When couples separate they often share the same house or apartment long after the decision is made to go their divergent ways. My divorce was no different. We played an awkward game of suburban chicken while we both saved for a down payment on a new life.
Living together for months amidst our memories, we rested our heads at night on broken glass.
Finally, my ex screamed, Uncle. Uncle “Phil,” that is.
Ten years after my husband and I were married my college roommate married his Uncle Phil, and became my Aunt “Liz.” (Read that a few times until it makes sense. I’ll wait.) When the time came for my husband to move out of our home, “Liz and Phil” were our Switzerland. My ex had his uncle to help with the heavy lifting and my aunt came to steady me.
Phil gathered us in the kitchen and told us he had something important to say. He lovingly told us that nothing had happened yet that couldn’t be reversed or unpacked– that we could still make things right – that we could try harder. Phil said he knew in his gut that as soon as the first table or nightstand made it onto the truck that it was over, and that
this didn’t have to end with sore backs and dusty corners.
My heart tore at the sweetness of his speech. I had always loved this uncle who was gifted to me in marriage. I stood in the kitchen with his words hanging frozen in the air, my sobs echoing through the house, too confused by how his words made me feel to know exactly what I wanted in that moment, in that day.
My husband’s response was either a gift meant to spare us any agonizing second-guessing or a jagged, monstrous sour pill. Without missing a beat, he looked at his uncle and asked if they should load the bedroom furniture first or the kitchen table. He never had trouble with decisions. They started with the bedroom.
My aunt responded the only logical way. She began pouring tequila.
My sister-in-law showed up at half past reverent and a few of my friends wandered into the oddest party we’d ever thrown. And as half of my life was carted out the front door with yellow stickies labeled “HIS”, my support force realized that staying for the slam of the moving van tailgate was not in my best interest. They plied me into one of their cars with promises of burgers, milkshakes and a shiny new life.
When we got back to my house ninety minutes later my husband’s car was gone. The only evidence of what had transpired was an oil spot on the driveway, a propped storm door and a packing quilt laying in the front yard. My friends offered to come inside to ease the initial emptiness but I felt it was important to take these first steps alone. I shut the front door, stumbled into my kitchen and took a deep breath drowning the agonizing quiet. Still, a bit tipsy from my ill advised coping mechanisms (a friend of mine would say I was over-served) I thought nothing of it when a squirrel darted across my left foot.
Why hello, little squirrel! I LOVE squirrels. (Happy squeal) You are soo very cute and adorable.
Short pause while the brain played catch-up with the tequila.
HOLY S***! There’s an F****** squirrel in my house! (Bloody murder squeal) Panic. Panic.
I did what any newly dependent woman would do. I immediately called my husband. My driveway was still warm from the moving van, but he said he’d be right over.
As he walked in the house we looked at each other, shook our heads and smiled. Nothing had changed, not really. We laughed and said it reminded us of the 1996 mouse incident. He had brought a flashlight and a mild suspicion that an overactive imagination (or 4 shots of tequila) had concocted my furry friend. We searched the house room by room, closet by closet – our job made easier due to the sparseness of what remained. I screamed once or twice. He giggled and scrunched up his face like he did in awkward situations.
It was like old times, except now this was my house, and he didn’t live here anymore. Familiar, but strange.
Independent woman – 0.
Squirrel – 1.
Soon to be ex-husband-? and REALLY confused about his role.
He kindly offered for me to pack a bag and stay on his sofa that night in his brand new home, in his shiny new life.
I felt nauseous. The tequila told my mouth to thank him and tell him to go home. Tequila is smart like that. I couldn’t admit defeat after 28 minutes of living alone. When I shut the door, I was shaking. I had been very brave to ask the husband to leave, but there was still a f****** squirrel in my house. I questioned the wisdom of the tequila.
I sat on my stairs in the stillness of the empty house and took in the half dressed rooms, the remnants of my life that remained. And then I heard the scratching. No, no, no, no no…not the scratching. It was coming from my grandmother’s antique chest in the entryway. Dammit. I love that chest. He probably pooped in it. Shit. Literally, shit.
Bottom drawer, empty. Relief.
Middle drawer, empty. Tremendous relief. But, the pesky scratching.
Top drawer, so not empty. I peed my pants a little – a different kind of relief. The furry intruder lunged out of the drawer like the squirrel in the tree in Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. I desperately wanted to call my husband and scream, “I told you so!” but I was too busy running from the squirrel.
I jimmied the storm door open to force his hand. The squirrel didn’t care. We played 19 rounds of squirrel VS human running loops around the house before pausing to pant and stare at each other. We were so very tired, yet the squirrel wouldn’t take that final step. I could relate.
My husband and I had done loops around the house for years. That final step is hard, ya’ll.
The squirrel and I had a lot in common.
After a period of reflection, the squirrel and I realized we were going nowhere. We could keep running the same stupid circle or one of us could just walk out the storm door that was propped open. The squirrel stared at me kind of funny, and then quickly scurried onto the front porch, leaping into a tree, oblivious to the moment when he was trapped in my grandmother’s drawer and chasing me around the kitchen. He was ready for a new adventure. I loved and hated that squirrel all at once. It made me sad to see him go. I frickin’ love squirrels, but I can’t have them in the house. I had no choice but to close the door and lock it. And the house was quiet.