Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:
« Where Is My Mind? | Main | Weight For Me »

Divorce Express

I don't recall giving my parents' divorce much thought. One day my dad was sitting at the dinner table, the next he wasn't. One moment my mom was this cookie baking, bathtub scouring, bedtime story telling entity, the next she was revving up and down our quiet neighborhood street on her turquoise bullet bike.

As for dad? He was the guy called "Dad" that lived in a tiny apartment in a vast wasteland known as Gallup, New Mexico where groups of tumbleweeds roamed the streets like gangs. When you're five, you don't give semantics like location much consideration. When Dad had lived at home, he didn't really. He had a job that forced him to travel to Wyoming from Utah much of the time. He also spent a significant chunk of his twenties working the graveyard shift.

In the grand scheme of my 5-year-old life, on the surface everything was status quo. Except of course, now we were dirt poor. But when you're that young, you don't know you're poor. It's your normal. You learn what poor means soon enough. When you're issued the bright pink school lunch ticket instead of the usual white. When all the kids asked why Monica has a different color, the same asshole that picks his nose and eats it pulled his finger from his nose long enough to shout "cuz that's what the poor kids get!"

My big brother taught me how to flip the bird that year.

My parents were both raised in the Mormon church. In case you haven't heard, the Mormons are a strict bunch. The church is run by a posse of old, white guys. The leader, he's called the Prophet. This cat claims to get regular visits from his pal God. Twice a year the Prophet and his cronies throws a big bash called General Conference to inform God fearing church members what The Big Guy has on his mind. Thousands of members from across the globe converge on the Conference Center in Salt Lake City to hear the latest.

Sometimes the Prophet says God lectures on the importance of not drinking and smoking. Other times the Big Guy is fired up about all the sex going on between The Unmarrieds. Recently the Prophet announced God was pretty pissed about the latest fashions. As I understand it, he wasn't real impressed with the spring collection and the re-emergance of Daisy Dukes, bare midriffs. Apparently God prefers his women in a Classic Cut Gap pant over a hiphugger. God was also bagging on those pesky gays... always with wanting the Civil Rights and such.

As you can well imagine, God pops vessels over the abomination that is adultery. No ifs, ands, or buts. So when my Mom strayed from the homestead, the Mormon church told her to pack her bags, she was finished. It's called excommunication. So like Nixon a few years before, my family left our little Mormon community, heads hanging amid the shameful scandal.

Mom settled in a modest split-level in the heart of another equally Mormon neighborhood and Dad headed for the hills. Of New Mexico. Mom, newly single at 28 and a mother of four, did what I imagine most women forced by pregnancy into marriage might do. She bleached her hair, bought a sports car and began dating a high school kid.

In the beginning, my chest puffed with pride when Mom arrived to pick me up from school in the shiny, midnight blue Camaro. As I matured and classmates valiantly took it upon themselves to educate me about terms like trailer trash and slut, I pretended I didn't see the tanned blonde woman roaring down the street, frosted and hairsprayed bangs winning the war against the wild wind whipping the rest of her hair like a tumbleweed. Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Skid Rowe often blared from vibrating car speakers. Sure it was cool that Mom liked the same music as me. I never had to deal with an outraged parent yelling at me to turn down that Aerosmith fellow, I'm trying to hear Celine Dion!

Then I went to Katie's house after school one day. The aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies greeted me as we entered the professionally decorated living room, a stark contrast to the the empty living room currently mocking me at my own home.
"Oh! I didn't know you were moving" church members toiling for a thumbs up from The Big Guy would ask on their occasional pilgrimages to 'the bad house'. They'd ring the doorbell clutching plates of brownies, rice krispie treats, casseroles, determined to convince us to come to church next Sunday.
"No. We just moved the old furniture downstairs to the family room. The new couch is on layaway." The first time my Mom used this line I actually got excited, my mind envisioning a butter soft leather sectional like the one at Katie's house. With a built in recliner! And cup holders in the arm rests! And a fold out bed built right under the cushions!
"What kind of couch are we getting Mom! Huh? Mom! Mom! Is it a leather one?" My incessant questioning was answered with The Look. The dreaded look. The Look that speaks a thousand words. Words like trouble with a capital T. Grounded! Idiot! Spanking! Wooden Spoon! I Will Kill You When We Are Alone!

