November 13, 2016
Dear Cherished Heart,
How could Mr. Right have turned into Mr. Not-so-right? After such a freaking long time! Nothing in me wants to do this un-coupling thing; I don’t even know how to exist in an unpaired world. Up & down. Black & blue. Salt & pepper. Milk & cookies. Fire & ice. Ken & Barbie.
I know there are roughly a gazillion women who have walked before me on this discombobulating road, but it feels like an isolating and embarrassing experience. Embarrassing? Yes.
I thought embarrassed was reserved for silly, silent, spontaneous, or stupid behaviour. Like arriving home from the mall and realizing that you have a tea towel over your shoulder and ski goggles strapped to your forehead (doesn’t everyone wear ski goggles to chop onions?); or when you silently fart at the theatre, and everyone around starts moaning and plugging their noses—and you and your movie-mate know it was you. Not the my-husband-and-I-who-had-the-picture-perfect-life-have-separated kind of embarrassed.
This week I went to the bank for financial advice, to inform me for upcoming decisions. Our marriage, like many, encapsulated wealth and debt. I wanted reassurance from a money maestro that all would be okay in the world where my kids and I would come to live.
Here is the unspoken truth Cherished Heart: Once you decide to separate, a chasm opens up where you previously only saw blooming flowers; and the things hinged together, spring apart into the pieces that always made up their whole. One has to hold an innumerable number of pieces, and each piece is tied to a task—something you have to do to make the tiny parts hum with life again.
I arrived at the bank holding a lot of pieces. Months of unhinging had already taken place. I not only grasped property deeds, retirement savings, and records of debt between my fingers, my brain filled with fragments of information on legal issues, rights and responsibilities, and my heart clung to the hopes and dreams I had for my kids. Most weighty though, the ever present nay-sayers—doubt and fear—rode roughshod upon my shoulders.
The financial advisor that I—a fifty-year-old full-time mom and wannabe writer, seeking information on future possibilities—got matched with was a twelve-year-old looking sprite, who appeared to be at her first day of employment. Discomfort rolled in like a cold front.
“Hello, Wendy?” she said.
“Right this way,” she said, and I followed her the short distance to her glassed-in office.
She sat across the large desk from me, and waited.
“My husband and I have separated,” I said. I had been perseverating at how one says—out loud—that they are separated. I could hardly admit it to friends. The script that ran in my head allowed for her to say, I’m so sorry to hear that. She only stared at me. “A-And . . . I need to get some financial advice as we draw up our separation agreement.” She continued to look at me with an expression of boredom, and I briefly wondered if I had actually spoken out loud. “I’ve brought some financial documents.” I slid them toward her. “All of our bank accounts are here. . . I need to know how much of a mortgage I’ll be able to qualify for on my own, or whether I need to consider asking for the house in the separation.”
“Do you have any ID?” she asked. Somewhat taken aback by her insensitivity, I reached into my wallet and pulled out my driver’s licence. She typed my name into her computer, and without moving her eyes, she said, “You already have a mortgage?” “Yes,” I answered, “we have a cottage.” “And, you have a line of credit?” “Yes,” I said again, wondering why she was asking me what she could already see to be true. “I see,” she said with a note of finality to it. She did not look at the property assessments, RRSP’s, or Notice of Assessments I had offered. Repeatedly she confirmed the mortgage and the line of credit, as if they were the only features on the palette of our finances that she could see—as if she were colour blind.
I felt as if my clothes had insidiously vanished, and I sat naked before her with my gaping flaws revealed.
Her chair swivelled, and she looked at me. I realized in the number of minutes that I had been in her office, she had not smiled. “What is your monthly income?” she said.
“Well, it hasn’t been fully worked out yet in the separation agreement.” I gave her an estimate.
“You mean . . . You don’t have a job?” she said.
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach in slow motion. The air leaked out and fell like lead into my lap. A voice inside of my head screamed, Pick up your things, and get out of here. Instead, I slowly and quietly said, “I am a full time mom.”
She looked back at her screen, perhaps for a definition of this old fashioned job.
I rambled, “I don’t need a pre-approval at this time I just need someone to look at all the numbers and project what might happen down the road so that I can make an informed decision one that is best for my kids and I.”
“But,” she said, her eyes glued to her screen, “you have no income. I don’t think…”
“Listen,” I said, with teeth clenched and tear-filled eyes fixed on her, “I will have a financial support agreement with a steady income,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, her mouth curving into a self-satisfied smile, “I don’t think we can use support payments to approve a mortgage.”
At this point, I searched the recesses of my brain for one of the vanishing spells that Hermione Granger had perfected in her studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and a transfiguration would not have gone amiss. “I suggest you go and ask someone else about that because according to my lawyer, I can use the separation agreement.” She stood up, and walked out.
I put my clothes back on.
She came back and admitted that I had been right. However, she remained confused about how she could help me. I put on my doing-homework-with-my-kids-voice and said, “You could take the assets from the supposed sale of our current house, and subtract the debt. Then take my estimated monthly income, and calculate how much of a mortgage I could qualify for.”
She pulled a calculator out of a drawer, and presented me with a number.
“Thank you,” I said, and walked out.
When I got to the door she said, “But we can’t make any guarantee. It could be a lot less.”
I left the bank and walked through the brilliant sunshine and into a bookstore. I went into the washroom, and stared hard at myself in the mirror. As tears rimmed my eyelids, I felt myself shrivel.
So, Cherished Heart, I wish I could tell you that I didn’t allow that experience to deflate me, but that is not what happened.