Before you’re married twice

My mama had some key phrases that she used regularly in response to certain situations.  For example, when my sister or I were complaining or whining about something fairly (in retrospect) insignificant, she would say, “You’ll get over it before you’re married twice.”

I don’t know where she got that phrase.  I never heard any of my aunts say it, just my mama.  But to this day, it sticks in my head and I find it bouncing around in there whenever someone around me is grumbling about something small.

As a young girl, I used to think that her statement didn’t make any sense.  If she was trying to tell me that I would soon be over my anguish, well then, telling me that I would be over it before I was married twice caused me great confusion.  Since I would never be married TWICE, I would obviously have to spend the rest of my life working through my heartache.

I knew very few people who had divorced parents.  I had one cousin whose parents were divorced, but we never talked about.  None of my friends had parents that were divorced, and if any of the other kids in my classes had divorced parents, I didn’t know about it.  In my very protected little world, divorce just wasn’t a known entity.

So, it was with authority that I would reply, “Then I’ll always be unhappy because I’ll never be married twice!”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

At the age of 42, I have not been married twice.  But this is not a result of being so smart and emotionally mature that I just waited for the exact right person.  No, it’s the result of things not working out the way that I wanted them to.  I would have married a man who I dated in my 20s, and I am fairly certain that it wouldn’t have lasted.  It’s only stubbornness on his part that prevents me from being married twice.

Matt and I just celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary.  Each year has had its challenges.  Each year has had its joys.  And no matter how much you are advised that marriage is work, you can’t appreciate how much work until you are in one.  I couldn’t appreciate the blessings, either.

I hope this is Matt and me in 40 years.

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Speaking of marriage, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at my mama’s house.  My Aunt Baby, Uncle Joe and cousin Judson came over on Christmas Eve.  During the evening, the topic of “John and Jill Doe” arose.

mama:  You could be like John and Jill Doe that got divorced after 42 years of marriage.

me:  Who are John and Jill Doe?

mama:  They used to live across the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mama and Daddy.  They got divorced after 42 years.

Judson:  Why after 42 years?

Baby:  Because John stayed in the bed drunk all day while Jill worked.

me:  And that had been going on for 42 years?

mama:  Yes.

Matt:  Well, what happened after 42 years?

Baby:  Jill got tired of John staying in bed reading westerns, being drunk all day, while she had to work.

me:  Yeah, but why did she put up with it for 42 years and then decide enough was enough?

mama:  Maybe she figured he was never going to change.

Joe:  I’ll say one thing.  John is a better man than me.  If I were in bed drunk, I couldn’t read.  That would be too much for me.  Maybe TV, but definitely no reading.

3 Years

Today is the 3rd anniversary of my dad’s death.  It’s a weird day.  Because in many ways, it’s just like any other day.  I’ve come to work, I’m attending meetings, I’m eating lunch with friends.  Just another day.

But at the back of my mind is a niggle, a little “mind worm” that won’t go away, that today is different, that today is out of the ordinary.

I have no idea what I am going to write about, but I just know that I can’t let this day pass without marking it somehow.

My personal milestone moment, that 9/11 moment–you know, the moment where everything changes for you and you begin to mark time as “that happened before the event” and “that happened after the event” — my personal milestone moment happened after lunch when my mom called me at work to tell me that my dad had died earlier that day.  I remember exactly what I said to her.  I remember everything that I did from that point forward that day.  I feel like my life changed at that moment:  before she called, I had two parents; after she called, I didn’t have a father anymore.

My dad was one of a kind — funny, charming, generous, smart, talented, charismatic — but he wasn’t the kind of father that you saw on Andy Griffith or The Cosby Show.  He wasn’t around much while I was growing up and hardly at all in my adult years, and as a result my relationship with my dad seemed so very complex while he was still alive.  I spent hours and days feeling mad at, frustrated at, exasperated by, amused by, responsible for, and sometimes even rejected by my father.  These were tough emotions to handle and so I often just didn’t handle them — my response was to isolate myself from my dad for periods of time in order to avoid the “icky” feelings.  My dad, sensing something was wrong, wouldn’t do any better job at reaching out to me, so long periods of time could pass without us talking.  (I inherited my avoidance skills from him, as well as a lot of other traits.)

When he died, he and I hadn’t spoken for several months.  This has become one of the biggest regrets that I have — that I let, that we let, our shared habit of avoiding uncomfortable subjects keep us from talking to each other.

Because, what I have realized over the last 3 years is that, in the end, my relationship with my father wasn’t as complicated as I allowed it to become.  He loved me and I loved him.  The feelings that he could invoke in me could be complicated, but the love is uncomplicated.

I don’t feel guilty anymore for “not being a better daughter”.  I am not angry at him anymore for the things that  I think “he should have done”.  What I am is sad that we don’t have any more time together.  I can still hear his laugh, like it’s in my ear.  I can still hear how he said my name when he would first see me, drawing out the first syllable, “Criiiiiii-sty!”  I can see him sitting on the couch, watching TV, with his legs up and crossed, his hands folded up behind his head, his one foot wiggling (I do the same thing).  I miss him.

I think about him a lot, and one of the gifts that I have been given is that I think about him so often on beautiful days.  I delivered an eulogy (click here) for Tom at his memorial service and I used a quote from the Bible to describe how he lived his life:

Psalm 118:24  This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it

Tom lived his life as each day was a day for rejoicing and living fully.  Now, every beautiful, sunny day, this Bible verse automatically pops into my head.  And I think, “I love you, Tom.”