Geography of a Divorce

Denise Clemen
18 min readDec 1, 2022

The hillsides of Los Angeles are tinder, and my marriage is a pile of ashes

Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash


It’s fire season in southern California. I’m a month shy of 56, and regret is a fist in my gut. The imbalance of power between my husband and me is a sick thrill ride, and I don’t know how to get off. Maybe if I vomit someone will pull the lever.

This morning my husband and I are in court. He is a name partner in a mega law firm with offices all over the world. Fifteen months ago he told me he was in love with someone else. Three weeks ago he wrapped his head in a white turban, mounted a horse (a stand-in for the traditional elephant,) and married his new love in an elaborate Indian ceremony. The purpose of this court appearance is to determine the amount of my alimony, which I have not yet received.

We sit in a conference room with our attorneys and a commissioner of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. The dark wooden table is too big for the room, and the desk in the corner makes one side of the table inaccessible. The desk chair is as tall as a throne, and the commissioner swivels around to admonish us. We need to resolve this case, he says, or our attorneys will end up with all our money. This is simple, he says, because after 30 years of marriage, I should have confidence my husband will do the right thing and honor his obligation to me. “That’s not my husband,” I say, tilting my head toward the man two feet away from me, an empty chair a buffer zone between us. I can smell his familiar shampoo and the wool of his suit. “That’s not the man I married,” I say. The commissioner freezes, and my husband stops fidgeting. There are two men in this room barely breathing while I am breathing enough for everyone. In another second I will inflate like a balloon, floating upwards for a buzzard’s eye view of the carnage. I want to point to my husband and say that I’ve never seen this man in my life. But I bolt. My attorney opens the door.

I’m an awkward person. I blame my lack of physical grace on my crooked and twisted spine. Scoliosis. I’ve had two surgeries — a spinal fusion and a repair of the spinal fusion because of a clumsy accident too embarrassing to describe.

I don’t know whom or what to blame for my social awkwardness. All I know is that I say things I…

Denise Clemen

Birth/first mother, recovering wife, retired caregiver, traveler. Advocate of #adopteerights and #reproductiverights and other good things.