Dr. P.G. McGrath's memoir is the story of a woman, mother, university lecturer and an expatriate facing a crisis in both her martial and professional life. Her story provides a firsthand account of the challenges of single parenthood and navigating the legal system.
Dr. McGrath holds a B.A. from American University in Washington, DC. She also holds a doctorate in jurisprudence from Fordham University School of Law. She has written and lectured in her professional career on the subjects of women and business as well as corporate ethics. She has taught for Fordham University, Syracuse University, and various other US and UK universities. Prior to a career in academia, she practiced law in New York for a well-known Chicago based law firm as well as working for a Fortune 100 Company.
Before settling in London with her two young sons she resided in France and Spain. Dr. McGrath wishes all single mothers could get more help without struggle. She also now knows the first step to divorce is always marriage.
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The State of Grace
A Mother's plea for life balance
By P.G. McGrath
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 P.G. McGrath
All rights reserved.
File and Fly
11 April 2008 Madrid, Spain
Love ought to manifest itself in deeds, not words.
—St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises
Some might say it's not terribly wise to spend a weekend with an old flame the day you are serving your husband a divorce petition, but I disagree.
"Grace, wait, wait ... slow down, despacio," he said. "When did this happen?"
I looked up, away from the piece of luggage I was gripping like a security blanket, and right at him. "This morning."
He tossed his head back laughing—hard. Okay, as I write this and reflect a bit, it was very funny. Until yesterday, we hadn't seen each other in six or seven years. Yes, we spoke. We sent Christmas cards, the annual "how are you" call. Suddenly, here I was coming through his door, and before I could answer "how are you," I'd announced I had served my husband with a petition for divorce—that morning. Papers served while I was en route to the airport to get here. File and fly.
It was the expression on his face and the way he was laughing—the way only your former lover can laugh. A look that is a combination of sheer amusement and genuine affection all rolled into one. There's something very comforting about all of it: his warmth, his apartment, his humor. The past few months the current has completely challenged me, and now I have managed to swim into this fabulous piece of warm water. I slow down. I breathe easier. I have been walking on eggshells for months. It's okay now; I am at Pablo's, and he is grinning. Suddenly, I recall he always found me so amusing—that crazy chica Americana.
Pablo is twenty years my senior. Probably because of this, I take comfort in the look of amused affection on his face as he listens to me. Our age difference is another aspect of our relationship that has become more beautiful with time. I have discovered that every woman should have an ex who is twenty years her senior. That way, should she find herself single after years of marriage, she will be older but will still be twenty years younger than him. This is a beautiful thing.
When going through a divorce, there is great comfort in experiencing the fun that comes from being with a man. By the time you divorce, it has been a long time since you have experienced such fun. However, it can't be just any man. You're getting a divorce, and meeting someone new is time consuming. You can't let your guard down. You have to get to know the new person. This takes energy, an investment of time; yes, time—the Western world's most phenomenally precious commodity. You are painfully and literally aware of this, because you know how much your lawyer charges for her time. However, when spending time with someone who already knows you—who knows you speak too quickly, like the beach, and would die if forced to move to the suburbs—this is comfort. This must go in my divorce survival action plan: "spend weekend you serve spouse with an old flame—preferably a Latino for extra warmth." If nothing else, this gives you a chance to catch-up with an old friend and finally stop dwelling on why people believe marriage can work at all.
Anyway, Pablo knew. I told him a few weeks back, when we scheduled this weekend. There was the usual small talk—"My boys are fine," "Yes, I am still lecturing to US university business students," "Yes, it is very different from my days in New York practicing law," and "Classes are fine"—and then he asked how I was.
"I'm okay ... I'm getting a divorce."
He paused and then sighed, "I'm sorry to hear that." There was a long pause, broken by "So when are you coming to Madrid?"
I suggested a date. No pause on my part. Hell, if it weren't for my boys, ages two and five, I would have asked him what he was doing for breakfast. The suggested day arrived soon enough, and here I am. Safe in Madrid, at Pablo's, while my soon-to-be ex-husband and boys are in London.
