Those days are no more

February 28th, 2012 § 25 comments

I remember the old days.
I remember the way my father looked at my mother.
I remember when they were married and living together.
Those days are no more.


I remember when they danced in the living room as my brother and I watched.

I remember my mother clicking her tongue to the beat, waving her arms in small circles, wrists cocked, like windshield wipers gone awry.

I remember my father smiling, biting his lower lip, chin extended outwards, hopping and bobbing to the beat.


I remember when he would ask me, “Isn’t she cute? Isn’t she adorable?” and playfully pat her on the rear.

I remember the way she said her heart went pitter-patter when he walked in the room.


I remember when she listened to talk radio as she cooked, the wire antenna taped to the underside of a cabinet so that her favorite station’s reception would be strong. Masking tape marked with surgically precise lines identified the stations she would tune to.

The radio always got turned off when he pulled in the driveway.


I remember falling asleep in the backseat of the car.

I remember waking up, startled, not realizing where I was.

I remember them twisting from the front seat to say, “Surprise! We brought you to see the panda bears at the National Zoo!”

I didn’t think life could get any better than that.


I remember the fights. The yelling. I remember newspapers on a kitchen chair, shoes on the table. I remember so much more.

I remember their wedding anniversaries on Christmas Day. Nothing open, nowhere to go, no good way to celebrate.

I remember cardboard cartons of Chinese food.


I remember the beginning of the end.
I remember their being close to the precipice once before, my relief that it went on.
I remember it finally being the end.


There is a small guest room in the house that I now call my father’s. It used to have a crib in it; now, as my three children have grown, it’s been replaced with a twin bed.

I know that in the closet there used to be a small white leather briefcase.

Inside that briefcase is a Viewmaster and two rows of dual-image slides. These are my parents’ wedding photos: three-dimensional images that get popped into the Viewmaster and looked at through light.

I haven’t looked at them in years; suddenly, it’s the only thing I want to do.

My mother’s brother, so young in those images, died in his 40s. My father’s brother, now dead too. Neither has living siblings, nor living parents. There are so few of us in the family left now.


I see the disbelief, how people are unwilling or unable to accept that something that lasted for so long is over.

It scares them.

Like cancer that recurs after a decade, it means we are vulnerable even after a seemingly safe waiting period has elapsed.

Divorce can happen after 50 years.


“They’ll get back together,” one of my doctors insists whenever I see him for an appointment.

“No,” I say, “they won’t.”


“Did you see it coming?”

“Do you think they’ll reconcile?”

“What happened?”

“Are you surprised?”


“You’re the writer,” my mother says, “Maybe you’ll write about this.”


I took my mother’s wedding ring out of the drawer this morning.

She gave the ring to me years ago when Dad eventually bought her the diamond one he hadn’t been able to afford when they got married.

I rubbed the ring, imagining the two young people who stood exchanging vows.

Hopes. Dreams. Compromises.

A lifetime together. Their lifetimes together.

Until now.


I know my mother has a receipt for that ring, 50 years old, in a file.

I know where that file was when she lived in the house.

But now she doesn’t live there anymore.

Her papers are in boxes in storage.

Somewhere in a box in my mother’s apartment building there is a receipt for the ring my father bought for her.

That paper will outlast their marriage.


I remember when that ring proudly announced to the world that my parents were happily living together.

Those days are no more.1

  1. The prompt “I remember” was used in Joe Brainard’s book of the same name. I first learned of this book in a seminar with writer Dani Shapiro. I like this prompt a lot and often use it as a way to get my writing started. To read about a joint exercise I did with friends after that weekend, go here []

§ 25 Responses to Those days are no more"

  • I have been divorced now for longer than I was married. It wasn’t my choice, as a matter of fact I had no say whatsoever. He had found his ‘soulmate’ (still makes me gag a bit that someone would be looking for their soulmate all the while I was preparing his meals and doing his laundry!).

    I was the child of divorce and he was not so my biggest concern was our children. He gave very short shrift to my pleas to at least think about our kids; what this would do to them. Your essay makes it clear what I knew then and what I know now; 25 years later. It always affects the children.

    I guess we all presume that after 50 years people have something worth holding on to. I’m sorry to hear that wasn’t the case and my condolences to you; I can see how much this hurts.

  • Caissie says:

    I don’t know what at all to say, except that I am so grateful to you for sharing your story. On the one hand, it is sad that your parents outlived their love for each other. On the other hand, I’m so glad they are each still here, to love you. And to respect each other enough to go their separate ways, which is in a way, a kind of love, I guess. Just not the kind of love that holds you to a place that you might not stay in if it weren’t for love-love, the kind we think we’re familiar with. I hope that there is time enough for any pain that any of you feel to start lifting. And in all seriousness, I am so glad they will never have to work out the details of visitation and child support for you. I shudder at the memory.

