July 31st would have been our nineteenth anniversary. I remember it most years, usually in passing, looking up the day’s appointments in my calendar, or writing it across the corner of a check. This year, I knew it on waking. Nineteen years. It seems so much longer ago than all the years before. John Prine got it right: “Time don’t fly–it bounds and leaps.”
When we separated, I didn’t take much — a few boxes, mainly wedding keepsakes. I had no idea what to do with any of it, so I left it all in a storage shed on my mother’s summer property, thinking I would deal with it someday.
Someday came this summer, when my mother sold her land while the kids and I were visiting. While Mom took the kids down to the beach to play, I swung open the shed door and walked into the tomb of another life.
It was surprisingly, nauseatingly difficult.
I cringed to see myself again at that age, so obsessively, willfully focused on getting my way. So caught up in all the wrong things. Every blue jewelers box was a time capsule of tacky pretension. When I opened one to find a stack of gift tags and cards, I thought I would throw up from shame. How could I have roped so many lovely people into my own personal disaster?
I found the wedding vows I scripted. Did I really include quotes from The Prophet? Of course I did.
I started throwing things into garbage sacks as fast as I could. Anything to get out that shed, and away from that foolish girl I’d been nineteen years ago.
Then I noticed my grandmothers in one of the group photos. They were both alive then, the last time I would ever be with both of them together. There were my parents, divorced by then, but united and jubilant at the center of a circle of lifetime friends. There was my sister, so young and so pretty, in spite of the horrible bridesmaid’s dress I made her wear. There was a haiku a poet friend had written that morning and slipped into my hand. A photo in a heart-shaped frame of a young couple in an undeniably passionate kiss. A small bundle of letters addressed to me that I had forgotten about, and read then, as if for the first time.
There is the story we tell ourselves in order to live, to make sense of our experiences. But there is also the story that gets lost in the telling, no less true.
I couldn’t throw it all away.
I kept back a representative sample of the day in pictures. The cards and letters from my grandmothers. The haiku.
I threw out the scrapbook, the satin souvenir garter, the gift tags, the guestbook, the honeymoon souvenirs and the white leather studio album my ex-husband wanted to burn one night. “Excellent idea,” our marriage therapist said to him, after I tattled, certain of winning sympathy. That marriage was over, he explained. Whether we stayed together or separated, we needed to let it go, and move on. It took years for me to realize what wise advice it was.
I took the wedding vows and the bundle of letters down to the rocky beach on the opposite side of the point from where Mom and the children were, and I burned them as I said a prayer.
Thank you for everything you tried to give. I wish you only happiness and peace.
I meant it as a prayer for him. But maybe it was for her, that foolish girl, too.