Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am not good at writing, in school it was one of my worst subjects – my pen would often divulge what my lips tried to conceal. All these years later, I find the courage to free my pen to write all the sorrowful, fearful and painful truths about what a child of divorce has suppressed, in the hopes that parents will hear and understand what they put their own children through as they embark on the path of divorce.
I am the oldest of five children in a strictly Orthodox family. I cannot recall a time when my parents didn’t argue or yell at each other. I remember looking at the clock in the kitchen and, recognizing the time for my father to return home from work and the fireworks to begin, I would run and hide under my bed. As my siblings got older, they would come and join and we would cover our ears to block out the screaming. The only respite for me, even though I had few friends, was school, where I was able to listen to the normal sounds of girls laughing, talking and playing.
Then, one night, as I tried to camouflage the fight going on downstairs in the kitchen so my siblings wouldn’t cower in fear, there was a horrible crashing sound, as if the entire contents of the cabinets were being overturned and thrown about. I silently crept to the top of the staircase and saw, reflected in the hall mirror, my raging father and mother throwing everything that wasn’t nailed down. My mother got the worst of it, bleeding from her nose and from a split lip. My father’s glasses lay crushed on the kitchen floor, amongst other broken glassware, and his vest and shirtsleeves were torn. If I thought that what we had experienced up until that point was bad, what followed was a thousand times worse. We were soon to learn that along with the broken pots and shattered glass, we would be the next casualties.
I have learned that children can become bargaining tools and burdensome objects in divorce proceedings, but they have no voice in what is to become of them. They are bantered about like so much baggage, depending on the lengthy report of child psychiatrists and court-ordered examinations by various professionals trying to determine which parent gets who, when and for how long. We were interrogated, our replies often twisted to curry favor for whatever side wanted to prove to be the better parent, not because they loved us, but because they wanted to hurt each other and we were the weapon of choice. I remember being thirteen years old at the time and so tired and angry that I burst out screaming that I hated both my parents and didn’t want to live with either one. I remember feeling like a trapped animal in a very small cage, having to listen to my captors decide my fate. No one understands how absolutely hopeless and helpless a kid feels, as his or her fate hangs in the balance and no one cares how terrified that makes you feel. It’s like freefalling without a safety net and understanding that one’s demise is imminent.
My parents’ divorce took almost two years, two horribly long and miserable years, during which time we were forced to stay with my mother, who was bitter and angry all of the time and didn’t stop cursing my father. Then, every other week, we would go to my grandparents’ house (my father’s parents) for Shabbos, where he would rip my mother apart, verbally. This continued after the divorce, the only change being that after a while my father asked to have only my brothers come for Shabbos, plying them with gifts and taking them places, and soon they started to turn on my mother, who could not offer them what they got from my father. As the boys grew older, they resented having to stay with us and got to spend more time at my father’s house. My sister (the youngest) and I stayed with my mother and had token visits with my father for an hour or two during the week. We lived a notch above poverty, my father always being two months behind in his support payments, causing me to hate my parents for forcing this awful life on us.