On May 21st, 2000, my new husband and I dropped francs into a public phone near our Burgundian honeymoon rental. The goal: to call my sister, and ask her to read our New York Times Vows column aloud. Not socially connected WASPs, nor terribly distinguished, we had made it in thanks to a cheeky letter that I sent to Lois Smith Brady, describing our bohemian, East Village girl-meets-boy tale.
Our Vows column featured a photo of the two of us standing beside the lions in front of St. Marks' Church in the Bowery.
What was not revealed: my stepmother bursting into tears when she realized she forgot her good bra; my grandmother, who had dementia, stealing my tiara and somehow wedging it up her skirt; the look on my face when my mother decided to sing her toast to us a cappella.
Sadly, our marriage ended seven years later. Although it wasn't the result I had in mind, my ex and I went our separate ways with the intention of doing so gracefully, and have mostly been successful at that. We co-parent our two children, and have mostly been successful at that, too.
My father told me, right after the split, when I was sobbing so hard that my eyes swelled shut, "The year after your mother and I divorced was the unhappiest year of my life. But the years that came after that have been the happiest years of my life."
He was right. One didn't have to stay stuck in a gray epilogue of the soul. One could experience the soul-hosing, heart-strafing year and then move on.
When I came across the "State of the Unions" column in the New York Times, also written by Lois Smith Brady, I read it with interest. This sequel checked in with Vows couples years later.
She featured a couple who had gotten divorced, shared the challenges they experienced, and mentioned that they managed to stay friends. I thought it might be interesting to close our circle that way too. I asked my ex if he'd be interested in participating in this, and he said, "Sure!" I sent another letter to Brady, this time via email.
It was forwarded to an editor, who asked us if we could be in a State of the Unions video instead. "Yikes!" I thought. I'm reasonably photogenic, but I hate the way I look and sound on film. But... it seemed like a big opportunity to turn down. We agreed. Little did we know that they were especially keen to shove us into the video slot because they didn't yet have any divorced State of the Unions videos, as other divorced couples had declined to be featured.
The day of the interview, my ex and I met up in the East Village, and made our way to the reporter's apartment. We all took a walk together, visiting our old apartment, and the church where we were married. Then we went up to the reporter's apartment.
"Okay, we'd like you to sit here, next to each other, and we're going to film you reading your Vows column aloud. One of you can read the first half, and one of you can read the second." The reporter placed photocopies in front of us.
I began to scan it, and immediately felt my throat tighten. I definitely couldn't read the second half, which contained my quote about the children we would (and did) have. It would totally choke me up.
I also couldn't read the first half. That covered how we met. I felt the onset of a stinging swarm of tears, ready to fly out of my eyes. Well, no problem, I'd just tell them I couldn't read it.
"I can't. It's too sad." And then I cried anyway.
I fled into the little tiny urban bathroom, and splashed water on my face. As any divorced person knows, Big D grief is like the weather. Mine was teetering between a sun shower and a hurricane. I sat down, and put my head between my knees. And then I said a little prayer: "Please help me to do this."
When I finally emerged, the reporter took pity on me; she let my ex-husband read from the article and stuck to asking me questions. I was able to lock into storytelling mode, which steadied me. I mentioned that my new partner was a woman, and I saw the reporter's eyes light up. "Tell me more about that." And so the first State of the Unions divorce video also became the first video featuring a Vows bride who jumped the fence in pursuit of Sapphic delights.
Back in Santa Fe...
"I saw your video," an acquaintance said at school pickup. "In the New York Times." She smiled oddly. "I could never do that -- reveal my private life. What made you want to do that?"
Was she trying to shame me?
This was the same person who had blurted out, right after our split, "When people don't know why a couple's getting divorced, they just make things up," which was an unsettling thing to hear. She seemed to have an issue both with being private and not being private enough.
"I felt that we could share our story and help others," I said. "I'm a journalist -- I share information. I don't feel like I have to hide things. Even if sometimes, it's hard." I slapped on my best Teflon smile and stood there, beaming at her, until she backed away.
Like so many other couples, we were thrilled to be featured in the Vows column. Unlike other divorced couples, we were also willing to be featured in the State of the Unions video. So we're not the most typical people you'll ever meet, but we're also maybe on to something: there is value in examining dissolution, and merit in bearing witness to the flip side of happily ever after.
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