  • Lisa- Another well written blog post. You can really hear your voice. I’m glad you’re writing about it. I know it’s hard.
    I know I’ve often worried about the impact my divorce will have on the girls. Of course divorce has impact, no matter how old the children are.
    But, I knew it would be worse if we stayed together and were miserable. Me asking for the divorce was me standing up for myself and I wanted the girls to have this as a role model.
    Plus, my ex and I work super hard to stay friends and give the girls a solid foundation that we are still a family, Mommy and Daddy just aren’t married any more. We sit next to each other at soccer games and swim meets. We have dinner together occasionally and have even gone on a vacation or two together.
    Valerie Bertinelli has a great quote. She says, “In divorce, you have to love your children more than you hate your ex.”

  • Becky Sain says:

    Wonderful, insightful, pulling me, searching… as always, your words are beautiful. I think that, no matter how long something has lasted, of you feel you need something more or different or just something else… I think it’s brave to take such a huge leap… sad, confusing, but brave.
    Love you!

  • I remember your tweeting an article last week about living alone & how your parents wanted to try it. It’s more complicated than that, of course. You’ve captured how complicated it is for you in such a way that you remain generous to them–& still unsure of the why, the deep-down why. I think every child of divorce feels that uncertainty, even if after a while it becomes more clear in our hearts. I also remember my mother saying when her father died a few years ago (she was in her sixties) that she’s an orphan. The child is the child even when the child is an adult.

  • Very moving.

    My parents are still together, but they live in a house that I’ve never lived in in a city that I’ve never called home. There’s no room in the house that’s (even honorifically) referred to as mine. I don’t know why those changes somehow make the lives that were lived before seem somehow less real, but I know that for me they do.

  • Monica Bhide says:

    Hugs. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Big, big hugs.

  • denise says:

    I can feel you pain beating in my veins as I read this. I feel your undulating emotion. This is powerful and beautiful. xoxo

  • Janet says:

    While I feel for your sense of loss, I know the profound relief of no longer being trapped in a shared life that was hopelessly miserable. I feel proud of myself that I didn’t spend decades in that. Were your parents not from a generation that considered divorce a shameful failure, chances are they’d have freed themselves long ago.

    My parents were married for 56 years until my mother’s death 10 years ago. Their marriage was over before I was even born. I never once saw any of the adoring looks and affection you describe seeing. I always wished my parents would get a divorce so they – and we 3 children – could be happier. I vowed at age 8 that I would never marry. I’m 57, haven’t, and won’t. Longevity of a marriage reveals nothing about what it’s like behind closed doors or in the partners’ hearts.

    I applaud your parents’ bravery to stop living a lie and, meanwhile, fortifying your fantasy of what their marriage was. Forgive them for lying to/protecting you for so long and offer them respect for their bravery to each live a life of their current choice. It’s not easy, but it’s better than feeling trapped. Take this deeply to heart: their divorce is about them, not about you. The grief and loss you feel are for a fantasy. Love them enough to want them to have real, happier lives. They are, in the end, just 2 people who want to live happier lives. They still love you and their decision has nothing to do with you or their love for you. Celebrate that those days – the days of living a lie to avoid hurting you – are no more.

    • I feel the need to clarify some things, Janet… thanks for commenting.

      I state emphatically that my parents did not “live a lie” as you say. They lived their married life for as long as it worked for them, in contrast to your parents’ marriage which you state was over before you were born. I’ve never tried to convince them to stay together, and wouldn’t. It’s not for me to say how they should live. I have sadness that they will not live out their days together happily. I grieve the happy times that once were, but know that there will be happy times for all of us… just not in the same way. My parents have a very amicable and respectful relationship and will continue to do so, in part because there is a desire to still do family things together, as well as because they have concern and compassion for one another.

      I am sorry that you experienced such a difficult childhood with your own parents’ divorce. It certainly is something that affects more and more households today as I can see from the emotion in the comments today. Each marriage is different; so is each split.

  • Miguel says:

    I know that you speak of a sadness over bygone days but I take away a feeling of hopefulness from this as well. I mean to say that with you describing so many happy memories of a stable and loving family life, this separation, while sad, doesn’t change the overall impression of your parents as having had a happy marriage; just because one of the bullet points of a lifelong marriage (the growing old together) will be missing, does not to me make the marriage incomplete.
    My parents separated and eventually divorced after I and my siblings were grown and I have no insight into any of the thoughts or feelings either before or after the end of their marriage. They seem happy and healthy enough as individuals so I am grateful for that. Great post, Lisa.

  • They call our generation the sandwich generation, but more and more people I know experience it as a club sandwich, with an extra layer of respnsibility on each end.

    I’m sorry you’ve inherited The Whopper. xo

  • Janet says:

    I’m even happier for them now, since it’s amicable and family occasions will still take place. If they didn’t waste much of their marriage and lives being unhappy together and made a change relatively soon after realizing it was needed, I admire that more than I can say.

    Grieving that they won’t grow old together happily is understandable and sad, from a child’s point of view. It is a sweet fantasy that we mate for the duration of these lonnnng lives we now live, but not very realistic. It does potentially add a layer of responsibility on children of parents aging separately. I’ve been through caring for and losing both. I think it’s worth considering how much of that concern is entwined with the sadness that they won’t be together (to do most of the caretaking).