After the safety net of company departed my mother exploded.
"Have you lost your goddamn mind? We can't afford a new couch!"
"Oh." I soon learned the imaginary layaway couch was a ruse to keep nosey neighbors from the embarassing knowledge that we couldn't afford a new couch. Lesson number two in my young life that not having money is a shameful condition in which to find oneself.

We lived in a fairly middle class neighborhood. The exterior of 1278 North 685 West was representable. Well, mostly representable with the exception of the tattered sheet that languished in my brother's window in lieu of a curtain. At first glance we could blend in with the respectable, god fearing, two parent families on the block, mostly due to the impeccable condition of the front yard. Mom was born with the odd combination of a love for motorcycles and a green thumb. She can plant trees and flowers like nobody's business. She did and still does landscaping better than most professionals.

Mom may have been on good terms with a trowel and a shovel, but had yet to make the acquaintance of a hammer and a screwdriver. Therefore, inside the house was another story. Doors hung haphazardly in frames. the plastic runner Mom had tacked down the length of the hallway, in a futile effort to preserve the carpet, was peeling up like sunburned skin. Drawers were broken. Walls in the basement looked like swish cheese and provided the perfect vantage point from which one could spy on the makeout sessions of horny friends from our teenage years. The pantry door had to be gently coaxed into movement like an elderly man after a stroke. The door knob to the ONLY bathroom in the house would turn endlessly in its' hole, broken from too many bathroom break-ins with butter knives and straightened wire hangers.

It got so the person bravely attempting any sort of personal bathroom business would pull open the hairbrush drawer, cleverly leveraging it against the door. The drawer sat catty corner to the bathroom door and would briefly deter invaders i.e. angry older brother. Brandon eventually became so proficient with a butter knife that he was able to unlock the door (until it broke) with a wire hanger and scrape the drawer shut using the knife as a lever along its' edge.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating that flimsy, laminate drawer. Once the lock broke from too much intercourse with the hanger, the drawer was my last line of defense. It served me well time and time again from the age of five through seventeen years old. Pulling the drawer open bought you roughly thirty seconds should you become the unwitting victim of a bathroom break-in. That was enough to A) leap from the bathtub and grab a towel B) yank up your pants and flush.

Brandon never played favorites. Everyone suffered the indignity of a bathroom break-in. It was best not to fight back. I learned that the hard way when he pinned me to the floor, knobby knees grinding my shoulders into the nubby, blue carpet. He pinched my nose until I was forced to breathe. When I gasped desperately for air he spit a slimey loagie in my gaping mouth. After making his deposit, he clamped a dirty hand over my lips to make me swallow because it was too disgusting to let slip and slide across my horrified tongue. Submission was survival.

With no Dad to administer the stern that-may-fly-with-your-mother-but-I-will-kick-your-ass discipline, an essential ingredient in all two parent families, Brandon shouldered the brunt of the divorce burden. Nine years old at the time, he was regularly left home, charged with the weighty responsibility of caring for me, my younger brothers Jordan and Shaun, a newborn at the time of the divorce.

Many was the night Brandon, a future electrician, would steal outside after Mom left for work and flip the circuit breaker, plunging the home into inky darkness. The kind of blackout dark where you can stick your hand in front of your face, wiggle your fingers and not see a thing. I'd be reading contendedly, lost in the world of Ramona Quimby or envisioning myself a member of The Babysitters Club when the lights would snap out.

