"Boogers on the Wall"
From The 10th Anniversary of My Divorce:
Wildly Funny Stories on Losing a Husband and Gaining a Life
I think that most of us would say that being divorced is at times very difficult, especially if you have children.
No matter what the circumstances of a divorce, it’s probable that at some point you might wonder if getting a divorce was the right thing to do, and a few of us may even wonder, if we had it to do over, and had a choice, would we choose divorce? Seriously, was your ex really that bad?
Well, I am here to tell you that I did get a chance to find out if living with my ex-husband Greg was as bad as I remembered, and I didn’t have to hold his hand, kiss him or God forbid, share a bed...
Seven years after our divorce my ex-husband’s second fiancée dumped him and like any emotionally wounded man-child, he invented a debilitating illness for attention.
By parading this “illness” in front of his kids, Greg garnered a lot of pity from his daughter. At the time, Abby was still deciding whether she wanted to be a civil rights attorney or a human rights documentarian. Given this information about her, I am sure that you can see how she would have been vulnerable in this situation.
On the other hand, Chris and Elliott were firmly on the side of the stadium that wouldn’t piss on their father if he were on fire. This division amongst the league meant that Greg clung to Abby like stink on shit, eventually asking her to move into his apartment with him. He said it was because she would be closer to her college and her commute would be a lot shorter, but everyone, including Abby, knew it was because he wanted a housekeeper, a caretaker and a nurse.
Greg’s story was that he had rapid-onset Parkinson’s Disease and the symptoms were coming down on him hard and heavy. He described walking to work and becoming “frozen” and having to stand still on the street until his body could function again. He said that his muscles were stiff and that he was in extreme pain all the time. He wept when he told us that he didn’t have control over his balance and that sometimes, just like a small child, he fell down on the ground when he tried to walk. Greg informed us that he had been forced to retire early because he could no longer work full time.
It was a terribly sad story, but what if it wasn’t true? I mean, I hate to appear an unsympathetic bitch, but he did once tell me that his appendicitis scar was from a knife fight in a bar.
One of his favorite stories is telling people about the time that he was a cellmate at the Hanoi Hilton with John McCain. And he tells everybody that he once had a massive heart attack. None of these things are even remotely true, so please cut my suspicion some slack here.
Like any protective mother, I took this decision out of Abby’s hands by forbidding her from moving in with him. I told her that if he was so ill that he could not live on his own, he could move into our apartment, and all of us would take turns caring for him until he learned to live with his new limitations and found a permanent solution for the assisted living that he would now need.
All of us taking care of him? I thought for sure that this would scare him away from Abby and send him running for the hills, but when Greg took us up on our offer, I began to worry that this time, this story might be true.
However, I suspected that we were being had the day I watched him move the contents of his entire apartment into a storage facility in less than two hours. All by himself. Honestly, if he could do that, how sick could this guy really be? As it turned out, not sick at all.
On the weekend that he moved in, I found him in my bedroom doorway asking me which wall I wanted my bed moved to so that he could fit his bed into my room. I was aghast. He took my shock as his cue that he wouldn’t be moving his bed into my room but rather sharing my bed with me. I icily told him that he would be sharing a room with the boys. He didn’t even seem embarrassed by his way off the mark assumption.
The first month went okay, but to be honest I didn’t see anything that would indicate that he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease or any other disease. There were no doctor’s appointments on his calendar, no medicines in his bathroom cabinet, no publications about Parkinson’s anywhere and he never went to a support meeting or had a home nurse visit him.
I never saw him stiff, in pain or unable to move. In fact, the only thing that any of us ever saw that resembled paralysis was his entitled behavior when it came time for breakfast, lunch or dinner to be served.
Greg would sit at the head of the table like a king and expect everyone to wait on him hand and foot. Every day he drank a whole bottle of wine with dinner, ate more than his share of food, took twice as much dessert as anybody else and then finished up his gorging with a champagne glass full of scotch. As soon as dinner was over he would flop into bed and pass out until morning.
It was clear that without my supervision, he had turned into a full-fledged alcoholic, which, amongst other things, made it hard for him to keep up with our dinner conversations.
Since the divorce, our dinners have always been a time of day when the kids and I would relax and talk about subjects like politics, world news, history or current events. We would talk about anything and everything, nothing was off limits and those dinner conversations were probably one of the best parts of everyone’s day.
After a few months, it became painfully obvious that while his children had grown up and become intelligent and educated adults, Greg hadn’t grown at all. He still wanted to talk to them about SpongeBob SquarePants and the Family Guy episode where Peter tries to teach Meg how to love a man’s farts.
When Greg couldn’t follow along with the table talk he would suddenly blurt out nonsensical words and phrases like, “Derp!” or “Where’s the Beef?” Anything to distract us from noticing that he didn’t know what the hell we were talking about.
Greg’s table manners had grown atrocious as well and I wondered what kind of women he had been engaged to. He always came to the dinner table shirtless with his saggy, hairy man-titties proudly displayed for all to see. He began every meal by asking what was for “eats” or would ask for a “sammitch” at lunch. I didn’t know why he was talking like this and it was driving me crazy.
