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Digression of Marriage
“It’s final. From now on you are no longer married, you no longer live together, and you have no legal connections.”
The divorce attorney's words rang through Kate’s head, taking on a nightmarish, mocking quality, as she tried to sleep. No matter what she did, or whom she thought of, Kate simply could not stop replaying the events of the afternoon over and over. She knew that her marriage with Mark was slipping through her fingers like grains of sand. She knew that most marriages don’t work out, and that there was always next time. She knew that this would eventually end; didn’t she always? No, deep down in Kate’s head, she remembered. She remembered how they first felt, how they met, how things used to be. But when did everything fall apart? Now Mark is gone and all that remains is a shattered life, messy and complex. As Kate drifted to sleep, she remembered back, back to when life was good.
It was after she had graduated college that she met Mark, but her story began long before that.
* * *
Her junior year in college, studying French in Paris, Kate’s life was everything a twenty year-old could hope for: fast, classy, alluring, and yes, romantic. In the city of lights, Kate met her first real love, John. He traveled around painting scenes from the city. On a bright June day, John found Kate sitting in a park, and asked to paint her.
Before long, smiles flashed, eyes batted, phone numbers exchanged, and John and Kate planned a date. Tired of the city, they drove to the countryside, and cliché as it sounds; they had a picnic dinner and sat under the stars. At that point, Kate knew that John was different. Sure, Kate had her share of boyfriends, but this was special. The way he made her smile, the way his eyes sparkled, and the way he held her, was all different. This must be it, she thought to herself, lying under the stars, this must be what everyone talks about; this must be the big hype. And it was.
That summer, the two of them became inseparable. They explored the lush countryside, went boating in the wide Loire, and went sightseeing in the city. As August drew to a close, Kate and John sat, talking about what they would do come fall. Kate had to head home and go back to college in Maine, but John was not too sure. He wanted to stay in Paris, paint more, see more, experience more, live more. For him, the rush of the city and the grace and poise it possessed were greater than any one person. How could he give up this immortal fairy tale land for one mortal girl? It was impossible; he knew happiness would never find him.
That day, which started as any other day does, fresh and innocent, turned Kate’s life upside-down. No more could she carelessly sit with him, no more could she lose her self in him. If Kate thought it was hard to describe how much she loved John, it became truly impossible to describe how much she missed him. Kate knew that she would never find someone else. On that day, she felt her heart close. She felt life shrink. She felt herself go cold and distant. She knew, more than anyone at that time, the pain that love could cause. On that day, Kate promised to never allow herself to get hurt again. Upset and alone, Kate returned to America. She finished her studies in French and graduated, receiving a teaching job at a high school. For the next twenty years of her life, she remained free of any serious relationships, which is where her story with Mark begins, and we find her where she is today, in her bed, alone, after a divorce.
* * *
At this point in the night, Kate wakes up over her still raw emotions, which, even twenty years later, throb at the thought of John. As she gets up to find a midnight snack of peanut butter graham crackers, her mind drifts to Mark. She wonders what he is doing.
* * *
Outside the hotel room, the lights flicker, the hallway creaks, and the ceiling threatens to cave in at any second. Inside the room, Mark is not doing much better. He cannot understand what caused Kate to shy away from him. Before Kate, he had nothing, and after Kate, he wishes he still had nothing. Between the rattling of the air conditioner and the annoying red flash of the clock, reminding him that it is 3:52 in the morning, Mark cannot fall asleep. As he lies there, he thinks of all the things he wishes he could tell Kate, all the things he needs to tell her.
He would remind her of the first time they met, teaching in conjoined rooms. How she ran into his room before her first day there, frazzled, talking about how she locked herself out of the room, and could not open it. He would remind her of how shy and reserved she first was, but how he possessed something special that made her open up. He would remind her of their first date together, where they went water skiing on the Sebec Lake. He would remind her of their wedding, which started in chaos as a huge storm blew a tree over onto the entrance of the church, but ended in joy and tears. He would remind her of the day Lauren was born. That is what he would remind her of the most. How could she fall out of love and shatter their seven-year-old’s life and sense of security?