After the first terrifying three or four incidents, I learned it was best to quickly scuttle to a hiding spot and hold my breath. That's because Brandon, for added kicks, would stalk the house, alternately narrating his movements in menacing tones, then saying nothing. I always preferred the narrating. At least I had a read on him, could monitor his movements. The silence was heart stopping. The quiet would invade my body like germs, clang through my nervous system until I couldn't take another second of not knowing. But when the narrating would start up again, I'd long for silence.
"Perhaps I should use this butcher knife to stalk my prey" he'd say. The slow squeal of the silverware drawer sliding open would assault my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. Heart pounding in my ears, I'd stop breathing, straining to hear his next move.
"Aha! I've found my weapon and now I must sharpen it." The chilling scrapes of metal on metal would zing down the hallway and crash into my six year brain. I'd clutch my knees tightly to my chest and wait anxiously for hours until he gave up or I fell asleep. With no adult on premises, anarchy reigned supreme. And so it was in The Butler household.

Dad would call every now and again. But a telephone conversation with a child is like pulling teeth.
"How are you?"
"What did you learn in school today?"
"Are you being a good girl?"
"I guess so."
"Is your slut Mom still dating that asshole?"
"I don't know."

On three or four occasions in the first decade of my life, we'd pile into the car and Mom would drive the seven hours to New Mexico to dump us off at Dad's apartment. I vividly remember one extended summer visit in particular because that was the trip Brandon peed on me. It's not the kind of thing one easily forgets.

I was happily playing Barbies at the base of the giant oak tree in the courtyard of the dusty complex Dad called home. Strangely, I shivered then realized why. It was raining. Fat raindrops had struck my head right in the part of my hair sending chills rippling down my neck and back. Rain? I looked up from braiding Barbie's hair in confusion. I scrutinized the blue sky, felt the arid summer air baking my skin.
"Ha Ha!" In pure Nelson from The Simpsons fashion, Brandon, hiding among the tree branches, proceeded to introduce me to a Golden Shower. Something I do not go in for, then or now.

Overall the Dad trips were okay. Dad's an excellent camper so there were good times scattered between the frequent reminders that Mom is a slut that ruined the family. Ultimately though, it jars the soul to see your Dad stripped of the womanly presence in his life. His stark apartment, painful to the eye. Valiant yet tasteless attempts at home cooking. It's never fun to see a parent cry. Baring witness to a parent's pain is an emotionally scarring ordeal. Your soft place to fall is now a rocky road pockmarked with potholes of despair. The world becomes a scary place full of pain. You don't believe in your own future. You don't know what love between a man and a woman looks like. Your heart begins to harden, eventually developing an impenetrable veneer because you know you have to take care of yourself. Who wants to bother the guy who cries? Can the guy who cries really be my go-to guy?

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (26)

Ahhh, brings back old memories of laughter and pain, joy and sorrow. What a pleasure it is to know the Butler family. I love you Monica. (in a friendly sort of way :)

November 1, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercchild
At first reading this Monica, I thought wow you know I know exactly what Monica went through with divorce and having a brother that liked to play tricks but then I read further and it was totally different. The things your brother put you and your siblings through. It made me think "Are they even on speaking terms today?" Boy your older brother was EVIL!!

