Divorce: A Firsthand Account

November 27, 2015

Kate Mulgrew's thousand-yard stareKate Mulgrew speaks frankly about her divorce, and what it did to her children:

We were driving across the Mojave Desert toward Mammoth Mountain. Ian was in the front seat, next to me, and Alec was in the back. It was late afternoon. I could feel the sun withdrawing; so I accelerated, hoping to make it to the mountain before dark.

The energy in the car was high, lit by a strange blue flame.

“Why isn’t Dad with us?” Ian demanded. “When is he coming up?”

“Yeah,” Alec chimed in, “Where’s Dad?”

“Yeah, Mom, where’s Dad?” Ian asked again, but this time it was provocative, threatening.

“Where’s Dad, where’s Dad?” Alec intoned from the back seat, and immediately his brother joined in.

As the two of them chanted, and the sound grew in volume, the car filled with a wild, unbearable tension, and although I struggled to hold on, to maintain composure, to hold tight to the awful secret, the voices of my children cracked me open, and I suddenly swerved and pulled the car off the road.

Even then, I said to myself, there was time. Hold on, hold on. But the sun had now turned a deep orange and sat heavily above the horizon.

The children were silent, looking at me with dark, curious eyes. I turned off the ignition and turned to face them.

“Boys,” I said softly, “I wanted to wait until we got home next week, when your father and I could do this together.”

Ian interrupted, loud and sharp, “Do what together?”

Alec instinctively clapped his hands over his ears.

“Your father and I love you very much.”

“Oh-h!” Ian shouted.

“We love you very much, but we have decided that we can’t live together any more.”

“Ah!” Ian screamed, and I forced my voice over his, stifling the sounds he was making.

“We haven’t been happy for some time, and we’ve decided to get a divorce.”

Ian was the first to go. He unsnapped his seatbelt and threw open the door; then he started to run, as if running for his life, disappearing into the desert.

Alec, in the back seat, looked at me. He didn’t understand; he couldn’t at first grasp it. His eyes were pleading with mine. But that was no more than a moment. Then his little face fractured as quickly and shockingly as if I’d taken an ice pick to it. He wept quietly, strapped into place. He did not howl or shriek. He wept very quietly.

I looked out the window and could barely make out Ian’s figure as it melted into the sun. I knew that I must go after him, but for the moment I could do nothing. It was enough to stay in that car with my youngest child, and do nothing. It was enough.

It takes a very long time to sever a marriage in which children are involved. There is a table, two chairs, and a small pile of bargaining chips. This is how it begins, but it ends with one chair in an empty room. The days darken. The children are sliced open and split down the middle. Someone takes an arm; someone takes a foot. The car pulling into the driveway on a Friday afternoon becomes a hearse, and everything is couched in lies. The house of old assumes a silence.

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