Moving out and moving on: coping with my parents’ divorce in college

By Alexandra Blazevich

On December 31, 2016, my mom kicked my dad out of the house.

Happy New Year, right?

Before my dad left that night, my parents called me downstairs to the kitchen from my room, where I was listening to music. Even with my headphones in on maximum volume, and the makeshift blanket fort I made as a sound barrier to drown out the yelling, I could still hear them. Every night was the same story, but that night they invited me into the conversation.

Part of their discussion now involved me, a 22-year-old college student who was living at home to save them money until I could graduate and find a big-girl job to support myself. I watched them struggle to pay my sister’s way through college and I didn’t want to put them through that again. In turn, I had to put up with them.

“Your mom and I have been talking,” my dad said.

“Yeah, I heard,” I responded, sarcastically.

“We’re giving you the chance to stay here or go with your dad,” my mom chimed in.

It was happening. They had actually decided to separate – something I could see coming since the time I was 12.

What had once been love had become tolerance. From tolerance, it turned to hostility. And from hostility, it became anger. The anger resulted in fights that took place most nights in the kitchen, where my parents would yell until they got too tired.

Then they would retreat to their separate rooms and watch TV. My dad would sleep on the couch. As if they thought I was a little kid who didn’t know any better, the next day they would pretend like it never happened. They would let their issues bottle-up until they exploded.

Still, my mom would ask me why I hid in my room all day. My dad understood – he hid in his office.

At that moment, all I wanted was to escape. I would have done anything to leave that house. I grew up there and it’s where most of my childhood memories took place, but none of that mattered to me anymore.

“I’m going with dad,” I said without hesitation.

With that, the conversation was over. I walked back to my room, to the quiet hum of the heater, and I turned off the music that was still blasting through my headphones.

Silence.

 Reflection

Throughout the semester, I’ve met other people my age who are going through the same thing – their parents waited for them to reach a certain age before separating.

Gloria, a UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore, opened up to me about her parent’s separation and divorce this semester. They waited until she and her sister were out of the house before deciding to part ways.

Susan Orenstein, a family and couples therapist, said it’s common for married couples to divorce or separate after their kids move out.

“As they (couples) get through the first few years (of marriage), they are really busy building their lives and raising their kids, and they have some common goals,” she said. “What I’ve seen is that once the kids are off to college, then they look at each other and try to figure out what their purpose is as a couple. If they can’t answer that, they may be more vulnerable to getting a divorce.”

My parents both turn 60 this year, which makes them part of the baby-boom generation. Among baby boomers, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2015, 10 out of every 1,000 married people over 50 got divorced. In 1990, it was 5 out of every 1,000, or 0.5 percent.

This is my mother’s second marriage, which increases the chance of divorce up to 16 out of 1,000 people. Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in 2015, 48 percent had been in their second or higher marriage.

According to the same research, each time a person is remarried, the chance of divorce goes up.

 Things fall back together

“Hey dad, will you be here for dinner tonight?” I asked him one day while I made breakfast.

“I’m going out with your mother,” he replied casually.

I quickly made my way over to his bedroom and stood in the doorway. His back was to me as he sat at his desk, staring at his computer screen.

“What?” I said in disbelief.

He repeated the same answer without turning around – as if this was completely normal and expected. After years of fighting and months of being apart, they were going on a date. I don’t even think he would have told me if I hadn’t asked.

When he posted a picture of them smiling at dinner on Facebook later that night, I almost puked. My world had turned upside down.

 The first night

It’s been almost five months since the night I packed up my entire room in trash bags, threw them into my car and drove 15 minutes down the road to the apartment my cousin is letting us stay in.

My entire wardrobe was stuffed into three large garbage bags that sat on the floor. My shoes were in another messy pile nearby.

My new room was previously a bachelor pad. The walls were bare. My grandmother’s old couch was covered in video games and books my cousin probably hadn’t moved since he put them there in the first place.

I hung up some photos to remind me of better times, when I didn’t feel like my life was a carpet being ripped out from beneath my feet.

I wanted to cry, but I was too tired. I ended up combining the two and crying myself to sleep that first night.