November 1, 2005 | Registered CommenterFiabug
I was eating my lunch when I read about the loagie... YUK!
November 1, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAli
thanks for sharing that one monica. really appreciate it. could you say "slut" one more time for us all. we didn't hear the first 10
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermama
I didn't call YOU a slut Mom.. I simply reflected on what assholes the neighbor kids were. Remember the Okeys? I think you wanted to throw a brick through their front window a time or to along with the rest of us. As for Dad, I think your refusal to talk about your feelings toward him post divorce comes off a hell of a lot better than his obsession with talking badly about you to young children. Does this one differ from your memory of events? I'm not out to make anyone feel badly.. This shit ocurred twenty years ago. It's somewhat therapeutic for me to humorize certain events from my past. I'd rather type a few humorous anecdotes if it makes me feel better than just generally be an angry person (you know who I'm talking about) for the rest of my life.
November 2, 2005 | Registered CommenterMonica
Wow. Hey Mama, don't be offended, at least try not to be offended by your daughter's writing. Like she said, she needs to get this stuff out, and I know its easy to remember things the way you want them to, in order to not feel shitty..or come to terms with the fact that life didn't turn out the way you planned it.
My parents didn't get a divorce, but I think my brothers and I would have been better off if they did, on the flip side of this girl who, we sufferred because she stayed with the asshole.
I've tried to talk to my mom about things that still keep me awake at night, in the fetal psition, hoping that if the day comes that I have kids I won't react that way, I won't forget the pain, but Monica and I share that writing is our therapy, so cut her some slack, I know its hard, but man ain't life hard!
Don;t be mad at me Mama, or Monica. All of us love reading her pieces because it either reminds us of our own painful or funny moments and it gets us through the day, admiring an awesome writer who can let us into her heart and we don't have to fight her to.
Thanks for posting Monica. Cheers!
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
I would call my mom a "whore" to her face! B/c she is one! She left my dad to be with some scum she met online, and I mean SCUM! Who she never ended up with. So she went on yahoo and match to find men to date, she had a new guy rotating through her doors daily! She would have two and three dates a DAY! In my book that is a whore! One day she will realize her mistake, I THINK, at 50 years old, who knows!
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJen
How do you spell whore?? I mean, I think I'm the worst speller the creation of the universe..if you guys haven't already noticed. But, I've tried using whore in some short stories and spell check always tells me its wrong...
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
Spelling right! :)
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJen
My Mom is bad ass. More so now, than ever.. Back then she raised four kids on her own, put herself through nursing school and battled some pretty fucked up demons from her own childhood. This story wasn't meant to cast her in a bad light, as she seems to think...Twas simply an honest (I thought, anyway) reflection on an event (divorce) that, by all accounts, completely changed the dynamics in my family. Some might say I shouldn't be airing my dirty laundry.. True, true.. But the things I write about are common knowledge in our family, friends.. I'm just typing them down. Not revealing secrets. I would invite my Mom to write down her story and send it to me.. I'd happily post it. She's the one I got the writing gene from.
November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
Yea my mom raised three kids too and was married for 29 years before she got all dumb in the head. I have ZERO respect for either of my parents. That is REALLY hard to not respect your parents, and what they say and what they do. Not to say that they don't have redeeming qualities, it is just that I can't always remember them. They didn't set good examples. Dad is a MAJOR alcoholic! My mom did finish x-ray school and makes very good money and just bought a new car, super proud of her for that, but she did it all at what cost? Having your kids wanting to just BARELY be your friend? Sad if you ask me. Hence the reason I doubt I will ever have kids.
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Hey, ok now heres the deal. I had just got home from a grueling night shift and it was hell. My patients, I love them, it's their fukt up families I deal with, and yes I said fukt up. They all think suddenly they know everything about medicine and are endlessly questioning me about this lab or that ct scan or whatever. Anyway...Like I said just walked in the door, flipped on the computer and suddenly all I see is slut,slut,slut. I was tired... I was pist at the world and then pist at monica. I have now mulled over what monica wrote and hey, what can I say? It's all true. The camaro, the bullet bike the bleached hair ( oh my god what was I thinking??) So hey, there ya go,BUT in my defense I got married young had 4 kids in a row and missed my "growing up" so when I was free, man I went free, and it was grand. In my defense tho I must say I was not promiscuous, WAS NOT! had boyfriends yeah, but didn't tramp around like the neighbors thought. ANYWAY, like mother like daughter (no not the tramp thing) graveyard shift turns us in to bitches, but it is now my days off and life is grand again!! So to my missy too kissy, all is well. Your an excellent writer and all your talents and beauty come straight from your mother! PLUS......WHATS UP CAAASSSSAAEEYYYY CHILD? How was your moms garden this year? Any squatting going on there this summer? hardy har har. So monica, all is well I love ya dearly and just to let you cringe am considering buying another bike!! love mama
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermama
Well kids don't understand their parents missed their "growing up". So does that mean at 40 some odd years old they are going to revert back to being 21 years old? I kinda don't get it.
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Hey Mama,

