August 23, 2016

Lemons

My cousin got married last weekend. There are no fewer than a dozen reasons why I wasn't there, the least of which being work/distance. Still, it got me thinking about my own marriage - and in particular, about my wedding.

My wedding, like my engagement, was very utilitarian. There was no kneeling, no excited tears, no jewelry to show off in strategically posed photos. And the wedding was just as simple. It was a Tuesday, at a courthouse downtown. The only reason we chose that day was because it was his brother's day off of work, so he could drive down from a few states away to take a few pictures of us. I went to work that morning, we went to the courthouse and then to lunch, and then I headed back to the campus to finish teaching for the day.

We did the best we could with what we had. The old courthouse is beautiful, surrounded by live oaks with Spanish moss hanging from the branches. There was no guest drama, no huge poufy expensive dress for one day only, no bills from caterers or DJs. I wore a blue dress I bought a few weeks earlier for work clothes, I held a bouquet of roses I purchased at the grocery store and tied together with a purple elastic band from the previous night's asparagus. He had picked out a ring, which I didn't love, but I loved why he chose it - he's not a terribly emotional man, but the explanation he gave for picking that particular ring was so personal, I loved him for it. After work, I made dinner, and we celebrated with my favorite cheap sparkling wine and a little cake with blue icing roses topped with a bride and groom figurine from the craft aisle at Walmart.

Maybe it isn't everyone's dream wedding, but it was mine. Or, mostly, I should say. I guess in the dream, the groom loves me back. He is honest and communicates with me and thanks I'm beautiful even with the scars and the struggles. In the dream, we're getting married for the right reasons, and not because he needs health insurance.

The only thing that wasn't perfect about the wedding, was us.

We were in such a rush to get married, so we could make the health insurance deadlines. I half jokingly, half seriously suggested getting married at one of the little chapels down by the beach - still small, still just us, but trying to make it as special as eloping could be. He had zero interest. We just needed the paperwork, why waste the money on a ceremony?

I didn't want a big fancy dress, but I hoped to wear something other than work clothes. There was one dress from ModCloth, under $100 for a simple white lace dress. But he didn't want to wait for it to arrive. We are in too much of a rush, and why spend more on a dress than we will spend on the certificate and ceremony at the courthouse? So I put on my favorite new work dress, which fit almost everywhere (not up top, as I was still nursing - I couldn't even button it all the way up). And just went along with it.

It's hard to look at these pictures that his brother took that day. I know what I was thinking and feeling that day, so I can't personally tell if it's obvious - if I look blissfully happy and completely hopeful and entirely in love in the pictures, or if you can tell I know I was making a mistake.

I was happy, and I was incredibly hopeful. And I did love him, very very much. But I don't know if mistake is the right word.

I knew long-term it wouldn't last. But I also believed that short-term, it was the best choice for my little family. And I honestly don't know what choice I would make if I went back in time and had the option in front of me again, even knowing everything that I know now.

I keep saying it, but this time it's finally true: the divorce is so, so close. A final copy of an agreement from us, approval from them, a court date, and it's done. I'm ready, I'm not ready, I don't know what I feel most of the time because it's never 100% anything. I feel sad yet relieved at the same time. I feel angry yet optimistic at the same time. I feel betrayed and yet I still feel love for the person he used to be, the person I agreed to marry even though I knew it wasn't a perfect situation. I knew there would be challenges and struggles, but I wanted to work through them side by side.

I had hoped they would draw us closer instead of drive us apart. I think lately, that's what I cry over the most: feeling like a failure for not being able to weather the storm. It wasn't all me, we are both responsible for sinking the ship. But it just hurts to think, what if I'd said this? What if I had done that? Would he have still hurt me? Would he have still strayed? What could I have done to keep us afloat?

All the hypotheticals and unanswerable questions make the divorce process so heavy. That there is no one simple answer that gives you that perfect closure you need to settle your heart and shift your mind away from what makes it hurt so badly so often right now. My parents got divorced almost 20 years ago now, and they both confessed to me that they still have a lot of "what might have been" thoughts and moments. It will get easier, but it might not ever disappear completely. Bracing myself for the new forever is exhausting.

People who get married at a country club or a church or a botanical garden or wherever, they don't have to go back there to get divorced. But my divorce is going to take place in the same hallway as my wedding, and the feelings attached to that fact (like the feelings attached to everything else in this process) are complicated. The last time I stood on those steps, something began. This time, it ends. (Although, without question, something new will be beginning as well.)

