Dec 17, 201012:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Things Fall Apart
My parents and me on my wedding day in 2003
Photo courtesy of Brennan Hobart
“We were married on a rainy day. The sky was yellow, and the grass was gray. We signed the papers, and we drove away. I do it for your love.”
I was married on a rainy day, July 4, 2003, in St. Louis. “It’s good luck to get married in the rain,” my maid of honor told me.
Well, not good enough, I guess. I signed my divorce papers last week and drove away in the sunshine. So much for pathetic fallacy.
I knew at the time that 22 was very young to get married, but I felt certain I would beat the odds. I found it impossible to think that my husband and I would change very much, and even if we did, we’d change together, right? And love would conquer all.
“The rooms were musty, and the pipes were old. All that winter we shared a cold. Drank all the orange juice that we could hold. I do it for your love.”
The first house we lived in as a married couple was on Melbourne Street in Columbia, Mo. The heat went out twice a week all winter, and we’d have to get every blanket we owned and pile into the bed with our enormous puppy to stay warm. But we were newlyweds; there were worse things than being stuck in bed.
Every morning, I’d drive him to law school; every night, I’d cook him dinner. I tried out a million terrible recipes on poor Jamie, a true 1950s housewife cliché. I once served creamed chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower all together on a white plate. He ate it anyway.
As the months passed, my cooking improved, the puppy grew and grew and grew, and we found a house for sale in a bad part of town and bought it with every last penny in our account. I started my first real job at the University of Missouri Press. I got pregnant. I had my beautiful Ruby and took her home on Christmas Eve four years ago. Life was proceeding exactly as it was supposed to.
“The sting of reason, the splash of tears. The Northern and the Southern hemispheres. Love emerges, and it disappears. I do it for your love.”
And then it wasn’t. Then everything went wrong –– slowly, though, not all at once. There was the stress of a cross-country move. There was the strain of a baby who didn’t sleep through the night until after her third birthday. There was the stretch Jamie spent out of work; there was my tendency to be a workaholic. He never felt at home in New Orleans; I refused to consider moving back to the Midwest. We would fight; we would make up; we would fight; lather, rinse, repeat, until finally we didn’t even bother apologizing anymore and just lived in a constant state of tension. Uneasy peace became the new normal. We became strangers to each other: at best, polite but not intimate, at worst, hateful in the way that only an intimate can be.
“I’ve heard of walking on eggshells,” said my maid of honor, who herself had married and divorced since my wedding. “But you guys are living on eggshells.”
And so I moved out.
This isn’t a foreign scenario to anyone, really. So ubiquitous is divorce that the Huffington Post even has a brand-new divorce section full of advice columns, personal blogs, articles about the perils and joys of stepparenting and recent celebrity splits.
But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not awful. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen. My friends in Missouri are having their second babies by now, making second nurseries in the guest bedrooms of the homes they own. I have my almost-4-year-old nine days out of every 14 in a rented third-floor walkup. Watching my friends is an alternate reality, a constant reminder of where my life could be.
But it could also be so much worse. Jamie and I are friendly, Ruby is thriving, and we all know that just because we have two houses doesn’t mean we’re not a family.
Last Friday night, I couldn’t face the prospect of reading Love, Elmo to Ruby one more time, so at bedtime, I suggested instead that we drive around and look at Christmas lights.
“Sing me a song, Mommy,” she demanded, and I sang her normal bedtime song, “I Will” by the Beatles (“Love you forever … and forever. Love you with all my heart. Love you whenever we’re together; love you when we’re apart”). When she demanded more, I launched into a variety of Beatles and Jim Croce and Paul Simon songs, songs long-ago memorized, memorized in the days before my own parents’ divorce, when my dad would dance every night with me in his arms in our house on Ponce de Leon Street until I fell asleep on his shoulder. As we drove through City Park and out by the lake, I stumbled my way through “I Do It for Your Love.”
“I like that one,” she said drowsily, and then I started in on “St. Judy’s Comet,” and her eyes finally betrayed her, and she was asleep.
I sang the song again as I drove home, just to myself this time, marveling at how universal it was for something so personal, how simple it was for something so exquisitely painful.
The holidays are going to be rough this year. But even as we navigate our way through an awkward Christmas morning together for Ruby’s sake, I don’t think either one of us would change the past decade we spent together. For better and for worse, we became grownups together. We created a life together. We created Ruby together. And now, that’s all that really matters. We do it for her love.
This is my last blog for 2010, so I’m wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season, especially those who are in for a hard one this year for whatever reason.