Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. Twelve years. Twelve years since a sweltering Saturday afternoon when Lou and I proclaimed “I have, I will, I will” before a crowd of friends and family inside the church where I attended Friday Mass as a kindergartener at the parish school.
That church has a lovely, well-appointed parish hall with gigantic windows in which, at Christmas time, an enormous tree stands on display. That parish hall was under construction on my wedding day.
Weddings have individual anniversary dates. Separations and divorces seem to have anniversary seasons.
My wedding anniversary falls in the middle of my separation season.
The last weekend in June, it was one year since the things holding my marriage together began to fall apart. July, it was one year since an incident that normally would have been a fight but wasn’t because I no longer had the emotional investment to bother. Then a year since a big, blowup discussion. A year since confessions, admissions, and tears. Long solo drives. Packages containing books and articles, sent express mail from far-away family members hoping to help. Therapy sessions. Revelations. Resignations.
On August 3 last year, our eleventh wedding anniversary, Lou and I went out for what would be the last time. It was pleasant and friendly. We bumped into a friend of Lou’s he hadn’t seen in years–probably not since that friend was a guest at our wedding.
And the next morning, I think we both expected we’d be divorced before we got to our twelfth anniversary.
Later this month, it will have been a year since I moved out.
I spent my anniversary yesterday with my family at a water park. The outing wasn’t planned intentionally to take place on that day; just a coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing. Poppy and Ace and I spent five hours communing with my sisters, my nephews, and my dad on a lazy river, in kiddie pools, and on water slides. We didn’t leave until we were sticky with layers of sunscreen and chlorine, filled with nachos, and exhausted.
In fact, we could have left earlier. Poppy had gotten to the end of her good time and was acting crabby and complaining of a headache.
When I was a kid and it was time to leave places like water parks, we’d all protest, “But we’re having fun!” My dad would repeat this motto: “You should always leave while you’re still having a good time.”
That’s definitely not a metaphor for marriage. You’re supposed to stay until the bitter end–the more bitter, the better. You’re supposed to stay until all the fun has washed off and you find you’ve covered yourself in a protective film that’s sticky and stings your eyes. You’re supposed to stay until you have a belly full of junk that tastes great going in but is murder to get off your thighs later. You’re supposed to stay and float on the current of an artificial river, around and around in circles, on a solo inner tube.
This time last year, I was hopping off my tube. Wading against the current and towards the steps. Looking for my towel; shielding my eyes from the sun.
There was a kind of honeymoon period after my separation. I decorated my apartment. I bought dishes and bath towels and tools. I hung my TV. I met new people and learned to use my voice. Everything was new and exciting and fun.
The first time I drove around to look at Christmas decorations on my own, I realized I had an almost palpable feeling of satisfaction at doing something meandering and meaningless just because I wanted to. After I’d seen all the impressive mansions in one wealthy neighborhood, I could turn right to go home or turn left to explore the lights I saw twinkling just down the road. I had no one to go home to, and no one in the passenger seat who might be tiring of the same old sets of Santas and garlands remixed and repeated.
The honeymoon period was exhilarating with all its newness, but it’s worn off.
There are things I miss from my marriage. I won’t lie. I miss having hugs from my babies every night. And I miss having a friend to go home to who knows what’s up with me and wants to hear the updates.
The thing about twelve years is that no matter who I might end up with, if anyone, and no matter how happy and fulfilling I may find a relationship with that person, he won’t have those twelve years. Or nearly fifteen now, counting back to when we met. Those are Lou’s. Lou knew me when I still lived with my parents, when my siblings were all still children. When I was practically still a child. Lou knew my mother and my grandmother, both of whom are now dead. He knew me at the tail end of my uber-Catholic phase, in my college years, and during my time in grad school. He knew me when I used to dance, and when I used to knit, and when I used to paint by number.
No one else can know those things.
And of course, it isn’t necessary for a husband to know those things. But it was comforting that my husband did.
On the other hand, I was practically still a child when I met Lou. At the very least, I was not the same person I am now, nor was he. And one way or another, as we grew and changed, we didn’t grow together.
And still, I don’t regret it. Any of it.
While the honeymoon of my separation may be over, the novelty faded, I find I still feel at home in my new life. Even as I grapple to find peace with certain elements of this life and the choices I make, I’m in the right place to wrestle with those issues.
It’s twelve years from my wedding and one year from my separation. It’s one day from yesterday and one day until tomorrow. Each day brings with it something new to learn. Each experience offers some opportunity to grow.
That is what I wanted, and that is what I want.