Yesterday was the first day in seven months that I’ve had contact with my ex-husband, because the IRS is auditing us and it was absolutely unavoidable. A situation, by the way, that turned out just fine and was ultimately empowering, and includes Beyonce’s song “Single Ladies” coming on the radio just as I was racing to FedEx to overnight the documents for the IRS that arrived late from my ex-husband (word to the wise: FedEx time-sensitive materials versus sending them cross-country via USPS, especially around a national holiday when the post office closes) and giving myself a stern “no, you will not breakdown over this/keep it together, Valentine” talking to. Which I will tell you more about in a later post, because it’s an excellent story, and growth mile-marker.
This is the ex-husband who, after telling me on a Wednesday seven months ago that he was having a baby with another woman, ended the conversation by promising to call me in a week and a half—that next Friday, the day our divorce was final—the day on which, he explained, he had been planning on telling me that he was having a baby with this other woman and was moving out of the house we had shared and therefore I’d soon be receiving boxes and boxes of my books and old pictures and other things that were still in that house.
But, I accidentally thwarted this plan, because as we were about to hang up the phone—on a call that was not intended to be about babies, but instead logistical divorce details and would end up being our last, because he never did make that Divorce Day call, —I said, jokingly: “just don’t go and get pregnant on me.”
This was, of course, in reference to my ex-fiancé, the story of which he knew well—how five years ago, my ex-fiancé met a woman who sold naked pictures of herself online, unexpectedly and immediately got pregnant, and then never spoke to me again. Literally, never spoke to me again. Which, because we had ended on such great terms and still had such a strong friendship, I didn’t even realize was happening until I heard the news through a mutual friend—I was giving him the benefit of the doubt for not responding to my Happy Thanksgiving text message, or the voice mail about me having finally set up my 401k as he’d been recently prodding me to do (rightly so). He traveled a tremendous amount for work, so I’d assumed he was just busy, and didn’t give it much thought.
On the day that I got the news that it wasn’t coincidental, by way of a phone call from our mutual friend, asking if I had heard details about this new woman in his life, because my ex-fiancé had been “acting differently and she doesn’t seem like a good fit for him and he’s sort of cut off contact with everyone,” I was sitting in a muted business hotel room in Portland, Oregon, preparing for the client meeting I had flown in to attend.
It was then, with a forkful of room service Ahi tuna salad headed toward my mouth, that I checked my personal email as we were talking, because there was a link my friend wanted me to see, to accompany this conversation. A link to the woman’s MySpace page (it was five years ago, guys). Which I clicked on.
And there she was: Bent over, sneering at the camera, and wearing the most wretched, hideous white platform heels with a buckled ankle strap. Not even the typical Lucite stripper shoes—these were just super tacky ugly. And for a moment, as I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t sure which I was more disturbed by: the fact that my former beloved was eschewing his friends and family and behaving uncharacteristically as a result of his relationship with a woman who sold naked photos of herself on the internet, or a woman who would wear those shoes.
But, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
This story doesn’t actually begin in front of a laptop, perched on the faux deco desk of a business hotel room in Portland, Oregon, five years ago. Instead, it begins in the deep chill of winter, ten years ago, in my friend April’s warm Portland, Maine kitchen where I am holding a man’s hand.
Well, not holding his hand, exactly. We are shaking hands hello, nice to meet you, but time has stopped, as is wont to do at the most inconvenient of moments. And while our hands are mid-shake, and I’m holding his brown-eyed gaze for what feels like a full hour, I’m thinking: Him? No, not him.
My initial hesitation about my ex-fiance during that split-second size up had very little to do with him. It was simply that he was the wrong him, in the wrong place. Because, as far as I knew, I was going to meet the man of my dreams in Europe, most likely France—for obvious reasons, the most potent of which being, you know, it’s France—and there would be lots of cashmere involved and witty banter, and he would most certainly have an accent. And it would be at least six years from then, because I was just about to turn twenty, and as far as I was concerned, there was nothing less glamorous than being betrothed so soon out of teenage-hood.
But, there was also the letter. A letter written in my childhood, which I had long ago lost, but contents I could recite from memory:
Hi. Do not, under any circumstances, get married when you are young. No matter how in love you think you are. Just wait—there’s no rush. Don’t be an idiot. No, really.
I had penned this letter to myself at the ripe age of ten, after watching a particularly worrisome episode of Oprah about young love gone awry. I got the message, loud and clear: do not get married young. Doing so will only ruin lives. Destroy families. Lead you to appear on National television, blubbering and smearing streaks of mascara all over your face. No, thank you. I didn’t need Oprah or her shoulder pads to tell me twice. I rose from the couch, leaving my mother to finish watching her daily dose, and headed to my room.
Chewing on the side of my peach-scented pencil, I pondered about my future self, and the best way to reach her. What could I say that would cut through the apparent psychosis that befell those in love?
The women on Oprah seemed like completely rational people, aside from the fact that they had insisted on moving forward with a romance that reeked of bad decisions that were as pungent as the motor grease on their new husband’s stained, car-loving hands. Aside from the fact that they said things like: well, I know he doesn’t have a job yet, and we’re still living in my parent’s garage, but I love him! And he’s promised to stop drinking with his friends every night, once the baby comes. Did I mention, I love him?
This love worried me. It robbed the wives of all common sense. The women in the audience, the young wives’ mothers, who had brought them on the show, even the normally unbiased Oprah—they were all equally incredulous. And yet, the young wives were unmovable, unable to place any real importance in the immature, impossible actions of their equally young husbands, unable to let any common sense shine on their love. They just repeated their mantra, over and over again: but, I love him. As if that mattered, I thought. As if that mattered at all.
I would be spared this fate, I was sure, because I had been warned by the Gospel of Oprah, to which I could also credit my grasp of the Electric Slide. But, I wondered, as I continued to chew on my pencil, how could I guarantee that the blindness of love wouldn’t rob me of this knowledge? I needed a mental version of a chastity belt, something that would protect me from the false lure of irrational love. And, being ten, I created the most tangible reminder I could think of: a letter. I opened my Anne of Green Gables notebook, and put scented lead to paper. I paused at the end, erasing the “Love” I had initially signed off with. I replaced it with “Sincerely” hoping that word choice would convey a sense of solemnity, showing my future self that although only ten, I meant business. Serious, serious business.
Well, a lot of good that did.