I moved my bags from beside the front door into the apartment. Pablo looked them up and down and then looked back at me.
"No, I'm not moving in. It's just I couldn't think while I was packing, so I packed everything."
He nodded his head and smiled. I sat down on the sofa. I noticed he had bought a new, or perhaps now not so new, piece of art for the big wall in the living room. If he bought it, it's something noteworthy. I wonder what happened to the other piece that used to sit on that wall. We talked.
He brought me a glass of water and reminded me to take a sip from time to time. I told him enough about what is happening. Pablo is a well-known journalist. While many people might be put off by having a drama told so quickly, he was not. He has built his life around listening to other people's stories and dramas. This is a man who, when Spain was on the verge of revolution in 1981, found a camera and the king so he could broadcast the now-famous historical speech in which King Juan Carlos denounced the coup attempt and declared his support for the Spanish constitution. This is a man who saved Spain. After saving Spain from Fascism, his brief role in my melodrama will be easy for him.
Still, the fact that he listened to the details of my divorce so patiently is impressive, given what is going on in his life. His beloved brother, Jose, is ill ... very ill. In addition, Pablo has just left the media company he established twenty years ago. Pablo has never married—wise man—and work has always been the biggest part of his life. Really, he has just left his marriage, if you think about it. He discussed his decision to leave the media company briefly. Then he looked at me and said, "Are you hungry? You probably haven't eaten anything."
By the time he asked me it was already after eight o'clock—early for dinner here in Madrid—but I realized I was hungry; I had not eaten since the morning. Pablo suggested we go to a nearby restaurant.
"Guapa, vamos a comer."
He occasionally speaks to me in Spanish as a gentle reminder to not let all my Spanish slip. It's been too long since I've spoken Spanish. I came to Spain (as a university student) and first met Pablo fifteen years ago. Pablo and I have been friends that long now. He knew me when—long before I embarked on such ambitious roles as wife and mother and the places those would take me.
We walked a few streets of this city where I once lived, years ago. I can't believe I forgot how fantastic Madrid is. Madrid has such a unique quality of life—it's the people, the food, and how terribly chic Madrid is in its own singular way. I spent time in southern Spain years ago as well. While lovely and warm—with the most delicious oranges I had ever tasted—it could not compete with Madrid to me. Just as I was remembering how great Madrid is, a young woman walked up to Pablo and asked for directions to a calle (street). I looked at her and noticed she was well groomed, well dressed, not overly made-up but not without makeup, and had a fantastic bag and shoes. Both the bag and shoes were an exquisite combination of leather and suede. She walked away, and I said to Pablo, "A typical Madrileña, no?"
"Exactly—tipica. How do you say in English, a prototype?"
For a Madrileña, it's the clothes, bag, and shoes—especially that bag—that signal her origins. For a Parisian woman, it's the scarf. It's been over a dozen years since I'd last been to Madrid, but once you live in a city you never forget some things.
I rambled about my unraveling marriage. The divorce is complicated because of my past illness and some insurance money that's involved. I am worried about the apartment, the soon-to-be "marital home," as my lawyers are calling it. I mentioned one good thing is that Victor (my husband) travels often for work, so he is absent a lot. This was part of the challenge, however, of serving my divorce petition. I explained how I'd found myself hoping my husband would be in his office today, for once, so I would not have to pay (yet again) for someone to attempt to serve him with my divorce petition. People never talk about this aspect of seeking a divorce in the common-law system, but it is tricky having to find someone to serve your request for a divorce on your spouse. You actually have to have a live person serve the papers. I told Pablo I couldn't exactly ask my husband, "So are you in the office this afternoon? I really need to get the ball rolling on something that's been bugging the hell out of me for the past couple of years."
I explained a bit more about the logistics and why I found doing this not only emotionally but also technically challenging. In England, like in the United States, you have to find what is called a process server. A process server is a person who physically delivers documents to an individual involved in a court case, the idea being that a person has the right to know there are legal proceedings occurring against him or her. I was holding my breath hoping my husband had actually been in the office when the process server arrived to deliver the documents.
