Don’t go home again
September marked what would have been my twentieth wedding anniversary. It’s stupid to dwell on phantom milestones–you don’t get to think about your twentieth anniversary if you divorced your spouse right around what would have been your fifteenth. Still, my nerves twitched a bit as the date approached. Then, on the anniversary itself, I forgot. I’m sure my ex did, too–after all, he’s married now, starting the count all over again. Twenty years ago if you had shown me this particular future–us divorced, him remarried–I would have been horrified and appalled. But what do you know? I’m fine, better than fine, happier than I have ever been in my life. Marriage, as the amazing Louis CK said, is just like a larva stage for true happiness–which is divorce! Here, watch this.
Remember how last Christmas I’d planned to fly to California, and then my grandfather died, and then I wound up here instead? I rebooked the ticket, finally, about a week before it was set to expire, and I went to San Francisco to visit my lovely divorced friend. I have other friends still out there, too–friends from each of the three towns we lived in over the course of nine years, plus my old professors, my dissertation advisors, and so forth. I could easily have spent the entire week rushing from one to another, driving up and down the peninsula and across the bay to visit old haunts. In fact, this is what I have done, other times I’ve flown back to visit.
But this time I didn’t feel like haunting. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, save my hostess herself. I didn’t make a single plan. I stayed away from my graduate school campus, from the first house we ever owned, and especially from the little house that made me so sad the last time I visited, and the time before that. Instead, I holed up in San Francisco, a city we never actually lived in, a place with no fraught memories. It felt a little bit like avoidance, but it also felt really good. I’m sick of revisiting the past, actually. I had no interest in going back to my old stomping grounds, and then taking my psychic temperature, the better to blog about it.
West coast jet lag is a beautiful thing. Every morning I woke up right at sunrise, and watched the light over the rooftops across the street from my friend’s apartment–that incredible, limpid California light–shine free of the fog and take hold. God, the light in California. The trees, the water, the smells, the sky. I hated living there, but good grief, it’s a spectacular place.
The weather in San Francisco in October is surreal–I had to keep reminding myself, as I walked around basking in the sun, that these particular parts were foggy nine days out of ten the rest of the year. Mostly, I ate and walked and went to bookstores and ate again. My friend and I had plenty of time together–she’s a midwife, and all of her clients politely stayed out of labor while I was there. But I also had plenty of time alone.
The last day, right before I got on the red-eye home, I walked through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach to Point Lobos to Land’s End and then the long way back. It was a brainless day of sun and beautiful scenery. Here, look:
You just don’t get this on the East Coast. I sat down by the water’s edge and watched some seals for a while, as the tide came in and their rock grew smaller. They bickered, clambered, got splashed by the mounting surf. One jumped in and swam closer to me, bobbing up and down on top of the waves, till he finally flipped under one of them and disappeared. The sun beat down–I was getting burned, but I didn’t care. My head was empty, but my heart wasn’t quite light.
My ex-husband grew up in Palo Alto. He was so happy when we moved to California for graduate school, and he would gladly have stayed in the Bay Area for the rest of his life. I made us move back East, a move I’ve never regretted, though I bet he has. These were his rocks, his waves and sky, his seals. Does he hold this against me, too–that I took California from him as well, along with the marriage and the house and the kids and the safe future he once had? I would probably hold it against him if the tables were turned.
Or does he now think, Thank god all that shit happened, because I’d never have met my new wife otherwise? Does he feel–as Louis CK and I do–happier every single year? I’d like to think so. But I don’t know, and it’s none of–and never will be–my business.
I can’t wait until he has been married to his new wife for longer than he was married to me. I can’t wait until the years of our divorce outnumber the years of our marriage. I can’t wait till those shadowy paths not taken–the lives we would have lived if things had turned out differently than they did–don’t haunt me any more. I can’t wait until I stop feeling guilty for leaving him.
Those of you who are divorced, please answer: When, exactly, will that be?