I’m ready for this whole ugly fucking year to be over with. Not the calendar year; I have nothing against 2012, except for that whole Mayan “end of the world” thing. That would suck, but at least it gives us an excuse to wear our best Mad Max drag and put on shows with titles like “Apocalipstick.” No, I’m talking about the year that ends on November 8. Today. I can’t wait for that year to be over. I don’t like to think about it much at all, but when I do I think about it as “the years of firsts.”
November 8 was the day my marriage ended. Well, officially at least. As official as it can be for two people who don’t have to fill out any paperwork or have a court date. I have a newfound respect for the institution of divorce; there is something to be said for that formulaic process, the “fill in the blank” formality of it all where the party of the first part and the party of the second part agree to separate and divide assets, assess collateral damages and determine the appropriate compensations. Whether it’s quick and amicable (like pulling off a small bandage, one that’s comfortable and familiar but that you just don’t want in your house anymore) or messy and complicated, it’s a process. It has milestones, and it has an endpoint. It’s the busywork you have to complete while figuring out what to do with your life.
I didn’t get any of that, the paperwork or the process. I got to come home from a show weekend to find most of his stuff already packed up in totes. I got to be sat down and told that he just wasn’t happy, that he missed the way our relationship used to be, that I didn’t appreciate our relationship because I didn’t make time for playing video games together because, you know, that used to be “our thing.” Neither of us had been particularly happy for a while, and we weren’t very good at helping each other be happier. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Except for that video game thing. No one expects to be told that their husband wants to end their 7 year relationship because they didn’t schedule in regular Super Smash Brothers time.
But if not a surprise, it certainly was abrupt. There was no discussion of what our problems were, if we were interested in working on them, any of that. He did tell me that he had planned to pack up and be gone before I had gotten back from my out-of-town show, but changed his mind after a co-worker told him it was a bad idea. He needed a co-worker to explain to him how it would feel to come home and find a deserted house, with no explanation. That’s where 7 years had gotten us. The couple that used to slow dance and make out in the basement of the Highlander was gone, and we’d become two people who couldn’t empathize with each other, couldn’t recognize each other’s pain or the potential for it. After he’d had his say, I had mine, and then I went for a drive. When I came back, he was gone. I thought maybe if we took a little time, we could cool off and come back and attack this problem. We loved each other; no matter what was wrong there had to be a way to fix it. I was ready to try. I had to try.
Two days later I came home and found an envelope on my computer. It had a typed letter, not even a page, where he explained that he was sorry if he had ever done anything to hurt me, but that “at this point in my life, I just need to be doing things for myself, by myself.” Most of the letter was very efficient: his timetable for collecting his things, that he had turned in his notice to our landlord and that he would be paying his share of the bills through the time he was legally required to do so, that he had cancelled the snow removal service. A “to do” list, every item checked off. He had written my first and last name on the envelope, just in case there were any other Chrises that might be wandering through our living room and think the letter was theirs. Thoughtful.
And so began the year of firsts. You know what I mean, or you do if you’ve ever experienced the ending of a significant relationship, or a death, or some other great loss. A timer starts, and now every life event reminds you that it’s the first one, after. The first Christmas, after. His first birthday, after. Your first birthday, after. The first anniversary, after. You can’t celebrate any of the big days in the year without remembering the way you used to celebrate them together. We always spent Thanksgiving with his family, Christmas with mine. He was a terrible present wrapper; I always went for gift bags to avoid revealing that I am too. Friends’ birthdays become complicated. There is always a sort of custody battle, whether people talk about it or not. There are the friends you came into the relationship with, the ones that came in with him, and the ones that are somewhere in the middle. Luckily, our circles separated pretty naturally when we did. My only regret is that he seemed to get custody of most of the lesbians – at least the ones with practical skills. If I want to eat Cold Stone and bitch about men, I’m covered but if my washing machine breaks down I’m on my own.
And it’s not just the holidays and events. Everything is a first. There’s the first time you mail the rent check. The first time you feel a white-hot rage burning in your gut and you know – you KNOW – that if you saw him right that moment, he would be dead. The first time someone asks you how your husband is doing. The first time you break down crying in public, which for me also turned out to be the first time I cried at work. I blame Adele. “Someone Like You” was in heavy rotation on the store radio; I swear, someone had set the station to “Music to slit your wrists to.”
There was also the first time I realized how many people in my life didn’t think my marriage was ‘real.” Because we didn’t have a certificate and the blessing of some church or the federal government. More than once I heard, “But you weren’t really married, right?” The slightly more sensitive people would quickly follow-up with, “Not legally, I mean.” No, they were right about that: I wasn’t legally married. I didn’t go to Iowa or Massachusetts or Vermont and get a license. I had the audacity to invite all my friends and family to gather, and I put on a big white dress and said some vows and had cake, and NEVER asked the government or a pastor or my local legislator if it was ok. I was stupid enough to think that marriage might have something more to do with two people standing eye to eye and making promises to each other. Promises about love and respect. But it always comes back to that paperwork.
