For Better or for Worse

By David Finkel
Sunday, June 11, 1995

Everyone has had something to say.

Her mother said: Get your hair cut. It'll make you feel better.

Her father said: Monitor the joint bank accounts. He might empty them.

Her sister said: Take your time. See a counselor.

Her counselor said: Have faith. It will work out.

Her friends said: Get even. Nail him in the settlement.

Even he had something to say, delivered in a seven-page letter a few weeks after he left.

"Val:" he'd written, "Let me begin this by stating that I am truly sorry that all of this is a painful experience for all involved, and that it comes with difficult issues and situations. I'm confident that in the future all of this will be worked out, feelings will recover, and our lives will return to something that is normal and acceptable. This, unfortunately, is a step toward that future . . ."

And so, trying to gain some control, she has come to a lawyer to see about getting a divorce. Her name is Valerie. Her maiden name is Perrino. Her married name is something she doesn't want published because she has two young children, and because she has no idea what is about to happen to their lives. She is 34, lives in Northern Virginia, has lost 17 pounds since the day her husband left, and now finds herself in Vienna, across from a lawyer named Mark Barondess, who is sitting beneath a large photograph of a snarling Doberman pinscher. "Okay," he is saying, pushing some papers he has prepared across the desk for her to sign. "Here it is." It is the moment she has been dreading. Earlier in the day, thinking about it, she nearly canceled the appointment. She had woken up with a headache. She had driven to Vienna wondering if she would be physically sick. She had come into Barondess's office, noticed the photograph of the Doberman and almost panicked. Up to this point, though, she'd surprised herself with how well she'd maintained her composure, even when Barondess was going over what he'd written, which was a reduction of her marriage to 12 cold paragraphs of type.

"Paragraph 4," he'd read. "The parties hereto were lawfully married on or about the 23rd day of May, 1981 in Alexandria . . ."

"Paragraph 8. That on the 1st day of January, 1995, the Defendant did intentionally and willfully desert the parties' marital relationship . . ."

"Paragraph 12. There is no hope or possibility of a reconciliation between the parties . . ."

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