I've been giving careful consideration to what I wear that day. Partly because I had such little say in what I wore last time I visited the courthouse, and partly because again, it's the end of one part of my life into the beginning of the next. I'm not dressing to impress him, or to try and affect him in any way (not that he'd care even if that was my intention). My husband won't even be at the divorce. He doesn't need to attend for some reason, so it will just be me and the lawyers presenting the judge with the agreement.

I'm dressing for myself. I want to look good and feel great and be comfortable and confident as I step into my future. I want to have my picture taken on the same courthouse steps, with the same live oaks and Spanish moss. I want to capture that moment of new beginning. I got married for him. I'm getting divorced for myself. I felt myself disappearing, no interests, no curiosity, no creativity. And I wanted myself back. I gave him everything, and he hurt it and he broke it and he rejected it. Now, I am consciously working on recovery and repair to restore myself to the best possible version I know I can be.


It's bigger than my wedding dress - I'm about 50 pounds heavier than I was that day almost three years ago - but right now, that's the last thing on my mind. This is more than a day. This is greater than a dress. I've been dealt nothing but lemons for the past few years, and this dress is a celebration of just how terrific the lemonade is that I've managed to make - enough sweet to take the edge off the sour, and absolutely, yes, the best is yet to come.

August 10, 2016

You are my sunshine

Probably the thing that makes me the most upset (not angry, mind you - just upset) in the whole divorce process is the fact that my husband is so far away. As soon as he could, he retreated back into a comfort zone - which I understand, but still resent him for. It's not just about being here for our son - I wish he was here for Noah, but I am doing a remarkable job raising him by myself. I am the entire village because I have to be, and I'm flourishing. Honestly, I think I get the most upset at the distance when I'm trying to work through and process divorce stuff, because he's the only one in the world who understands even close to completely, and he's not here to talk through it with me.

When I was 19, I went out with a man named Steve. We'd met online, sent each other these incredible epic novel length emails every day for weeks, and finally decided to meet face-to-face. It was an exciting and busy time in both of our lives - I was working and living on campus over the summer and was enjoying that freedom, and Steve ... was getting divorced. He was only 5 years older than I was, married his college sweetheart, regretted it, and barely lasted a year in the marriage.

I loved the passion in his letters. Not passionate in an erotic way - but just general excitement, excitement I didn't understand until I was in his position a decade later. He was excited to talk to someone new, someone so different from his wife. He was excited about another chance to get things right. He felt creative and spontaneous again, after marriage had dulled him into responsible routine. We made an exciting plan for a first date: dinner out, then we'd go squatting in the empty house his parents were in the process of selling. He'd bring the laptop, I'd bring the old black and white French movie. (I was a naive kid and rose-colored glasses prevented me from understanding how insane I now, in retrospect, know this sounds.)

Ten years removed from that night, I remember every single moment, mainly from replaying it in my mind over and over for years as I tried to process the heartbreak. Because there were men before Steve, but mostly strangers - men I didn't know or care about, but with whom I tried to make up for years of "lost time" spent daydreaming about being paid attention to. No one cared enough to listen to my stories. No one - until Steve.

So I remember laying on our stomachs in what was once his fathers office. I remember looking over at him, and realizing he was watching me and not the movie. I remember kisses and hands running through my hair. I remember being overwhelmed with excitement - this is real, I thought to myself, this is happening, the boy who liked my letters is here, with me.

And there we were, together, finally. But the further we went, the more detached he became - until finally, he said it. I feel ... conflicted. And it slowed - no, screeched to a halt. We slept on opposite sides of the room, and the next day, as he drove me back to the campus, I cried. And he cried. And we just understood: this was it.

As I'm sure we both understood but didn't verbalize that day in his car, the several-times-daily letters were about to slow considerably, and suddenly it was days between communication. The letters were shorter too, less personal. It was back before cell phones, or at least before either of us had one, and thank God for that, because text messages and read receipts would've made me even more anxious.

One day, he sent a letter saying he'd traveled down to Maryland where his wife was staying with her parents. He had some paperwork to do for the divorce, and while he was there, he asked her to do what he needed to do the whole time: lay in bed, hold each other, and bawl. I'd wept, I'd moaned. But I hadn't bawled ... I knew I needed to.