    My parents were married for 56 years and did not divorce, but should have, decades before my mother died. A high number of years married means nothing to me, only the quality of it. People stay in unhappy or unsatisfying marriages for all kinds of reasons – finances, beliefs, and mostly fear of the unknown. I think. That your parents, at 70-ish, I’m surmising, are boldly walking into new futures – independent for the first time in FIFTY years – is cause for celebration, respect, and support. That takes serious guts!

    My sisters are 64 and 66 – and living very active, vital lives. It’s not so old any more. Statistically, it may be your parents’ last decade to be so vital, so I hope they milk it for all it’s worth! Sounds like there’s plenty of love to go around. Apart from the pain of needing to abandon the happily-ever-after fantasy, it sounds pretty beautiful and admirable to me. Only they know what their days together were really like – and they’re glad those days are no more. Grieve your own loss, yes, but be happy for them and hold their hands through their transitions as they have probably held yours through a few. 🙂

    Sincere best wishes to all of you.

  • Joanne Firth says:

    This piece truly does shed a lot of light on how a divorce feels. I agree with Miguel’s comment, as far as feeling hopeful for your family. Though a marriage is ending, the family unit is still intact and there are years left to enjoy each other.

    Lisa, I am glad that your wrote about this today. I hope you write more about it.
    I wish you all that you need to get through and I thank you for sharing such a personal and painful event in your life.

  • Kathleen Nolan says:

    Gorgeous post, Lisa. As usual, you deal with a complicated, layered subject with grace and compassion. xx

  • Jen says:

    Divorce is so hard and complicated no matter what age. Thank you for sharing your story. xoxo, Jen

  • Heike says:

    I am so sorry to read about your parents’ divorce. No matter how old children are or how far they are, it affects them. My parents divorced after I got married and was already living in the US. After 28 years, they could not stay together any longer and are still not on speaking terms. I have the utmost respect for your parents to put family first and to have an amicable relationship and am very glad for you for this part. In all, so sorry for what you are going through!

  • I have nothing really to say, except that I read this and was moved by it, and wanted to let you know that I was moved. You actually caused a very small feeling to erupt inside my cold, tiny, Vulcan heart.

  • Laura Lump says:

    It needs no explanation (to you) how important the timing was of this post. My heart feels even more squeezed than it did just minutes ago. (Don’t worry…that’s a good thing.) (I think) And I’m not sure if I was more moved by your post or by the comments afterwards. To read all the different experiences and so many, SO very wise reflections on those experiences…I’ll have to read them over and over to really digest them all. Thank you for posting this.

  • Patti Wunder says:

    This post has stirred so many emotions for me. I do hope that writing about this is helping you during a time of adjustment, transition, change… It’s a gift for your readers and I hope it’s a gift for you.

    My parents divorced when I was 2. They had been married for 11 years. For many years I wondered if I had been the reason they divorced. Luckily, I know now I wasn’t “the last straw”.

    As adult, I cuddled with my father for the last time (he was dying of cancer. it was the last time I saw him alive), he whispered to me, “Your mother was always the love of my life.” Words of comfort and yet the cause of confusion and sadness at the same time.
    When he died just a few weeks later, my mother’s first words upon learning of his passing… “Your father was always the love of my life.” I believe them.

    It’s wonderful that your parents have had so many wonderful moments in their lives filled with love, happiness, routine, family etc. Thank you for sharing some of those beautiful times with us. Though it’s sad you have to think of them as “days no more”, I hope remembering them can bring you comfort.

  • Liz says:

    But you’ll still be there for them.
    My parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember – I imagine it’s easier that way.

  • Lisa,
    This is an incredibly moving post. I’m sorry about this loss that must be very painful for you, even as an adult child.

    “Like cancer that recurs after a decade, it means we are vulnerable even after a seemingly safe waiting period has elapsed.

    Divorce can happen after 50 years.” Those words really struck me as powerful.

    I guess I’d add that just as with cancer; we process, we adjust, we move forward in the best way we can.

  • Greg says:

    Divorce hurts. At some point, it hurts. Maybe not you. Maybe not them. Maybe someone else. Maybe everyone. But it hurts.

  • So very power in your writing…and so very sad. My parents fought all the time. In fact the day my dad was in the hospital my mom thought he was trying to get out of work. He passed away that day. She never forgave herself for that and missed him terribly until her passing 4 years later.
    One of the reasons I became involved in weddings for a number of years was to experience the joy of a couple getting married. Just so amazing that I had the honor to film it…as well as yours and Clarke’s.
    I remember you and your mom coming over to my place to view my work. I thought you both were amazing people.
    Thinking of you.

  • Barbara Duer Johnson says:

    Thank you for what you wrote about cancer. It helps me come to terms with my daughter breast cancer as we are now waiting for a 2 nd biopsy.

    Please keep using your gift of words

    Thank you

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