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Heather Sellers

Heather Sellers

Posted: November 8, 2010 01:19 PM

Happily Divorced Ever After

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My marriage to Dave was brief, our divorce painful. Now my ex-husband is my closest friend. We're happily divorced ever after.

*

Dave and I walk into Blue Star Antiques. Somehow, we are holding hands.

Bill beelines over, beaming. "The happiest divorced couple in West Michigan!" he says. He always says this. There's been talk of an election, an award, a plaque for me and Dave, Best Divorced Couple. "What are you two looking for?"

We do not know.

We do not know what we are looking for. Maybe that's a good thing. Boundaries, closure -- if we were cattle ranchers, that certainty would be vital. But can there be more room for the free-ranging complexity of love?

Maybe Dave and I aren't looking for anything. Maybe we've found a singular good way to love each other in the world.

*

I have a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. That thing we all have, forgetting names, I have with faces. I can't remember any face, ever, not even for a second. It's not a vision problem. If I am looking at you, I see your face. But if I look away, I can't conjure an image of your face. I have no idea what my own face looks like. I can't find myself in photos or video.

When I met Dave, I didn't know I was face blind, but I knew something was wrong with me. I suspected mental illness. I just wanted whatever it was to stop happening to me. I wanted a normal life. I wanted a family.

I found Dave on Match.com, in the dial-up days. His was the first profile I clicked on. Bit by bit, his photo banded onto my screen, a roller shade coming down slowly. By the time his forehead arrived, I'd already emailed him.

The internet connection had been slow, but the Dave connection, in person, was instant. He was raising his young sons on his own. On the fourth date, he told me his first wife, their mother, had been severely mentally ill. The bar for normal was set reassuringly low.

Dave was kind, steady, generous. He never criticized, never yelled at his boys, never lost patience. He always seemed to see what we needed, even before we did. When I walked up to the wrong man at the grocery store, putting my arm around this stranger's waist, Dave came up and took my hand. "Sweetheart, we're actually over here." When I introduced myself to him at a party, he simply said, "It's me, honey. It's your Dave."

We watched television, and he knew who was who, even after costume changes. I was in awe of his powers of recognition. He said he was just normal. I thought he was being Midwest modest.

Soon, I proposed marriage. "Are you sure?" he said. I was not at all sure. We disagreed on many things -- Ron Paul, guns, money, table manners. But in my whole life, I'd never been certain of anything. I was used to overriding my doubts, pretending to know.

We married, in the basement of the county courthouse. In the photos, orange curtains over the tiny windows dip and unravel. I recognize me by the white dress. I look happy, cold, and panicked.

And then I stumbled across two words that would change my life: "face recognition." I found my way to Harvard University's face blindness research lab, and to diagnosis: I was off the charts face blind. Suddenly, the terrible isolation I'd felt my whole life was knowable. There was no cure, no therapy, no solution. But I wasn't crazy. It was just faces! I no longer needed to live in shadow.

But uprooting my deepest fear -- that I was mentally ill -- turned out to uproot my marriage. I discovered I literally hadn't known who I was when Dave and I wed. I didn't recognize myself, deeply. Much as it sounded like a shabby, cliché midlife crisis, I had to find out who I had become.

I told Dave I couldn't be married anymore. I couldn't look him in the eye when I said these words. I filled out divorce papers, but delayed filing for months. Through it all, Dave and I held hands. Shared meals. I hovered over the boys' homework. He listened to me as I put together the story of my life.

In the truest sense, Dave saw me through all this. And as I faced who I was, I saw him more clearly too. He wasn't meant to be my husband. He isn't my soul mate. Our love is something more special, more rare.

It's daily. Dave calls me when he wants to know what flower is blooming with purple glory in his backyard. He tracks my sales rankings on amazon.com, checks on my chipmunk problem. It's Dave I call when my father falls ill; together we Skype him and my dad's face lights up when he sees Dave. Over Christmas, we go see Jacob, grown now, at his submarine base. When we arrive, Jacob says into his cell phone, "Dude, gotta go. My parents are here." Now, in the photos of us all together, we all look strong, calm, happy. We fit.

I wish there was a word for what we are to each other; divorced doesn't fit us. I love Dave the way I love church. He creates a space in which everything is clear, where mystery itself makes sense, is essential. We love each other for better and for worse -- divorce being the worst. I can't remember what he looks like, but I recognize him, deeply.