Acrimonious

I’ve taken a few odd cases in my time. As a divorce lawyer, each case is essentially the same: two folks want to split. Sounds simple enough. The details are where it gets messy, the whys, the whos, the whens, the wheres. A lawyer’s a lawyer though, from public defender to corporate finance, and we’ve all got a reputation. Fair enough. But if you’re an average joe, you only deal with us once in a while. We, on the other hand, deal with you people every day. So forgive us a certain viscosity; it’s just that your slime tends to work its way downhill while you’re climbing up on those white pedestals.

I had a peculiar case not long ago, a man and a woman, as it usually is, who wanted to split, as they usually do. The man we’ll call Frank, the lady we’ll call Carol. Carol was a piece of work. Being a model, she specialized in looking all softness and light. She mainly appeared in the pictures inside the picture frames before you buy them. She wasn’t going to be in Victoria’s Secret any day soon. Frank, conversely, was a husky, dumpy little guy; where Carol was a gaussian beauty, he was uncomfortable in any focus; but where Carol could be a screaming witch, Frank was a glass of water.

I was Frank’s lawyer and a former colleague of mine, Rob, ended up with Carol. It’s a small town. No meeting began without Carol already furious. No meeting ended without her screaming, screaming, screaming. When I say screaming, I’m talking about red-faced, watery eyed tantrums. And Frank would just take it. No, that’s not right. He would answer any question she asked, interrupt her lawyer to let her continue her rants, and it became obvious, after three of these meetings, that if he’d just keep his mouth shut and let me do the talking, Carol could keep it together. But no. Carol had to be right, and had to make sure we understood her irreconcilable differences with her ugly, soft-spoken spouse. He’d let Carol seethe and seethe, while he simmered, bringing her ire to a rolling boil that he could steamily brush away. Frank would disagree with her in the politest, nastiest way possible, and that was what set her off.

We had two more sessions before both of them fired us. Rob and I actually didn’t mind too much. The conflict was entertaining and we were paid by the hour. And since most of the negotiations led nowhere, we were basically paid to watch two people hate each other theatrically. We both followed up to see who our clients went to next, but they didn’t go to anybody. Not right away. Everybody I called, and everybody Rob called, knew exactly who we were talking about.

It turns out Frank and Carol are madly in love with each other. I mean that in the sense that they love each other like crazy people. The acrimony is real: Carol has screamed her way into and out of most of the divorce offices in town, and Frank has muttered and smiled his way behind, like a domestic circus with three rings of spite, tension, and disgust. They have three children who have no clue that their parents have filed for divorce at least ten times in the last ten years. At home, Frank’s the breadwinner, Carol is a prim and proper housewife and part-time model. When they file for divorce, she makes herself up like a diva and he puts on a few extra pounds, wears the shirts she’d prefer he threw out, and forgets his deodorant.

They do this, I think, for a number of reasons, some of them sordid, some of them inscrutable. I’m not one to get sentimental, and I’m not sure what yin or yang means, but I don’t know anybody who stuck it out over a decade without losing the fire, in some way. Frank and Carol channel something powerful and horrible through the law, something a mere lawyer can only sit back and admire.

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