute. Study after study shows that wome n in mediation bargain away their economic rights in order to retain custody of the children. Judges today are less inclined to award spousal maintenance and more inclined to push mothers back into the work force. Courts consistently hold mothers to higher moral standards than fathers. Oh. And every single decision made "in the best interest of the child" gets filtered through some family judge's crazy quilt of biases, prejudices, and life experiences.  

So your impulse right now is to focus on the other woman? What does she have that you don't? Besides all the laundry and dirty coffee mugs you no longer have to worry about? And she's probably lost control of the remote. Ack! Forget her. She'll be tailing the other-other woman down the highway in her bathrobe and hot rollers in a few years. Promise.

Forget the makeover and the new wardrobe and the plastic surgery, too. That's little girl stuff. Don't let yourself get lost in dreams of the past or in a future that only happens in movies. If you have a job, you can lose your kids. If you don't have a job, you can also lose your kids. If you cheated on your hubby, you can lose your kids. If he cheated on you, you can also lose your kids. So you need to get up off the floor and fight for what you want. And that means figuring out what you need and demanding it. Where do you want to live? What do you want to do? Who do you want to become? How do you want to care for your kids?

Maybe there can't be a happily ever after in a divorce, but there can be a happier than you'd hoped for. So aim your ship that way. I'm behind you all the way. 

******

To my readers: Who does better in divorces, men or women? Is it wrong to generalize? Is it wrong to assume that men and women should be treated equally? Send e-mails to savingface.slate@gmail.com or post on the Facebook page. You can also follow Saving Face on Twitter.

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