New York, NY
My parents divorced when I was 15. It was ugly. A long drawn out battle over child support that my father didn’t want to pay. My parents were forever going to court, until I was well into my 20’s in fact, to argue over money, custody, who was lying about what, who deserved what and how much, on and on and on. They both used to tell us kids tales about how the other parent was the worse one, and how they were the victim of the other’s greed and unreasonable demands. When my father came to pick us up for his custodial weekends, he wasn’t allowed in the house and had to wait for us on the porch.
Throughout the course of this divorce, my father somehow got possession of the home movies. I could never figure out why my mother let them out of the house. When we would talk hypothetically about what we would save from the house if there was ever a fire, my mother always said, “Of course, first I would save you kids, but after that, I would get the photo albums and the home movies. Because you just can’t replace that stuff.” In fact, she was so concerned that the pictures of our childhoods would be burned up in this hypothetical fire that she purchased a safe deposit box and the local bank and put all of our photo negatives there. So how my father actually was able to convince her that he should have custody of the home movies is beyond me.
Apparently, he promised her that he would have them professionally duplicated, and give copies to all of us. He did nothing for about 3 years. During this time, my mother slowly started to go mad. She would ask us to speak to our father about it, about when he was going to get the home movies copied. He always would wave us away with some vague answer. She would ask him to return them so she could just get them copied herself, goddammit. He always promised he would do it himself.
After 3 years of my mother’s escalating rage and nagging, my father set up the old stand-up movie screen, projected the super 8 home movies onto them, recorded them with his new VHS video camera, and gave my mother the video tape. Her head exploded. It was like watching a boot-leg copy of a movie that you buy off some blanket display on the street. You can even hear my father clearing his throat in the background. This was not the professional video duplication that she had been promised.
After this, my parents no longer spoke except for brief, seething conversations to arrange child visitation. My mother began to enlist us kids to simply steal the home movies from our father. I remember going to my father’s house and trying to secretly go through his closets while he and my brother were in the next room watching television. I never found the home movies, but I also don’t think I looked very hard.
My parents went on hating each other for years, both in and out of court. They didn’t speak unless they absolutely had to, and spent a fair amount of time plotting against each other, both in and out of court. You couldn’t even mention the home movies to my mother without her losing her mind. The only time they exhibited anything like caring for each other is when my Father’s appendix ruptured and my mother forced him into her car so she could drive him to the hospital.
Then, inexplicably, 15 years after the divorce, my father showed up at my mother’s house with the box of home movies. He had had them professionally transferred onto DVD, of which he gave her several copies, along with the original film reels. It was a shock to all of us. And after 15 years of my parents hating each other, my mother hardly knew what to do without this particular battle to fight.
Their relationship warmed, slightly. My mother even invited him to Thanksgiving last year, and when we all expressed surprise at this, my mother replied with, “Please. I haven’t hated your father in a couple of years now. You kids just love drama.”