My marriage was officially dissolved three days before what would have been Lou’s and my thirteenth wedding anniversary, but I didn’t receive the signed paperwork until two days after. August 3 slipped by with both of us thinking we’d made it to thirteen years while still technically married.
I just learned that one of the symbolic gifts representing the thirteenth wedding anniversary is fur.
So I was divorced for nearly a week before I knew it, but it was two or three more weeks before Lou found out. I guess his attorney never got around to telling him. By then, I’d changed back to my maiden name and gotten new IDs, and I think that’s what made Lou ask me: “did our divorce ever become final?”
This was in the waiting room after an appointment for Ace. I smiled and chirped, “Oh, yes, it did!” Even as I heard myself saying it, I cringed inside. I’d used the same tone you’d use to confirm that the insurance check cleared or the school lunch calendar was published online. Yes, tomorrow the children will eat corn dogs! Yes, we are divorced!
Yes, this conversation is incredibly awkward.
But divorce is inherently awkward. I try to make it less so where possible by owning the awkwardness. When I went to the Social Security office to change my name, I joked to the guy behind the counter, “I don’t care how many more times I get married, I’m never changing my name again!”
He didn’t crack a smile. He told me I’d change my mind some day when I met the right man. He told me if the woman he wanted to marry didn’t want to take his name, that would be a problem.
I told him maybe he should take her name if he wants them to be the same.
When I went to the DMV, I gave the same line to the lady who took my information and my photo: “No matter how many more times I get married, I’m never changing my name again!”
She laughed. She had on violet-colored contact lenses, and she was supportive in a we-are-all-in-this-sisterhood-together sort of way. She complimented my new driver’s license picture and congratulated me on getting my name back.
And getting my name back has felt like something to celebrate. It’s involved getting new login IDs at work and ordering new business cards. Summoning the muscle memory in my hands as I draw my old signature, and in my mouth as I feel of the old sequence of syllables slip out.
At work, people who don’t know me well enough to know I’ve been separated for the past two years see the new nameplate outside my office door or receive an email from my new email address. They ask me, “Did you get married?”
“Even better,” I quip. “Divorced!” This is usually met with laughs and the confession that they weren’t sure if they should ask, afraid the conversation might be uncomfortable.
I treat the matter lightly to avoid and defuse awkwardness. And you can do that; you can indulge in the cliché divorce jokes and play the role of the sitcom divorcee. At the end of the day, you’re still divorced, and the rippling impact that has on you and those who surround you proves the matter is anything but light.
I believe in marriage. I believe in committing yourself to another person, who has committed himself to you, and bolstering each other through good times and bad. I believe in sharing your lives until one of them ends. I believe in love.
But on this, the other side of divorce, with signed papers and restored names, the thought of marriage is pretty frightening. Frightening because now I know I can fail. Now I know I can be married, and it can end, not with a YouTube-worthy serenade to my Alzheimer’s-addled octogenarian love. Not with widowhood. Now I know I can get married and get past the newlywed year and the supposed seven-year-itch. I can get through having children and sleepless newborn nights. I can celebrate ten years with tin and a cruise, but not get as far as lucky thirteen and fur before failing, the final pronouncement as unceremonious as words exchanged in a waiting room.
When I look at marriage from the divorced side of the fence, the grass does not look greener. Or maybe if it does sometimes, I immediately suspect it may also harbor poisonous spiders. Maybe there are shards of broken glass just beneath the surface of the soil, and now I’m not wearing any shoes, because I lost them climbing the fence. If I’d never ventured over, I wouldn’t have felt those stings and cuts, I’d still have my shoes, and I wouldn’t know not to trust the lush and deceitful appearance of the groundcover over there. I’ve been there, and I have the sore soles to prove it.
And yet… I find I still have hope. Hope that it’s not all spiders and shards underneath that grass. After all, I have been there. I lived there for a long time. Sometimes it’s not so hard to imagine that I could go back, with someone else beside me. Maybe I’ll get hurt again by unseen hazards underfoot, but at least without shoes, I’ll be able to feel the cool St. Augustine blades and the soft patches of Bermuda grass. Maybe next time, my partner and I will help each other spot the dangers, or at least help each other remove the splinters once they’re in. Maybe a few scars at least mean you know what to look out for in the thicket. I hope.
Pinterest wraps marriage with a soft-focus bow and the words we’ve all heard all our lives: “one and only” and “one true love” and “til death do we part.” For us folks who’ve been down the aisle before, those words don’t quite dissolve as easily as the legal status, and in fact they can be haunting.
The truth is, you can’t know what lies beyond the aisle, or what may lurk beneath an inviting patch of clover. There’s bound to be something a little uncomfortable somewhere along the way. Hope, be mindful, pray, watch out. Do your best. Try not to be the venomous thing in hiding. Try not to see the venomous thing in every shadow.
Make light when you need to. Take things seriously when it’s warranted.