Wednesday, June 19, 2024 Jun 19, 2024
80° F Dallas, TX

My Big, Dumb Divorce

We were together for eight years, and then one night he decided it was over. One of his complaints: I never packed his lunch.
Elizabeth Lavin

It was cold the night my marriage ended.

It was the first week of January 2017 and the first time it had snowed in Dallas that winter. My husband and I trudged home from our favorite family-run BYOB Italian restaurant, in a nearby strip mall, where we had chattered about our days as we gorged on pizza and red sauce–covered noodles. Porch lights cast amber beacons across ice-coated concrete. I stepped on the grass to avoid slipping. Snow crunched under my ankle boots. Wind whipped against my leather jacket. My exposed, chapped hands clung to a quarter of a bottle of sparkling wine—a souvenir from New Year’s Eve.

Once inside our home, the warmth overtook me. But the comfort of central heating was quickly diminished by the series of events that soon after unfolded: one of my Chihuahua mutts pooped on the floor. My husband stepped in it. This escalated into an argument. The argument.

“Get in here!” he shouted down the hall leading to the master bedroom, where I had gone to charge my phone but then got distracted by a burger I saw on Instagram. He was never much of a yeller. More of a scoffer and a grunter and a passive-aggressive eye-roller. This was new. “We need to talk!”

I scooted across the wood floors and then around a corner, past the stepped-in poop, and into the living room. I plunged into the couch next to our Christmas tree, which was festooned with gold tinsel and twinkling white lights, and looked up at him. He was standing in the middle of the room, enraged, his trembling hands struggling to wipe off the bottom of his black leather chukka boot with a crumpled piece of paper towel.

He told me he no longer loved me. Scrub, scrub, scrub. He hadn’t for months. Brush, brush, brush.

I started laughing. Wine-induced giggles escalated into shock-laden howls. How could this be? We hung out all the time. We rarely fought. He had hunted down an incredibly rare ’80s movie and given it to me as a Christmas present. Plus, I still loved him. Or at least I thought I did.

My shrieks fed his anger. “You’re laughing?” he seethed. He was no longer fidgeting with his shoe. He pulled his phone out of his front jeans pocket. “I want you to look at this, and I want you to internalize it,” he said while pushing the screen in my face.

I saw a series of quotes. He had been quietly documenting every hurtful thing I’d said to him over the past six months. The time I called him “annoying” for interrupting an episode of Game of Thrones to scold me for not properly washing my bowl after dinner. The time I called him “disgusting” for smoking weed in the house after I had stressed, numerous times, how much I hate the smell. Most of the things I didn’t remember saying. Out of context, some of them were, in fact, hurtful. Some of them were funny. (Maybe I’m a jerk for thinking I’m funny.) The entire situation was absurd. I started laughing again.

He balled his hands into fists. He scowled until his eyelids cloaked the brown of his irises. If he’d had any hair on his head, I imagine it would have stood on end, as if he were a cartoon cat that had been electrocuted.

He wanted a divorce.

My giggles ceased. There was no way my uncomplicated, if at times dull, marriage was ending. My heart sank out of my chest and into my stomach and then down through the couch cushions and onto the floor. It may as well have been the smooshed dog turd in the hall.

He rambled off all the reasons, aside from the quotes I’d been instructed to internalize, why he no longer found me a suitable partner. I was messy, I worked too much, I was confrontational, I emasculated him, I was stubborn, I made him feel inferior, I no longer needed him, and, the kicker, I didn’t pack him a lunch. I don’t even pack myself a lunch. He told me he’d thought I would “simmer down with age.” I was too much to handle and far from the docile and domestic goddess he had hoped for.

We slept in separate rooms that night.

The next morning, with crusty eyes and wrinkled pajamas, I shuffled back down the hall and around the corner. He was sipping coffee on the couch. The tree was no longer plugged in. I sat down next to him and begged him to talk things out. He refused. I begged him to go to counseling with me. He refused again. He didn’t need to go to counseling because he’d “already psychoanalyzed himself.” (A direct quote that my therapist found exceptionally comical.) He coolly expressed that his decision was final and there was no changing his mind.

