Little Miss Perfect
By M.E. Carter
Writing out the numbers as carefully as I can, I’m sure to dot every “I” and cross every “T” of the curly script words I’m putting down on the small paper. I was surprised when the attorney’s office said they’d take a personal check, but I suppose if it bounces, they won’t take me on as a client, so they don’t have much to lose. Except an hour’s worth of work and three hundred fifty dollars.
I was also surprised how much this consultation was going to cost me, but Elena assured me this practice is one of the best in the area. She made out well during her divorce, so I have all my fingers crossed they’ll do the same for me. Not that I want to get a divorce, but it’s not about what I want. It’s about making sure Trevor has what he needs. Essential oils and organic produce aren’t cheap.
Carefully pulling the check out by its perforation, I hand it over to the receptionist behind the glass window. It never occurred to me an attorney’s office would need those extra security measures, but they are oddly reassuring. If they’re worried about a disgruntled spouse coming after them, that must mean they get the job done.
“Okay, Ms. Dickson. Have a seat and Ms. Hartley will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you so much.”
Ms. Hartley. Kendall Hartley is my attorney’s name. Or at least, I hope she’ll be my attorney. I looked her up on the internet after Elena gave me her name, and she looks very kind in her picture. Right now, that’s what I need. Someone who is no nonsense and tough when working for my benefit, but who can also be kind to me as I navigate it all. There’s so much more to sort through than I realized. Not only do we have to divvy up all our household goods, I don’t even know what Rick has in the way of assets. Does he have a retirement account? A 401K? Do we have savings? I’ve just always used the credit card and let him do all the finances. I’m quickly learning that was a mistake on my part. But the alternative seemed so overwhelming at the time. I’m so glad I have Elena and Callie to help me figure it all out. They won’t let me forget anything.
And Aputi. He’s already been a huge help.
My mind drifts as I think about his kind eyes and genuine smile. He’s this huge teddy bear of a man. How is he still single at his age? Actually, I don’t know how old he is, but he’s well into his adult years which means he’s either a menace once you get to know him better, or he hasn’t found the right woman yet.
Somehow, I don’t think it’s him. From what I understand, he was living with Greg’s ex-wife for a while. I’ve accidentally interacted with Libby a time or two, and I can’t figure out how she always ends up in relationships with the good guys.
Also, I suppose there’s my answer. Aputi is still single because he gravitates toward the crazy women. Is that why he likes me? Is it because I have a little crazy in me as well? Most people call it neurotic, but that’s just a more clinical term for the same thing…
My name being called brings me back to the moment at hand. Like a moment of truth, to be honest.
Standing, I run my hands down my pants, flattening out the creases. Then I meet her hand in the middle to shake.
“I’m Kendall Hartley. Won’t you join me in the conference room?”
I like her immediately. She’s got a very calming presence, which is exactly what I need when anxieties kick in. Oh, I so hope she takes me on as a client!
Once the door is closed, we’re seated around a small round table. Kendall offers me a drink, which I decline due to the brand. It’s not known for being the most purified. Plus, my hands are shaking enough, I’m afraid I’ll spill it.
Flipping over a page of her legal pad, Kendall immediately gets down to business. “So, you need representation for your divorce. Have the papers been filed yet?”
“I don’t know. Rick was going to handle that, but I haven’t received anything yet.”
She looks up through her lashes as she jots down notes. “But you know you’re getting
“Yes. My husband moved out three weeks ago to live with his girlfriend.”
She nods once, slowly. “Ah. Infidelity. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I am too. Fingers crossed my pap smear and blood tests come back normal.” My eyes widen and I throw my hands over my mouth. “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I just said that! I’m so sorry; that was so inappropriate to say. You’re just so calming to be around, the filter in my brain didn’t work. Rest assured, it won’t happen again.”
Kendall stops writing and looks at me. “It’s okay, Deborah. That was actually the next thing I was going to suggest. Any time there is a history of infidelity, it’s a good idea to go see the gynecologist. Your health is the most important thing.”
“Well, my son is the most important thing.”
She smiles in understanding. “I agree. But you can’t take care of him if you aren’t healthy, so I’m glad you’ve already taken such a big step. That means you’re already on the right track in a relatively short amount of time.”
Relieved that she and I are on the same page in just a few minutes, I’m a little more confident we are going to work well together. “Thank you for that. My friend Aputi helped me put together a list of things I need to get done and that was on it. Now that I say it, it’s a little weird he thought of it since he’s a man. I didn’t realize at the time, but I suppose nothing makes me happier than being able to cross something off a to-do list, so it’s irrelevant.”