 “Talk to your mother”

On January 18, my birthday, my aunt treated me to lunch. As my mom’s older sister, she knows her even better than I do. She understood my hurt, but she encouraged me to talk to my mom. I wasn’t ready.

A week before Easter, my dad told me the four of us – my sister, my parents and myself – were going to spend the holiday together. My parents had been on numerous dates together at this point, and my sister had even come home one weekend and to see my mom. I still wasn’t ready.

After days of telling me to talk to my mother, I took my dad’s advice. The text read, “Hey mom, would you like to get breakfast this week? I’ve taken a step back for a while just to think about things, but I think this will be good.”

Two hours later, she responded, “Ok. We can meet around 9.”

Not exactly a warm and fuzzy response, but at least she answered.

Resolution

That week, we met for breakfast at our favorite place. We shared stories from the past months apart. She jumped out of her chair in delight when I showed her the promise ring my boyfriend gave me while I visited him over spring break. It looked like a genuine reaction, but the whole situation didn’t feel real to me.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked eagerly.

I had no desire to talk to her. I felt betrayed – like the world I’d known for so long was falling apart. My parents were no longer my role models for how I wanted to parent my kids or treat my husband. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I have these last few months.

On Easter, my family went to church and made dinner together, something we hadn’t done since my sister and I were kids. We ate, we drank and we laughed that day – more than I had since long before that cold January night when we packed our bags and left. After dinner, my sister drove back to Charlotte, where she lives. I drove back to the apartment and my dad came back later. It was bittersweet. While some things have not changed, many are different.

I still don’t like to look at my neighborhood when I pass by. I don’t live there anymore. It isn’t my home, and I’m not welcome back. The memories I have there are now tainted.

My dad hopes my mom will let him back in the house soon. He’s been saying that since the day we left. He wants to go back, but I don’t. I moved out, and it’s time for me to move on.

Edited by Paige Connelly

Shades of Navy: a weekend in the life of a military couple

By Alexandra Blazevich

Day One

Permission to go ashore.

Permission granted.

After driving 11 hours to Pensacola, Fla. and waiting two hours in the Naval Air Station’s Welcome and Visitors Center, where the office needed to see my license, registration and conduct a background check, those two words made my heart sing.

This was real.

It was happening.

John Bradford was free.

Free for the next six hours of liberty, that was. We would go through a similar process to bring him back that night.

Day Two

After sleeping through my 4:45 and 5 a.m. alarms, my 5:15 alarm woke me up to a dark and lonely room. The drool on the side of my cheek didn’t even have time to dry before I got up and walked to the bathroom. The sandy floor of the hotel room stuck to my feet as I made my way.

I doused my face in cold water to wake myself up. It did nothing to help the fact that it was only five hours since getting back from dropping my boyfriend off at the base the night before. My eyes were bloodshot and tired from the previous day. I got dressed and made myself look as nice as I could for how early it was, and then walked down to my car in the garage below the hotel.

When I rolled up to the gate 30 minutes later, the sun was just coming up. I turned off the music I had blasting to keep me awake and took out my driver’s license. I made sure my hard-earned visitor’s pass was visible on the dashboard and dimmed my headlights.

“Goooooood morning!” the man said, signaling me to drive forward.

Men and women on base aren’t allowed to have caffeine while working, so I was not expecting such an excited greeting at 6 a.m.

“Good morning,” I said a little less enthusiastically.

“What are you doing here so early?” he asked while he verified my license.

“I’m here to pick up my boyfriend,” I said, to justify.

“Man, he better buy you a good breakfast,” he responded.

Too bad I had already bought him donuts and a chai latte –his favorites.

“That’s a little backwards, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “It is.”

He signaled me to drive through the gate and told me to have a good day. It was the first full day I got to spend with John in months, so I knew it would be.

John and I started dating two months before he knew he’d be leaving for boot camp. We certainly didn’t make the decision on a whim – we even wrote out a pros and cons list to reference. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see each other often as a long-distance military couple. If I want to see him, I have to travel to wherever he is. He won’t be able to take leave until summer 2017, almost a year after the start of our relationship.