I spent the entire day in bed, with my two tiny dogs’ warm bodies pressed against mine. It felt as if I’d been hit by a bus. Not a highway-cruising Greyhound that ends your life in a gruesome yet swift manner. But a sluggish, marigold clunker that knocks you on your face and then slowly mangles your limbs while children point and snicker. Fucking children.

As night fell, I heard him stirring around the house. He took a shower in the guest bathroom, rummaged through a closet in the hall, and then trotted back and forth, doing Lord knows what. He was wearing his fancy boots. I recognized the way the soles sounded against the floors. Was he going out?

The trots got louder as he approached the master bedroom and knocked on the door. “I’m leaving.”

Excuse me? We’d been together for eight years, and one night, on a whim, he decides he wants a divorce, and then the next night he’s dandy and ready to party? I ran to the door and pushed it open in time to catch a glimpse of him. He was dressed to the nines in his vintage trench coat, Stetson hat, and, as I’d suspected, his fancy boots.

“Where are you going?” I shouted.


“I’m so confused!” Tears dribbled down my cheeks. I swear, right there, in that moment, I could have drowned in my own saline and been totally OK with it.

“Call your sister,” he said as he walked through the front door.

I was practically underwater.

He stayed out late that night. I called and called but it went straight to voicemail. His wedding ring sat by the sink in the guest bathroom. He stumbled in and surrendered to the spare room. He wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t speak. He came and went this way for days.

Our final interaction occurred a week later.

A close friend was hosting her birthday at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and I was not going to miss it. I straightened my hair and slid into heels and painted my mouth with my favorite magenta lipstick. I didn’t know where my husband was, and I convinced myself that I didn’t care. Friends embraced and laughed in the dimly lit hotel bar and swapped stories of their holidays. My personal life was a raging dumpster fire, but that didn’t matter. This night wasn’t about that. This night was about celebrating my friend’s birth and savoring the company of the people I loved and drinking margaritas. The margaritas tasted especially delicious. I couldn’t get enough tequila to slake my thirst. I had another. And then another. And then another-another. When the bar closed, I hugged and kissed my companions goodbye and pinged a Lyft to pick me up. My driver was nice. He told me I was pretty.

“You know what? I am pretty,” I reassured myself.

He rolled up to my house, and I hopped out of the backseat of his sedan.

“I am a caaaaaatch,” my internal dialogue, inflated from the tequila, continued, as I strutted up the sidewalk toward the porch.

I fumbled with my keys but made it inside. The house was dark, with the exception of a purplish glow escaping from a crack under the guest bedroom door. My husband was home.

“Hellooooooooo!” I said as I burst into the room. He was under the covers, watching TV. He looked at me. Finally, I had his attention.

I removed my sequin-embroidered blazer and flung it on the floor. My silk camisole floated down my shoulders. I kicked off my shoes as hard as I could. One hit the wall next to the bed. Everything I’d worn that night was scattered across the room. I lifted the comforter and slithered next to him. His body was tense.

“What are you doing?” he asked nervously.

I pushed my nose to his shoulder. His sweater smelled like stale cologne and fabric softener.

“Catherine!” he said.

I rubbed my toes up his leg.

“GET OUT!” he thundered.

I ripped back the covers and leapt out of bed. “I am your wife!” I told him.

“You’re crazy,” he sneered.

The euphoric buzz from the tequila soured like weeks-old milk in my veins. White-hot rage coursed through every capillary and pore and fingernail and hair on my body.

I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to rip the tattered gray beanie off his head and shove it down his throat. I wanted to kick him so hard that he flew across the room like an evil ninja in a Bruce Lee movie. I wanted to tell him that I’d never been physically attracted to him, but because I’d thought he was a kind human, I had been able to stifle my discontent. Instead, I reached for the closest thing. It was a book. Actually, there were many books close to me. An entire Ikea shelf filled with them. I unleashed my fury on the poor, unsuspecting pages of Jeffrey Steingarten and Douglas Adams and J.K. Rowling. I pulled the paperbacks and hardcovers from their shelves and hurled them into the center of the room. His graphic novels zoomed. My conspiracy theory encyclopedia whooshed. One by one, the pages soared and crashed.

