January 13, 2000


"Are you familiar with the Internet?" the attorney asked me yesterday.

I looked him directly in the eye. "Yes, I am."

"Do you use the Internet yourself?" he asked.

"Yes, I do," I said, and I clutched my ragged Kleenex a little tighter. You could slice the tension in that conference room with a soggy Q-Tip.

The attorney hesitated for a moment. "Do you have something like a website, or websites, on the Internet?" he asked. It was clear that he wasn't completely comfortable with the terminology: it was like listening to a five-year-old attempting to speak knowledgeably about quantum mechanics.

I responded that yes, I have a website.

He reached into a folder and withdrew five thick, stapled documents. He passed them around to everyone in the room, including David's estranged wife (who sat directly across the table, refusing to make eye contact with anyone), David's lawyer, the court reporter and me.

It was a printed transcript of *FootNotes.*

"Would this be a copy of your website?" the attorney asked me. I glanced at the cover and thumbed quickly through the pages. 

"Yes, this is from my website," I answered. It wasn't the entire archives, of course: in printed form, we would have all been sitting there looking at documents the size of TEN San Francisco phone books, put together. This looked like a handful of randomly selected entries. Some of them were quite old.

"Do you want to look through it to verify that this is your work?" he asked me, and I said no, I was familiar enough with my own website to recognize it. And I looked fondly at the little bulletin board graphic on the top page. (Geez, it looked great, printed out!! I wish I'd brought a copy home with me.)

And then the inquisition began.

He wanted to know if I felt that everything on my website was "true." (YES! Everything on my website is 100% factual!  Birds actually sat outside the windows of The Tree House and SPOKE to me in the mornings!)  I took a stab at explaining "literary license" and "creative expression," but it was clearly wasted effort. So instead I just stated something about how the website was "a forum for my writing," and I left it at that.

He then wanted to know why there were different "addresses" at the bottom of the printed pages of my website. Some of the older entries had the GeoCities URL ... some of them showed my LanMinds address, pre-domain name ... the more recent entries carried the "www.secraterri.com" URL. I patiently tried to explain ISPs and domain names and redirected URLs. "If you type in 'users.lmi.net/secra,' it will take you here," I said slowly, calmly, pointing to the top page of the website transcript.  "And if you type in 'www.secraterri.com,' it will still take you here," pointing again at the same page for emphasis.  

But once again it was clear that I was speaking Venusian to an audience of Plutonians.

He leafed through the transcript, picking out key phrases that had been Post-It-marked just for this occasion. He cleared his throat. "Do you refer to (David's) children as 'The Larvae?'" he asked, a practiced expression of Lawyerly Incredulity on his face.

The estranged wife continued to look down at her notes without comment.

I paused for a heartbeat ... just long enough to glance down the table at David. He was calm and expressionless. 

"Yes, I have referred to them that way," I answered. "Although *I* didn't coin the phrase." I wanted to explain that the term was meant affectionately ... and that I used it instead of using their real names, because even though I may put my own *Tots* right out there in the public eye, I'm sensitive enough to want to protect David's kids ... etc. etc. etc. But by then the attorney was moving on to the next subject.

He turned to another page. "You state here that 'David has every record ever made.' Is that true?"

Ohforcryingoutloud. "I didn't mean that literally, of course," I said. David's records have become a property issue recently, but are an issue I would like to stay OUT of, thankyouverymuch.  Later, when asked how many record albums David owns, I said that I "don't know." 

Which is absolutely true. I don't know.

It went on like this for some time. Was I making any money on the website? [No.] Does David have a website, or is he connected to my website in some way? [Yes.]  Does David make any money on the website? [No.]

Finally, he got to the final question: the question that was obviously on the minds of everyone sitting across from me at that table. Looking at me, again with that expression of calculated confusion, he said, "I guess I want to know is why do you do this?"  Meaning, why do I put my life/my thoughts/my history/my family on display like this? Why do I hang my cyber unmentionables on an Internet clothesline, for all the world to view?  

WHY do I have an online journal?

From the undercurrent of distaste in his voice, he might as well have been asking me "Why do you dance around naked in the produce section at Albertson's?"

I wanted to say that it's because writing is as important to me as breathing ... and because having a place to put my words, where other people can read them, has been like a little miracle ... and because the very act of creating this website and archiving my history, and the history of my family, has been an act of love and restitution and salvation that may have helped saved my life  ... and because I am as proud of *FootNotes* as I am of any other accomplishment in my life, short of my children and my sobriety, and that I believe that it is good work, and that I wouldn't mind having anybody read it (except for Celine Dion, maybe), and that I further wouldn't mind seeing it springboard me into the writing career I have always wanted ...

... and because I've made some wonderful, supportive, life-affirming friendships with other Internet journalers, and with my readers ...

... and because I hope that by relating my own experiences with addiction and recovery, I am helping others, and because opening up my life in this fashion is my way of saying "Yep, I've f**ked up in the past: now here is how I am attempting to *fix* things."

I wanted to say all of these things. But I didn't.

"It's a forum for my writing," I replied, once again. "I write about my life and my experiences." And I left it at that.

Sometimes you've just got to know when to K.I.S.S.

David's marriage ended, for all intents and purposes, in the spring of 1996. That is when he was *invited* to permanently vacate the marital home.

Shortly after that he moved into The Castle, alone.

At that point he and I were nothing more than casual friends -- exchanging an occasional e-mail or instant message conversation about sobriety issues, or about music, or about how to tweak your AOL profile in amusing ways -- but there was no romance.

