My mother stood at the kitchen counter in her yellow apron when she told me the news. She sprinkled salt and rosemary on the lamb chops as she spoke. We're going to be moving away from your father, she said and slipped the pan under the broiler.
My mother's announcement made me lose my appetite. For years I had hoped we would move away from my father. He frightened me. But I was frightened of divorce, too.
Divorce was for other families. Divorce was for the lady down the street. Her daughter and I were in fifth grade together and my mother felt obliged to be somewhat friendly. Jeanette was, as my mother explained in a whisper, a divorcee. She worked as a secretary and dated her boss. She had cocktails at dinner and she smoked. I knew my mother thought there was something shameful about her.
I learned these things about Jeanette when we ate dinner together once or twice a month at a restaurant downtown. My mother was lonely and needed advice since she too would soon be a divorcee herself. Jeanette was eager to take her under her wing.
I could feel my mother's uneasiness each time we walked into the restaurant. She faded into the background next to Jeanette's sparkly dress and fur jacket. Jeanette wore bright red lipstick and too many cocktail rings. My mother informed me that one cocktail ring was really one too many. My mother was always defending Good Taste.
We kids got to sit at our own table and order Shirley Temples while our mothers discussed men, alimony and child support between bites of salad. Jeanette drank Scotch from a short glass smeared with her lipstick. My mother sat across from her nursing her one Dubonnet on the rocks.
My mother ordered the same thing every time. "Dubonnet on the rocks." It sounded so sophisticated yet I knew even then, my mother didn't like it. She always left most of it in the fancy glass. Scotch is really a man's drink, she told me.
No matter how much Jeanette schooled her in the art of being single in the sixties, my mother never got the hang of it.
One night I walked out into the living room to see my mother holding a cigarette in her hand. I'm just trying it, she said. I must have looked as though I'd seen a ghost. She crushed it in the ashtray.
Jeanette had a philandering husband, my mother told me. I looked it up in the dictionary and was surprised to think of Mr. Jeanette with other women. He seemed like a regular dad. My father had not been a Philanderer Dad, though I think it would have been preferable to being a Scary Drinking Dad. But either way, both women wanted out.
I worried about my mother. I knew that she would need to learn some other names of drinks to order if she were to be successful at this. I knew she would need to wear high heels. And I was certain she would have to learn to like men a whole lot more than she seemed to.
Not long after she left my father, Jeanette and her daughters moved out of the neighborhood. I missed the girls. But mostly I missed having Jeanette around to teach my mother how to be divorced.
While I pictured Jeanette in her new city dancing in her high heels, I watched my own mother sink deeper into bitterness and isolation. She never did learn to enjoy a cocktail or a cigarette. She never dated anyone either. Instead, she talked about how ridiculous the whole marriage thing was anyway and if I never got married I certainly wouldn't be missing anything.
Once before Jeanette moved, she convincd my mother to do the unthinkable. She took my mother to the beauty parlor where she emerged two hours later with something called a "beehive." I thought she looked beautiful. I barely recognized her. She was wearing soft pink lipstick. Jeanette showed my mother off proudly. I was sorry to hear my mother step into the shower ten minutes later to wash her new look down the drain.
An hour later my mother wiped her hands on her freshly ironed apron and announced that dinner was ready.
Divorcing lessons were over.