He made a beeline for the door, dodging the books, and ran toward his car.

“Where are you going?” I shouted, following him into the night.

He bounced into the driver’s seat and sped off.

“I hate you!” I cried as the taillights rounded the corner and disappeared.

I stood there for a moment, the moon illuminating my bare skin, and prayed that my sweet, elderly neighbors slept through the ordeal. Chasing after my husband in my underwear was the lowest moment of my 30 years on this planet and one that, up until now, I haven’t shared with anyone.

I went back to the guest room. It looked like a crime scene. Crumpled clothes and bent pages were strewn across the floor. I fell to my knees and wept, then apologized to the books and picked them up, one by one, and placed them back on their shelves.

My husband never returned.

I’ve experienced love at first sight exactly once. It happened on a weeknight during my sophomore year of college. He was standing in the hall of my dorm, wearing a flamingo-pink t-shirt and dark skinny jeans. A yellow rose tattoo crept out from under his left sleeve. His shoulders were broad. Thick, naturally black hair swept across his forehead. His eyes were the color of blueberries. A silver hoop hung from his right nostril. His smile was wide and crowned with the cheesiest mustache I’d ever seen. He was a Myspace-era dreamboat. I’d never felt so instantly attracted to someone. So I did what any hormone-crazed girl does in a situation like that: I approached him and said, “Hi.”

“He balled his hands into fists. If he’d had any hair on his head, I imagine it would have stood on end, as if he were a cartoon cat that had been electrocuted. He wanted a divorce.”

That night I learned that he was four months younger than I was. I also learned that he was straight edge, meaning he didn’t drink or do drugs, and that he loved fantasy fiction books and movies. He’d grown up in a small, blue-collar port city in northern British Columbia and was visiting a friend who lived in my building. We spent hours in one of the dorm rooms, sharing YouTube videos of our favorite bands and talking about our aspirations. He had two life goals: to cover his entire body in tattoos and to one day have a comfortable home and a family. “I want three sons,” he declared with certainty. He had sparkly eyes. Not everybody has sparkly eyes. And when he told me about his desires, they glimmered like the wishes made on spare change at the bottom of a shopping mall fountain. He was optimistic about the future in a way that felt sincere.

As I started drifting up and away and into the ether, one of my dormmates barged into the room, and my body crashed back into the computer chair it had been awkwardly swiveling in. She suggested an adventure. We snatched a couple of flashlights, and a small troop set out to hike a trail that snaked through the woods behind our campus. We stomped along a path near the northern side of the mountain, which faced the Burrard Inlet. (For those not familiar with the body of water, it spans 23 miles; was explored by British navigator George Vancouver in 1792; and sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you can spot seal pups flapping in the currents.)

Gravel and twigs crackled under our sneakers. After nearly 20 minutes, we reached a clearing, sat on a grass-covered slope, and watched the blinking lights of distant ships in the harbor.

He grabbed my left hand and pushed my index and middle fingers together and then squished my pinkie up against my ring finger. He adjusted his fingers in the same manner and locked our misshaped extremities. “Perfect,” he whispered. “Now we’re holding hands like Ninja Turtles.” My insides turned to mashed potatoes.

Not long after our dreamy encounter, he took a job working on the oil rigs in Alberta. He was gone for weeks, sometimes months, at a time and would visit me on campus between shifts. He’d ride the city bus up the mountain or borrow his friend’s van, which had an airbrushed wizard or dragon or something on the side. (His friend was in a metal band.)

We had fun together. We played like children.

One night, in the coed campus bathroom, he handed me an electric razor and told me I could do anything I wanted to his delicious black locks. “Anything?” I asked. “Anything!” he said. It felt like a dare. I took the razor to the side of his head. Strands of hair fell like confetti onto the tile below. I clipped most of his scalp, with the exception of a tuft near his forehead. I gave him bangs, kind of. And then left a gnarly rat’s tail dangling about 2 inches down the back of his neck. We laughed and laughed. It looked so unbelievably stupid. But that didn’t stop me from throwing my arms around him afterward. Our bodies were as compatible as our senses of humor.

