Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Life As A Rageaholic

Frequent readers of the Lament may have noticed a certain attrition of volume of late. That's because this has been, mildly speaking, my week of personal hell. I spent Wednesday morning in divorce court, having my character dismantled and ground into the mud. I came out the other end having most weekends with my twin five year-olds and on the hook for full child support, which amounts, in this case, to around 44% of my income. I paid rent for November with a VISA credit card check. Penury and debt. Sweet.

I arrived at court in the dark Hickey-Freeman pinstripe suit I bought at a garage sale for $50. The tailors at Men's Warehouse were agog at my good fortune. The last time I wore this was to my sister-in-law's wedding four years ago. That would be my former sister in law. My belt kept the 36" slacks up on what are now my 32" hips, but the jacket fit perfectly. I seem to be in Phase II of the Divorce Weight-loss Plan.

The best revenge, I think, is to show up at divorce court looking hot.

There were five cases on the morning docket prior to my own. It was more than striking to see that, with one exception, each embittered couple preceeding us was a domestic violence situation. Among divorcees, apparently, battering is epidemic. As we sat there, watching people who have grown to despise eachother slice and jab away, my lawyer whispered that this is typical. It's a real problem he said. DV is real, but divorce court somewhat cheapens the whole deal.

Sadly, I didn't escape this fate.

There was a push. It wasn't a flying across the room push. It was more of a get the fuck out of my face push. She was moved by inches, not feet. Still, it was a personal low. My reptilian brain got the better of me. Twenty years of increasingly toxic marital warfare culminated in the mother of all slash and burns that day. We very unpleasantly agreed we were done.

Several friends said at the time that The Push would come to define the divorce. I didn't beleive them, but they were right. After twenty utterly violence-free years, that moment made me into a batterer. As exit narratives go, it served nicely.

On it's own, however, The Push didn't measure up to the job. It took this blog to turn me into a monster.

If you want a terrifying spectacle of the law in action, you really can't do better than divorce court. Lives are decided based upon a twenty minute scan of boxes of material and a half-hour of lawyerly distortion. Forget nuance and forget principles. It's war, and the strongest superficial impression wins.

In Washington state, men are unusually screwed. While most states have moved on to co-parenting being in the best interests of the kids, here, it's still pretty much 1973. Actually, that's not true. In 1973, I'd have seen my kids every other weekend for maybe an overnight. As bad as they are, things have improved.

But anyway, onto the evidence. My autobiography project was entered into the record through a post written in October of 2007, The Year of Living Dangerously. This piece describes a day where I was abducted while hitchhiking, taken to the woods, stripped at knifepoint, forced to roll in the mud, and left naked to find my way back to town. I was eighteen. I knew the people who did it and tracked them down with a chin-up bar. Luckily, someone intervened and talked me down. Nothing happened.

In court, however, this became evidence of my lifelong predisposition to violence. The judge, of course, never read the post. She simply heard my wife's lawyer assert that I myself brag that I tracked someone down with a steel bar.

A straight line was drawn from here to my present day sociopathic rage through the May 2007 Taking Matters Into My Own Hands. This describes a night at Real Change when, two hours after closing and after numerous calls to police, I physically evicted a belligerent drunken homeless guy from Real Change. I went to the back room for a crow bar before I pulled him off the couch and shoved him out the door. He may have had a weapon. I wanted him to be impressed. My own weapon, of course, was never deployed.

This became, "For gods sake, your honor, just last year he chased a homeless man down with a crowbar."

At this, the judge looked at me as though I were some sort of particularly unpleasant bug.

The best, though, was lifted from the Apesma's Lament initial About Me statement, which I replaced about a year ago with what stands now. This read, as some of you may remember:
If my life were an open book, it would be banned in Abilene, Texas and in many parts of Missouri. If it were a work of art, it would be a messy finger painting by a Ritalin-addled third grader. If my life were a prayer, the assumption would be that God, as a projection of myself, is a distracted asshole who is trying to do better. This is who I am. These are my thoughts. Apesmas Lament is my daily forum where I write about whatever pisses me off or turns me on. I’m also working through a memoir of sorts, because my story amuses me, if no one else. My normal state of mind these days is a more-or-less functional state of rage. Most of the time I feel like we’re living in a post-industrial, advanced capitalist version of Wiemar Germany, and we’re mostly too fucking comfortable to really notice or care. My sense of humor and my family help to keep me sane, but barely. I have a job, but I am not that. I am what I am. Don't let this confuse you.
This became, "He says himself in his blog that he lives in a constant state of rage. His words, your honor." A more normal person would be more judiciously anesthetized to the horror-show of modern life through shopping and pop culture. My bad.

For a few days, I considered pulling the plug on Apesma. Having my own words used so glibly and devastatingly against me came as more of a shock than perhaps it should. As a writer, I've gotten into the habit of personal disclosure. I knew there were risks, but this was more than I bargained for.

I'm over it, but daily posts, at least for now, are no longer in the cards. The stakes at work and at home are high. And, I have a book working it's way out. Apesma turned me into a real writer, but I'm still not a bad guy, no matter what they say.


Diane Nilan said...

I'm sorry, Tim, for all you are going through.

You know as well as I that your experiences are giving you valuable wisdom. Learning the hard way is sadly my best way of learning. Sometimes it takes a repeat lesson. Sometimes I need remedial lessons, and they painfully come my way.

But it makes good material for your book! And your sensitivity to people going through similar experiences will come in handy.

Hang in!

1973 said...

I was divorced in 1973. No child support enforcement, no custody schedule, and although mothers usually were "awarded" sole custody, it was pretty difficult being sole custodian when you received little to no child support. The women I knew in that position would have been quite happy to share the tasks and the expenses with the father. But that was entirely up to the father; the courts did not require any real participation on behalf of the non-custodial parent.

Remind yourself of your luck that it's 2008, and consider not being terribly specific in your book, or at least changing the names and calling it "fiction." Custody and visitation orders can be altered now quite easily.

Tim Harris said...

Divorce sucks. The nuclear family itself is less than an optimal arrangement, and when you split the thing into its constituent atoms, it's even harder.

The book isn't about this. Nobody wants to read that, unless it's by Alec Baldwin.

Bill Doe said...

went through it without children, without incriminating-though-quite-misinterpreted blogs (had none back then), but with all the personal failure attached. Luckily it was calm, if ever such a word can be used within divorce. Harder was the separation without divorce, though that led to re- forming where there were fractures that always leave tell-tale scars. It will all remain, subside somewhat while you're alone, and revive when with your children in unexpected ways. To anticipate and expect allows you to stay sane, and to know that even within and across the fractures you'll find the beginnings of joy. No way to say what, how, when, where, how much. Be ready. It will return.

Anonymous said...

Hey I'm really sorry about your custody case.... it must be awful. But if you want reassuring advice, It won't last forever. My parents divorced when I was four, and now I'm sixteen and I've been living with my dad since I was fourteen. If you're a good father now (and it sounds like you are) and civil with your ex-wife, then things will turn around for you.

Anonymous said...

Nothing justifies that push, or, for that matter, slamming the car door. You are all story and no self-awareness. I'm sure you have excellent reasons to be enraged, but go to therapy and get a handle on it.