When we were preparing to divorce, the husband went through the apartment that I was no longer living in and took pictures of every single major item that we owned. He then put them into an itemized spreadsheet that included their original purchase amounts and their current estimated value, as well as a column for who wanted the item. The idea was that we could pass it back and forth and negotiate digitally. Neither of us wanted to see the other. I, in particular, did not want to see him.
I had a hard time draining our life together down to mere things. The things that I chose to keep line one wall of a storage room. I don’t even own a bed anymore. For me, at the time, it was easier to roll over and let him have whatever he wanted than to risk dragging the process out. Risk making him angry. Risk going back. I wanted to be as far away from him as possible.
However, on page 21 of the spreadsheet were the final two items—our son’s ashes and his memory box. I didn’t know what to do about them. When I left, I left quickly. I hadn’t thought to take them. When I did go back to the apartment to get the things I needed, they were already gone. I wanted them, desperately. I wanted to keep the ashes. He wanted to scatter them. I viewed scattering as throwing him out into the world. As forgetting him.
I asked my then-therapist what she thought, and it was then she told me: he was seeing someone in the same agency. The same building. The office. Right. Across. The hall. I felt betrayed somehow, like he had followed me on purpose. “We could have a meeting with the four of us. Discuss who gets the ashes, and the box and its contents. Talk about who can have what.” I must have made a face, because she continued, “I know that it sounds weird. But if you can’t agree on it, the court will decide how the divide will work. And that may not play out in your favor. There are no guarantees as to the mood of the judge.”
I pictured that story in the Bible where the child gets cut in half because the two woman cannot agree who is really its mother. I knew that I wouldn’t be brave enough to speak up in court. I knew that I wouldn’t fight if it went that far. I also knew that it was the one thing on the spreadsheet that he WOULD fight for. I worried what he would do.
I agreed to the meeting.
I didn’t really want to go to the meeting when the day came, two weeks later. I hadn’t seen him since the day I had left, and I had no desire to see him. I wore long sleeves, intentionally. There were some things that he didn’t need to know.
When A dropped me off at the office precisely at two, his car was already there. When I went inside though, he was nowhere to be seen. My therapist and I talked for a few minutes before there was a knock at the door. The husband came in and sat on the opposite side of the couch I was on, and placed a pile of stuff in between us. A pile that amounted to our son’s life. I refused to look at him, even when he finally spoke to me. I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing my fear—fear of him, fear of losing our son. Fear of myself.
We went through the box item by item, which wasn’t much. Footprints, handprints, a lock of hair. Outfits that he had been dressed in for pictures. The pictures themselves. Hospital bracelets. A few things that I had asked for from the storage we had purchased for the baby things: a quilt that was handmade by my grandmother, an outfit handmade by my mother, and a Winnie the Pooh blanket that I had asked for. It wasn’t the right blanket, but I didn’t want to see him again so I said nothing. The only items I took were the ones he offered me. I didn’t not speak up. I stayed silent. And then the ashes came out.
I focused on my shoes. They were black and pink, a sort of plaid pattern. I wanted those ashes, more than anything. I was divided on the inside between my loyalty to the son I would never hold again and my fear. I willed the words to come out of my mouth. I tried to force myself to fight. But instead, I said nothing. I left the office with hardly anything except tears. A lot of tears.
I don’t regret my decision to get out of the marriage. But I do regret that I didn’t fight more for my son, that I let go of him (what feels like) much too easily. I purchased a memorial brick, at a tree that was planted to remember dead children. A solid reminder, it served as something that I could touch. It was supposed to be a memorial just for me, but someone told the husband. I couldn’t decide how I felt about that, about having to look over my shoulder every time I went to visit it. I didn’t want to share, but it felt like the right thing to do.
The husband (then ex) emailed me much later to inform me that he had scattered the ashes. Without asking me. He didn’t tell me where, just that he had done it. That our son was gone.
I broke inside. It felt like I’d never had a chance to say goodbye.