Everything Charlotte knew about divorce came from novels, so when her husband of 18 years said he didn’t want to be married any more she had only a romanticized idea of how that would look. If divorce were anything like what she had read in the pages of her paperbacks, she would first lose 20 pounds, get a **** new hair do, start her own successful business and fall in love with a tall, handsome man with a droll sense of humor. How could she possibly get a divorce when she didn’t own a pair of white jeans or strappy sandals, the uniform of the savvy divorcee? The women in her books usually were surrounded by extended family, lived in fabulous homes and wore stylish clothes. Charlotte lived 3 hours from her closest relative, and her wardrobe screamed stay-at-home mom. At best, she was operating at a serious deficit. Charlotte sat halfheartedly listening to her husband drone on about not wanting to be a hypocrite. She blankly gazed out the window of the parked car she would later get in the divorce settlement and tried to imagine what her next step would be. How dare he do this to her without warning? When had he decided he couldn’t be married to her? Had it been en route to the banks of the river where they were now parked? Or had he been planning this announcement for some time? Even after he had called to say he wanted to talk after work she hadn’t suspected anything so devastating. They had driven in silence, and it wasn’t until he had turned off the engine that he began to speak.
Somewhere between “we need to talk” and “I’m just not happy” an 80’s era conversion van had parked beside their Honda Accord. Charlotte had not noticed its arrival, but now as she tried to focus anywhere but on her husband’s face, she became fascinated with its rhythmic swaying. At first the motion was slow and barely perceptible, but before long it was rocking to and fro in frenzied abandon. The movement had a hypnotic effect on Charlotte. She was memorized by the irony of one romance crashing and burning while another was heating up not 20 feet away. Had the woman in the van been prepared for what was going on, or had she been “taken” by surprise as well? Had she been wearing white jeans and strappy heels when she hiked her body into the passenger seat? Was she able to see Charlotte through the steamed up windows? Was the man with her also tired of the hypocrisy of his life? To Charlotte, the imagined scene next to her was far more real than what was happening at that very moment in her world.
The van doors opened to reveal a disheveled woman of about 40 adjusting a fluorescent pink tube top as she stumbled out to the ground. Charlotte had never really understood the expression, “looks like she’s been rode hard and put up wet”, but seeing this woman immediately brought it to mind. As the woman lit a cigarette, she shot a venomous look in Charlotte’s direction. Startled back into reality, Charlotte turned to face her husband who was still talking in his metronome cadence and looking straight ahead. He hadn’t even noticed she wasn’t paying attention. How like him it was to deliver news without benefit of eye contact. Once upon a time, Charlotte had thought it was because he was bashful and needed to look elsewhere to ensure his thoughts were well formulated before he articulated them. She had later come to realize he was flat-out rude and frankly didn’t care. He seldom said anything that required a response. Because she was too embarrassed to look back out the window she decided to see just how long it took for him to pause and face her. She didn’t have to wait more than a minute or so as he had reached the end of his carefully thought out speech. When it came time for her to speak she was at a loss for words. What would one of her fictitious women say? It would be something bitingly humorous and leave him stunned and unable to reply. As she racked her mind for something to say, she began to cry hardly the stuff of a strong, independent woman. And just as she had begun to lose faith in her resolve she opened the door to the car and got out. She didn’t bother to say goodbye or go to hell. And as she walked toward the highway, she was grateful she had on sturdy shoes. Charlotte would see to revamping her wardrobe first thing in the morning.