I was really nervous because the moment felt so big.
Not because I was afraid to marry her.
But because there were all these people. People from every corner of my disjointed life. And they were all there, staring back at me.
There in the front row to my left were my mom and dad. And my stepparents. Both remarried for many years because they couldn’t get their marriage right and I didn’t want to be like them.
Just behind them? My grandparents. Married 50 years. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
To my right were her parents. They didn’t know me very well because we were living faraway in Florida. And there was her older brother I’d only just met. And all her many aunts and uncles, friends and extended family.
Everyone in the room was wondering: Are they going to make it?
I was thrilled to be marrying her. Gorgeous every day, but especially that day. They coined the term “marrying up” for guys just like me.
I wanted to get it right for my grandparents. Married all those years. Walking the walk.
I wanted to get it right for her father. Giving away his little girl to a guy he couldn’t possibly trust but treated like gold, anyway.
I wanted to get it right for me. To prove I’m good enough. Smart enough. Capable enough.
To prove I was up to the task of shedding the dysfunction of my past and creating a new life for myself with the person I chose. With the person who chose me.
The wedding is a blur in my memory bank.
Gorgeous church. Super-fun reception. All the right guests.
I smiled at her when I slid the ring onto her finger. Feeling the foreignness of cold metal for the first time on mine. My wedding band, which still is laying at the bottom of my sock drawer because I wouldn’t sell it. Not because I believe my life would be better if I was still wearing it. But because those years really mattered. No matter what, they mattered.
The ring stays.
I do remember one thing.
I spoke the words with purpose.
‘Til death do us part.
I meant that shit, babe. I hope you know that. I did a bad job. But I totally meant it.
Ten Years Later
My brain’s having a little trouble wrapping itself around the idea that it was 10 years ago today.
An entire lifetime, it feels like.
But one giant blur, too.
Time is constant. But it has a magical ability to feel excruciatingly slow and unfairly fast all at the same time.
As the clock keeps ticking, everyone keeps healing. Exactly 51 weeks ago today, we finalized our divorce, forever changing the course of several lives.
Everyone’s still just trying to figure out this new rhythm of life. It’s an awkward dance. You want to be a graceful dance partner, but now the steps are unfamiliar and there’s no touching allowed.
Everyone watching is still a little unsure, too. Her family has always treated me very well, but no one knew what to say when we saw each other for the first time in more than year at my son’s birthday party earlier this summer.
One of them was one of the best men I know. Her uncle.
When we lost my ex-wife’s father, this man, who just lost his brother, looked at me and said: “You take care of that little girl.”
I didn’t hesitate.
“I will,” I told him. “Promise.”
And then I didn’t. Because I didn’t know how to be selfless during my greatest test as a husband. As a father. As a man.
I thought I was putting her first. But I wasn’t. I just wanted her to get over it and treat me like the most important person in her life again without doing anything to earn it.
We’re in a good place now, I think. As good a place as we can possibly be considering all that’s been lost. Felt. Screamed. Cried. Written. Done.
We’re our son’s mom and dad. A job both of us take very seriously. And I think she’s exceptional at it. And I hope she at least considers me adequate.
My one final chance at redemption with her. That she can go to sleep at night when her son isn’t home with a peaceful heart. Knowing I’ve got her back. That our son is safe.
If time can be both fast and slow, then I think my marriage can be both the worst and best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I think I can choose to focus on the good.
I think I can take comfort in the fact that all these paths are leading somewhere, and when I reach that next trailhead in life and things start taking shape, I’m going to be able to look back on the journey with the benefit of hindsight and understand why things had to be the way they are.
Can you have massive regrets, and no regrets at the same time?
On my 10-year wedding anniversary that isn’t, I say I get to do whatever I want.
If I could, I’d go back and do many things differently.
But. I also wouldn’t change too much because of all the good things that came from these past 10 years.
All that beauty.
Because without the veil of pain hanging between now and the past, I can see so much good.
Lots of regrets.
But no regrets.
It doesn’t have to make sense. Because I understand.
So, here’s a toast: To the girl I married, and the woman I share a child with. A gorgeous child. My lifeblood. Thank you so much for him.
You’re going to have a beautiful life. And maybe I am, too.
Happy anniversary, sweetheart.
I’m sorry I couldn’t buy you anything.
I totally mean that shit, too.