“You’re a divorce lawyer?” he asked with some mixture of mild surprise or delight that I couldn’t discern. “I just called one last month.”
He had only been married for three years but had been planning his separation for some time. “She’s mean,” he repeated three times during our flight from D.C. to Chicago. We had plenty of time for him to explain. How his wife forbade him to spend time with his friends. How he had been cut off from his four sisters since he got married.
He boasted about the college plans for his adopted daughter as he shared his worry that his wife would make good on her threat that she would refuse to allow him parenting time.
I recognized the red flags of what sounded like an abusive relationship. The controlling behavior. The threats. The fear.
I had a flash. The child’s book with watercolor carrots and lettuce was ripped apart at the binding and its pages torn to bits. Decades later, I still remember the title: You Can Grow Vegetables Too. It was a precious memento of mine that was destroyed in anger as my marriage was at its most miserable. The ruin of this small object touched such a tender place in my heart that I remember futilely trying to tape the pages back together again and held onto it for many years before I released it to the trash bin.
I listened as the businessman talked about glimmers of hope for his future, of wanting to father a second child, and of reuniting with family members. The pilot announced our descent and a sunny sky forecast. I turned to my fellow passenger in seat 15B and with feigned tentativeness said, “I may be overstepping my boundaries, but would it be okay if I gave you a bit of advice?”
I had already recommended a book and asked him if he was happy with his lawyer, but in recent years I have become bold about saying things to people that I meet in random situations. Usually it is something in my gut or in my heart that I feel strongly would be useful for them to hear. I figure that if I make of fool of myself that at least I won’t see them again.
I wasn’t his lawyer so it wasn’t legal advice I had to give. But it was practical advice.
Sometimes when a spouse feels hurt or angry, they do things they later regret. I’ve seen a lot of people going through divorce be heartbroken over the destruction of their letters, photos, and art. You might want to consider safekeeping anything you can’t replace.
He got quiet. “It’s too late for me to get the one family heirloom that mattered to me. It was my great grandmother’s diamond ring. I already gave that to her.” “But,” he said, “I have already decided that if I leave with nothing, I won’t be sorry I left.”