Other countries' legal systems don't require proof of service by a person to start a lawsuit. It's not like this in Spain. To think it all dates back to 1066 and William the Conqueror with the Normans in ancient England starting the legal system we have today: the common-law system. Didn't they come up with the idea of the writ—legal papers that had to be served?
I tell Pablo how even Roman Abramovich, Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea Football Club in London, managed to avoid an English lawsuit issued by his former business partner, Boris Berezovsky, for ages. Berezovsky spent four years trying to serve papers on Abramovich. Miraculously, the papers were finally served when the two ran into each other one afternoon in London's Sloane Square at the upscale, high-end fashion retailer Hermès. That story has become legend—how Abramovich's former business partner tossed the legal papers to him saying, "I have a present for you." Later the shop's CCTV footage of the papers being physically served on Abramovich was used to demonstrate proof of service in court. Smile, Roman, you are on camera! Allegedly, Abramovich did not touch the papers, somehow thinking that would prevent the start of the lawsuit. All I know is that afternoon was a good one for Abramovich's lawyers; the Russian oligarch's legal Olympic games and Olympic-sized legal fees were about to begin. Hmm ... not even a dodgy Russian can avoid the long arm of English law if he continues to live in London.
Of course, my annoying search to locate my husband means nothing in comparison to losing your brother. Pablo is close, so close, to his brother. Pablo and Jose shared an apartment years ago when Jose was still single. When Jose married, he and his wife moved into the apartment next door to Pablo's. They have lived next door ever since with their two boys. When I think of them, I remember something a friend of mine, who is a social worker, said: "A sibling relationship is usually the longest relationship most people have in their lives."
Forget the old school pals, your first roommate, your best man—your brother or sister knew you for years before those people arrived. Now, while some people may not think much of their sibling relationship or any familial relationships, others do. Jose and Pablo are prime examples. You can skip the spouse; Pablo is facing the reality of losing his best and oldest friend.
Eventually, I stopped venting about my marital problems and, frankly, suspended being the night's entertainment. I decided to ask about the real issue, the one I had been intentionally avoiding. "How's Jose?"
He looked at me and dropped his voice, "It's not good."
He provided just enough detail for me to deduce "it" was something malignant and bad. I told him my truth—I would do anything for a world without cancer. He knows that I lost a breast to it. Words can never fully describe the bubble you enter when the doctor tells you that you have the "c" word. As I sat there talking about my divorce, it dawned on me that many people find betrayal when friends or family members do something they never imagined they would: cheat, lie, steal, sleep with another person. I suspect this is most people's definition of betrayal. I, however, have another definition of betrayal; betrayal to me is when your own body turns on you—now that is betrayal. Can we ever really count on another human being? Don't we always know, somewhere inside our psyche, we are taking a gamble? But your own body growing an enemy inside you? You need your body. You don't need a person who betrayed you; that is an illusion that the perceived betrayal—the divorce, the affair, the lie, the fraud, the cheating, the abandonment—wisely smashes. By discovering it, you are on the first step to seeing the world more clearly, to gaining the truth. But illness ... damn. I still miss that breast, although I am grateful I had the option to remove it so I could move on with life. I have lived to see another birthday with my beautiful boys.
"They need to do more tests," Pablo said. "He has appointments next week. We'll know more then."
The waiter arrived to take our order. While I had no doubt I needed a drink, I was so flustered I could not remember the Spanish word for sparkling wine. After an awkward silence, I mouthed while looking at Pablo, "Champagne?"
Pablo announced, "Una cava para la senora ... Ay, guapa, you've been away too long."
He is right; I have been away way too long. While I did not consciously plan it, I could not help noticing that the synchronicity proved better than I ever could have imagined. This weekend—while I have formally and legally requested freedom from marriage—I returned to the first city I lived in outside the United States, my country of origin. There is something so powerful about living in a country outside your own. It alters your view of yourself and your own culture. After you live in another country, you are never the same person you were when you arrived in your new nation. The trick is you must live in the country, not simply travel through it. You must do mundane things, such as go to the post office, dry cleaner, and pharmacy. You must struggle in a language you do not speak well. Of course, when I lived in Madrid phone calls were more expensive, no one e-mailed, and cell phones were enormous devices used by a handful of people. I gained real space not interrupted by virtual contact.
