In reading Judith Wallerstein's essay on divorce entitled "Children After Divorce: Wounds That Don't Heal," I'm reminded that divorce can leave a swirling black hole in a child's life where once a parent had been. Coming from an upwardly mobil middle class background I could relate to many of the experiences formed by the case study participants, even though I only experienced divorce vicariously through my friends.
My very first brush with the phenomenon was in the Third Grade. I was putting away my gold Advanced Level Reading Module when Mrs. Riley announced that Mike Wilson would be henceforth known as Mike Stilton. The other kids in my class looked over to the corner where Mike sat, then just as quickly, returned to their own activities. The concept of last names is arbitrary to most eight year olds, so it occurred to me that if Mike was going to go through all the trouble of giving himself a new name, he should certainly be a little more creative in his selection. I, myself, was partial to slavic derivations ("Kawblowski," for example), because they sounded like incredibly cool cartoon sound effects guaranteed to cover a listener in a fine spray of spit when uttered.
Turning to voice these thoughts to Mike, I noticed his Garfield head pencil resting neatly beside an unopened sky blue reading module in the center of his desk. Mike's face was red and pinched. Tears bubbled under his pale lashes before he turned away.
I'd known Mike for roughly one third of my life; nevertheless, he was a "class-time" friend. As far as I knew, all of his friends were of this sort. A "class-time friend" meant that our casual acquaintance was contingent on the ebb and flow of weekends, holidays and summer vacations. For example, the hiatus between June and September was treated as little more than an eventful excursion to the boys' bathroom: "Then I saw this, then I did that, then this cool thing happened..."
We only spoke...