Two years ago today, I signed my separation papers.
I moved out in April of that year; went back to Washington. There was no legal agreement between us. That whole spring and summer, I knew it was coming. It was an unconscious knowing, but some part of me understood that I had to try divorce on for size before I took the plunge — the same way people co-habitate and play-act at a marriage before they make an investment in rings.
One thing I’ve noticed in doing as many post-mortems on my marriage as I have done is that things come in-and-out of focus. Things that seemed like deal-breakers at the time of the split are non-issues after the fact; things that were the norm read like a horror movie script years later. And some things, never noticed, become blindingly clear.
Take, for instance, the tic. My ex-husband had a nervous twitch. In seven years together, I never noticed it. Not once. It wasn’t until after we split up that I was even vaguely aware of its existence, and even then, it was pointed out to me by my gay high school sweetheart, who met him only once.
But the mechanics of my separation — the legal part of it — seem more complex on some reflections; seem simple upon others. I always think I can pinpoint one moment when I knew it was all done, but there were many: that day in Hong Kong in the lobby of the InterContinental; that day in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand; etc. But those were always moments together, and the ones in which the mechanism by which I had to leave began heaving, grinding, moving into place — those moments were spent mostly alone.
One swampyhot District day, I found myself in the middle of a furniture showroom, buying my beloved slate-colored sofa, and I knew it was over, I just didn’t know how to make it end. A woman coming home to her husband — to their one-bedroom Tribeca apartment with nautical-New England-decor — does not buy a midcentury modern sofa.
By the time I bought the sofa, in June, I was wrecked — with my job’s domestic travel schedule, and with the burden of knowing what had to change. I was desperate to answer the question: Should I stay or should I go? Marriage counseling, for its part, didn’t ever ask or answer that.
Every marriage counselor will tell you: I wish you’d come to me sooner. But how are you supposed to know you need counseling before you have a problem? Are you just supposed to start seeing a shrink the minute you slip on a ring?
June became July, and July became August, and by that point, I was ready. Andrew and I agreed that I would come home over the weekend following the Epic East Hampton Disaster of 2009 and he would present me with two things: 1) a list of actions he’d take to save our marriage (which included, inter alia, taking and staying on his meds) and, in the alternative, 2) separation papers. I was to choose. I went home to New York; put on Linda Thompson’s “Versatile Heart” record; never fully looked at either document; held my breath.
I went back to Washington that night — to my mostly-empty apartment containing only my parsons tables and my new couch. Everything was different, but nothing had changed. I signed the papers at Rhode Island Avenue and M Street NW the next morning; not far from where he’d once handed me a ring in his car.
It was done.
When it was over, I had no sense of what was “mine” anymore. Even still, I am more aware of those little things that I lost — the hornspoons; the olive picks; the nice umbrellas — than I am about some of the bigpicture things I gave up. But who uses hornspoons? I’m allergic to olives. Umbrellas can be replaced. And I accused him for two years of taking the melon baller, only to find that I’d had it in my kitchen drawer the whole time.
Two years later, I know that we were just two wounded people making the best choices we could on the information we had. I still believe wholeheartedly in marriage; I still believe in that beautiful, wonderful, imperfect love between two people when they decide to make it work (which is sometimes peppered with fierce attraction, and cinematic moments which, in my case, may or may not involve hotels and/or airports).
To boil my post-mortems down to a simple analysis: I’ve learned that he and I couldn’t agree on how to make it work; wouldn’t discuss the work; assumed the other knew how things worked; were afraid to look stupid because we thought the other knew more about how it should work.
What I now know is that the world, and love, and everything else all spin on spoken and unspoken agreements to make things work. And required therein is the hopeful willingess to occasionally look stupid.