Sunday, April 8, 2012

Delicate Beauty

The last twenty-four hours have been long. A stem cell transplant travels an unpredictable course but, once you commit to it, there is no turning back. The ‘easy’ days of chemo and radiation are behind us. We’ve now entered the infection, rejection and graft versus host stage; we hope to avoid them all, but must be prepared for any one of them.

 Yesterday, infection made an appearance: high fever, weakness, the shakes. The medical team took more blood cultures to find out what kind of infection has set in. Meanwhile, monitor alarms cried out all night, nurses came running. More bags hung; more vitals taken; more meds loaded into the lines. Cecil is on triple antibiotics and we now ready ourselves for the scary part of the journey.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken things for granted. I used to accept the gifts of love and happiness, freedom and good health, as if they would always be here. I know now how easily they can slip away. I am saddened to think of the days I would move like the wind through my daily business – assuming, without thinking it, that my tomorrows and somedays would be endless.

When the feds came knocking to take my husband away forever, then when death stood in line behind them, I started to look at things differently.  

So, now, when he asks me to bring him something from across the room, I run to get it instead of snotting off with, “Do I look like Stepin Fetchit to you?” As he fights to stay alive in his hospital bed, I stop and smell his dirty clothes rather than toss them with emphasis into his hamper.  

Needless to say, I am ruminating a lot about the notion of marriage. How many people do you run across with whom you would plan a lifetime? Someone who will hold your hair back while you toss your cookies into the toilet, and love you no matter how bad you look or how wretched you smell. This is a person whose absence makes the bed feel empty, and without whom all the money in the world would be pointless. 

Now, here I am, all full-up with an appreciation for the beauty of marriage, and I must leave my husband’s bedside and go to work where I swim in the blood bath of marriages that have failed. I am a divorce attorney. It sounds so scheister-ish. Though I don’t cheat and lie and steal, it is my job to make the other guy look bad. So, that’s what I do: she’s a stinko mother; he’s a control freak, and he lies. It’s a dirty business. 

To get where I need to go with a case, I must become my client’s best friend and, I dare say, the devil incarnate to the other party. I usually don’t care about that second part because, before we’re done, I most often see the opposing party as someone who will stoop as low as need be, and say whatever sounds good, to get what he or she wants. It is a Me, Myself, and I experience through and through.  

As we work a contested divorce case, I need to know about their finances, their flaws, their sex lives. Once we cross those hurdles, the details come more easily. I hear about the small things that make a marriage go bad: He doesn’t listen. She gets sarcastic when they fight; he walks away. She always wants everything her way. One of them is a neatnik, the other a slob. One likes to save money, the other spends it like there will always be more where that came from.  

I read their emails and their text messages to each other, words and feelings flung into cyberspace, missing the point, flaming the cinders that linger angrily, waiting to burst into raging flames that cannot be contained.  

When the gloves come off, there is no end to what we might expect. A sign in my office says “It’s not who you marry that counts, it’s who you divorce.” If only the lying and the greediness were as bad as it gets.  

Once committed to the process, most divorce litigants can justify almost any kind of conduct. My personal favorite is when they pretend to be afraid for their safety and take out a protective order to get the spouse out of the home. 

It’s all so sad, and so destructive. These people once loved each other enough to bring themselves to the edge of a future that waited for them. Somewhere, somehow, they turned…away from, and then against, each other. I can’t help but think it would have been less painful if one of them had become less controlling, less messy, more understanding of quirks, or more respectful of the differences between people. Had they looked into their partner’s eyes and seen the kindness, the humanness, the vulnerability…maybe they would have found a way to appreciate what it was that brought them together in the first place.

Instead, a disturbing number of disengaged, or disenchanted, spouses go looking for a ‘bull dog’ attorney, and set in motion a process they will learn to hate long before it has ended. If only they could appreciate the destruction brought about by the “I’ll see you in court” approach before they marched so defiantly into it. This process tends to bring out the worst in even the best of them.  

So much so that, when I take in a new client, I try very hard to weed out those with the ‘all for me’ attitude. I like to represent the good guy. I’m sure other attorneys say the same thing, but, I swear, they would have to be delusional to actually believe they got the clean end of the stick in some of these cases.

The other afternoon I was driving along a back country road. The sun was low in the sky. Its warm slivers cut in and out through the trees as I passed, striking my face again and again. This was not the sort of sunlight in which to bask and drift off. There was an energy to it that made me sit up and take notice.

I started thinking about my cases – so many of them; so many marriages that don’t make it. What happens? My marriage has been through several of the challenges that make it onto the list of things most likely to cause divorce, but Cecil and I have grown stronger together. We found a way to make it through the storm without jumping ship.  

He whispered in the darkness late last night “Will you cuddle me, I can’t stop shaking.” As I crawled in and wrapped myself around him, I understood the meaning of For Better and For Worse.


  1. Beautifully written, all inclusive, all encompassing. Methinks your chosen profession has given you more focus on "What really matters." your skills as a lawyer, your ethics and morals, how you continue to grow in your own marriage, are indicative if yours and Cecil's unyielding love. Cuddle him as you always have.

  2. Your love, life, marriage and family is admirable, enviable, inspiring and heart warming, and so is your writing! Your story has given me pause as to who I am going to choose to share my life with, and whose absence makes my bed feel empty. Thank you for the inspiration. Your words make me feel like I am there in the room, cuddling you and Cecil, although I think I'll leave the smelling of his dirty clothes to you...

  3. I look across the room at my dear husband and think, "Where would I be without him? What if we'd never met?" I don't know where I'd be. I know if I were to lose him, I'd be lessened as a person in ways I cannot imagine. Following Donna and Cecil through this latest ordeal has made me more aware of what's important. It is cuddling and smelling dirty clothes. It's being there when things look bleak. It's just being there. Period.

  4. Donna, I wish I could find words worthy enough to comment on yours. Instead, I sit here with tears rolling down my face, marveling at your wisdom and strength.

  5. Thank you all for your kind and supportive words. I wish I had time to personally respond to each of them, but life is a tad crazy these days. I do enjoy hearing from all of you, though. Thanks for checking in!