August 22, 2016


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.


Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

Before I even read the last paragraph and saw the lemons my mind thought "LEMONADE!!!" Phenomenal way to look at such a bittersweet moment, Mary!

Jen said...

PERFECT dress!

Amanda said...

I love the dress, and I love even more the sentiments behind it. I'm happy that your closure is coming, I know this year has been hard. I hope you walk out of that courthouse feeling so much light and happy. You deserve nothing less!

Amy said...

I love your dress! It's beautiful, I'm so glad you're taking a difficult day and turning it into a new beginning. Those 'what if's' of the past can cause anyone to spiral down to dark places, and I think focusing on the lemonades of the future, the what if's that will come is the best place you can go! A close colleague/mentor of mine always says, "You won't recognize yourself a year from now." and it's always been true (at least every year for the five years I've known him!). May this new beginning be everything you need it to be and give the closure enough to stop thinking about what you could have done differently - because you're where you're supposed to be and the future is bright!

Denise said...

Nothing gets my anxiety stirred up like a rousing game of "What if?" Things get painted with a wide brush--the good is super great and the bad is catastrophic--but I'm trying to make myself see the game through to the very end.

My dog dying is a good example. Usually I only make it as far as "I cannot imagine my life without my precious baby angel dog in it and he is so good and pure and wholesome that he cannot die because my heart will break into a million pieces and I'll have to get rid of all of his stuff and that will be awful." Instead of stopping it there and letting that loop around in my brain parts, I make myself go further. What happens after he's been gone a month? Six months? Everything will be fine. He will get some tummy scratches from Jesus (just let me have this one) and I will be okay. There is always another side. Our lives don't stay super awful or super wonderful for a very long time. It either goes away or we get used to it and it becomes normal.

I think we get caught up in the what if game because we believe that one action could have prevented something bad from happening, but the unwinding of a marriage happens in a series of events that can only be recognized in hindsight.

That Loud Redhead said...

This was so powerful to read. You write so well. Thank you for sharing your ups and downs with us, and I look forward to "tasting" all the wonderful lemonade you make in the future!