There were some good firsts as well. The first time I stood on a stage and sang in public, without being drunk at a cheesy karaoke night. The first time I realized the quality of the people I surround myself with. The first time I half-woke in the middle of the night and didn’t reach across the bed to see if he was there, sleeping too. The first time someone took me aside and told me their story, their heartache, their firsts. All of these things are important: they are part of picking yourself up and putting yourself back together. But they are still firsts. Even if they are good firsts, they still remind you of why they are there in the first place.
Even if a year has passed, I know that the firsts aren’t entirely over. They just start meaning less; they don’t announce themselves as loudly in my mind. But there is still one big first that I haven’t had to face yet. The first conversation. With him. Somehow we’ve managed to live in this uncomfortably small town without running into each other and having to have that terrible first conversation. I haven’t heard one word from his mouth since that last conversation. There has been some awkward text messaging back and forth, mostly trying to coordinate times for him to stop by the garage and pick up things he’d left behind. And there have been a couple of occasions where I’ve seen him across a bar or from a ways away, and even once where I turned just in time to see him fleeing in the other direction – it’s nice to know that he’s maybe a little terrified of that first conversation as well. I can’t imagine what we could say. I’ve never been good at making small talk.
And running into each other in public isn’t conducive to the kind of talk I sometimes wish I could have. In any breakup, there are three sides: your side, their side, and the truth. And in that conversation, I’d at least like to find a little bit of the truth. Something to help me put it all together in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I wasted 7 years of my life. Not that I always feel that way. Much of the time, I’m very happy that I had the experiences that I did, that I was able to grow in that relationship. But sometimes, like every time I face another big first, I just feel tired and old and sad and I wonder why I ever let myself get talked into getting married in the first place. I always used to say that I didn’t believe in marriage, and I really didn’t! It’s a flawed institution: the legal and religious understandings of marriage are hopelessly intertwined, the traditions surrounding marriage are steeped in sexism (white dresses for virginity and women being “given away” by their fathers to their husbands as an exchange of property), and the whole thing has become this unparalleled orgy of consumerism to the point that you can barely enjoy the day for fear that you don’t have the right dress, the right flowers, the right fucking swan ice sculpture. I’m still not sure how I feel about marriage; in fact, I took the last year off from celebrating weddings or relationships in any way. I just didn’t have it in me. Besides, Miss Manners says you can send a wedding gift up to a year after the event and still be tasteful. So shut the fuck up, bitches: you’ll get your gift certificate to Pottery Barn.
What I really want to ask are the kind of questions I’m not sure he could answer. I’m not sure I could answer them. Questions like “Why did you ask me to marry you?” But that’s not quite right. Something deeper, like “What did it mean to you when you asked me to marry you?” Or, “What did our marriage mean to you?” I guess a part of me is afraid that he’s kind of like some of those people in my life, the ones who said, “Well, it’s not like you were really married.” That maybe he thought it was just what you were supposed to do if you’d been together for a certain amount of time and so he did, and since it wasn’t legal anyway he could just exchange “for better or for worse” with “until I get bored or you aren’t fun anymore.”
That was cruel. And it probably wasn’t fair. I know our marriage breaking up wasn’t just his fault; like I said before, we had both become unhappy people and we just weren’t any good at making ourselves or each other happy. But if nothing else, I feel like maybe I’ve earned the right to not be entirely fair, to sometimes be a little bit cruel. Because though the problems were shared between us, the way in which he went about it was all his fault. He could have chosen to talk about how he was feeling, to yell at me and shock me out of my own foggy stupor, to make me address the problems that were right there in front of me that neither of us were talking about. There were thousands of things he could have done besides simply disappear into the ether with no respect for our relationship and to the vows we shared with each other. That was his decision.
I’m not writing this to air all of our dirty laundry, or to try to turn people against him, or to throw myself a big fucking pity party. I wasn’t even sure I was going to publish it; I hope that as you read it, you remembered: your side, their side, the truth. This is just my side. But I wanted to get it out, to mark this hateful anniversary in some way. And in a way, it is a very fitting end to the year of firsts. Because in all of my soul-searching, my tears and my tantrums over the past year, this is the first time I’ve thought about how it ended and said out loud (and truly believed): I deserved better.
Tags: anniversaries, anniversary, breakups, broken hearts, divorce, first times, gay divorce, gay marriage, healing your heart, heartbreak, Janessa, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, relationships