“A to-do list is great during times like this. In fact, that’s what I’m making right now. So let me get a bit of information. You only have the one child?”
“And he’s your husband’s child?”
A bit of an odd question considering Rick’s the only man I’ve ever slept with, but I suppose it’s not unrealistic. “Yes.”
“And does your son live with you?” She’s writing faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s quite impressive, and yet the chicken scratch is a little much for my organizational tendencies. No matter. She has a job to do and this is just the beginning.
“Yes. Rick, my husband, um… soon to be ex-husband I suppose, moved into a beach house
somewhere. He said I could have the residential house because of Trevor.”
“We’re gonna need him to sign off on that asap, then,” she says more to herself than me.
“Okay. Got it. And is he paying child support or is his income still going in the joint accounts?”
“Um… I…” Wracking my brain for the answers, I find myself stumbling over my words. “I… uh…”
Suddenly, out of nowhere I realize I have no idea if he’s putting money in our account. I never thought to ask. I was so determined to continue on with life as we know it, I never thought to clarify such a massive detail that will make a huge impact on our lives.
Swallowing back the lump in my throat, I whisper, “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about our money.”
Kendall stops writing and looks up at me. “Deborah?” Glancing up, I fight the urge to bite my bottom lip. I always battle feelings of inadequacy, but right now is the worst it’s been in a long time. Rick promised to take care of me. To take care of us. And in this moment, I realize I’m not sure he’s paid the mortgage. He could have handed me the house because he knew it was about go into foreclosure. I don’t know how much he makes, so I don’t know how much child support I should be getting. I know nothing because I blindly trusted him. All of a sudden, I realize what a huge, terrible mistake that was. And I feel so stupid I can barely breathe.
Laying her pen down, Kendall pushes the box of tissues closer to me, while I dig out the package of aloe infused tissues I have in my purse. I prefer them because of their softness. Much better for the tender under-eye skin when I cry. Not that I’m going to cry now.
“Deborah.” I refuse to look up at her as I dab underneath my eye with the soft cloth and sniff softly. “You aren’t the first woman to be in this position, and you won’t be the last. That’s why you’re here. I can help you. I want to help you. It’s going to be hard, but you have to trust that I know what I’m doing and I’m very good at my job.”
I nod but still refuse to look up. I don’t want her to see how deep my humiliation runs.
“The first thing we need to do is file a motion for all income to continue being deposited into the joint accounts and all bills to continue to be paid from those accounts. That will ensure nothing else changes until we can get to mediation and decide everything else. If you agree to that, we can get started on it today and have it filed no later than tomorrow morning.”
I nod again. “Yes, let’s do that please.”
“Since you haven’t been served with divorce papers yet, we can wait on him to do it, or we can take that step first. It’s up to you.”
Do I want to take that step? Do I want to be the one to put the final nail in the coffin of my
marriage? I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I don’t like this sense of helplessness. I have a check list of items that need to be done in order for us to continue on with our lives and getting over the hurt of him having a girlfriend behind my back is not on that list. Maybe it should be.
And that’s when I’m hit with yet another realization—I’m not sad. I don’t miss Rick or the way he leaves his wet towels on the bathroom floor every morning. I don’t miss the way he treats his allergies with over-the-counter meds and refuses to try eating local honey to inoculate himself. I don’t miss how he turns off my essential oils diffuser the minute he walks in from work or how he adds salt to all my cooking or how he has a very strange obsession with Dr. Dre.
I don’t miss him at all.
And yes, I’m sad my life is in upheaval. I’m sad Trevor’s dad is gone. I’m scared of the changes.
But I’m also very, very angry that we have been put in this position to begin with. Never once did Rick try to talk to me about his concerns. He never asked for marriage counseling. He never asked to see me without makeup. He never talked about any of it until he gave up.
He. Gave. Up.
And I never do. I work tirelessly until things are as perfect as I can get them. Had I known we were having issues, I would have put in the same effort.
Something Aputi said suddenly runs through my mind. He said, “When you decide you care about someone, you put your all into it.” He’s right. It’s exactly what I do. But I wasn’t given that option with Rick. He kept me at a distance by never telling me how he felt, which meant I wasn’t the best wife I could be. He didn’t allow me to even try. Our marriage never had a chance, and I never knew it until this moment because I was never part of the equation. My thoughts, my hopes, my desires were never important enough to take into consideration.