I loved him fiercely. Well, as fiercely as a 20-year-old knows how to love. But our blazing romance wasn’t sustainable.

After graduating from Simon Fraser University with a degree in mass communications and zero ideas of how I wanted to communicate with the masses, my student visa expired. It was time to leave Canada. I shoved my belongings into a few cardboard boxes, hopped on a plane, and landed in Dallas. My parents were living in a suburb and told me I could stay with them for a few months—because that should, according to them, be enough time to sort out my life.

By now, communication with my Canuck had tapered to sporadic emails. I got a new U.S. phone number. He had a Canadian phone number. It was expensive to talk internationally. He didn’t do social media. We were young and dumb.

A few years after our emails stopped, I found out from a mutual friend that he had married a hairdresser and they were expecting their first child. (Had she given him a better trim than I? Impossible.) There was a momentary pang of what-ifs. What if I had stayed in Canada? What if we had met at a different time and place? What if I hadn’t been so careless about the situation? What if, in our next lives, we came back as Mandarin ducks and raised 32 fluffy ducklings along the banks of the Tonlé Sap? But that night spent holding hands like anthropomorphic reptiles felt like eons ago. I forgot about him during the day-to-day. He’d occasionally show up in my dreams—even as I would later snooze, intertwined, with my husband. But that would eventually stop, too.

That first summer in Texas was excruciating. The heat was smothering and unlike anything my Detroit-born, Vancouver-raised body had encountered before.

My parents’ house was brown. Most of the houses on their street landed somewhere between wet dirt and wetter dirt on the color spectrum. Brandi from The Real Housewives of Dallas currently lives a few doors down from that house, in a similarly brownish house. This is my only fun fact about that neighborhood.

I was assigned a bedroom upstairs. It had vaulted ceilings. I spent hours lying on top of a puffy white comforter, staring heavenward, until I knew every beam and plaster smudge and ceiling fan blade by heart. Maybe if I gazed for long enough, I thought, the answer to my pressing “What the fuck am I going to do with my whole entire life?” question might appear in the seamless strokes of ivory paint.

I split my time between that room and the pool. I floated and gazed at wispy clouds and soaring planes. I surveyed contrail streaks for a sign. Maybe they had an answer? But the solution never presented itself. And time was running out. I needed to find a job.

I got a job as a barista at a Starbucks in a strip mall near my parents’ house where I frothed foam and blended ice and fantasized about pirouetting into oncoming traffic. This is where I met my husband. He was my supervisor. It was a couple of months after my 22nd birthday. He was a decade my senior, going through a divorce, and finishing grad school. His major was journalism.

There were no sparks. No intoxicating, endorphin-charged moments. He was tall, with squishy appendages, his hair was thinning, and he had a mole above the left side of his lip that was like a lumpier, distant cousin to Marilyn Monroe’s beauty mark. He eventually covered it with facial hair. When he wasn’t donning a mocha-stained apron, he wore a uniform of plaid pearl-snap shirts, straight-fit jeans, and cowboy boots—occasionally Converse. There was a slight twang when he spoke.

One day, after work, he asked if I’d like to go see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club play at a bar downtown. He had an extra ticket. Yes, yes, yes! Anything to escape brown-house suburbia. I wrote my phone number on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to him. He called later that evening to sort out our plans. He offered to pick me up, but I suggested meeting at a central location.
We had a good time that night. He was easy to be around. Because I wasn’t amorously interested in him, I was able to chill, without the awkward tongue fumbling and painful torso flutters that come with having a crush.

He wrote a music column for the Dallas Observer and invited me to tag along to shows, as his plus-one, for months to follow. We had a weekly routine: I would drink a glass or two of my parents’ wine, he would scoop me up in his rickety Champagne-hued Honda Civic, and we’d hit the town and watch various bands play. He was my first friend in Texas.

