My phone rang, awakening me from a fitful dream in which I was seated next to Jennifer Lopez at a dinner party and she was angry that I didn’t recognize her.

It was my second night at The Driskill Hotel in Austin, which is known to be haunted – most notably by a young girl who tumbled to her death in 1887, while chasing a ball down the grand staircase.

Which has no logical connection to JLo, nor does my life have anything to do with the singer/actress, other than the fact that I was in the process getting divorced, as she’d done more than once. And that I’ve frequently commented that an unexpected divorce feels a whole lot like getting thrown down a flight of stairs.

Indeed, the wake up call was from my divorce lawyer. “He’s going to sign,” she said, referring to my soon-to-be ex husband, who had done some eleventh hour balking over the terms of the settlement agreement we’d been negotiating.

 

The Driskill Hotel, Austin

 

I thought he was in no position to be balking at anything, given that it was infidelity, and not mine, that had brought us to this point. But I’d learned that in New York, where I live, adultery is now totally irrelevant. Yes, you can get the divorce, sure, you’ll get money, but in compensation for the emotional harm caused, for the injustice, for the sheer horror that accompanies the realization that your life was never quite what you’d believed it to be, the law grants you nothing.

You don’t get an exorcism.

“Congratulations, even though I know this is bittersweet,” my lawyer said.

“I’m so happy,” I said, almost like the bride I was sixteen years and ten months earlier, at Mohonk Mountain House, another historic hotel that is also said to be haunted.

I did not hazard the staircase, but took the elevator down to the lobby, wandering among the columns and beneath the stained glass dome until I found the business center, which makes its printer available to guests for free. Handy, because I needed five copies of a 32 page agreement, and a per-page fee would have cost me a pretty penny.

The Driskill Hotel, Austin Texas

 

There were two desks in the business center, and I was relieved no one else was there. Soon, I cradled the thick stack of paper, still warm from the printer but cooling fast.

As I flipped through the stack to apply paper clips, my eye caught random words that seemed like a psychotic poem: wife husband premium consideration income equally shall motor vehicle.

I was also relieved to see a box of tissues on the desk.

**

I composed myself before I went to the lobby restaurant. And there, over coffee, while guests started their day of Austin adventures, I initialed each page.

The one that said live apart for the rest of their natural lives.

The one that said not compel each other to cohabit.

The one that said certain disputes and irreconcilable differences.

Later, I would sign each copy in front of a Texas notary, who would affix his stamp, which would include a great big Lone Star, a far superior design than New York’s notary seal.

Later, I would go to FedEx, and when I paid to send off the Small Pak, the clerk would ask me if I was interested in a sale they were running on printer paper.

“Nope,” I’d say, and thump the package on the counter between us like it was a baby’s diapered bottom.

“All I need today is to get divorced.”

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Alison J. Stein

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