There wasn't much time between the moment my husband and I decided to get a divorce and the moment I moved out. Packing is an incredible distraction. No matter how much stuff you have and how hard it is to find a new place and get some footing on life, there comes a point where your head slows down long enough to think.
I've reached that point. I can't stop thinking.
I keep thinking about my wedding day. The way our eyes teared-up when we said our vows like neither my husband nor I imagined they would, and the sincerity with which we said the words “until death do us part.” Most of all, I think about the strange man in the waiting room where I'd stood moments before I walked to the altar.
He'd come in unannounced, taken a look at me and said, “so you’re the run-away bride, huh?”
That was the first and last time I saw him. Words like that don't matter in the grand scheme of things, but for those two seconds between the moment he said those words and the moment I began walking down that aisle, it stung like nothing anyone had ever said to me. It stung because I felt it was true.
Now I sit alone on a Saturday night and think about the other great loves of my life, besides my husband. I left them both, too. And I remember each departure as clearly as I remember the words that stranger in the waiting room said to me.
I had been in Sweden with Magnus for some time when the little ice palace we'd built started to melt. Try as we might, we could not keep the walls from caving in on us. The afternoon that we realized this, we'd been enjoying the view of the Baltic. I mentioned to him how lovely it would be to sleep on a pier under the sky.
“I wish I could be as impulsive as you are,” Magnus replied with condescension. “You would hate it. You would freeze in a second and spend the entire night complaining about how miserable the weather was here.”
“Your feet are planted so firmly in on the ground, dear, I'm amazed you can walk,” I shot back.
“Wake up and grow up,” he said, lighting another cigarette.
“Let go and live for a change,” I retorted.
I used to call him Descartes because he reminded me so much of that legend about René Descartes and the boy. Have you heard it? Descartes once visited an abattoir where he saw a boy sketching a dead ox. When the philosopher asked why the boy had chosen such a subject, the young Rembrandt replied, “your philosophy takes away our souls. In my paintings, I will give them back, even to dead animals.”
That was Magnus. The man who saw the world as one composed of substances: mind and matter; mind being the unextended and indivisible and matter being a substance that obeys the laws of classical physics. His incorporeal mind was lodged in his mechanical body, believing—above all things—that the whole of existence, our very individuality as humans, was perhaps a dream, and the only way of knowing we exist is because we think.
I told him we were a bad combination—if he was Descartes, I was a nightingale in a bell jar.
“The dreams of a madman?” He didn't like Einstein.
If his divide stood strong against even the advances of modern physics, how could a woman imagine she could collapse it with a kiss?
“I love you but I hate the way you are,” Magnus said. “I love you but I hate the life you lead. You are going to kill me. You are going to poison every ounce of certainty in my body with madness and turn my world upside down.”
If you listen to your heart and don't let what you wish were true cloud your intuition, you can always sense when something is over. With those words, both Magnus and I knew it was over.
We went back home and made dinner without speaking. We ate in the fading light of the day. Neither he nor I had bothered to turn on the light.
“Now what happens?” he asked after we had finished.
“Now I pack,” I said, rising. And I did. It was the first time I saw him cry. But he didn't stop me.
My mother remembers all of this.
“I remember feeling such apprehension,” she said. “I told him, 'you do realize she's special,' I didn't say it like a mother who thinks her little girl is gifted, bound to be the president of the Republic. I said it like I mean it: you are special. In a wonderful but very strange way. I have always said you were not my daughter, you were Life's daughter.”
“Life's daughter?” I asked her.
“Yes, see, your sister, she's my daughter. She will do what a daughter must do for a mother. But you will do for Life what a daughter does for a mother. Life is your mother. You will Live. You will experience. That is who you are. It takes a very special, very enduring man to marry a daughter of Life.”
Or, as my friend would tell me later, it takes Adventure's son.
But I've loved and left Adventure's son, too. His name was Matthew and, where Magnus had been Piet Mondrian's Composition A, Matthew was Jackson Pollock's One. He was wild and unpredictable in everything except love. He needed a life partner and somehow we both knew that was me. Between us we had more stories than he had tattoos and scars and I had paintings.
We lived on Oahu's North Shore on a permanent adventure in sensory over-stimulation. Art exhibits, midnight hikes, cock fights, wild dancing, bar brawls, vehicular accidents, public sex, psychobilly shows, massive bonfires, poetry readings and gourmet dining. We didn't live on the edge, we jumped right into the abyss. I joked he was my Hunter Thompson.
I've never visited a hospital more times during a single relationship. Frankly, I'm amazed we're both alive today to tell the story.
Life and adventure may be too good a combination—who knew there is danger in too much creativity and restlessness? We didn't just have chemistry, we were downright combustible. There came a time one of us had to put an end to it. So I did. And I remember that day, too.
I hadn't gotten rid of my apartment this time. I'd moved into Matthew's haphazardly, a few items at a time, so I had no suitcase. I was putting everything into Hefty bags, running around the house picking up traces of myself so the next girl wouldn't have to face me. I could be just one more tattoo on Matthew's arm among many. And a horrible scar across his arm (right across the tattoo he got to remind him of his ex-wife, to be exact) where they'd had to perform that bone graft after we crashed into that telephone pole, pulverizing the bone that had not yet healed from the time he was catapulted off the motorcycle.
(I wasn't kidding when I said I was amazed we were both still alive.)
Matthew was different than Magnus in that, while he didn't understand my writing either, he thought it was really important. He had put everything I had ever written on the walls so the whole place was a sort of incomprehensible word merzbau.
(One night, when he was out late, I ran out of paper while writing a letter to him and I started writing on our bedsheets. I filled a king sized bed. He kept them long after I'd left. And if I know him, he still has them somewhere.)
It was while I was debating whether I should take these things that Matthew came in.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm leaving you.”
“Yes, of course, but...”
We both knew we had to stop, but neither he nor I imagined the possibility of life without the other. Finally, I did leave.
I'd been engaged to both Matthew and Magnus. Runaway bride.
One great love was too black and white, another was too much of an explosion of color and the one in-between, my husband, was too much of both.
At some point I wondered whether perhaps I am simply not the relationship type. But that's not right, either. I have had and, in many cases, foster meaningful relationships with everyone from the people I call friends to my cab drivers. There has never been and will never be anything casual about me.
So where does this leave me?
See, that's the thing about being a daughter of Life. You really don't know. But Mother knows best.
In Going Down the Reconciliation Path: When Do We Admit We're Lost?, Elaina Goodman writes about the brave ones who try and try again at their relationships when love is not enough to make things work.
Lara Colvin writes about forging a little community after big change in Home. Community: “Instead, my little one and I are safely ensconced in our new place, which being the home of one of my best friends and her girls, isn't new at all. We are starting to build our own little community, our own little female circle where as said in the quote above, 'there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats.' There will be arms to hold me when I falter, and my own will be open to catch them when they do. I'm thinking this new life, this next phase - it will be home.”
Wilma Ham lived a life ruled by “this is how you do things,” until the day she decided to explore “is there another way to do this?” She's been living that way since. Once divorced, she is now in a successful relationship, has started a business and is constantly assessing her life. In Lousy Audience, Your Game Or Mine?, she writes about fighting with our nagging inner voices that get in the way of our pursuit of life and the alternative choices that could make us happier than we have ever been.