For every month of service, military members earn two and a half days of leave, which begins adding up in boot camp. Leave is great, but it can’t make up for the weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, and small victories they miss while they’re gone –one of the sacrifices of a military relationship.

As I drove onto base, my heart began beating out of my chest. The day I had been waiting for since January was finally here. I got to see him for a whole 16 hours that day – more than I’d seen him, in total, on my last visit for his boot camp graduation.

After parking in the visitor lot, I made my way to the barracks he had shown me the day before. I stuck out even more than I thought I would in my jean shorts, tank top and UNC hat. Everyone else around me looked the same – from their uniforms to their glasses and haircuts.

When I opened the door to the barracks, I gave a polite smile and said a “good morning” to the man on duty, who John told me was named Dafun. On base, everyone goes by their last name. It wasn’t until I asked John his roommates’ first names that he realized he didn’t know them. John told me Dafun was taking his place while he was on weekend liberty. On our way out, John saluted him and I gave the biggest smile I could to thank him for his service.

We drove to a restaurant while John ate his donuts, where he did, in fact, buy me breakfast.

After breakfast we drove to the beach, where I planned to lay out all day and catch up on sleep, but John had other plans. Within five minutes of setting out his towel, he was running toward the water for a swim in the numbingly cold water, dog tags swinging to and fro around his neck.

“I hope he’s a good swimmer,” said a woman who was there with her family.

He was the only one in the water.

“He’s actually training to be an air rescue swimmer with the Navy,” I told her proudly.

“I guess he has to get used to this somehow,” she said.

My mind flashed back to when John and I watched the movie, “The Guardian” before he left for boot camp. The main character’s job was the same as John’s: an air rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy.

When he came out of the water twenty minutes later, the woman thanked him for his service–something he said he hears whenever he’s around civilians.

Later that day at a beach bar, a man noticed my hat.

“You’ve got the wrong blue,” he said.

My boyfriend, another Duke fan, got a kick out of that.

It was like being home again before John had left for boot camp. Just like a regular afternoon out with him in Durham or Chapel Hill. I didn’t want it to end.

Day Three

On the last night, I drove John back to base for the third and final time of the trip. We sat in the car in silence. I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand in his. It was 11:30 p.m., and he had to wake up at 4 a.m. At one point I looked over and realized he was asleep.

Right before midnight, I dropped him off at the barracks. We hugged and he said a simple, “See ya.” Then he walked up the stairs to his room where I wasn’t allowed to follow.

When I would see him again? In a month? Just a few weeks? I had no idea.

As I walked back to my car, it felt like part of me was suddenly missing. My phone buzzed, and I opened the message from John after passing through the gates I got to know so well over the weekend.

“I love you,” the text read.

He apologized for not being able to kiss me one more time. No public displays of affection are allowed on base.

It wasn’t until then that I started crying.

 

Edited by Paige Connelly

A whole new world: what it’s like to be a real-life princess

By Alexandra Blazevich

Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess. Cassidy Tompkins
Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess.

Three hundred people. One room. I was out of breath, but I just kept smiling. Five hours later, the group was narrowed down to seven. I’d made it to the end. A casting director asked for my contact information.

Six months later, I still hadn’t received a phone call. My dream of getting a job in Walt Disney World was crushed, once again. I told myself I would try again the next chance I got. It was the same never-ending cycle of excitement and disappointment with every Disney audition I went to – seven, to be exact.

One girl sat in the corner crying after she was cut. Black tears running down her face onto her bright red lips as she changed into her street shoes and packed her bag to leave. She drove four hours to an audition in which she didn’t last more than five minutes. At that audition, I learned not to wear makeup – the casting directors don’t like it.

A few other girls were asked to leave because they were just above or below the height requirement for the part the casting director was looking for. “Please check the audition requirements next time,” she said as they walked out.

Cassidy Tompkins, a former Disney princess, auditioned for Disney 12 times before she was hired.

Abby Peters auditioned eight times and was never hired.

Alyssa Stroner auditioned just one time before getting her part.