I spilled my guts to him in dark corners of crowded smoking patios and with grease-coated lips during late-night taco excursions. He knew everything: that I saved my allowance in the second grade to purchase Ace of Base’s The Sign on cassette; that my biggest fear was death, closely followed by forgetting to remove the sticker from a piece of fruit and then accidentally eating it; and that I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, but only during the summer months.

He was slower to divulge. But when he finally did, he told me about how he used to sneak into raves in the ’90s, how he cared for his mother and sister at a young age when his dad deserted their family, and how he’d felt abandoned when his wife walked out on him.

He showed me a photo of himself at 18 or 19. His hair was long and silky, at least a foot past his shoulders. He was cute. Like a Ten-era Eddie Vedder. I barely recognized the dude in the photo. The man sitting next to me was quiet and tense. I wondered: could the youthful version of this guy be buried in there somewhere? I made it my mission to find out.

Our lives changed drastically in those months, but we were overcoming our emotional obstacles together. We were like this weird two-person team: the sad-sack man and the restless girl with no direction. It’s such a foul cliché. But somehow it worked.

One night, while walking to our friend’s DJ gig, my purse strap broke and the blue leather pouch tumbled onto the sidewalk. Lipstick and gum and keys scattered. I gathered my belongings, clenched the bag in my arms, and carried on. Halfway to our destination, I had to pee. It was one of those pees that appears out of nowhere and sucker punches you in the bladder. There were no nearby bathrooms—just apartment complexes and closed businesses and parked cars and a guy walking his dog. Fortunately, I learned how to relieve myself outdoors during a camping trip in the 11th grade. It’s one of the skills they teach you when you attend a Canadian high school. Easy pees-y.

“Here, hold my purse!” I said, handing him the bag and darting up an alley.

When I reemerged, he was dangling my purse by its gold chain strap. The broken links were reunited. He’d fixed it! I yanked the bag from his fingers and kissed him.

His lips were soft and still. Unlike with my Canadian hunk, there were no electrical currents passing through our saliva. But maybe that was OK? Maybe there didn’t have to be heat right away?

We held hands, like regular human beings, and walked to the bar. There, I spun and shimmied and thrusted and moonwalked. Well, kind of moonwalked. He didn’t dance. He stood in the corner, awkwardly, and bobbed his legs up and down, offbeat, like a toddler learning to walk.

It was endearing and made me giggle.

I moved out of my parents’ brown house and found my way to a quadplex near Lower Greenville. It had creaky wood floors, large French doors that divided the living room from the dining room, and lots and lots of character. A year later, I would discover that it had a mold infestation. But that’s beside the point. The street was cozy and filled with old trees and young adults. My husband, who was then my boyfriend, moved in. He didn’t pay rent. Something to do with the cost of his divorce and grad school. But he bought groceries and made chocolate chip pancakes and matched my socks after pulling them out of the dryer. And that was good enough for me.

(My 32-year-old self is cringing at my 22-year-old self’s naiveté. I wish I could go back a decade and shout: “Dump the freeloader! Dump him on his big, parasitic butt. Do it and never look back!” But then we wouldn’t be here, would we? And I’m enjoying telling you this story.)

The space was furnished with an assortment of items I’d found at garage sales and in the clearance section of World Market. We eventually bought our first piece of furniture together. It was a squatty black and gold swiveling stool from an antiques store. The ornate piece cost $90. I didn’t have a makeup vanity, but I told him, “One day I will.” It sat in the corner of our living room. (Two moves later, our condo had a built-in vanity like the one I’d envisioned. The seat was a perfect fit.)

My husband graduated with his master’s degree, accepted a job teaching at a community college, and started paying his half of the rent. I worked various retail and coffee shop jobs and took a whack at writing concert reviews for the Observer—primarily as a way to get into shows for free. I mean, how hard could slopping a few words together be? OK, it was hard. Like, really hard.

