IN THE BASEMENT

I just finished watching the excellent Australian horror film The Babadook. I got what I wanted — a riveting story and some of the most authentic scares to show up in the genre in quite some time. But I also got something I wasn’t expecting in the least: a free therapy session.

At the heart of The Babadook is an incredibly genuine mother/son relationship caught up in a tempest of unrequited grief. Grief in general; grief related to the loss of a husband/father in particular.

I was gut-punched by how eloquently The Babadook portrayed this theme. I feel like I came to terms with a few bits on ongoing grieving in my own life, all related to the divorce and how often I get to see and talk to my kids.

When one gets divorced — or at least when I got divorced — it’s the death of something that was once vital and real and tangible. In more cases than not, I think, this leads to a mourning process. Many times, the process firmly places the relationship in the metaphorical rearview mirror. How near or far it remains in the mirror depends on the person. For me, sometimes it remains just behind me, in clear view. Other days, it’s a dot on the horizon. It never disappears completely, though. No matter how good things are, there’s always a taste of grief somewhere on the palate, remembering the good times, mourning the mistakes, hoping for the best for all involved.

When kids are involved in a divorce, there’s a completely separate grieving process that occurs. It starts at the same time as the other, but it’s ongoing, never coming close to a point of true acceptance. Every other weekend, when I get the kids, the processing is pushed back in favor of how things should be and are for two days. Then, after drop-off, my wounds are reopened, and I begin the process again, waiting like a junkie for my next kid fix.

I lay in bed, late every-other-Sunday night — isolating myself, feeling angry, bargaining with myself and the universe, feeling depressed. I hear that rumbling sound, followed by three sharp knocks: “Ba-BA-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!” and I let the dark monster in, hoping to make it through the night and the next week-and-a-half.

The process becomes familiar, but it never gets any easier. And for a really long time now, I’ve felt like maybe I was doing it wrong. After seeing The Babadook, though, I feel like there’s a chance I’m not quite as screwed up as I thought I was. Maybe I’m not surrendering to the Babadook, so much as I am keeping him locked away in my basement after putting him in his place, feeding him a steady diet of worms and maggots. Maybe sometimes he gets to me at feeding time, and he holds a bit of sway, but he’s not running things. After all, I can smile and see the silver lining on the darkest and cloudiest days now. I’m not thinking that maybe my kids and everyone else involved would be better off without me. I couldn’t necessarily do that six or seven years ago.

This particular Babadook is in my basement, and he’ll stay there for a few years more, I’d imagine. There’s still a good stretch of childhood ahead for my kiddos. If having to share space with that monster is the price I have to pay to experience those years, I’ll do it.

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