“I was part of the very lucky, extremely humbled few,” Stroner said.

Peter O’Neal auditioned for Disney entertainment for a period of six years – after his interactions with cast members during a trip to Disney World inspired him to do so.

“I would do whatever it took to perform at Disney, so I could spread the magic that had been given to me,” he said.

The Audition Process

Being a Disney princess is not all about tiaras and corsets – at least not as first. During the audition process, a casting director could cut you based on how far apart your eyes are, or how big your nose is. If you’re an inch too short or tall of the range set for each princess, you’re out. But, if the casting directors like you, they can measure you down or up to your “Disney height,” as they call it. I’m 5’8,” but my Disney height was 5’7” because they thought I looked the part.

Disney’s casting directors are looking to fit a specific look for each princess and each character. The audition listings on the website say exactly what they’re looking for. For example, the listing to be Anna from Frozen says,“5’3″ – 5’7″, type cast. Elsa’s younger sister, and Princess of Arendelle; quirky and a bit awkward at times, fun spirited with great comedic timing and outgoing personality. Non-singing role.”

The audition requirements don’t stop there. Before you have a chance to show your personality through acting and dance steps, the casting directors line everyone up and cut the majority of the group solely based on looks.

“The casting crew stares at every individual for a few seconds to identify if their physique and basic facial structure matches the criteria. It is a very awkward process, but it is painless,” Peters said. “Despite the casting crew’s many attempts to convince you to ‘just enjoy yourself’ and to not worry about your audience, the whole processes is very intimidating.”

At least they play fun Disney music in the background.

Tompkins first auditioned for Disney entertainment in 2010 for “Beauty and the Beast,” a Broadway-type of show where she’d need to be able to sing, dance and act.

“The casting director told me I would never be a Belle because I didn’t have the right look, which was hilarious to me when I did get cast as Belle in 2015 by that same casting director,” she said.

Once the casting crew has looked everyone over and made cuts, the remaining dancers are taught a dance routine. For Walt Disney World princess auditions, this is usually a simple grapevine or three-step-turn dance with a curtsy or two. When I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland, we learned a more complicated number.

“You’re a Cindy”

At the end of the audition, directors choose a few women to have the “Disney Princess experience,” as I like to call it. “Very few females make it to the final round, when they are weighed, measured, and dolled up to look like a selected princess,” Peters said.

At the end of my first audition, the casting director lined up our group of 10 girls. She pointed at me and said, “You’re a Cindy.” Speechless, I stepped out of line and followed her. She led me to a room where a stylist was waiting, and within a few minutes, I had on a blonde wig, blue eye shadow, and light pink gloss on my lips. I looked like Cinderella. It was surreal.

Then, the casting director took my photo and said I could potentially get a phone call from Disney within six months. From there, it was a waiting game.

When asked about their perspective and comments on the audition process, Disney did not respond to my inquiries.

The Training Process

Once hired, Tompkins said she went through a training process where she learned how to do meet-and-greets with guests as both a princess and a “fur character.” The meet-and-greet structure was very specific: greet the guest, have a conversation and send them off – all within about 70 seconds. All princesses – known as “face characters” – must also be trained in fur costumes, where their faces are not seen. For Tompkins, that meant she had to train as Pluto, Eeyore and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

Face characters must verbally respond to whatever guests may say, and because so they earn an extra $2.50 per hour. This can be rough. Tompkins said that one time when she was playing Ariel, a young child told her, “Ariel can you take my brother away because I think he just wiped a booger on your dress.”

Fur characters cannot talk, but still must still have a non-verbal conversation with the guest. One of Tompkins’ fur character roles was as Pluto.

“If someone had a birthday pin on I’d try to tap dance what sounded like happy birthday and move my hands like a conductor to get everyone to sing after pointing to the button,” Tompkins said.

Stroner said her training lasted four days. She learned to walk, talk and act like Princess Jasmine from Walt Disney’s Aladdin.

O’Neal said the meet-and-greet experience was a thrill for him as a fur character. He couldn’t talk, but his actions made up for it.