What hurt the most for Mark was not seeing this coming. He knew that Kate had her past, a major part still hurting for her last love, but he thought they worked around that. Mark’s optimism towards their budding relationship shined so bright that anything else was hidden in the shadows. Maybe it was their lack of communication, or their way of glossing over any imperfections that ended their marriage. He didn’t know, and this drove him crazy as he lay in bed. If only he had the nerve to ask her why it ended. How could he still be scared of his wife, even after ten years of marriage, he still could not get up the nerve to seriously sit down and talk. Sure, there had been many conversations, many late nights sitting, but they always resulted in Kate talking and Mark listening. Mark willingness to dust tiny fights and misunderstandings under the rug created an even bigger problem. One day he woke up, and found out he did not know his wife anymore.
Sure, Kate had always been distant, but what caused the sudden change? Mark thought to himself on that sleepless humid night. Little did he know, Kate had always been this way, he had just always turned a blind eye towards it. Now Mark replayed his memories of Kate, seeing them all in a new light.
* * *
After the first day of school fiasco, Mark and Kate sat in the teachers lounge and laughed about it over weak coffee and lunch. They did not talk about anything serious, as would be expected, and just made side conversation. Mark learned that Kate hates the color yellow, and Kate learned that Mark wants to move to the ocean one day. Mark could not get over something in Kates’ eyes that day; they seemed faraway and distant, which mesmerized Mark. He only wanted to know what secrets were behind her eyes, and why they shined the way they did. Eventually, Mark fell into a fitful sleep, full of ‘what ifs’ and doubt.
* * *
Let us not forget who is affected most by divorces. It’s not the parents, but the children. The children who blindly put their faith in their parents. The children who close up afterwards. Most importantly, the children who can’t understand or grasp what happened.
* * *
That next morning, Lauren woke up, ecstatic that it was a Saturday, which is synonymous for sleeping in, cartoons, and daddy’s special pancakes. She jumped into her parent’s bed as she always does, nestling in between both of them. Today was different. When she dove into the bed, half of it was cold. One side held her mom, but the other side held no one. She quickly woke her mom up, shouting that daddy had gone missing. Her mom turned over, bleary eyed, not exactly sure what happened. Lauren continued to push her mom, frantically hoping that her dad had just gone to the store to get eggs for breakfast. When her mom sat up, Lauren bombarded her with questions. Lauren needed to know where her dad was, why the bed was so cold, and when the pancakes would be ready. Lauren’s mom took her into her lap and told her they needed to talk, as one big girl to another.
Her mom started by saying that daddy and her had been arguing a lot, and they needed a timeout from each other. He is looking for a new home right now, and once he finds one, she can go visit. Lauren didn’t understand, she asked her mom why they did not kiss and make up, or use ‘I messages’, as she had been taught. Lauren’s mom told her that their situation had developed into something much more complicated. They tried to work things out, but they could not be happy together anymore.
As Lauren’s stomach growled, her thoughts on the half cold bed temporarily stopped. She asked her mom who would make breakfast for her, because Saturdays means special breakfast. Her mom smiled at her and told her that she could not cook, hence daddy always doing it, but they could start their own tradition of going out to eat on Saturdays. This caused Lauren to burst into tears. She didn’t want to go out to eat, she didn’t want new traditions; she wanted to be woken up to the smell of pancakes grilling and bacon sizzling.
* * *
When Kate was woken up that morning, she knew Lauren would be upset. She knew explaining everything to her could not be easy. She had no clue how bad it would be. The hardest was yet to come
* * *
Kate realized she could not dismiss her daughter’s fears as easily as she had hoped. She had been doing an okay job, until Lauren asked her why. Why had they decided to live apart from each other? Why did they not live ‘happily ever after’? Why had they gotten married if they were going to break apart? Kate tried to answer, explaining that life had gotten in the way. One day, she woke up to discover it was too difficult, life was too difficult, marriage was too difficult.
“You loved him, right?” Lauren wanted to know.
“At one point...you were in love?”
Her daughter’s question surprised Kate. Inside her own mind, she had tried to avoid that question. She knew that Mark and her had their differences, but she did love him. Looking into her daughter’s eyes, Kate found she could not say yes.
* * *
It was true, she thought, I loved him...I did! Why can’t I say that thought? Back when I met him, it worked. We were both teachers. We had a lot in common. He made me laugh and smile, and we worked well together. It was the sensible thing to do, she thought. I could feel age gaining on me, what if he was my only chance? Love though, what about love? Does sensibility and practicality count for anything? Those feelings equate to love in importance, right?
* * *
As Kate’s mind wandered, Lauren sat on the bed, impatiently waiting for an answer.
“Mom! Did you love him?”