“Get a lawyer!” Those were the first words out of Max’s mouth when I told him that his father had an online girlfriend living in Australia with a son and a sick father. It turns out that his generation is even more suspicious of online affairs than is mine. Jules had warned me to protect my money, but Max seemed to think the risk could run even deeper and should be dealt with right away.
“Oh, Max, I don’t know if I can do that! I don’t know if I have the strength right now. I am so nervous and shaky. I’m not sleeping. I break down and cry all the time. Right now I’m on summer break, but soon I have to go back to my job at the school. I think I should wait until I’m stronger.”
“No, Mom, you can’t wait. This is horrible for you. You are depressed, nervous. This can’t go on. It needs to be resolved, so you can really start to rebuild. Get a lawyer!”
Max was right about my state of extreme anxiety. Aside from the heartbreak of losing the man I loved, our marriage, and our family, I feared what the change would mean for my home, for my finances, for my future. Max was not even halfway through college; I feared for his future. Our home was my chief concern. Even a crazy crack-up chick like me needs a roof over her head. The night Dan left me, he said he would continue to pay the mortgage and help with upkeep on our home. I remember wondering at the time if that would really work. Dan made his money with freelance construction jobs: sometimes it was boom, but sometimes it was bust. Would he really be able to afford his apartment in Atlanta and pay his half on the home expenses for Max and me?
Now that I had confirmation of another woman, I immediately saw that the financial side of the crack-up was extremely serious. My fears ran like this: even if Dan means well now, he would have a hard time paying for his apartment and his half of our home for Max and me especially during lean times with his work, and more especially when a girlfriend was added to the mix. What’s more, this was not some lady from the successful side of Atlanta, but a woman who lived in faraway Australia, and, as more information was forthcoming, we learned that she was a single mother who lived on the dole. Even if she was not a scam artist as Jules and other friends feared, she began to sound very expensive.
The status of our home was this: When we bought the house 20 years ago, I paid cash for my half. I had the money because before I even knew Dan, I had worked as a waitron at a downtown hotel for 6 years and saved enough money to buy a huge house on North Highland which I sold two years later for twice what I paid for it. A couple of years later, after the demise of TV Dinner, Dan and I moved to New York City, and I bought a condo on the Lower East Side with my Atlanta house money and a small loan from Ransom Paid. After living in New York for ten years, we had Max and the New York apartment was too small. I sold it and once again doubled my money. When we bought our home in a pretty, older, Atlanta lake community, I paid cash for my half of the house. Dan mortgaged his half. Did he qualify for a mortgage in his own right? No. It was the fact that my half of the house was paid for that gave him his mortgage. But to his credit, once he got the mortgage, he paid the monthly bill faithfully for twenty years.
How much was still outstanding on his mortgage? I knew he had taken out a home equity loan last winter to pay off his credit card debt, but did not know how much it was. Had he paid the most recent mortgage note, and how would I know if he did not?
Suddenly, it was urgent that I visit his bank. We had our own accounts and used different banks. Would his bank even talk to me? I was always the one who kept up with all the family paperwork, so I had mortgage statements showing the loan number. Would that be enough to establish credibility with them? I went the next day to find out.
It was never easy for me to tell my story to all the different people that I had to speak to. Talking about the crack-up brought back so much emotion. That day with the mortgage banker was an especially difficult one, but it was made easier by the kindness and cooperation of the lady who helped me, Mrs. Simmons, a pretty professional with a Jamaican accent. She immediately began pulling up information on her computer and told me that Dan still owed $18,000 on the house mortgage, and that he had paid the most recent payment. His home equity loan had been for $15,000. This shocked me; it was a much bigger sum than I thought he had borrowed. The figure he mentioned to me was $7,000.
Mrs. Simmons and I talked about the Australian affair. I asked how much more Dan could borrow on the house. She said he could borrow up to the value of the house and I would not even know about it. If he were to go to Australia and not pay on the loans, I would have to pay them or lose the house even though my half was paid for and the equity loan was for his personal credit card debt.
All of this was terribly troubling. I knew that Dan had been honest with me in the past and had paid his bills all along, but this was new territory. He had recently been very dishonest to me and he had borrowed more on the house than I had thought. He was interested in a woman who lived on the dole in a faraway county. People can sometimes decide that the ends justify the means when their desires take over. If this woman asked Dan for money or if he needed money to in order to be with her, would he really resist the temptation to use our house as a source? I knew I could never be at peace with that kind of uncertainty. Mrs. Simmons explained the path to safety: once his name was not on the mortgage or the deed, he could no longer borrow on the home. I would have to find a way to buy Dan out.
And, of course, Max was right; a lawyer was the next step. But it was not an easy step because I did not know a lawyer to call. As with many of the challenges that came to me as a result of the crack-up, I looked to family and friends for advice. After a few days of trial and error, I found someone I thought would do, Ms. Madison, who was with firm located near our local county courthouse. By the day of my appointment with her, I was back in school at my job as special education assistant teacher at a middle school. My appointment was in the afternoon after a hectic workday. As I waited to be seen, I tried to calm my nerves, but it was no use. There I was waiting to talk to a lawyer about a divorce. There was no calm to be found.
Once I was with Ms. Madison telling her the details of the crack-up, I went from nervous to breakdown. I tried to hold back the tears, I tried to hold myself together and answer her questions. The tension in my chest made it hard to breath, but somehow I told what I had to tell. She said that as long as I was married to Dan, I could be held responsible for any debts he had. For me to buy him out on the house would keep him from borrowing any more on the house, but only a divorce would protect my assets and keep me from being responsible for his debts.
The Australian affair was a great concern because as Ms. Madison explained if he were to go to Australia before the house or the divorce were finalized, there would be very little I could do at that point. Time was of the essence, she felt. I agreed. Divorce filled me with dread, but now that it had to be, there was no need to draw out the suffering. She explained that an uncontested divorce would be the quickest if Dan and I could come to terms. She would begin to draw up the papers; I could review them and so could Dan. We would sign, she would file with the court, and a date would be set for the divorce.
I left her office sad and shaky. A divorce, a dreadful divorce was to be the next turn of the crack-up screw. How to endure that? How to negotiate through it with Dan? How to settle with him on the house?
When Dan left me, he said he wanted to be free. I thought of all the steps between now and my freedom from heartbreak and financial jeopardy—so many staggering steps. All Dan had to do was pick up and walk out the door to gain his freedom. I wouldn’t get mine until I had mopped up after him and settled so, so much business. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe what all I have to go through before it will all be Over!