A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. -Samuel Johnson
Five days after running the NYC Marathon, I shoved clothes in a suitcase and caught a plane to Washington DC for a conference. I knew I was going to bump into a number of people I had once known, and I was dreading it. Was I going to forget all about my revelations from the week prior?
I arrived at Reagan Airport on Thursday and instantly, awkwardly ran into someone I hadn’t seen since law school graduation. The next day, among a cluster of people I’d once known, I faced uncomfortable moments made more awkward by my snark. Accusations that were couched as “jokes.” Inquires that felt too personal. After a while, I had to give myself a timeout.
Washington was filled with ghosts.
I was staying at a hotel at the intersection of familiar streets, near a church I’d once attended. And on my timeout, I walked through the painful places I knew best: past the UPS Store from which I’d mailed my separation papers; past my old office on M Street where I’d gone to take a conference call to Hong Kong after the papers had been sent. I traipsed farther down M Street, over the bridge, into Georgetown — past the restaurant where Andrew and I had had our first date, and where we’d celebrated our engagement. The place where the ring I’d just sold had once been brand new and the chef had poured us celebratory champagne.
I messaged my friend Dileep.
Do you want to have dinner tonight? I could use a friend.
So dinner it was — dinner and lots of wine. I was agitated, maudlin; a sad drunk of proportions rivaling my undergraduate days, when Legs and I would cry in our beers while eating cheese fries and watching Golden Girls reruns, debating which roommate among us was Blanche, Rose, Dorothy.
(Somehow, I was always the Dorothy.)
Why do the men I am with keep telling me I’m unlovable? Am I unlovable? I must be. I suppose I need to reframe my thinking and become okay with being…alone.
I’d had way too much to drink and was on a tear. And then my ex-husband, out of the blue, sent me a message:
I just found in my cummerbund the love note you wrote me on the first day of spring, 2006.
I had tucked years’ worth of lovenotes into his things; surprises meant to sustain a marriage. Divorce had intervened; the notes remained — remain — I wasn’t sure he’d even found them all yet. He’d always accused me of not being a romantic; he just didn’t know me very well.
And at that point, gentle readers, instead of feeling heartened and fortified by the previous weekend’s revelations, I had a relapse of batshit crazy.
I proceeded to send a series of messages to my supportive friends in which I took responsibility for things that had not been my fault and demanded that they learn from my public and awful mistakes. Mistakes I had not, in fact, fully and/or actually made, but of which I had been accused earlier in the day.
Dileep drove me back to my hotel, and feeling defeated, I went to bed.
The next morning, I woke up late for an alumni event. I had wine-sweaters on my teeth that no amount of brushing could remove. It was too late to wash my hair. I was insecure about the way I looked — what else was new?! But the breakfast program was lovely; the company was even better. It was nice to hear stories of successes. It was nice to share an honest account of my own roundabout journey. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t had to spend the previous two days being so damned awkward. We were far enough removed from our competitive law school days to now be more vulnerable with each other. Life was happening. We weren’t being graded on a curve anymore.
I left the breakfast, and the conference, and went out for a run along the Potomac.
Staring at the water, passing the Boathouse, I began to calm down. For one thing, my old colleagues knew my history, and they still seemed to think I was an okay person. Hmm. For another thing, my ex had known exactly who I would see at the conference (he was a member of the same organization) and he’d blasted me from the past anyway.
Was it him and not me that was the problem here? That thought had never occurred to me.
I ran back to the hotel, finished out the conference day; met up with old friends and new friends, then Dileep drove me to Dulles to catch my flight out of town.
We should do this more often, he said, This thing where we get to see each other for more than just an hour or two in a weekend.
Agree, I said, then I hugged him goodbye and I was off.
I cleared security, then sat in the lounge waiting for my flight, issuing apologies for my distressed messages the night before. I probably shouldn’t have gone to Washington in the first place. But in going, I’d stripped away another layer of junk left behind by a painful decade. True, life had gone on because hope had persisted. But realizing I had never actually failed in the first place — that was the triumph of hope over experience.
And while it wasn’t a second marriage, it was maybe a second chance to have relationships with people I’d been too scared to even know in a previous life; a real chance to start new ones with people I was just beginning to know.