There were nights when I’d get home well past midnight and have to turn around a cohesive piece to my editor by 8 that morning. My husband stayed up with me. He patiently encouraged me and taught me about the importance of ledes and helped me find the right descriptive words for the sound a theremin makes. I never mastered comma placement though. But fortunately for me, and for you, somebody else will be reading this before you do. (I think I did that right?)

“I am your wife!” I told him. “You’re crazy,” he sneered.

He always said that I was his best student. Just typing that phrase makes my skin crawl. Ick. Pfffft. Blargh. Cringe. Gag. Throwupinmymouthalittle. It was charming at the time, I guess. Maybe. But once I stopped needing his assistance and started coming up with words on my own, he became sulky. And then, when I decided that I wanted to try photography—something he’d studied extensively but, for whatever reason, never excelled at outside of a classroom setting—and started doing that in a professional capacity, he became downright tetchy. Fast-forward to that night when he listed the reasons he no longer loved me, the part where he said I no longer needed him. This is what he meant by that.

His resentment should have been enough to send me packing, with the magnificent swiveling vanity stool in hand. But it happened so gradually that I didn’t notice it festering like a sordid, green-eyed monster until the end of the relationship. That’s when he started flinging around condescending jabs.

“You wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing if it wasn’t for me, you know.”

“You’re so ungrateful.”

“Stop working so much. It’s annoying.”

It didn’t stop at work. He protested nearly every interest I had that didn’t include him. One afternoon, while reading an article about endangered species, I told him I was considering volunteering at the Dallas Zoo. There was a posting for an animal nutritionist assistant, someone who works with zookeepers to do meal prep for the critters. It sounded educational and fun.
“The only place that you should be volunteering is around the house,” he said.

He resented me for not cleaning. I’ll admit it: I’m really, really bad at cleaning. But I’m good at working hard enough to afford to hire somebody to handle those chores. This didn’t satisfy him. “I want you to do it,” he said. I never did clean. I also didn’t apply for that volunteer job. (You’d best believe that the first thing I did after we split was take that position at the zoo. Twice a month, I woke up at 4:45 am to weigh pounds upon pounds of apples for elephants and scoop dog food for meerkats. I learned that okapis are related to giraffes. And that I’m not nearly as squeamish handling dead rodents as I thought I’d be.)

My relationship with my husband was relatively congenial up until that final year. We’re both human garburators who will annihilate anything that’s placed in front of us, so agreeing on meals was never an issue. We both love music in all forms, so we never argued over who got to pick songs during car rides. We both love campy ’70s horror flicks and Leave It to Beaver marathons and anything produced by John Hughes. So nobody ever fought over the remote. We traveled, attended dinner parties, rescued an emaciated mutt who’d been abandoned alongside a highway. (She now resembles a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie.) We were adults, in what felt like an adult relationship. So what was the next rational step? Some might say a threesome, but we went with marriage.

There was no proposal. My husband never dropped to one knee. There were no tears of joy or celebratory Champagne or a diamond-encrusted band hidden inside a fortune cookie.

I’d been casually looking at rings for a couple of months. It was challenging since I don’t wear jewelry and knew I would be stuck with this thing, presumably, until death do us part. I came across a small New York designer who worked with conflict-free gemstones. There was a pear-shaped black diamond with a hammered rose gold band on her website. The stone was dark with transparent speckles. It reminded me of outer space. One evening, while we were out shopping, I decided to have my finger measured at a jewelry store. I’m a size 8. I have ginormous hands. The second we got home, my husband ordered the piece off the internet. “I guess we’re engaged,” I said. “Yeah, I guess we are,” he responded. I called my parents to tell them.

I was eating a turkey sandwich on my couch the afternoon the ring was delivered. There was a knock on the door, and I opened it to a woman with smooth hair and dark skin and the broadest smile I’d ever seen on the face of a FedEx driver. When I signed for the package, I recognized the address. “My engagement ring is in there!” I squealed. Her already massive smile grew wider. Her face was practically engulfed by rows of perfectly symmetrical teeth. “Oh, wow! Congratulations!” she said.

