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.
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.
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