“There’s no way you can’t smile when a fun friend gives you a big hug,” he said.

Disney also requires all face and fur characters to go by their character name. Even if other cast members or friends know who the person is under the costume, guests do not.

“In Disney lingo, it is common for people to ask entertainment cast members what characters they perform, and instead of putting it that way – possibly ruining the magic for overhearing guests – we refer to the characters we perform as ‘our friends,’” Stroner said. “For example, someone might ask, ‘Who are you friends with?’”

When I visited Disney World in August, Stroner was holding meet-and-greets as Jasmine in Epcot. While I know her as my friend, Alyssa, I had to call her Jasmine in order to not ruin the magic for the other guests around me – especially younger ones. When posting photos of us on social media, I couldn’t mention her real name – I had to call her my friend, Jasmine.

In order to keep the magic alive for all guests, Disney has put  in place rules to keep things consistent. If two Mickey Mouses were to cross paths, children would start to question which one is the “real” Mickey. The magic would be lost. In a similar way, each princess must have a similar look, just like how every Radio City Rockette must be the same height. Because of Disney’s standards, only a select few of all the women and men who audition make it as a cast member.

On my way home from my audition, I called my parents out of sheer excitement. I had to tell someone. Even while stuck in the miserable downtown Orlando traffic, I sang Disney tunes at the top of my lungs. I rolled my windows down and serenaded the cars beside me. I didn’t care – I felt like I was on top of the world. I don’t know if I was missing the right look or if they lost my resume, but I never got my callback.

The audition process gave me an inside look, not only to how Disney entertainment works, but also the entertainment industry as a whole, which I wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.

It has been three years since that day, and my mom still calls me Cindy.

Edited by Paige Connelly

Wife of a different mold: how Hallie French defies the role of Army wife

By Alexandra Blazevich

Hallie French lies in bed at her Carrboro, N.C. apartment, her back to the pillows set up to feel as if her husband sleeps next to her. It’s six months after her marriage to Taylor Peele, and he’s deployed in Iraq.

Her cat, Max, lies at her side and purrs along with the humming of the computer as she types her honors thesis. Max lives with her most of the time and goes with her to visit her husband on the weekends he’s not deployed.

From down the hall, her roommate, Nicole Vandiford, sends her a political meme from Facebook. Simultaneously, laughter erupts from their bedrooms.

Before she falls asleep, French gets a call from her husband. The connection is rough. It’s their first phone call in weeks, and the conversation gets emotional.

When he is not deployed, Peele lives in his own apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., about ten minutes from Fort Bragg, where he works as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. The couple has never lived together.

“She’s very independent,” French’s friend and former Navy Corpsman, Jeremy Zollars said. “She gets a lot done, and makes very good grades. She has an old-person mindset. She is very mature – she’s not the typical 23-year-old going out and getting smashed every night.”

Wife of a different life

After a simple Google search on military wives, a long list of articles like “How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career” and “How Long Will Your Military Marriage Last?” show up. There’s a popular belief that military couples typically revolve their lives around their husband’s career. The wives cook, clean and take care of the kids, while their husband serves the country to pay the bills. Zollars said about 80 percent of his friends in the Navy were married to women with this traditional lifestyle.

French, however, falls in the latter 20 percent. For starters, she kept her own name after marriage.

“Changing my name wasn’t going to magically make me love him more,” she said. “We’ve always talked about being individual, well-paired partners – not the same person.”

While she feels that changing her name and lifestyle for her husband’s job isn’t necessary, she still supports all that he does.

“She has been nothing but supportive of my decisions throughout my military career, and that is something you can see take a serious toll on people,” Peele said.

French’s roommate has lived with her longer than her husband ever has. Because many military wives live either with their spouse on base or at home with their kids, French’s situation is unusual. She said many people are surprised to hear she has both a husband and a roommate.

French said traditional gender roles are popular in the military, but she thinks they’re old fashioned. She strives to be an individual – something that keeps her strong and independent of her husband and marriage.

“The majority of military wives stand out as very entitled, complacent, and complaining – they don’t do a whole lot, as far as work goes,” Zollars said.

