The Big Box of Divorce


It started with an actual box. She and her husband were in Iowa for Christmas and her stepmom handed her a box, with the gentle advisement that she might not really want to look at what was in it. It’s your parents’ divorce papers. Except it’s not just their divorce papers. It’s Divorce Papers Plus. Probably as it could only ever be in her family. They saved stuff. If there was a scrap of paper with their name on it, it was saved.

Reason not to open the box: obvious?

Reason to open the box: she had no early childhood memories.

Reason she may have no early childhood memories: might be in the box.

She was obviously going to open the box.

She could probably have thought through whether it was the best idea to open the box on Christmas.

Initial inventory of the box:

Letters, newspaper articles, legal documents, a stack of recycled three-by-five notes (her dad was an early recycler and had a paper cutter he’d had since childhood, which he’d use to cut up paper he’d only used one side of) with her dad’s handwriting on them, a crumbling rubber band around it, one pile of Christmas cards and other mail from miscellaneous friends, students, and family members between 1960 and ’67.

In the letters category:

a) letters from her dad to his lawyer

b) letters from her dad to her mother’s lawyer

c) letters from her dad’s lawyer to her dad

d) letters from her mom to her dad, letters from her to her dad inside the letters from her mom to her dad

e) a letter from her paternal grandmother to (her dad?), we dunno yet, this grandmother was worse than a pill much of the time and she hated her mom (it was mutual) so she hasn’t read it yet

f) letter from her mom’s shrink to her dad

She spent about an hour with the contents of the box spread out on the gold carpet in the living room. She thought looking through the Christmas card pile would maybe be a gentle place to start, but there were other things mixed in there, including one anniversary card and one valentine from her dad to her mom with no personal sentiments included, both signed, simply, with his first name. After a tearful conversation with her stepmother she put everything back in the box and brought it back to New York and put it on a shelf in the basement.

Several months later, she remembered something she’d seen in the box that might be useful, and opened the big box of divorce again. She didn’t find what she was looking for. But rereading the pile she was sure she’d already read in December, she was struck by the fact that she’d somehow already blocked things out.

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