I had to stop practicing voodoo on my ex-husband when I realized that I was two for two. It started out as a way to blow off a little steam: I would sit down with a crisp Chardonnay, my sewing kit and a pile of photos, and casually poke holes in his eyes and heart. After the first time I did it, he arrived to pick up the children with his arm in a cast. The second time, I received a misdirected call from our family physician concerning his test results. I couldn’t determine from the message exactly what the problem was, but it had something to do with internal bleeding. It was definitely time to stop.
I wouldn’t have minded killing him at the time, but there were the children to think about. They seemed genuinely fond of him.
So I put away the sewing kit and looked for a new outlet for my fury. I felt that venting was an important part of the healing process. I just needed to find a way of tormenting my husband without offing him.
I wasn’t up to stepping out much in the initial days after my separation. I preferred to stay home instead, and spend hours snipping his initial out of our monogrammed towels, thread by thread. Our first names both begin with J, so I would cut the second J out, thereby declaring myself master of the household. As an act of generosity, I gave him a set to spruce up his bachelor pad. “Here,” I said sweetly, “why don’t you take some of our towels? It’s not fair that I have them all.” He accepted them, but never commented on my handiwork.
Scissors in hand, I moved on to his underwear drawer. He took only a gym bag with him when he moved out, and still stopped by whenever necessary to replenish his wardrobe. When I decided to empty his drawers to make more room for my clothes, the temptation was too great. Out came the tightie-whities, and I went straight to work. After the first snip, I was hooked. I started by simply cutting out the crotch, but then I got creative-hearts, jack-o’-lanterns, smiley faces. It was so juvenile, yet so gratifying.
I put his now-crotchless panties in the bottom of a Barneys shopping bag and tossed in a few personal effects that I thought would be meaningful to him. “Be sure you open this,” I said as I handed him the bag. “There’s a baby picture of you with your mother in there.” I’m sure he opened the bag-he loved his mother-but I never heard a word about the undies. A couple of days later, I gathered up all of his clothes-Armani suits, Hermès ties, Paul Stuart shirts-and stuffed them all in lawn-and-leaf bags. I solved the dilemma of how to deliver them when I eyed the baby stroller. I piled it high with the garbage bags, left the baby with the sitter and rolled this shifting, unsightly mass to his apartment just a few blocks away.
“I have a delivery for apartment 14B,” I announced to his doorman.
“Everything?” he asked.
“No, not the stroller-that’s for the baby,” I snapped as I tipped the contents onto the marble floor and marched out the door, the stroller careening on two wheels.
“Jan,” my ex said tersely when he called that night, “nice delivery.” Well, it was something, I suppose. Those three words, spoken through clenched teeth, suggested that at least the scales were starting to tip.
Once I had cleaned out my closets, I decided it was time to redecorate. I kindly offered my ex everything I intended to replace, but he declined, having grown skeptical of my offerings. Our tastes were radically different-mine good, his not-so I had a garage sale and sold everything that he had chosen for our apartment. I made price tags out of yellow Post-Its, stuck one on each of his hunt-country prints, Oriental rugs, and tables and mirrors that looked like they belonged in my grandmother’s house, and invited the doormen up to shop.
“A dollar?” René the porter asked incredulously when he opened the plastic garbage bag and saw the Ralph Lauren equestrian-print bedding. “Each item is only a dollar? I’ll give you 10.”
“No, no,” I answered. “One dollar and not a penny more.” From 10 years of marriage, I netted $17 and a priceless amount of satisfaction.
And yet, it wasn’t enough. “This divorce stuff is exhausting,” I thought. We were still a long way from reaching an agreement, and I needed a vacation.
Valentine’s Day was approaching, and I was feeling rather blue. So I enlisted a friend to go with me, lined up the baby-sitter to watch the children, and arrived in Paris on Friday morning, Feb. 14.
It was my ex’s weekend with the children. “Where’s Mommy?” he asked when he arrived to pick them up.
“Paawis,” my then-2-year-old daughter responded.
“Did you forget to mention something? What the hell are you doing in Paris?” he asked that night, when I called to speak to our girls.
“You would never take me, so I took myself.”
The shouting coming from the phone was so toxic, I literally jumped. Finally, a reaction.
“Guess what, Sporty?” I said. “I don’t have to listen to this anymore. Haven’t you heard about the Big Divorce?” I placed the receiver down on the fancyescritoire,gazed dreamily outatthe rooftops and waited him out. When the noise finally stopped, I hung up the phone.
Surprisingly,things weren’t going too well with our divorce attorneys. “What are you doing to this man?” my lawyer would ask every time we spoke. “He’s not agreeing to anything.”
“I’m being perfectly civilized,” I would reply. “Really. I told you he was unreasonable.”
After months of slugging it out, we finally came to an agreement, more out of exhaustion than anything else. On Aug. 20, my attorney called to tell me that my divorce was final. The next day, he died of a heart attack. This upset me because, though I had never practiced voodoo on my attorney, the consensus among my friends was that dealing with me had killed him. I felt hard-pressed to disagree-we argued a lot over my feelings that he sympathized with my husband.
On Aug. 22, my ex rang me up.
“I just thought you should know that I got engaged last night,” he said.
This pissed me off. He was engaged, and I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night. Wasn’t I the nice one here? I thought a moment and said, “Congratulations. I wish you a lifetime of happiness, and I hope the two of you have a bunch of uuuug-gly little babies.”
“Goodbye, Jan,” he said and slammed down the phone. I quickly made the sign of the cross, begged God for forgiveness and went about my day.
I realized I was through tormenting him-as well as myself-when I woke up on his wedding day and felt oddly unfazed. Besides, I was throwing a cocktail party that evening and was more concerned with my celebration than his.
My soirée was a big success. I didn’t think about my ex once until the end of the evening, when the caterer asked me if I had any garbage bags.
“Plenty,” I said, and retrieved the enormous roll of lawn-and-leaf bags that I had bought for the clothing drop in my ex’s lobby.
Then my college roommate, who is going through a horrible divorce, gave me a call last week. “This is awful,” she told me. “How did you get through it?”
“I’ll be glad to tell you, but let’s discuss it over coffee,” I said. “And bring pictures of your hubby. We have some work to do.