Timeline: 7 days after receiving divorce papers from my husband
Hot leather and anxiety made my palms sweat. I bit my lower lip as I edged a little further, trying not to hold my breath. Finally finding the right angle, I relaxed my grip and let everything slide into place. Exhaling in relief, I opened the car door to check my work.
Crooked. Fuck parallel parking.
Whoever the clown was that decided to put parallel parking spots directly in front of a divorce attorney office was a sadist. The street was busy, and cars were creeping an arm’s length away as I debated my current situation. Normally, I would be proud of this parking job, but today my soon-to-be-ex-husband was going to walk by the car at any moment.
He would see the crooked parking job, and he would judge me for it.
The criticisms he had were always tiny, seemingly unimportant, jabs. I didn’t fold his socks right. I waited too long to put gas in the car. I didn’t reverse into parking spots. I took too long getting the boys ready for school. Our sons were too loud whenever he was on the phone. I didn’t get the right thing at the grocery store.
He went out of his way to point it out, drawing my attention to my personal inadequacies, but then dismissed its importance. A small indication that it wasn’t about changing the behavior, but for me to know that I was constantly making mistakes.
Sighing, I climbed back into the car and proceeded to shimmy back and forth, my self-doubt building with every incremental movement. My worth as a wife, after twenty years of marriage, potentially being boiled down to a parking job was comical. I started to laugh at the stupidity of it, but my laugh almost immediately devolved into choking sobs.
Putting my forehead against the steering wheel, I let the tears roll down my cheeks. My hopes that I could numb my feelings today were dashed. The emotional exhaustion over the past week had not been enough to run me dry. Still, it was better to go into divorce mediation after emptying my eyeballs.
The cry didn’t last long, thankfully. Emotions back in check, I inspected myself in the mirror, grateful for the wonders of waterproof mascara. My blue eyes were sad and rimmed with redness, but it would hopefully fade before the meeting began. I proceeded to emotionally step back into a void as I touched up my ostentatiously red lipstick.
“You’ve known this was coming for years, Tiffany,” I said to my reflection. “The obstetrician's prophecy is finally being fulfilled.”
Twelve years in the making, this split had been something that had long lived in the back of my mind. Grief was a peculiar emotion, and even though a part of me was ready for this, other parts were still unapologetically sad. Not for the loss of my husband, but for our family.
Getting out of the car, I adjusted my pencil skirt and blazer. My desire to look like an attractive professional was colliding with a decade of being a motherhood house troll. There was a clear lack of practice in my presentation, almost but not quite getting it. The high heels made my legs look wonderful but made my ankles as unstable as my emotional state.
I didn’t even bother to check my parking job a second time, because even if it was perfect, I still wasn’t.
Instead, I moved directly towards the office building. The building was a modern, mirrored square, and the bustling city reflected across the surface. Another reflection followed me, my own, and I avoided it with every fiber of my being. I couldn’t figure out where the doors to get inside were, until two nondescript door handles caught my eye. I found myself flinging the door open quickly, my need to abandon my own reflection manifesting as urgency to rush inside.
Once inside the marbled lobby, I began to wander, my high heels reverberating through the space with each step. The openness felt oppressively empty, as if engineered to drive people towards their destination without delay. Near the elevators I found a directory. The golden plaque told me my destination, RTK & Associates, was located on the third floor, suite 310.
I was still early and in no rush, so I unconsciously passed by the elevators to search for the stairs. Practicing a little more in these heels would be helpful, as walking in this footwear still felt far from natural. Passing by the golden doors of the elevators, I accidentally caught a glance of my reflection.
Seeing a woman in a smart suit, blonde hair up in a sophisticated twist, with a leather bag slung over her shoulder made my heart ache a little. While I looked good for my forty years of life, I also looked like a stranger. I saw an old ghost of myself when I was in college, a woman that got smothered out of existence. I had let that optimistic girl inside me die without a fight, and my shame in seeing fragments of her haunted me now.
I found the stairwell, and with it, momentary peace of mind. The emptiness of it was somehow less oppressive than the lobby had been. Ascending and descending repeatedly, my high heel practice ate up some time, but I didn’t want to get sweaty by doing an anxious Stairmaster session. Burning off some emotional energy was helpful, but the appointment was creeping closer, and I didn’t dare be late.
Upon exiting the stairwell, the lifeless modern hallway of the office building greeted me, with cool colors and uncomfortable surfaces everywhere. I carefully strolled, inspecting the plaques for the correct office, and eventually found myself staring at the closed door of my destination.
“Everything is going to be fine,” I told myself in affirmation as I reached for the handle.
The door was unexpectedly heavy as I opened it, and it made me totter in my damn shoes. Once I recovered, I walked into the office and a pretty receptionist sat at a glass topped desk, her smile was as fake as they get.
“Welcome, do you have an appointment?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to match the professional confidence this woman had.
“Name?” She queried without looking at me, instead turning to her computer screen.
“Tiffany Masterson, I’m here for a divorce mediation meeting with Robert Masterson.”
Saying I was here to divorce Robert felt easier than I expected. While I was anxious about how everything was going to turn out, I felt little remorse in us going our separate ways.
“If you would like to take a seat, I’ll let his attorney know that you are here.” She reached for the phone on her desk and then after a moment said, “Your one o’clock is here, sir.”
I tried not to take it personally that she had relegated my existence to an appointment time. She was just doing her job, but it still rubbed at the fresh wound of distilling my worth into a successful parking job. I was something, right? Something more than these arbitrary things.
Obediently, I turned towards the seats in the waiting room, but I knew that I did not want to sit down. Who knew how long I’d be sitting as we tried to separate a lifetime together. If my plan worked, things would be simple, but if it didn’t, then I was going to be destroyed in that office.
“Mrs. Masterson,” a male voice called from behind me.
As I turned around, I was immediately grateful for all the additional energy I had elected to use up in the stairwell. A little physical exhaustion went a long way in preventing shock from registering on my face as I saw the man that had called my name. His frame filled the doorway that led to an unknown hallway, and I had to clutch the strap of my shoulder bag as my stomach fled from my body.
Another ghost of my college past had come to haunt me today.
Wearing an impeccable royal blue suit with a crisp, white button up shirt, this asshole looked just as good as he did in school. His square jaw, hazel eyes, and dark hair had shaped the future of what would become ‘my type.’ My attraction to these features had not been a natural, pre-existing occurrence. It had been cultivated from the gazes I shared with him over the course of my freshman year.
Scratch that, he didn’t look ‘just as good’ as he had in school, he looked better. Maturity had seasoned his features with experience and confidence that he did not have back then. While I had successfully buried memories of him for decades, looking at him now, I could not stop myself from remembering.
Long ago, this man had cracked me open with laughter and made me believe in love for the first time in my life. Being with him taught me the difference between attraction and connection, a lesson learned from the countless hours I spent with him. A connection that I had failed to replicate for the rest of my life.
He also ghosted me. Not once, not twice, but three fucking times.
It was just too ironic. The universe had to be openly taunting me and my choices. I had moved all around the planet to follow Robert’s career and raise our sons, but the world was still so small that I felt like the punchline of a joke.
The first man to ever break my heart was now my
husband’s divorce attorney.