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What is the “Divorce Motel,” and why should Elephant Journal readers care?
Well, they could just as easily skip this story and scroll through articles about the wonders of sex with someone they know (or don’t), dealing with the onset of gray hair, or admonitions about five-and-a-half ways to avoid nefarious nightshade vegetables.
But, for those who would like to read a humorous story with bits of this author’s personal experience sprinkled throughout—including an Aesop’s Fables-style moral at the end—read on.
“The Divorce Motel” is the name I’ve given to nondescript dwellings—usually located in an inexpensive condominium complex with bare-bones amenities and roaming, feral cats—where newly divorced people sometimes go to get their bearings, begin the process of starting over, and wonder what the hell that noise/smell is that’s coming from the neighbor’s unit.
I also refer to these buildings as “Halfway Houses for the Heartbroken,” the idea being that you can move there for a while, but maybe it shouldn’t be your forever home.
Please note that going forward, the newly divorced person in this story will be referred to as “Natalie.”
Realtor (dollar signs in her eyes): Welcome! I am so glad you stopped by. Unit #3A just became available, and it is a steal. Let’s do a walk-through!
Natalie (holding her son’s hand): Okay, great!
Realtor (adjusting her pashmina): This is the kitchenette. As you can see, it needs a fresh coat of paint, but it is perfect for a single person with a child.
Natalie: Yeah, um, it’s a good size, I guess.
Realtor: Okay, this unit is only 1,000 square feet—two bedrooms—so this walk-through shouldn’t take too long! Follow me.
Natalie (noticing her son plunging his hands into a litter box of petrified poop): Uh-huh…just one second.
Little Boy: Kitty!
Realtor (putting her hand over her heart): Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
After helping her son wash his hands, Natalie again stands next to the realtor.
Natalie: Exactly when did the former tenant move out? Is there still a cat here?
Just as these words leave Natalie’s lips, the neighbor across the hall—who has clearly been listening to their entire conversation from the hallway—yells out, “Ethel is dead!” Her voice is gravelly and sounds like an elderly Demi Moore after a lifetime of smoking cigarettes and hard livin’.
The realtor and Natalie look at one another, their mouths agape, their eyes wide like coin pouches. Natalie is suddenly stricken with stomach cramps, the kind of internal warning signal she experiences whenever she is about to make a bad life decision.
She has ignored her gut before, and what good did that do her?
They had encountered the Holy Grail of difficult neighbors: the Divorce Motel Lifer (DML).
DML (letting herself in and looking just like Mrs. Roper in “Three’s Company“): Ethel, God rest her soul, expired last month in the vegetable garden. She lived here since her divorce in 1975, five years after these units were built. She had arthritis and died next to the eggplant bush out back. The tenants aren’t allowed to garden on the premises, so don’t get any ideas. Heh-heh! That is actually my bush—I got special permission from the association to plant it, since I moved in right after the condos were built. So, don’t touch my bush, okay? Anyway, I always warned Ethel not to eat nightshade vegetables—you know how some people say they aggravate arthritis symptoms?
The realtor and Natalie are speechless, so DML fills in the silence. It is becoming apparent that she’s probably known around the entire complex for doing just that.
DML (motioning to the little boy): Sweetheart, no! Don’t play with that kitty litter; I can reuse that!
Natalie’s stomach cramps increase in intensity as she again helps her son off the floor, leads him to the sink, and washes his hands with so much soap and elbow grease that it is reminiscent of a “Silkwood“ shower. As she helps him clean up, she hears the male neighbor downstairs as though he is standing right next to them. He is clearly on the phone, dropping f-bombs and, at times, sobbing.
DML continues talking to the realtor, whose smile and eyes have dimmed into slits. She is losing this sale.
DML (motioning toward the floor): Oh, that’s Augustus. He just got divorced, too, and moved in about a year ago. He had a legal separation for a couple years, and the divorce just went through. Poor guy. He lost half his retirement to his ex-wife and just found out he has shingles! Can you believe that?! I told him he should get the shingles vaccine, but he didn’t listen. Typical man. Anyway, Ethel didn’t eat the eggplant; she was just helping me pick the glorious specimens from my bush when one of them struck her in the temple. Can you believe that?! It killed her instantly! On the bright side, look what I have for you!
With a huge smile on her face, DML hands the realtor and Natalie bags containing several eggplants for them to take home. The two women smile awkwardly.
DML: There’s more where that came from.
Natalie: Thanks. So, um, what happened to Ethel’s cat?
As if on cue, a pitiful moan emanates from DML’s unit. The sound is ungodly, straight out of a Stephen King novel.
DML: Oh, that’s the cat! His name is Sunshine, and he’s been staying with me. He’s a stray, though. Ethel and I sometimes took care of him, but he doesn’t belong to us. He is feral, so don’t let him into the building, okay? He bites. We mostly keep him around for pest control. Mice, you know?
The fact that both DML and Ethel sometimes took care of the cat makes no sense, especially with DML’s warning not to let the cat into the building. But neither the realtor nor Natalie dare point that out to DML.
Realtor (to DML): Well, we really need to get back to the showing. Thanks for the eggplant…and the information!
DML (acting like she was about to leave anyway): Oh, yes, I really need to get back and pick the ticks off Sunshine. Oh, just one more thing. The mailboxes don’t have locks, so you might want to get a post office box for any mail you don’t want stolen. And watch out for the man who sits outside on the lawn, across from the mailboxes.
With that parting sentiment, DML disappears like a dark rain cloud that blows away after a heavy, unexpected sh*t storm.
Realtor (the huge smile returning to her face): Well, nice to know you have caring neighbors.
Natalie (her palms now sweaty): I have a weird feeling about her. She seems really nosy and dramatic.
Little Boy (yanking his hand from his mom’s grasp): Mommy, your hand is wet! Don’t touch me!
Says the boy who just played with rancid cat feces.
Realtor (again adjusting her pashmina, this time in annoyance): You are always going to have a neighbor you don’t like, Natalie. That happens everywhere. I don’t think that should stop you from buying this unit. It is in your price range. And that kitchenette is—
Natalie: I know, I know. “It is perfect for a single person and a child.”
Realtor (her eyes again filling with dollar signs): Exactly!
Always trust your gut reaction in any situation, even if those around you try to convince you otherwise. And, that cat will bite you.