Dear Nick and Nora:

You are still at the table after the dishes have been cleared. Nora is waiting for Nick to respond to her declaration, “This divorce of ours. … I’m ready for it to be over.”

Still no response.

“Are you giving me the silent treatment?”

Nick, startled by the accusation, says, “I’m thinking before I speak. If you asked me a question, I didn’t hear it.”

“OK, Nick. I’m ready to be done with our case, which means settling the few issues that remain. The question for you, Nick, is: Are you ready for a final settlement?”

“Nora, my lawyer advised me over a year ago that anything I say to you gets reported to your lawyer and will be intentionally misinterpreted. And then he’s going to put me through the ringer again, and he’s going to take you to the cleaners. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that demand for hard-to-find, completely worthless documents. What were you thinking? Are you still thinking it? What were you doing and why?”

“I’m really sorry, Nick, and you know I’ve never been into apologies. I’ll tell you what I was thinking. The last time we hired a lawyer was when we got that guy, Frank White in San Francisco, to deal with that so-called toxic waste at our Fruitvale property.”

“It was toxic waste, Nora. There had once been a gas station on our site. I agree that Frank was good, but what’s that got to do with the divorce?”

“You assume that I always know everything about anything going on in my life, and I usually do. But when I asked Frank White about what he was doing with our toxic waste, he’d talk to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. So I persisted with more questions, but I still couldn’t understand what he was taking about. When this happens, I can be pretty sure that I’m getting a load of B.S., but I had a strong intuition that he knew what he was doing.”

“He did know what he was doing. He couldn’t have gotten a better result for us. But the divorce — Frank had nothing to do with it.”

“Hang on, Nick. Frank was the only lawyer we’ve ever had who was hired to fight for us. We’ve had the estate planner — am I still in your will? — the tax guy, the transactional guy, and this guy and that guy. But never anything to do with litigation because you wouldn’t fight. You always gave at the beginning saying that you would rather spend your energy trying to make money instead of trying to keep it or get it back from some jerk, and the consequence for these people was that you wouldn’t do business with them again. Frankly, I thought you were a wimp.”

“Nora, when this divorce is over you can sue and be sued as often as you wish, just leave me out of it.”

“But one thing I’ve learned from this divorce is that you weren’t a wimp; you were smart. You stayed out of the struggle and stood up to me, which is not something that I want to be easy.”

“Honestly, Nora, if you want me to listen to you, you have to get to the point. You are talking like my mother did.”

“You loved your mother.”

“Of course I loved my mother, but when I attempted to have a sustained conversation with her, it would conclude and I wouldn’t have any idea of what we talked about or what she thought we talked about. Come on, Nora, get to it.”

“I assumed my divorce lawyer would handle my case the same way Frank handled our toxic waste. I didn’t ask a lot of questions and let him do whatever he needed to do. When you complained to me about him, I said that I thought he was the only person looking out for me, and I meant it. You got very angry, which made me glad that I had a strong lawyer. I admit that I didn’t mind when he made you squirm a little.”

“Yeah, I squirmed and I thought a lot about making you squirm, too. But what would be the point?”

“The point was that making you squirm came at an astronomical price. Do you know that I called my lawyer off your back?”

“You did?”

“You bet I did. The anger against you faded and shifted to him. There were a bunch of reasons. I couldn’t believe he said he suspected you of committing fraud and of hiding some of our assets. I asked him where that came from, and he said you had failed to come up with some of the documents he demanded. That meant you were probably hiding them, which was sufficient to make him suspicious. I told him that he should have asked me before he inferred, on my behalf, that someone was a crook. This was especially true when the alleged crook happened to be my children’s father — and also a man who couldn’t find documents because he could rarely find his own butt. Hiding assets? You? You spend the majority of your time looking for stuff you didn’t hide. I guess I could be wrong, but I don’t think you would do it. Of course, that’s partly because you know that I’d catch you and then break your neck. But you aren’t a crook.”

“So you think the reason I’m not a crook is because I know that you would catch me and break my neck?”

