Like all stories of rebirth, Beverly Willett’s “Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection” begins with a kind of death. In this case, it is the death of Willett’s 20-year marriage.
Willett, a lawyer turned stay-at-home mother, was happily raising two daughters and building a writing career, when she hears a life-altering voicemail from another woman on her husband's phone. The discovery of betrayal marks the first of many collapses: each one like an avalanche headed straight for her family’s four-story Brooklyn home.
“Disassembly Required” gives readers access to every intimate moment of Willett’s divorce, starting with long days in court fighting to keep the house she’d come to know and love.
Initially, her soon-to-be ex-husband agreed to continue paying for the house, but like other promises, this one was quickly forgotten in his haste to begin a new life. In court, Willett’s decision to become a stay-at-home mom backfired, and she found herself at the mercy of judges expecting her to acquiesce, move on, and leave behind the home she’d built.
Instead, she fought back, armed with her prior legal experience and determined to make the justice system keep its promises. Willett’s personal struggles are placed against the backdrop of systemic injustice suffered during divorce, mostly by women, and the mortgage crisis of 2008. All around her, people were losing their homes while she tried desperately to keep her own American dream afloat.
After six years, Willett wins the house in addition to a mortgage, a bill for attorney’s fees, and decreased alimony. For four years, she struggles to maintain some sense of normalcy for her daughters as she continues to battle the daily collapse of the house, the family, and herself. She faces each landslide as it comes: an infestation of bird mites and a leaky ceiling; panic attacks and a bad back; and the slow ache of splitting her daughters' time between two homes.
When her youngest daughter prepares to go to college, she endures the final collapse: an empty nest. The time has come to sell the house. Willett’s effort to catalogue and dismantle their belongings soon turns into inventory on the life she shared with her ex husband.
Each possession sparks a memory or a revelation. What should be thrown away? Who is responsible for four-stories of family photo albums, bank statements, and souvenirs purchased during family vacations? And most importantly, after the explosion of her family life, what, if anything, can be salvaged?
Willett’s writing shows the type of matter-of-fact vulnerability that can only come from surviving what was meant to destroy you. Even the most gut-wrenching of scenes have a level of self-awareness that expertly avoids pity. Moments of dark humor and wisdom shine throughout the narrative, which reads almost like a second coming-of-age story. Slowly, order returns to Willett’s life, and she’s able to rebuild, the satisfaction of surviving acting as the perfect foundation for a new life.
Thankfully, she built that new foundation here in Savannah. Originally from Maryland, Willett studied political science at Penn State and law at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Guardian and many more. She also serves on the boards of the Savannah Homeless Authority and the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home.
Ariel Felton received her B.F.A. in English from Valdosta State University and her M.F.A. in writing from SCAD. Her writing has been published in The Progressive, The Bitter Southerner, Scalawag, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Under the Gum Tree, Savannah Magazine and more.