My parents separated the summer before sixth grade. Around this time a pop band came out with their new single called “Stay Together for the Kids.” I didn’t like the song at all, but its title and sentiment of unity had relevance in my life. I wanted my parents to stay together so badly. Now, after graduating high school and moving away from home, the phrase has come to mean something new to me. Staying together for the kids now represents the advantages kids who have two married parents have compared to kids coming from a broken home.
Senior year of high school was the hardest for me. The stressful college search was made even more difficult by my parents’ inability to communicate. I was left with the overwhelming task of doing all the applications by myself while still finding the school that was right for me. I was jealous and angry at the fact that my friends would sit at dinner every night with both their parents and talk about important college issues such as essay topics and financial aid forms. When I had my financial aid forms, it took days to get both my parents to sign it. My friends would receive guidance and support from their parents who were dedicated to helping them get into the best university possible. I sat at a computer alone in my room struggling to figure out where I should go to school. My parents were not simply unhelpful, but rather they complicated the situation by operating their own personal agendas. My parents used my college search as a competition in hopes of proving their supreme influence in my life to each other. My dad told me “Son, your future is in California.” When I was accepted to Whitman College in Washington he barely raised an eyebrow, not impressed at all. But when CSU Monterrey Bay offered me admission he was ecstatic claiming it would be a “match made in heaven.” My mom desperately wanted me to follow in her footsteps and go to the east coast. I never applied there.
I became annoyed with my parents. Why should their divorce affect me on a daily basis? The hassles of extended morning drives, transporting sports gear to school on a Tuesday for a game on Saturday, inaccessibility of cell phone chargers and tooth brushes, new alarm codes, and report card signatures. My friends didn’t have to buy a new toothbrush every time it got ruined in transport between houses. They never set off their house alarms because the code had been changed while they were gone. My friends rolled out of bed and strolled into class while I battled traffic for an hour on the San Diego freeway all the way from my mom’s house.
In the bigger picture, my parents hated each other. On days when my little sister and I would change houses we were dropped off at a Starbucks halfway in between my mother’s and father’s homes. One parent would drop us off precisely 5 minutes before the designated switch time. We would wait. The other parent would pick us up 5 minutes after the time. My mother would explain this to me as “avoiding making a scene.” But scenes were still made, like the time at the parent child softball game at my elementary school. I remember hearing words I wasn’t supposed to know being screamed. I remember watching my mom throw her purse at my dad. All the parents and kids from school stared at us. I was eleven years old at the time.
The humiliation of waiting at Starbucks with bags of clothes will never leave me. Same with the embarrassment of having my classmates and their families watch my mom have a temper tantrum. I believe divorce is something no child should have to deal with.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.