The Arbitrator is talking about one specific account of The Departed’s, and without getting into too many of the mechanics of the whole thing, it’s a large account that we’d listed as community property – in part due to The Departed’s refusal to answer questions – but which, based on my own answers to The Arbitrator’s questions, probably actually belongs entirely to The Departed.
I knew I should have been quiet but nobody stopped me, and I was answering carefully, not realizing the implication of what I was saying. Thinking honesty and clarity were helpful virtues.
I raise a couple of issues about this definition of community property and we agree we’ll re-assess my own accounts while The Arbitrator is in with The Departed.
I do the math in my head and decide exactly how much money I’m willing to give him, if it comes to that, to stay in my home. The lawyer hands me some documents and says, You’re good at math, let’s figure out these calculations, and I dispense with the numbers quickly, as well as his belief that I am good at math when the first number I come up with isn’t even close to rational.
And then we’re all just sitting there, the four of us.
The Lawyer remarks, when The Arbitrator is gone for a long time in the other room, it means the other side is being difficult.
We all glance at our watches.
I like him, I say. He seems pleasant and sane.
He looks like a character from Mad Men, says the paralegal.
He does! I say. I hope he has a fully stocked bar in his office, like Don Draper, because he’s going to need it today.
The Lawyer and my father start to chat. I talk to the paralegal. I hear Yiddish or maybe Hebrew being spoken, and switch conversations.
What on earth are you talking about? I ask.
I didn’t know you were M.O.T., says The Lawyer.
What’s M.O.T.? I ask.
Member Of the Tribe, he and my father tell me.
Oh, I say. I never heard that expression. It turns out that his people are from Riga, Latvia; while our people were from nearby Libau.
We’re neighbors, says my father.
They go on about this for a while.
I look at my watch, and the paralegal checks hers. It’s been quite a while, she says. She’s right, too – nearly twice as long as The Arbitrator was with us.
I have to go to the bathroom, but am suddenly overcome with fear of being outside that room. They’re all chatting, so I don’t want to ask someone to go with me, call attention to myself and my need to pee again.
I am terrified I will run into The Departed in the hallway. Just the thought of it sends my mind spinning in a hundred different directions, none of them good.
I hit on a plan: There’s a receptionist in between the arbitration rooms and the restroom. I ask her not to let anyone out of that room until I get back.
She clearly thinks I’m insane.
I understand how she came to that conclusion, but I also understand – I finally understand after eight long years – that when you are afraid of something, there is often a good reason for it, and there is no shame in trying to protect yourself.
I am afraid of him.
She’s not getting it and is being vague, and I take a different tack. I inform her that it would be better for all concerned if there were no accidental meetings between myself and any other parties. I instruct her: She is to ensure that doesn’t happen. She nods in agreement.
I race to the ladies room. When I get back, I thank her as graciously as I can.
We’re back in the room, all five of us, with a counter-offer from The Departed. He’s “remembered” a few things while The Arbitrator was with him, including a balance in a yet another bank account that I remembered – and pointed out to the Arbitrator – just that morning.
In a normal world, I would not forget eight thousand dollars so easily.
His counteroffer is about what I would have expected, and we rapidly do some more calculations and work the numbers, and send The Arbitrator back with our response.
Maybe I shouldn’t talk so much, I tell the lawyer. Have I screwed something up?
You’re doing fine, he tells me. I see where he’s going with this. You’re doing fine.
The Arbitrator comes back more quickly now; he’s got several versions of proposals now with the time written on each one – offer, counter, counter-counter, counter-counter-counter. I’m starting to become frustrated and can hear my voice become more shrill; I apologize to The Arbitrator. I don’t mean to shout at you, I tell him.
It’s your divorce, he says. Of course it’s stressful. One time, a lady threw a box of tissues as me. She hit me, too.
I remember what I wanted to say. It hasn’t come up yet, I say, but he wants stuff from the house. And I’m fine with that, I want him to have it. But he keeps saying he wants to come in the house, and I’m not comfortable with that. I try to explain why. I tell The Arbitrator, I just want a list. I don’t want him to show up at the house and “forget” whose antique camera that was and take my grandfather’s camera, I say. I will even arrange the mover and pay for it.
Suddenly, my father asks The Arbitrator if he can say something.
Of course he can.
Well, says my father. I have watched how things are and how he behaves and I want to be clear on something. I am very concerned about the safety of my daughter and my granddaughter around that man. My daughter will not say that, but I think it needs to be said and I think needs to be addressed if he still, after a year, cannot produce a list of items he wants.
When The Arbitrator returns, he hands me yet another counter-counter-counter-i’mnotsurewhatnumberofcounterswe’reupto-offer, and a list: Finally, The Departed has managed to produce one. Look it over, he tells me, and cross off what you don’t agree to and put a checkmark next to what you do.
There is nothing on the list I object to him taking – for the most part, it consists of items I would have sold or donated anyway. Not bad stuff, necessarily, but things that don’t go together or are too big for the room space they’re in or just simply reminders that I don’t need.
Still, I cross off one item and say I want it: the master bed. I don’t really want it, but I’ve finally figured out something. If I were to give him everything he wanted, he’d have no argument to win – and would have to start one. So I choose an argument for him that I could not care less about losing. I am thinking of my grandfather’s camera and my grandmother’s flour sifter but what I say I want is the master bed, the last thing on earth I actually hope to keep.
We finesse the numbers yet again; I feel myself wearing down, losing patience. The Arbitrator takes this counter-to-the-nth-power back along with the list of property and “disputed” item.
I say to the paralegal, one of the big lies in marriage and divorce is that when things fall apart, there are always two people to blame. It’s The Big Lie. It takes two people to start a marriage but only one to end it; only one person has to file for divorce; and only one person to be difficult for the costs to skyrocket and the proceedings to drag on endlessly. But people persist in this belief that it takes two, and they paint you with that brush and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, because it’s just a given. Everyone knows: It takes two.
Ain’t that the truth, says The Lawyer.