Well. That makes this decision easy.
“If he hasn’t filed already,” I say, feeling resolved, “let’s do it. I’d like to move on from this time of my life. I don’t do limbo well.”
Kendall smiles at me, a real smile. Probably female solidarity, which is fine with me. Until my two girlfriends, I didn’t have much of that, so I’ll take Kendall’s support. Even though I’m technically paying for it.
“Sounds great. We’ll file the Petition for Divorce and Emergency Motion for Support to include exclusive possession of the home and custody of your son immediately. If you have a current address for your husband, we can serve him at home or at work. It’s up to you.”
I can’t explain my next thought, because it’s so very out of character for me. But it hits me out of nowhere. Maybe it’s natural to want revenge on someone who has hurt you, but that’s never been me. Or maybe I’ve always been so focused on staying, well, focused that I never stopped to be vengeful. But why not poke the bear? Rick didn’t seem to mind poking me on his way out the door.
“Can we serve him at home? I know it sounds horrible and very improper, but if he’s served divorce papers at home, his new girlfriend will know he never filed. I don’t know why it’s important for me that she knows he hasn’t gone through with it yet, but it is.”
Kendall’s lips quirk to the side, and I know she’s fighting a laugh. “Because you’re taking back the control they took from you.”
My eyes widen. She’s right. Whoever this girlfriend is, she and Rick made decisions about the course of my life without me. They took the organized, controlled life I live and threw a wrench in the works, as if it’s not important or has no value. But it does. And I’m back in control of it.
And I want them both to know without a doubt they won’t be calling the shots on the direction my life is going anymore.
Three weeks after he left and I’m already getting back on track. Wow. I’m pretty good at this divorce thing.
“Not anymore, they’re not,” I finally respond, and Kendall goes back to her chicken scratch.
Now there are arrows and circles around certain things. If I wasn’t so busy and the office wasn’t so far from my house, I’d offer my services to type up her notes. There is no way she can remember what all that means if she were to look at it in a year.
“Okay. So one child. We need to get all your husband’s financials. I’d highly advise going
through his desk or any drawers or cabinets. Likely all his financial information is online, but he might have hidden passwords somewhere and you have a right to see those accounts. Any random statements he has forgotten about will help move us in the right direction. He’ll be ordered to hand it over anyway, but it’ll give us a better idea of what you can expect as far as assets. How long have you been married?”
One of Kendall’s eyebrows quirk up and suddenly I’m nervous that it’s not a good sign. “I
assume you’ve been a stay-at-home mom during most of that time?”
I shrug a shoulder and give her a slight nod. “I worked at a hospital in administration for a
couple years after college, but once we got married, I quit.”
Kendall takes a deep breath, and now I’m even more on edge. “You need to be prepared. Child support will only be a portion of his salary and is meant to provide for the child. But he has no legal obligation to take care of you.”
“But…” I blink a few times, processing what she’s just said. “But I thought I would get alimony. I haven’t worked in over a decade.”
“You have to be married for ten years to qualify for it. And even then, you have to show you
have no skills and no ability to provide because you’ve been taking care of him.”
“But I have been. Taking care of him, I mean.”
“I don’t doubt you at all. I can tell just by the way you’re prepared with a fresh note pad and three different colors of gel pen that you took very good care of him. Probably more than he deserved. But a judge isn’t going to order alimony under the circumstances. Not in this state.”
My breathing gets shallow and my chest tightens. No alimony means no ability to pay bills. No ability to pay bills means getting a job. Which means Trevor will have to go to daycare where he’ll be exposed to germs and processed foods and cable cartoons.
“You don’t need to panic.” Kendall hands me a bottle of the not-triple-filtered water I already declined. “Getting this motion filed for him to continue providing will buy you at least several months, maybe longer. If he has a million dollars in assets, you may be entitled to fifty percent of that in the divorce. We’ll get you taken care of. You just have to be ready.”
I want to believe her. I mean, logically I do. But the rest of me can’t stop thinking about what a bad position I’m in.
I have to get a job. I have almost no skills. I’ve been out of the work force for a decade, and I certainly can’t get a job that will give us the kind of life we have now.
A crushing weight settles on my chest, and it takes everything in me to focus on breathing and listening to everything Kendall tells me. I’m frightened and stressed, and I kind of want to throw up.
I guess I’m not as good at this divorce thing as I thought.