Everything is going well in my neck of the woods. I just moved into my new house and it is perfect. I will get my own garden going this year so I don't have to sneak over to Sues and grab her pee-tainted 'maters. Something everyone should know about Mama is that she treated me like one of her children. Even though the Butler house lacked food 3 weeks out of the month, the first week was heaven. Mama would make Sweedish Meatballs like no other and then invite me in just like a loving mother hen. Mama did what she could with what she had and as bad as the circumstances may have been we all had some wonderful times and laughed more than most. I carry the Butler memories with me as some of the finest times of my life, because they were real people with real problems. If you are lucky enough to crack the "inner-sanctum" of the Butler familyl then you have friends for life.
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercchild
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
Ahhh, Case! You brought a tear to my eye! Yeah, have to admit those were hard times BUT we did have some good times and laughs, so for you readers it wasn't all shit... Monica will say that herself. No excuse, again, but it wasn't 40 something, I was 27. Lets see what you can look back at when your 50 and be ashamed of and wish you had done things differently. I can't wallow in self hate forever nor do I like being reminded of it and Monica knows its hard for me to even talk about some of those times without getting all eclempt (monica? sp.?) But when I'm slammed with reminders AND strangers opinions of me, well there it is all over again. All a mom wants for her children is to grow up and be a productive member of society and be happy. When it comes to monica, I did a pretty damn good job....... must admit, some of the things she says and writes about and thinks and believes (whew) I find offensive ( and she knows which ones) but wha-er-ya-gonna-do? She's my girl and I'm always behind my kids 150 % Plus shes funnier than hell at the same time. .......And thank you case! I'm so happy for your little family! I can still hear your wonderful laugh resonating in my head! I love you.
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermama
Hey I just wandered into this site, but I can assure you, mamma, as someone who doesn't know you or your daughter, that you don't come off badly in this story. It is the case with many families that the mother has to be the one who carries the kids in the case of divorce, and since you were 27 with four kids it makes sense that you would want to have some male companionship. You didn't sign up to be a nun, after all. (Your husband comes off like an asshole, though, for overusing the word "slut." Just my opinion.) Anyway, everything seems to have turned out pretty fine in the end.

November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commentera reader
correction to above post. "when it comes to monica I did a pretty damn good job" was just doing a little bragging on myself, when in all actuality, monica became the person that she is with her own determination, spunk, intelligence, was alot of the time in "survival mode" I had little to do with who she has become. So, sooo proud of her!
November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermama
I am really curious as to how being a Mormon played in to everything that happened in your family?
I was raised in much the same strict religion, and I know it was awful, people still look down on my family. I have an Aunt and Uncle who are all Mormons, kind of a quirky religion, as was mine.
To me the pressure from the congragation was AWFUL!
Just curious.
November 4, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Mormonism leaks, no - floods, into every aspect of your life. If you are taught something from the moment you learn to speak, you can't help but be profoundly influenced by it for the rest of your life. It's taken me a decade to reprogram my brain.. and still, it affects me. Most of my childhood friends are Mormon and because I once looked at the world through Mormon eyes, I know first hand how they view me. They say it doesn't bother them but really they're sad. Sad that I've "lost my way". It's not that I don't believe in God, I just don't need the Mormon filter. Organized religion blows. Man perverts God's intentions... need we discuss Priests and Alter boys as example numero uno? I don't need some 90 year old man telling me what HIS God wants. HIS God is his god.. not mine. So yeah, Mormonism served to make me feel not good enough growing up, made me feel guilty for nothing, gave me a complex about sex and my body.. I'm in the middle of writing a story called "No Sex Before Marriage" that I'll post before too long that may illustrate the point better than I can here..
November 4, 2005 | Registered CommenterMonica

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>