I didn't enter the story as a *major character* until two years later. By then the legal wheels to end the marriage had already been set into motion. With mind-numbing slowness, granted. There have been delays upon delays. But the wheels were definitely -- and irrevocably -- turning by the time I got off that airplane for the first time, and they've continued to turn ever since. So any attempts to label me a *homewrecker* will fall pretty much on innocent and disinterested ears, here.

I would further like to point out that I created *FootNotes* in the fall of 1997. The journal portion of it began in earnest in June 1998. Even a cursory glance at the archives will bear this out. Again, this predates any romantic involvement with David by nearly a year. So the idea that I would start this website for the sheer purpose of tormenting David's estranged wife is nonsense.

Until now, I had elected not to write about David's divorce on this website. Why?

Mostly because I was chicken. I admit it. I was already generating enough hate-mail as it was -- as a mother who voluntarily relinquished custody of her children, primarily -- and I wasn't sure I felt brave enough to face any new attacks about moving in with someone who was technically still married.

And because I felt it probably wasn't a good idea, from a legal standpoint, to *go there* until the issue had finally, mercifully been resolved.

And because I wasn't sure it was all that interesting, frankly.

But as far as I'm concerned, the instant that the attorney pulled the printed copy of *FootNotes* out of his little folder and plopped it onto the table yesterday ...

... the instant that this website became material for the divorce ...

... the divorce became material for this website.

So how surprised am I that *FootNotes* has been made an issue here?

Not very.

In the early days of our romance -- after David and I had made the decision to move me from Oregon to California -- someone anonymously sent David's estranged wife the link to *FootNotes.* "She's a dangerous man-eater!" warned the e-mail, a printed copy of which David and I saw for the first time at the deposition yesterday.  This person -- using an AOL screen name that none of us are familiar with, "MrFyre" -- was clearly attempting to stir up trouble.  They were/are also apparently MUCH closer to the situation than the average casual reader: they knew not only my URL, but they knew David's estranged wife's AOL screen name as well: neither were common knowledge at the time. That narrows the field down to a sad and suspicious handful of people online. To this day, David and I wonder which one of our "friends" attempted to betray us in this way.

And it worked. The estranged wife got on the phone immediately and told David, in no uncertain terms, that if he moved forward with his plan to bring me to California, he would not be allowed to see his children. Being an attorney herself, she felt she had the legal and moral muscle to strong-arm him out of visitation rights. 

And again, it worked ... for a while. For the first couple of months after I moved in, David was prohibited from seeing his children at all.  All of this based, apparently, on what I'd written on my website: "dangerous" stuff about sobriety, falling in love, forgiveness, restitution, karmic debt ... trying to live with "integrity" ... etc. etc.

So the website has been an issue, right from the start.

(And of course there is the fact that I have a pretty good idea -- thanks to the IP listings on my hit counter tracking service -- of who visits *FootNotes* ... and when, and why, and how often. I didn't for one moment attribute last week's sudden hit counter *explosion* to a miraculous surge in popularity.)

So yes, I expected the website to come up at the deposition yesterday. Furthermore, I fully expected printed copies to be distributed. I would have been a little disappointed, I think, if it hadn't happened. In a convoluted way, it validates a lot of what I've been attempting to do here, for the past year and a half:

I'm being read.

David brought me home right after the deposition. I was a little shaken by the experience, but I felt that my testimony had been direct and truthful. Mostly I was just glad that the ordeal was over.

"You did great," David said. "I'm proud of you."

I immediately picked up the phone and called my own ex-spouse in TicTac ... just to let him know how the deposition went, and to inquire about the Tots, and to plan Daughters #1-and-#2's trip to the Bay Area in a couple of weeks ...

... and probably just to reassure myself that not EVERY divorce has to be nasty and contentious and end with everybody hating each other.

(It's ironic, of course, how much better the Ex-Hub and I like each other, now that we're no longer married.)

And then David and The Larv the kids and I had big bowls of David's homemade beef-and-vegetable-stew. After dinner, the three of them read some more of The Chronicles of Narnia and did homework in the bedroom, while I lay on the ouch and took a nap. (I'm still battling the sinus infection, and I was exhausted. Yesterday wore me out.)  After David took the kids home we talked for a while, rehashing the day's events.

For one fleeting moment, this afternoon, I considered deconstructing the website.  I go through periodic bouts of this ... usually after *FootNotes* has generated some new controversy, or another rash of "You give bad mothers a bad name" e-mail.

"Don't!" David said. "What you have created here is a thing of beauty. It's art. It's ... you. And it would be criminal to destroy it, just because of what happened today."

But of course I'm not going to quit. (At least, not until I've been invited into The Mandelbrot Set.)

And yes, I am going to write about the divorce occasionally from now on. Not very often -- there is lots of infinitely-more-interesting stuff going on in my life these days. (See: Franz coming back from Washington D.C. this week ... the girls coming to visit in a couple of weeks ... the miraculous return of Honey BBQ Wings to KFC.)  Not for spite, or for self-protection. Not to raise ratings -- or blood pressure. Not to further the cause of Internet journaling, or to set it back. And not out of any particular sense of malice or ill-will or competition or entitlement ...

... but because this is my life, folks. For boring or for worse. That's what this website is all about. That's why I'm doing this stuff in the first place.

And THAT'S something I would be willing to swear to in a court of law.