Death of a Small Civilization
Last month my husband stood in the pulpit explaining why God hates divorce, and here I am three weeks later, divorcing my husband, and God hates it.
After Tony announces our separation, I wait at the exit for the congregation to come. All of them. The men. The women. The teenagers with headphones. Then, lagging behind, the grandmothers with tissues folded into their Bibles. They line up to grab my hand and my elbow, to let me know how much God hates divorce by saying, “But Laura, God hates it.” I repeat, “I know, I know,” and let toddlers roll over my ankles and tug on my pant legs as their young mothers hold my other hand and my other elbow.
Our senior pastor holds his hand on my side so his thumb rests against the bottom curve of my right breast. He whispers, “Laura, please consider how much God hates divorce,” which makes me think, "This sounds like it should be in italics." And I just keep thinking that as he speaks, because he has one of those voices, it carries a slight slant. Then I ask him, somewhat desperately, “Can you please come over tonight and speak to me in italics?”
I ask him, somewhat desperately, “Can you please come over tonight and speak to me in italics?”
Several attendees overhear, and the crowd leaves together, mutually horrified. It was the one good thing I did today: unify them.
In the car, Tony receives texts that claim I asked a man for an affair in the presence of the church body. He has already replayed every horror story from seminary about Christian leaders who get divorced—immediate resignations, entire congregations sent into spiritual malaise. Our failed marriage will end his evangelical career, and he is only an assistant pastor, has barely had the opportunity to nurture his own church.
Who will be left for him to shepherd? Episcopalians? A slightly more progressive, out-of-state Presbyterian flock?
“Is it true?” he asks.
I offer him the theological term “false interpretation.” He does not appear comforted.
This is the capital-T Truth: I don’t want an affair. All I want are italics, for someone to come over and turn all these hates into soft letters that I can lean into, to give me some gently inclined words to die upon.
All I want are italics, for someone to come over and turn all these hates into soft letters that I can lean into, to give me some gently inclined words to die upon.
Lately, I’ve been screaming my emotions as I feel them.
So when we get home I open the refrigerator and scream “DEPRESSION!” at the eggs. I fry three of them in the saucepan. We eat lunch unequally yolked.
Tony observes me like I’m someone else’s child throwing a public tantrum. The image is blurry to me, slightly erased, because we don’t have children, which are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. With my diagnoses, the doctor is encouraging an oophorectomy. Because I’m young, still lighthearted, I like to describe it as a pooforectomy, because I imagine waking up from surgery and seeing all our nonexistent future children going poof! into the big man’s Oreck Vacuum in the sky. At first Tony mused on miracles. Sang in the shower, “God provides, God provides.” Then he insisted on technology, that opportunities would become available. “They're making robots now!” he once said, and I pictured twin infant robots, what it might feel like to nurture them with my breast milk, only to empty it out later through their removable lower back hatches as a kind of mandatory maintenance procedure.
My counselor calls these grief hallucinations. This is not exactly a medical term. She is an older woman from our church who has no training but is married to a deacon. A retired middle school English teacher, she has me construct word bubble maps of my feelings before I attempt to express them.
At our last meeting I wrote "Robots" at the top of the page, drew a cloud around "Spring Cleaning," and added an arrow through "Infertility."
Tony observes me like I’m someone else’s child throwing a public tantrum.
She scrutinized it. “With your condition, are you still ovulating?” she asked.
At that, my laugh popped all those bubbles like a manically pumped BB gun. Because why must reproduction have so many Os? So many melodramatic, round vowels to linger upon?
“Oh-ccasionally,” I said.
“Tony says the tumors are benign.”
“That’s not far from 'being.'”
She concludes, “Infertility is not a good reason to end a marriage.”
Is UNHAPPINESS! I never ask her. Is LONELINESS! I step outside to ask the nearest bush.
And I think of that conversation at dinner, when “DISSATISFACTION!” accelerates out of me like projectile vomit onto Tony’s dinner salad. He kneels by my chair and prays for me,
but I keep my eyes open, visualize our two babies grown up into elaborate erector sets that win basketball games and earn master's degrees in psychology.
“Do you know why God hates divorce?” Tony asks.
He waits for me, pleads for the biblical answer: God designed marriage to be forever, to reflect his infinite being. Because if you shoot an arrow into space and it hits a wall, there must be something beyond the wall. But what if you shoot a gun? I want to ask him. Or a rubber band? Or what if, as in my case, instead of shooting you just bloat aimlessly amidst the galaxies like some puffed-up, gassy slob until you, light-years behind the more efficient tools of metaphorical testing, hit that same wall and realize, “Fuck! The arrow was right. This is infinity,” and you kind of bobble over it like some half-deflated helium balloon, then just keep slogging along between the stars, permanently?
If you shoot an arrow into space and it hits a wall, there must be something beyond the wall. But what if you shoot a gun?
At this, I reach out and serve potatoes to our little Marky Module.
“What are you doing?”
I tell him, “Feeding our family.”
Tony watches the spuds trundle along the table, then returns hesitantly to his chair, but there is no need because our babies sit in the other chairs and, being made entirely of metal, bear no severe risk of being squashed.
My husband spends the rest of the evening in his office making calls to concerned elders. Behind the door I hear him designing a theologically sound escape strategy. I have now given him a justifiable out—there are only fields of compassion for a man with a delusional wife.
I scan the book my counselor gave me about broken Christian marriages. It claims, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization,” so I tour our tiny kingdom, performing quiet burials.
By the time Tony emerges, our couch cushions are turned around, tags out. Every other book spine reads upside down. The saltshaker lives in the microwave. And our true saviors, the children, are torn down into strips of metal and laid to rest amidst the silverware.
These little massacres in our landscape are only visible to me, because Tony’s eyes are blurred and draining water as he whispers, “I want out.”
Marriage, its great cosmic expansion, shoots past our shoulders and hits the ceiling with a poof!
Brittany Bronson is an English instructor and perennial service industry worker in Las Vegas, NV. Her work has appeared in Bitch Magazine and The New York Times, where she writes as a contributing op-ed writer. She was recently named a 2016 Literary Arts Fellow with the Nevada Arts Council. Follow her @BrittanyBronso1.
Illustration by Meghan Murphy