“You may want to tighten up on your parking. You’ve had 4 tickets in the past 4 months.”
The words, which are fairly innocuous on their own, when delivered by The Ex, seem barbed and mangle whatever part of my heart has the capacity to listen.
You are effing kidding me.
“Oh.. you’re not taking this well..”
“It’s just that you’ve been towed.. you had those 2 tickets that I paid.. now this..”
The sound of blood coursing through my veins seems to drown everything else out but I hear the last few reasoning strains of my more-enlightened self:
Breathe. Stay calm…Why are you personalizing this? In one ear out the other. You are being reactive…
Yes. That’s right. I'm being reactive. I’m going to yell and scream in a minute.
“I’m just trying to help. I mean, it’s expensive.. you need to be more responsible..if you just paid more attention...”
It’s hard to be intimidating when you’re 5’5” with your back stretched taut, but I pulled myself up to my full height anyway. I went rigid with a kind of ire that replaced my need to breathe. My eyes were burning holes through him.
“This is where I say this is none of your business. None. You can go now. Good night.”
“I’m sorry.” The Ex was already leaving. Already retreating with his hands up in surrender.
It wasn’t enough for me.
“How could you?! Why the hell did you have to say that? What is wrong with you?! You don’t know me anymore. You know nothing about my life. Nothing. It’s NONE of your business.”
I’m surprised at how adamantly I’ve gone on the offense. My teeth are hooked firmly into this issue and I’m not letting go. I’m picking my battles and this is one of them.
Scuffles with the custody schedule? I’m all smiles.
Real estate resolution taking longer than originally thought? Patient to the end.
But apparently talking about my parking tickets will earn you a place in hell.
I tune back in and hear myself say
“You want to know why we fell apart?! Case in POINT. JESUS. CASE IN POINT.”
I’m pretty sure I’m frothing at the mouth. And I’m crying. Why am I crying?
A few hours later I had 2 emails in my inbox, profusely apologizing for the unsolicited commentary.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t budging.
Whenever I turned inward all I could hear still was an incendiary diatribe.
‘How COULD you? You never voiced concern when it came to the marriage falling apart.. but GOD FORBID I should get a fraking parking ticket!!’
I was crying again.
I cried bitterly. For hours.
The truth is we didn’t fight about the marriage falling apart. We didn’t fight about custody, or about who gets what. But all that frustration doesn’t just cease to exist because we decide we’re better than that.
We have the same push-pull as any other couple. We have the same limitations. And we fumble over the same invisible trip-wire boundaries – one of which we’d set off tonight.
We had chosen to do the honourable thing. We had decided to fight over dismissive fluff that we didn’t know was laden with land mines until one of us was exploding.
But was it worth it?
Was avoiding the big issues somehow more sophisticated and respectful than just speaking our truths and embracing our conflict?
Why couldn’t we just level?
When I finally called I felt awkward and raw.
“Hey.” I blurted it out. I think I dropped my voice a couple octaves to sound more sincere.
“Hey. Look. I’m sorry. Did you get my emails?”
“Yes. Listen, I am sorry that we argued. I know we pick our battles. I know that we fight about these stupid things because it’s easier than fighting about the big stuff.”
“No really. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. A lot. I get it. I get that this is going to happen sometimes. That we’re going to bash heads because we are trying to be bigger people.”
“You know.. we don’t argue about custody or our house or anything else.. but all of a sudden you want to go 10 rounds about my parking tickets?”
“Oh.. yeah.. well I just wanted to fix it.”
“I mean, you didn’t even want to fix the marriage.. at all.. you never stopped to say anything about it. Hell, you didn’t even want to go to therapy..But the parking tickets..”
My voice broke. I sounded harsher than I wanted to. I could feel the tears about to erupt. I swallowed hard. An awkward silence had fallen on us. I struggled to break it with some kind of witty rejoinder but my voice kept catching in an unbecoming way.
“Yeah. Sorry… about all that.” He stumbled over the words.
There is a very strange kind of moment that defines the end of the relationship. It’s the moment that you’re beyond ‘I’m sorry’. With both of you having said what you’ve come to say, the distance between you becomes a no man’s land.
The silence hangs with a kind of weight that is not entirely uncomfortable. No one makes an effort to clear it away. It’s just there, thickly coating each other’s one-sided truths.
There is no fight left.
There is no fight to fix left.
There are just a few parking tickets, a civil truce, and the honour of sparring in subtext for the good of it all.