A few months ago my friend Terrence sent this photo he put together, the one on the left is from my wedding 5 years ago, the one on the right is from Horn Island this past May. I could be two entirely different human beings, and I am. I see myself on the left and see a stranger looking back at me. I’m 40 pounds heavier, I’m working all the time, I’m sunlight deprived and stressed about how we are going to pay for this wedding, how we are going to make our mortgage with all these expenses.
So this is a powerful anniversary day for myself, on many many levels. I have a hard time keeping up with dates, but Facebook reminded me that I have 500 memories with 500 people today, so I steeled myself and looked.
I see myself 5 years ago on my wedding day. I am smiling hard, trying to be on, I’m exhausted by all the Martha stylists primping and prepping and photographers spinning around. I understand why people hold such strong emotion around their wedding day, the concentration on you, that fleeting feeling of being important, of being the star for just a day.
It’s temporal. Just like these photos, just like my marriage, just like all of life. But we sell it hard. We sell that day, we sell that promise and that hope of a love eternal. A love that will carry you through until your dying day…that the last person you will see on this earth is the one holding your hand as they slip on the wedding ring. I thought I saw through these industry lies, I was incredibly cynical having seen some of the most entitled people on earth get married, competing with friends for who could be more lavish and more often than not, marrying for money, not for love.
I married for love, that’s what I wanted to believe. Somehow, despite my years of witnessing the happily-ever-after lie our wedding industry propagated, I came to believe that my own marriage meant something. Here we were, two men who had worked in an industry we couldn’t participate in for years, finally, legally able to marry. But in retrospect I can’t tell if I was actually happy about us getting married or more about being surrounded by our friends and family from the past 20 years together.
Two years later to this day I would be packing our house by myself, we had sold it and had to be out by the 31st, but my ex had a previous engagement in Europe and then decided to meet his young lover there and add a couple days to the trip. I knew about the lover, but didn’t know it was serious, that they were making plans. We were also about to close on a new house that he insisted he wanted...reassuring me he wouldn't be buying that house if he didn't want to save our marriage. I found out his lover was secretly going to meet him at a huge industry event in Guatemala he had to be at a day after returning from Europe, one I was originally going to attend but was too busy packing our house. He promised nobody would know his lover was there, but two days later a truly despicable colleague of his posted several Instagram photos of him and his young lover being intimate at the party. The following day I would be driving away from him, away from the new house, from NYC and from the life I had known for 22 years.
I’m smiling in many of my wedding photos, some sincerely, some not. For years we had carefully curated this existence on social media, so it was fascinating that it would ultimately be our downfall. I wanted to believe in those images, that we were “that couple”. I didn’t want to believe we were anything less than utterly, tragically, beautifully human.
Ironically, an acquaintance stopped me on the street that day to tell me that Martha Stewart had reposted our wedding photos on our 2 year anniversary. "You two are SO IN LOVE! It makes me sick!" she said as I forced a smile.
I hesitated to reveal any of these details after everything fell apart. I didn’t want to appear any more weak or vulnerable than I already felt, much less vindictive or bitter. I wanted my departure to be purely revelatory, a proactive embarkation to discover my authentic self. I wanted my triumphant Oprah moment…I wanted to show the world, and him, that I was strong. I wanted to take the high road even though my silence mainly benefitted him. I felt that speaking against him was feeding bad energy or would make me intolerable to the people I was getting to know. I didn’t want to become that person who never gets over their greatest heartbreak. I didn’t want to be boring and I most certainly did not want to give it any more power then was already taken. I was already damaged goods, I thought, no need to make it worse.
I wept many of the miles I drove, but slapped on that insincere, strained smile everywhere I landed…the same smile you see on the left. One of the many things you have to decompress from is the inordinate amount of smarmy insincerity it takes to survive in certain NYC circles. I still catch myself smiling unnecessarily.
I’ve gone through many stages of grief in the last 3 years, rebuilding my confidence and my ability to trust again, so I can now look at these photos with a degree of fascination, with a degree of distance that helps me parse so much about the stranger I see smiling back at me. I want to tell him that it’s OK to be vulnerable and scared. It’s OK to let go, to follow your bliss in your mid-40’s, to start over. It’s also OK to be angry, to speak truth to injustice…and to be alone.
I would later hear that he took some credit for my emancipation. See, Jack’s life is better! I simply had to do what I did for the both of us. The end justifies the means.
And much of that is true, but the problem is that wasn’t the original plan at all. He wanted me in that new house, he wanted me to stay right where I was. I would have been financially and emotionally imprisoned. That was his choice for me because that’s what he thought I needed, security above all things. I believe he thinks he did that out of love for me, but it became something else, something pitiable.
Thankfully I woke up. I left. I will not be pitied. I made my decision. As deeply as I loved him it was not going to be enough.
Thank the universe, thank the gods, thank the heavens and all creation. My life is beautiful and adventurous. I can take time off to make art or just freaking meditate in the forest. My life is also tough and heartbreaking, I still find myself mourning, I still find myself struggling. And all are OK. My life is everything it wasn’t before in the safety of our projected Instagram bubble, and I no longer need to share every detail or cautiously curate via social media in order to control what other’s think or believe of me.
Yet here I am, sharing, all gritty and worn. Vulnerable but stronger. Wounded but wiser than before.
I share my messy truth on this messy anniversary. I share this with you.