He thought he wanted a transitional object (that would be me). What he actually wanted - needed, really - was closeness with someone who hurt in the exact way that he was hurting.

I get that now.

Some days are easy, and I go to bed feeling relieved that we're a day closer to closure. But some days are hard, very hard even, and I can't always tell when they'll come. I'll be walking in the grocery store, or waiting at a red light, or shampooing my hair in the shower, when suddenly and inexplicably, I start sobbing. Memories pop into my mind and trigger these profound reactions - and I do the best that I can to distract myself, file the thoughts away, focus on anything else, just to get through the next few moments.

I wonder a lot if he has moments like these, too. Moments where you miss things about the person - his laugh, his eyes - or you miss acts and rituals, the things that were "ours," from the goofy inside jokes to the sweet, tender, deeply intimate way he'd wrap his arms around me during sex. And suddenly, you're acutely aware of how raw the wounds are and how truly painful this is, and you just lose yourself to tears.

And that's when the boundaries get hard again. Because sometimes I just want him to leave me alone and let me process by myself, and other times, I want to grab the phone and text him: do you ever miss me, too? He's not the type to initiate those type of conversations - but I wonder if he has those thoughts.

I want to grieve with the only other person who hurts the exact way that I do.

It's really easy for outsiders to share what they think of him - and I'm sure he's hearing his fair share of stuff about me from whomever he's talking to. The joke has been that he's Darth Vader - the selfish, absent father - but the truth is, I know him better than anyone else, and I know (just as Padmé knew) - there is good in him. I know there is - still. There was more that I saw that no one else did - there are things only I understand. And that was (and still is) the hardest part about ending the marriage.

One of the biggest problems I had in our marriage wasn't that he didn't love, it was that he didn't know how to show it. And I gave, and I gave, and I tried so hard to be selfless and accept the way things were: he cares, he just doesn't speak your love language. But I got to a point where I just couldn't do that anymore. Because it wasn't just that he didn't know how to love me in the way I needed, but that he wasn't interested in learning how. I asked, and asked, and begged - therapy, for each of us and together. But he didn't want to pursue that.

I'm not innocent, by any means. I've looked over the relationship and found my faults, and I'm trying so hard to repair them. The greatest, at least in my mind (he may have a different view, I don't know), was that I was so focused on work and trying to make a home for us, that I didn't invest any time in what actually makes a home. When we moved south and I started my new job, our relationship changed drastically. I wanted to make sure the job was safe so I didn't relocate everyone for nothing - but I didn't give the same attention to our relationship, and this was devastating in a time when our relationship needed it most. I think in our whole marriage, we had maybe two date nights. I've cried so much over that, the fact that my job brought us far away from the friends and family who could've helped with babysitting so we could nurture our relationship and grow together instead of apart. That my sister gets to bring my niece to her grandparents from time to time and spend even just a morning together alone with her husband, and we didn't get that luxury because of where my career took us.

I'd always blamed myself for my parents' divorce and swore that I'd never cause that kind of hurt for my own family someday, so to have that same feeling of guilt that caused my teenage heart to ache so often present now - we're all hurting, and it's because of you - it's incredibly difficult. At 13, my response was to turn to food, and I gained about a hundred pounds in a year. Now, I don't have that option - nor do I want it. But everyone needs an outlet. You can't let the pressure build up forever.

I had a dream the other night. The details are blurry, but the people were clear: it was him and me, and we were talking. And he apologized, and I accepted it. And I told him: I still want the divorce, but if you'd like, you can date me from scratch. Start again, earn each other's trust, and fall in love for real this time. And I woke up before he could respond - good, because I don't know what Dream Matt would have said, or how Real Me would have reacted. As it was, I woke up confused and looking around - for him? I don't know. But immediately, my mind heard the sad second verse of "You Are My Sunshine":

The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried

Dream Me was pretty forgiving. I don't know what Real Me would do in that situation. It's so, so hard. There's a lot of sadness and anger where there used to be a lot of love and hope, but the love and hope aren't entirely extinguished, and the sadness and anger don't feel permanent either. The relationship wasn't perfect, but I cared for him deeply, and promised to do so forever. And even as the marriage ends, I can't help but realize I'll be keeping at least that part of my promise. I can't not care. That's just not me.