“I also said that you are not a crook — you wouldn’t cheat me out of stuff that belonged to both of us. You wouldn’t and couldn’t do it. How’s that?”

“Much better. I think you are in the middle of complaining about your lawyer, which is a subject of interest to me. Please continue.”

“Sure. There was his bill for calling you a crook. It was unbelievable; I made him knock it way down. I found that encounter delightful, and it made him unhappy. And I also started to wonder about all my anger. It went like a flash from you to the lawyer, as though it had a life of its own. The truth is that I’ve been an angry person all my life. I don’t know why. I’ve been incredibly fortunate, and that includes being married to you, Nick.”

“Why, Nora …”

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m also fortunate to be getting divorced from you. My children — our children — are healthy; I’m healthy. I’m wealthy because of you, and I am grateful for what you have done for us — for me.”

“Spike, are you feeling OK?”

“Nick, try to hold your mud until I’m finished. Another thing I’ve learned during this divorce is that I’m not wise. I’m smart, but I’m not at all wise. I’m too old to be utterly without wisdom.”

“I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of wisdom myself, but I wonder if people who are wise know it? I’ve never heard anyone announce, ‘I am wise!’”

Nora said, “Plenty of people promote their wisdom, but in our culture the claim is always implicit, but that’s beside the point. I want to finish my story. I wrote a note while sitting at the lawyer’s desk. I told him, in writing, that he could not allow anything prepared on my behalf to leave his office unless I approved it. Then I went traveling for almost a year. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Do you want to settle?”

“Of course I want to settle, but I always worry about being Charlie Brown to your Lucy. You’re holding the ball and I’m going to try to kick it, yet again, expecting you to keep it upright even though you’ve let it fall so many times before.”

“Nick, one thing I’d be willing to pay a lot of money for would be a provision prohibiting you from ever comparing me to Lucy and the football. It’s always been lame; it’s been worn out for a long time, and it’s not true.”

“Not true?”

“I wouldn’t insist that the agreement say ‘not true,’ or words to that effect, if you’d agree to the prohibition. Come on. Just say yes or no. Are you ready to settle?”

“It wasn’t possible to settle with you when one of us was angry. Then, when we weren’t so angry, we couldn’t talk to each other. You misunderstood everything I said in the worst possible way. We couldn’t do the most simple business together even though that was what we did best while we were married.”

Nora said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree with all of that. And we couldn’t get anything done on this divorce. We couldn’t agree to the most simple things.”

Nick said, “You’re describing exactly what Bucky said would happen.”

“I know, but don’t tell him that we realize it.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’d be smug.”

“Smug? Bucky’s not smug.”

“Well I guess he’s not smug around you because he likes you, and he likes you because he thinks he’s smarter than you. He’s smug with me because he wants to be smarter but he knows in his heart that it will never happen.”

“Nora, you’re delusional.”

“Delusional? Maybe. But I don’t think I’m depressed … anymore. Did you get depressed at all?”

“Depressed? Yes, I’ve been depressed — very depressed if you want to know the truth.”

“Was it because you were losing me?”

“Knowing that I was losing you was the reason I didn’t shoot myself.”

“Same for me. I wasn’t depressed over you. It was over everything. I felt so alone and purposeless, and I thought a lot about death.”

Nick said, “I couldn’t do business with you or anyone else when I was in that hole. The rabbit hole I called it. I couldn’t shake it, and so I got depressed about being depressed.”

“How did you get out of it, or did you get out of it?”

“The first good sign was when I realized that I occasionally had the power to control what I was thinking about and could stop myself from thinking about anything that was at all depressing. Then I discovered the same thing about my feelings. I’ve lived in the belief that I was my feelings and my thoughts. But I know that can’t be true because I, whatever I is, have at least some control over both so the ‘I’ can’t be ‘them.’”

“You got out of depression by realizing that the ‘I can’t be them.’ I’ll remember that in case I get depressed again. But I’m not depressed right now, and I don’t think you are either. For the last time, are you ready to settle with me?”

Nick finally said, “Yes, I am,” as he removed a black Sharpie from the left breast pocket of his suit and began to write on the white tablecloth.

Your friend,

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.