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Groundhog Day Divorce

“At least we stayed married,” is just another one-liner you don’t want to hear. Being in a domestically abusive family that never separates can be testing on a child’s soul. When a parent constantly talks about divorce but never gets one can cause a child to envy peers with divorced parents. Divorce is hard, but Groundhog Day divorce is a real pain too.

Ever watch the movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray? Just in case you haven’t, it’s about a guy who experiences the same day over and over. Take the déjà vu from that movie and apply it to divorce. That was my adolescence. The first day of divorce repeated everyday or every other day. It has a tension buildup, fight, leave attempt, long discussion, and the honeymoon phase. My dad would return to his Dr. Jekyll side, and my mother perceived that to be his real self. I saw Mr. Hyde as the real self, and I hated those phony honeymoon phases.

“Do you want to get a divorce?” Sometimes the question spontaneously arose from anything that irritated my dad. Other times he would pick an argument that would escalate to a tirade. Then he’d yell, “I want a divorce!” Sometimes, before the divorce line came up, he would curtly ask, “Do you want me to leave?” After so many cycles, my muscles tensed and the words were clenched under my breath, “Yes, leave. Just leave! Leave and never come back!” The “correct response” was to plead him not to leave, and continue to attempt to please him. My mother obliged that.

A one-sided stormy argument raged. My mother would remorsefully try to compensate for whatever she said or did incorrectly, and my dad would just reject any solution, and then continue to complain about the original problem. My dad would persist in yelling insults at my mom.

Then came his stage-act of leaving home. In the early years, he would demand a reaction from me, saying that “Your dad is leaving you!” I remember faking a sad response. I wanted him to leave, and I thought, “Finally, he’ll be gone.” However, that thought was on the first divorce antic when I was 11. He would talk about staying at a hotel or apartment, and that we would have to move in with grandma. Then he’d exit the house.

My mom would then follow him and try to convince him not to divorce her. Eventually, every situation led to my parents having a long talk in the car. Either I’d hear the old “news” in the morning or they would come inside, and dad would announce that he would not be getting a divorce. (Until next time!)

This cycle repeated, and with each soap opera scene my dad would make, it became less believable. I pointed out to my dad that he always asks for a divorce, and he would deny ever having any previous incidents. His divorce antics became an over-told joke. The honeymoon phases of this abuse cycle were sickening, undesirable, and predictable.

Most of these episodes occurred at the dinner table, because my mom’s cooking didn’t measure up to the Four Seasons. My dad also tended to make scenes in restaurants. He spent at least 30 minutes berating my mother till she cried on their 28th anniversary in a restaurant, and it was all over some windshield wipers.

While people lamented on the evils of divorce and some classmates prided themselves with its hardships, my problems were ignored. It became especially irritating when my parents would pity my friends with divorced parents, even the one who handled it extremely well. “It’s gotta be hard on them,” “It’s sad their parents are divorced,” “Just be grateful your parents stayed together,” and “She probably wants to spend special time with her daddy.” It was all part of the denial glue that held the abuse cycle together.

I used to beg my mother to just get the divorce, but she never would. At the end of each fight, they would revert to the predictable, “We’re not getting a divorce, after all,” state. Just like Groundhog Day, the first day of divorce would start over, and I would feel like Bill Murray punching his face through a pillow in the counseling scene.

Julia Fisher
AWP Volunteer

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