I teach, so I am used to people asking me questions about things. When I walk into a classroom, I carry under my arm the assumption that I know what I'm talking about. Sometimes, students are surprised when I say, 'I don't know" to a question because how, for god's sake, can the teacher not know what she is talking about? I've noticed as an literature and writing teacher, a teacher of myth, legend, novel, and poetry, that I need to know just about everything from every social, racial, and cultural group and age. My field of expertise must go into anthropology, sociology, psychology, art, film, rhetoric, history, pop culture, and economics.
So mostly, I don't know what they hell I'm talking about. But I'm a good student, take good notes, and get back to the questions I am asked. Now that our college is wired, I've been known to google in class.
Soon, students know I'm not the expert in all things, and we move along with what I do know and what I can discover. It works for me, as I figure some things out as I teach, which is one of the perks about teaching. If I am doing my job, I'm learning all the time.
But in my life out of the classroom--even at school--people don't ask me too many questions about the things I could be called an expert in, no one needing the information I have at the ready. Few of my colleagues or friends ask me about writing novels. Fewer still want to know about online teaching. No one has asked me lately about growing tomatoes.
People are, however, asking me about divorce. So far, I have been divorced a total of once, but the process has become my supposed forte. Divorce is about breaking something not meant to be broken, pulling apart the pieces of two lives, maybe more, and it feels somewhat shocking to be approached on this topic.
When friends' friends start needing that divorce help though, I get the email, the phone call, the instant message. The questions: who should they call, what should they do, who will get the house.
Here's my first piece of advice: I can't tell you what to do.
What I can say is that if I could have known what leaving my husband and going through a divorce would look like, I might have stayed in my house and never come out again. If I had a crystal ball that could have shown me the time from 2004-2008, I might have stayed inside to watch Oprah on Tivo the whole time.
And the truth is, it wasn't easy for me to leave. Ask my poor friends who endured my processing in the year leading up to 2004. If I am an expert in splitting apart a marriage, then I am also the captain of th Titanic. I didn't know stem from stern. I was lost, sinking fast, and confused more than I ever have been in my life.
When I sat, finally, in front of my lawyer, I wanted to disappear, blast off through the ceiling and out of that office. I hated listening to everything he said. I hated him, too, actually. I hated my ex-husband's lawyer, and I hated the forms I had to fill out. I hated negotiating. I hated the stipulated judgment. I ignored my lawyer's messages until I decided I needed to pay attention, and then I hated that he didn't get back to me soon enough. I was the worst client of that man's waning career. He will probably retire because of me.
Eventually, I was legally divorced, signed and sealed. So much discussion, negotiating, sad talks with my ex about the house, the children, the dining room table, the hutch, the retirement accounts. I couldn't even map this thing out if I had a white board and five differently colored pens.
So, how could I even begin to be an expert in divorce?
Here's my second piece of advice: Do what you have to.
And the last: You will figure it out.
But be a good student, better than I with divorce. Do your research. Google your lawyer, the laws. The problem is, you can't google your heart, and that's the hardest test of all, the test that I cannot help you with. The test you have to go at alone.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org