Greg also licked the top of the ketchup bottle, the chocolate sauce bottle and his wine bottle. He used his dirty dinner fork to spear pickles out of a jar. He belched at the table, farted at the table and flossed his teeth at the table. He clipped his toenails over the kitchen garbage can and if one got away from him and disappeared somewhere where food was being prepared? Oh well...
We’d been away from him for so long that I honestly couldn’t remember if he had always been like this. And if he had always been like this, then I most certainly deserved some sort of award from God for being married to him as long as I was. I was now absolutely certain that God had forgiven our divorce.
His dinner rituals were absolutely ridiculous. While he was waiting to be served his meal, he would make a huge production out of lining up his evening pills next to his silverware and then would swallow the pills, one at a time, using his wine to wash them down. The problem of course is that Greg cannot swallow pills. Not like a normal person anyway. His lack of adult skill regarding the taking of medication meant that we were treated to the nightly spectacle of him placing a pill just so on his tongue, taking a swallow of wine and then violently throwing his head back to, “make the pill go down.”
Sometimes the pill would go down and he would move on to the next pill and repeat the same absurd action of throwing his head back like he just took a bullet to the forehead. But sometimes the pill would stick in his throat and he would leap from the chair and get on his tippy toes while throwing his hands straight up into the air like a prima ballerina. He had heard that this position was supposed to “unstick” the improperly swallowed pill.
The first time he did this after moving in with us, Abby jumped up from the table and started shrieking that he was choking and we had to help him. Chris and I just calmly continued eating our meatloaf as we had seen the Choke Lake Ballet before and we were both fairly certain that it was impossible to die from attempting to swallow a baby aspirin.
Chris and I also knew that Greg had a mortal fear of anyone pounding on his back during one of these episodes because he was certain that the pounding would somehow get the pill lodged, not in his throat, but in his heart (?) and he would then have to have open heart surgery to retrieve the embedded Xanax tablet that, “I have to take for anxiety because I was married to you for almost twenty-five years.”
The first time that Greg “choked” on his pills, Chris, my most loyal protégé, calmly told Elliott to pound Greg on the back a few times.
Hearing this, Greg panicked and with his eyes bulging in terror, slapped frantically at Elliott’s hands and then, still on his tiptoes with his arms raised above his head, Greg ran into the bathroom and locked the door so he could try to throw the pill up before Elliott’s back pounding would cause him to need open heart surgery.
Over the next year Greg became harder and harder to live with. His entitled behaviors were driving us all crazy and because he was such a resource hog, my food costs and utility bills skyrocketed. He expected two home cooked meals a day, went to bed at six in the evening and did not help with any chores. He contributed nothing to our lives except stress, anxiety and disappointment. He had to go.
When I finally confronted him about his claim that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he told me that the doctors thought he might have it, but then decided that he didn't.
I nearly had a fucking heart attack. Greg actually didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to me that he didn’t have the disease. He thought I should be happy for him.
I was furious and wanted him out. I asked him to find his own apartment as soon as possible. He said he couldn’t wait to leave but warned that I would have to be patient until he found another woman to move in with.
I didn’t have to wait long. Within a week he zeroed in on a woman at his part-time job and a month after that they were living together.
After Greg moved out, Chris, Abby, Elliott and I did a spiritual cleansing of the house and scrubbed everything down. We wanted all molecular evidence of his presence eliminated.
Abby was cleaning the living room and moved one of the sofas away from the wall, so she could clean our display of family portraits. As she was wiping each picture down, she noticed that many of the photos had tiny, sticky balls scattered on them. Holding one of these balls between her index finger and thumb, she came to me and wanted to know what these tacky brown things were.
My stomach flipped over. “They’re your dad’s boogers.” I grabbed her now shaking hand and took a closer look. “Yep, the old picker, roller and flicker was diligently at work while watching television.”
Abby’s whole body began to shake, and her lips trembled as she stared at her infected hand and started to scream. She ran into the bathroom and tried to wash her hands but couldn’t complete the task because she had to vomit.
Elliott came up behind me and watched his sister on her knees hugging the toilet. When she was done, she pulled her hair back and then realized that the booger ball that was on her finger was missing and was now probably lost in her hair.
She jumped up and started pulling at her hair and wailing like a toddler, all the while rapidly stomping her feet in a fully-developed panicky tantrum that made it look like she was running in place.
The contrast between her and Elliott made everything funnier than it was. You couldn’t get Elliott excited if you lit his ass on fire. He was always maddeningly calm in all circumstances, including this one.
Never taking his eyes off his sister, he put one hand in his sweatshirt pocket and the other on my shoulder and said, “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but before he moved in here, I always thought you were the crazy one.”
And there it was. The one statement that made the past year worth everything we went through. The baby of the family finally knew the truth: I was not the crazy one.
Together, we stepped into the bathroom and Elliott used the flashlight on his phone to pretend to help me find the booger in
Abby’s thick, shoulder length hair. In order to calm her down and prevent her from shaving her head, we pretended that we found it and pretended to flush it down the toilet.