I wanted to tear the box open. But I waited, like an antsy child in front of a mound of presents at a first communion party. (I received a bazillion gifts during my first communion, which is why this comes to mind. I also threw up in a plastic trash bag, which was intended for crumpled wrapping paper, while opening those gifts. It happened right in front of my siblings and grandparents and aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles and cousins and second cousins. My mom put me to bed while my sisters ate ice cream and built a sandcastle, with an enormous garden hose–fed moat, in the backyard. That was a bad day. Maybe this isn’t the best analogy for my engagement. Actually, maybe it’s perfect. Either way, you get the point.)

I heard my husband’s keys jingling as he entered our home, and I sprinted across the kitchen to greet him. “My ring is here!” I squealed. Again. There was a lot of squealing that day. I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to the couch and ripped open the package. Inside the box was another box, and inside that box was a crushed velvet ring box. I lifted the top, and there it was. The diamond was even more beautiful than it appeared in the high-quality, professionally touched-up photos on the website. It was like a tiny, twinkling galaxy on a band. “You have to put it on my finger,” I said, pushing it into his hands. “Oh, yeah. OK, sure,” he said, a bit dazed. He slid the ring over my massive knuckle. Fragments of incandescent light bounced off the stone and danced on his forehead. We were engaged for two years.

We had a small wedding, a couple of days after Christmas, in northern Michigan. We were married in an art gallery, amid multicolored oil paintings, surrounded by immediate family. A string trio played “La Vie en Rose.” My dress was from Neiman Marcus. It was pale rose gold with hand-beaded lace; the neckline plunged low enough to reveal my collarbone and a hint of cleavage. My bouquet was bursting with white hydrangeas and elderberries. We ate dinner in the basement of a 1920s bank-turned-restaurant and dined on dry-aged rib-eye with black truffles. Our cake was lavender with vanilla buttercream icing. We drank pink Champagne and danced to The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

I wanted to elope in Vegas a few months prior, while I was there covering a Star Trek convention for LA Weekly. My husband had tagged along for moral support and to snap Polaroids of surgeons dressed as Klingons and business executives dressed as the Borg. I remember him being over the moon after meeting Richard Kiel, that really tall guy who played Jaws in a couple of James Bond flicks.

“He rambled off all the reasons why he no longer found me a suitable partner. I was too much to handle and far from the docile and domestic goddess he had hoped for.”

“Let’s go to A Little White Wedding Chapel!” I said while gazing out of our hotel window.

“No,” he responded.

“Come on! Let’s do it!”


“We’ll be like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore!”


“Or like Britney Spears and whoever that dude was!”

“No. Your mother would never forgive us.” (Probably true.)

“What if we eloped and then didn’t tell anybody we’d eloped and then had a for-show wedding after?”


Big weddings have never appealed to me. I’ve never once fantasized about what kind of dress I would wear and what kind of flowers I would carry and who would give the misty-eyed toasts. Sure, I fantasized about cake from time to time, but never one that symbolized matrimony.

But if I was going to have a wedding, the one that I had was perfect. At least in theory. Even describing it makes me think: “Gee! That sounds like a really perfect wedding.” But it didn’t feel perfect. It felt onerous. Like marching through a sequence of experiences without feeling the sentiment they’re intended to represent.

After the nondenominational minister pronounced us husband and wife, my husband grabbed my waist, pulled me into him, and kissed me. I can vividly recall the odor of his stale breath. Our wedding smooch was less appealing than the first time I’d pressed my lips to his that night in Dallas, six years earlier.

Later, we drank a Jacuzzi’s worth of Champagne and danced enough to feel dewy. At the end of the night, an argument between our families broke out­—something to do with the floral arrangements. My husband left the room. I found him upstairs, seated at the restaurant bar, staring into a rocks glass filled with whiskey. I placed my hand on his and told him not to worry because this day was ours and nobody else’s. This is what you’re supposed to say at a moment like that. But even as the words came out of my mouth, I couldn’t feel the sentiment behind them. Maybe I would feel different in the morning, I thought.

