Numbers Do Not Lie

We’d been at it for several hours, side by side, each of us on our laptops. Spread on the small ottoman pressing against my knees were stacks of old tax forms. On the chair beside me, two more folders with notes and figures.

We actually began the process days ago, but I couldn’t continue, and my son, seeing that, let it go.

Leading up to this, there have been arguments and charged silences. There were those long months on my part, paving the way with every financial document we needed going back many years.

It has been painful, but necessary.

Still, I was impressed at my son’s determination, his calm in the face of this difficult task that we had to get through. Together. So there we were — flipping through forms, running numbers on a small calculator, and transferring the results to the virtual page.

At one point, we came to what seemed like a simple question. It involved basic arithmetic: Figure A – Figure B = Figure C. My son blanched. Now he knows a certain truth. Truth as indisputable in the numbers. Numbers do not lie.

I saw the hurt on his face. I got up, went to the bathroom, closed the door and cried. Then I washed my face and returned to the sofa. We continued.

Sure, data is always open to interpretation, including financial data. And legalese leaves loopholes-a-plenty in many divorce and support agreements. It’s easy to justify certain things, particularly if you’re a master at obfuscating. Particularly if you’re talking to a child who wants desperately to believe in both parents, to love both parents.

At a certain point, it’s all right there. In black and white. On an unenforceable piece of paper. And in all the other documents that spell out the reality of a financial position with its offshoots and repercussions and the weight of it, the years of one parent bearing the burdens of the other’s disregard for what is legal or moral.

But I don’t believe in airing one’s dirty laundry on the Internet, and this is a dirty business. A despicable business. The story of enforcing support agreements, or rather, being unable to do so. The reality of our family court system, and the shameful manner in which attorneys strip their clients of every dollar, leave them in debt, and when there is no more to plunder, the recipient of their services is brought to as swift an end as possible and offered words like: “you can always go back to court in the future for a modification.”

Some attorneys are moral, responsible, compassionate. Some are not.

Some individuals are vindictive, not only during divorce, but for years afterward. Some are not.

Some of us are innocents, or naive. Too many of us are innocents, or naive.

When you are battle weary, when you are in an adversarial position with someone you loved – and may still love at the time – you accept words like “modify in the future” and “this is the best possible solution” and “it will be alright.” You want to believe that the legal profession is indeed in place for advocacy.

For us. For our children. After all, we’re paying them tens of thousands of dollars to operate in our best interest, are we not?

But “you can always go back and modify” – depending upon your state and your situation – will necessitate more attorneys, more warfare, more years of your life, particularly if you are up against a clever opponent. And of course, more money. At some point, energy gives out. The need to parent is stronger as you weigh one sort of survival for yourself and your children against another: belief in what you were taught.

But bottom line survival requires that you earn money, not expend all your time preparing for court and depleting your credit. Life is the more vital pull, especially when you’re all but told it’s a losing battle without time and assets to fight, even if you’re in the right.

So you back off. You accept. You feel like a fool. You live with hatred and try to diffuse it so it will not consume you. You live with rage and try to numb it so it will not swallow you whole. You know yourself for a tiny voice in a crowd with stories more horrible than your own, so you withdraw from battle even if guerrilla warfare continues in the background and you hunker down, you protect your children, you give them bread crumbs; you tell them they are loved by both parents and you convince yourself it is not a lie.

There are different kinds of love, you tell yourself.

Until you mean it.

My son and I continued completing the forms to the best of our ability. Some items remain; we hope to finish today. The objective is that he may get a better rate on his college loans. And I will need all these figures as I reach out to every source I can think of, as soon as possible, trying to find scholarships for my child to who will begin his college applications in the next month or so. My beautiful 17-year old with all his talent and promise. My son who asked so naively the other night – Couldn’t we do some college visits?

“I don’t have the money,” I said. “Or the stamina. But maybe we can figure something out, for one or two.”

How do I tell him I’m counting down the months until every liquidated asset and borrowed dollar runs out? How do I explain the precarious nature of life as I know it – and cannot bear to share in its entirety? I’ve tried to elaborate on a measure of the whys and wherefores, and pulled back. The ups and downs are terrifying, but require a certain sanguine acceptance. His brother knows. His brother sees. His brother understands: numbers do not lie.