The Not-Quite Divorce

Joyce H., Staff Writer

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Jessica Edwards clutched her blanket on a warm September night. Once again, she’d woken up to her parents speaking to each other in loud and angry tones. Jessica knew they’d be louder if she wasn’t supposed to be asleep.

Jessica had heard her parents arguing many times before – she could remember waking up almost two months ago to a yell from her mother. From that day on, the nighttime arguments would become more and more frequent.

It wasn’t better in the day, either. When Jessica came home from school, she’d find her mother staring off into the distance. Jessica had actually come back from school and announced, “I’m home!” only to be snapped at by a lump of gray which had ended up being her mother.

“Oh yes, because I didn’t know that before,” she had grouched. “Go do homework.”

As a sudden yell of “You don’t understand!” from her father jerked her back to reality, Jessica shrank deeper into her bed. It was no use listening to them argue at night, Jessica thought as she tried to melt into her pillow. Best just to go to sleep.

And sleep she did, although she wasn’t sure she wanted to wake up to a cranky mom and a long, gloomy day ahead of her.

 

As much as Jessica tried to stay in bed, she knew she had to go to school. So at 7:38, she finally dragged herself out of bed and into a t-shirt and jeans. She plodded downstairs to find a perfectly laid out meal on the table, which was a first in months.

She she slowly eased herself into a chair, she found a note taped to the back of it. It read in her father’s tall, slanting handwriting:

Your mother and I are out, handling some idle business that doesn’t concern you. Eat your breakfast, and wash up. Get to school on time on the bus – we don’t want to hear about you being tardy or absent.

– Dad

Jessica slowly set the note down. She stuck it on the table and started to eat her breakfast, the only sounds her chewing and her utensils clinking against the plate. Suddenly, with a piece of egg on a fork halfway to her mouth, a sudden and alarming thought hit Jessica.

Were her parents going to divorce?

Jessica’s blood chilled. The piece of egg fell to the floor, but she didn’t make any move to pick it up.

Of course, it all made sense. The nightly arguments, her mother sitting like an empty shell on the couch, making noises only to snap at her. The glances they shot each other at dinner.

They were going to divorce, and Jessica would be caught in the middle of it. And suddenly, a bigger question rose up against her: Who would she go with? When parents divorced, they no longer lived in the same house – one of them would have to move. Of course, Jessica had to be taken into consideration – which parent would she choose?

It felt like one of those multiple choice questions on a stupid online test – except sickeningly real. In all of the utter mess and confusion in Jessica’s head, one though fought it’s way up to the surface. Jessica leapt up from her seat as though burned.

She had to convince them to stop! She’d plead with them – give each other another chance – try to love each other again! And when she succeeded, years later, she’d be eating dinner with both of her parents – and they would joke about how smart it was of her to cut in, to save her family at the edge of a cliff!

Adrenaline pumping through her fingers for no apparent reason, Jessica pushed down way too forcefully than needed on the ten little buttons that made up her mother’s cell phone number. She pressed the telephone to her ear – the first ring, and the second. The third, fourth, fifth . . . all the way up to ninth, and Jessica knew her mother set her phone so that it would stop on the tenth ring.

She held her breath . . . the tenth ring blared in her ear as if played through a megaphone. Disappointed, she set down the telephone and was about to hang up and try to call her dad when an obviously tired voice said into the phone, “Hello?”

Jessica was too excited to speak.

“Jessica?” her dad’s voice asked. “Hello?” he repeated. “Listen, if anyone’s at the phone at all-”

“Daddy, I am!” Jessica suddenly said. “Can you hear me?”

“I can,” her father confirmed at the end of the line. “We’re coming home right now, just a simple matter that we had to take care of-”

Jessica suddenly burst into tears.

“Woah, what happened? What’s going on?! Did something happen, do we need to get back-” her father’s voice cried. “Jessica, tell me what’s going on!”

“Daddy, you can’t let yourself do this,” Jessica choked.

Silence. “Do what, honey? What can’t I do?” her father’s voice came out softer this time, as if talking to a three year old and not a nine year old.

“You and mom, you can’t…” but Jessica couldn’t get herself to say the d-word. So she moved on. “And what about me? What would happen when you – when you-” and she was choking up again.

“We have to talk about this when we come home, dear,” and this time it was her mom who spoke. “We’re almost home, just another five minutes-”

“No, wait,” Jessica murmured, but she was too late.

Click. The line went dead.

Gasping and sniffling, Jessica tried to pull herself together, dabbing some napkins at her wet eyes. Finally, she sat down and waited. And waited. And waited and waited and waited and waited.

Finally, after what seemed like a million years but probably was only two minutes, the garage door opened. Jessica flung herself in front of her parents and without thinking, smooshed them together in a big hug.

“What – what were you doing out there?” she asked, her voice muffled since her face was buried in her mother’s fleece cardigan.

She looked into her parent’s faces – which melted from confused joy to utter seriousness. “Jessica,” her father said, “I guess it’s time we had a good talk.”

Jessica walked stiffly into the living room and sat down gingerly on the arm of the sofa, while her parents hovered above the cushions and finally sat down next to each other.

Nobody spoke.

Suddenly, Jessica exploded. “Well?!” she demanded. “What were you doing out there, why didn’t you just tell me?! I know you’ve been arguing at night, and you went outside with each other-” she took a deep breath. Time to pop the question, she thought. “A-are you going to divorce?”

Jessica’s parents exchanged glances. There was utter silence in the room. Finally, her father spoke up, his voice soft. “Jessica. We’re sorry that we worried you, we didn’t realize. Let me finish,” he added as Jessica tried to speak up. “Your mom and I are not divorcing.”

Jessica was shocked into numbness. And the blow finally hit. “You-you’re not? But, but, all the arguments and the-”

“However,” her mother spoke up. “You must know something’s not right. I haven’t been acting right, neither has your dad, heck, I was outright mean to you, so many times! And I am truly sorry,” she added, looking directly at me.

“And we-” Jessica’s mom began.

“-are having a baby,” her dad finished.

Jessica almost toppled off the chair. “What?!”

“How angry I am, that was caused by hormones,” her mother said. “I’m awfully touchy and keep having arguments with Dad over little things,”

“So . . . so you won’t divorce? You won’t split up?”

“For the time being, no,” her father said. “It was a joke! A joke!” he cried as Jessica paled.

“Oh,” she said and started to walk out of the room. Suddenly, when she was just at the doorway, she turned back. “Boy or girl?”

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The Not-Quite Divorce