We stumbled to our hotel, rode the elevator up to our suite, and ordered a pizza. The most action I got that night was from a rogue olive that tumbled into my bra. My husband snored until dawn.

I know what you’re probably thinking: if you didn’t love him, then why did you marry him? The thing is, I did love him. I loved him as a friend. And that’s where we should have left it. He had his charming moments. The way he squeezed my hand extra hard during takeoff because one time I read it’s when there’s a greater chance of a plane crashing. The way he removed all of the produce stickers from avocados and tomatoes and apples before placing them in their bowls on the kitchen counter. The weird made-up voice he assigned to one of my dogs and the way he impersonated her. The way he let me be The Official Taste Tester every time he made a batch of chili. The amount of body heat he produced while sleeping. (Only during the winter months. This was torture during the summer.) These were the good parts.

After my husband left, I found out he was seeing another woman.

I learned this from a colleague who lived in her building. Of all the apartments in Dallas, my husband’s girlfriend lived in the one next door to the woman I sat next to at work

She was one of his former students. Another painfully embarrassing cliché. They got married in December 2017 and had a baby in July 2018. I’ll let you do the math. I know this because of social media. More specifically, through people who follow them, and who also follow me, on social media. People love to talk.

Things I got:

“I never liked him.”

“We always thought that if anybody was going to end the relationship, it’d be you.”

“He was probably messing around on you the entire time. But don’t worry. Everybody cheats.”

The sympathetic gazes were the most humiliating part. I could practically feel the assumptions swirling around in people’s brains. “Maybe she’s cold? Maybe she’s bad in bed? Maybe she smells like a bologna sandwich that’s been forgotten in the bottom of a backpack?”

For the record: I do not smell like a sandwich.

In the eight years that my husband and I were together, I never once pressed my lips to another man’s. There were the occasional flash-in-the-pan crushes, which I always felt guilty about. I know now that this is part of being a human with a pulse and a healthy libido.

There will always be people with softer skin and longer eyelashes and more compatible zodiac signs. People who remind you of a younger or older or more exuberant version of yourself. People with similar kinks. People with similar taste in footwear. People who make your knees weak when they say the word “charcuterie.” People who peel a grapefruit in a way that turns you on. People who smell like a distant memory you can’t place. People who make you laugh so hard that your stomach hurts. People with really, really firm stomachs. There are millions of striking, talented, fascinating people on this planet who, I’m sure, look amazing naked. But during those years that I was committed to my husband, I never sought them out.

Now, I’m not sitting here and advocating for monogamy. What people do is their business. I’m not entirely sure I believe in it myself. What I do believe in, however, is honesty. I entered my relationship with absolute transparency and with the belief that my husband had done the same. I trusted him.

That night when he left, he really left. I was left with his belongings (minus the clothes and books and records he took one day while I was at work). I was left breaking a lease we had signed a month prior. I was left to file for the divorce and then show up at the courthouse alone. I was left with all the furniture, including the vanity stool. I was left with my dogs (thank God). I was left without an apology or a goodbye, not even a text message. I was left feeling empty and confused and wondering how things got to this point. I was left wondering how I never saw it coming. I was left questioning how a person you thought you knew better than any other person in the whole entire world could end up being a stranger who keeps secrets.

I’m thankful my marriage ended when it did. I’m old enough to sniff out freeloaders but young enough to stay out all night dancing. Not that there’s an age restriction when it comes to dancing.

Maybe I’ll get married again someday. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know, wholeheartedly, right here, right now, placing this comma where I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to go, is where I’m supposed to be.

And it feels perfect.

Editor’s note: After this story ran in print, Catherine’s ex-husband took issue with certain details, and we agreed to make changes to the online version. The printed story recounted an evening when the ex-husband stumbled home drunk. He claims he was sober; we removed that descriptor. The printed story said that the ex-husband began a relationship with one of his students. She was a former student. The printed story referred to that woman as a mistress. The online version has been changed to reflect that she was his girlfriend. The printed story said the ex-husband married that woman in March 2018. He actually married her in December 2017.


Catherine Downes

Catherine Downes

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