French is definitely not like that – and her husband respects her for it.

“She goes to school and doesn’t complain about my work life,” he said. “She understands that I had this job before I had her and that it is very important to me, just as I understand how important her school is for her.”

French fills her time with a full load of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, a work study at the Center for the Study of the American South and writing her 40-page honors thesis – a completely different lifestyle than the stereotypical military wife. So in comparison to other Army wives, she said she often doesn’t fit in.

When introducing herself to other military couples at a marriage retreat, French said the other women referred to themselves as wives first, then mothers and lastly their individual selves.

“All of the wives were stay-at-home-moms or sold Avon or something,” French said. “I was the only person there that even remotely fit into my category.”

When it was their turn for introductions, she asked her husband to introduce her simply as, “Hallie, my wife.”

Staying unpressured

Feeling like an outsider isn’t easy, but there is one thing Hallie has in common with many other military wives – her age.

According to the United States Department of Defense’s 2014 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, 23.5 percent of military spouses are 26 to 30 years old, proof that about one-fourth of military couples get married relatively young. A lot of military couples are even younger than this bracket, including French and Peele, but, they do not fit this stereotype entirely.

There’s a popular stigma that young military couples rush to get engaged within a few months of meeting. There’s an expectation to revolve every aspect of their lives around the military.

In basic training, the first two to four months of military training, recruits cannot reach the outside world, with the exception of letters. After graduation, they have access to phones, the internet, and resources off-base. Basic training is typically the hardest part for couples due to the lack of communication, and the pressure to get married young is felt throughout the whole military environment.

“You see a lot of people who get married young in the military for all the wrong reasons,” Peele said.

One of these reasons is for the money. A married person in the Army gets a $60,000 bonus when they finish A-school, compared to $12,000 for a single person.

Zollars said he almost married a friend from home so he could use the extra money to pay her bills. It is a very real option for those in the military, and the pressure is certainly there.

French said she did not personally feel a pressure to get married from the Army, but since the marriage, she’s been pressured by family to have kids. She said her father-in-law asked what her 5-year plan was for having kids – to which she told him to leave and ask again when he’d accept a 10-year plan.

French and Peele got engaged after a year and a half of dating. They were married on their second anniversary – the day after Christmas – a fact that would make any hopeless romantic tear up.

When her family heard news of their wedding after a short 6-month engagement period, French said they seemed more suspicious than happy for her.

“Everyone thought I was pregnant,” she said. Other family members thought she was going to drop out of school to go live with Peele at Fort Bragg.

French said she didn’t appreciate her family’s intrusive questions, but she didn’t let that change her plans.

“It sucks, but it’s also just the price I pay,” she said.

To the chapel

Soon after the engagement, the Army told Peele he was going to be deployed to Iraq. Duty was calling in less than six short months, and French was impatient.

“Our plan was to wait until I finished Carolina,” she said. “That was always our plan.”

But she just couldn’t wait to marry her best friend.

“As long as he was there with me, everything was fantastic – I was on cloud nine,” French said. “As soon as he left though, I was like ‘This is ridiculous. What are we doing?’”

When she picked up her husband from the airport after he spent a month in Texas for the Army, she told him she had a surprise. Peele said he had a feeling she was planning something when she started driving into the city, so he asked her if they were going to the courthouse to get married.

“No, we are not going to the courthouse to get married,” French told him. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

She was driving him to get their marriage certificate. French referred to herself as the initiator in the relationship, and this action indicates why.

One week later, they were married in the mountains of North Carolina.

“We had been engaged for about six or seven months, and I knew she was the girl for me, but it scared me,” Peele said. “It was such a huge step at such a quick pace, but looking back I don’t think I would rather have done it any other way.”

While French and Peele have not had the traditional relationship, engagement or married life, they still manage to make it work. Living apart is not easy, but they have an understanding when it comes to being together while living separate lives.

When asked if he had any regrets, Peele said without hesitation, “Not a single one.”

After a few moments deep in thought, French said, “The only thing I regret is not wearing shapewear under my wedding dress.”

Edited by Paige Connelly