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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 2:14 am | Fair 50º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 101) — She Looked So Nice

Dear Pinky and Spike:

She looked so damn nice ...

This will not only be the last letter of the year, but also an opportunity to amend Letter No. 100 to include a glaring omission and to complete a thought I’ve had on the subject of depression and divorce.

The last letter discussed how to identify a Toxic Divorce. The direct way is to answer the Inventory questions. The problem with the Inventory is that people whose answers give rise to a prediction of a high probability of a Toxic Divorce won’t want to take the quiz.

In the last letter I suggested books and movies about divorces that were clearly Toxic. I also recommended the benefits of an exercise in which specific characteristics of the Toxic Divorce be differentiated from those in another “divorce of interest.” This is a way to appreciate the depth of the differences between the two.

It wasn’t until after the last letter had been submitted that I realized the major omission of Gone Girl as a contribution to the diagnosis of Toxic Divorce. I suppose inferences can be made from what others say about their reactions to either the movie or the book, but here I’ll keep it simple.

In Gone Girl, I was particularly impressed by the effective use of alternating the point-of-view between the two narrators as they become increasingly unreliable. The beginning of the story is nearly static until each protagonist has had two opportunities to tell a segment of their story. Then the plot shifts accelerate until the last page, which caught me by surprise. I was surprised to the point that I thought about the story for the next two days, and I couldn’t come to a conclusion other than: that’s a Toxic Divorce.

Whether as a movie or a book, Gone Girl can serve as a touchstone for toxicity. Watch it or read it and if you are disturbed, you are Ordinary. If you watch or read the entire story and are not disturbed, you are likely to be involved in – either now or later — a Toxic Divorce.

                                                                        •        •

The other omission was a popular fictional account of emersion from a depression characterized by the loss of “hope.” Everything — both external and internal — is perceived as dark, foul and without redeeming value.

I remember reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school and laughing so hard that I fell out of bed when Edgar Marsalla disrupted the speech of “this guy Ossenburger” (a successful undertaker) at chapel.

The theme of death is stated and restated throughout the book, and it’s clear that Holden hasn’t come to terms with the death of his brother, Allie. Why should he? If Allie is alive and part of his life one day and absent the next, what does anything mean? How can anything have meaning? And anyone who isn’t perplexed by the same question is a phony. Why isn’t everyone preoccupied by this transience?

But I couldn’t come up with an explanation for the ending. It felt like it made sense but I couldn’t say why. It took several decades (and as many readings of the book) to discover an answer that made sense to me.

The Catcher in the Rye takes place at the beginning of Christmas vacation while Holden travels from his school in Pennsylvania to his home in Manhattan. It’s a trip in shame because Holden knows his lack of academic performance will lead to another expulsion from another school. Holden invites and attracts negative experiences with all he meets. The one person he loves is his 10-year-old sister, Phoebe.

At the end of the story, Holden tells Phoebe that he doesn’t intend to face their parents and will "go away." He arranges to meet her the next afternoon at the Museum of Natural History. He’s surprised when she arrives at the museum pulling a big suitcase of his that she’s packed with two dresses and her underwear — she intends to go with him. He tells her she can’t; they argue; he says he won’t leave. They make their way to the carousel in Central Park where Phoebe selects a big, brown, beat-up-looking old horse.

It starts to pour and Holden gets soaked. After the word “depression” is used a half-dozen times in as many pages Holden says, “I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, and the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could have been there.” In an afterword he says, “About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddamn Maurice. It’s funny … .”

“That goddamn Maurice” is an elevator-operator-pimp who punched Holden out. This is the ending that puzzled me for dozens of years, but I understand it now in terms of Hope. It’s not hope that an expectation will be satisfied or a wish will be granted or even that things will change. Instead, it is a word to stand for a state of mind where one can accept the coexistence of the good and the bad, the cruel and the kind, life and death, beauty and ugliness. The co-existence of a Phoebe and a Maurice is an observation Holden can accept and build on rather than a conclusion he can’t explain.

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 [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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