We ate a delicious meal of fish and potatoes, common Spanish cuisine. As we walked back to his apartment, he asked about my plans for the weekend. He knows I will want to see my friends Alicia and Rosada and their mother, Maria. He asked if there is anything else I want to do while here. We stayed up late, but not too late, talking. As I write this I realize I slept better last night than I have in weeks. I slept well because here, at Pablo's, all is well for both of us—at least for now.
12 April 2008 Madrid
Acceptance is the sense of belonging.
Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon proved to be wonderful. I saw my Spanish "sisters," Alicia and Rosada, and their mom, Maria. They had me over for a delicious lunch at Maria's house outside Madrid, surrounded by a typical dry, arid Spanish landscape with a limited amount of trees. Maria reminded me that I will always be her hija (daughter) and gave me the warmest welcome imaginable.
We met seventeen years ago and have remained friends. Years ago I'd lived in Maria's apartment in Madrid, while Alicia and Rosada were studying at university. Maria rented the place to students, like myself at the time, so Alicia and Rosada could also stay there when needed. Needless to say, typical tenants paying the going Madrid rental rates would not have welcomed the landlady's young adult daughters dropping by whenever they were inclined.
I had not seen my friends in Madrid for years, while I embarked on the job of wife and mother. But I am here now, and it is like we were never apart. The weather was a perfect spring day. I met all the boyfriends, the husbands, and the children. They know I am getting divorced and, like good European friends, they asked about my summer holiday plans. They are all chartering a boat in Ibiza; would I like to join?
Maria, herself amicably divorced from Alicia and Rosada's father, had her current boyfriend there and was surrounded by her children and grandchildren in her fabulous home. You can't help noticing how great she looks. Maria has always been pretty, with shiny light brown hair and pretty, well-tailored clothes, right down to her jeans. What struck me the most was her loads of energy as she served food, played guitar with her grandchild, and joked often.
After lunch I came back to Pablo's for a drink with Pablo and his sister-in-law, Catherine, Jose's wife. While Jose stayed at home, Catherine very kindly stopped by Pablo's apartment from across the hall to say hello.
Excerpted from The State of Grace by P.G. McGrath. Copyright © 2014 P.G. McGrath. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 File and Fly, 1,
Chapter 2 Leaning In and "Unreasonable Behaviour", 18,
Chapter 3 The Four Hundred Million Pound Man, 48,
Chapter 4 Appropriate Behavior and Convenience Foods, 71,
Chapter 5 Are You Sure You Want to Do This?, 86,
Chapter 6 Crazy Kuwaitis and Typhoid Maria, 99,
Chapter 7 Capital Contributions and the Dairy Queen, 108,
Chapter 8 Hairdresser House Calls, 119,
Chapter 9 Divorce Cambodian Style, 123,
Chapter 10 White Slavery, 127,
Chapter 11 First Appointment, 135,
Chapter 12 White Powder and Supermoms, 149,
Chapter 13 Used Car Salesman and Uncle Jimmy, 160,
Chapter 14 Is That the Final Offer?, 170,
Chapter 15 Happy New Year, 174,
Chapter 16 Let's Make a Deal, 177,
Chapter 17 Barrister's Fees and Trial Prep, 182,
Chapter 18 Nowhere to Live and Russian Landlords, 190,
Chapter 19 Clients and Penne Pasta, 196,
Chapter 20 Balance to the Phoenix, 201,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author, Paula McGrath, deftly relays the unraveling of an expatriate law professor's marriage in London, England. The harrowing events leading up to the eventual dissolution of the marriage are relayed not only with a mixture of sharp humor and an insightful legal perspective, but also with an uncompromising frankness of the unpleasant details that can transpire in a dissolving relationship. The protagonist, Grace Purdy's struggle for balance and sanity through this difficult journey is a courageous tale of a most common phenomena, shared with an uncommonly authentic perspective.