I’m in my car, sweaty after a day of working hard, and surrounded by a bunch of shit like a mobile hoarder with a windshield so cracked it’s a Rorschach blot. And it’s the night I start reclaiming my ankles from the bloat shit-eating (from lack of time) has attacked me with so I’m headed to some fruits and veggies to begin the process.
And as I pull into the Sugar House Whole Foods shopping center, Led Zeppelin talks to me of sex and texting that guy later and navigating my car around the corner of the parking lot, I see a family outside of Jamba Juice. Mom, dad, two kids, at a table, drinking their frozen juice together as the sun sets.
And I’m 13 years out from my divorce—my kids can’t even imagine I was ever married to their dad—yet while the two little Jamba Juice kids float around dad in his white shirt and crossed legs, leaning back in the chair as if owning all things, there we are. James and I. Taking part in this ritual of “quality time.” Going to Costco on the weekend, buying stuff we didn’t need, pretending we weren’t pretending, making every stupid little thing an event like we were just killing time. Enforcing planned interactions as if we’d forgotten how to be alive and normalizing incremental toxicity‘s—me sympathetically listening, wearing kid snot and no sleep, as he complains about his business dinner in France, etcetc—until I’m overweight and crying in the living room at 1 a.m., giving everything to smother emotional holes for the sake of some labels. “Husband”, “wife”, “married.” For the sake of a romantic dream some boring asshole made up as if it’s a holy symbol of stability to commit to 60 fucking years of trying to be the same.
And when you’re handed a bunch of shit from parents and magazines and TV, your loneliness feels like a personal flaw. Your fear is you not being brave enough.” Every unfulfilled need you speak up about is you being “too sensitive.” And blonde-haired blue-eyed good looks in white shirts have this world to themselves; charming the outside world because they know that shit sells. A dad as coiffed and overconfident as the patriarchy—unapologetically sucking oxygen out of a universe he doesn’t have to share—while mom long-steeped in her gender role as pacifist revolves around him like a planet dressed in clothes and calling him “honey.”
Thirteen years. Not long enough to forget that Mr. Coiffed then goes home to criticize every little thing that disturbs the sanctity of himself. Which ends up being the fish almondine I make for dinner and the girls’ happy squeals which are apparently way too loud for him to hear his Xbox.
And as I pass this family outside Jamba Juice, I see the past. I see the pain, the effort, how I never would’ve walked away and am so thankful he cheated and left.
For you don’t know life’s set up for salesmanship and brutality until you’re outside of what you bought. Until your stable family life, income, and sense of self-worth no longer rests upon making excuses for cruelty and narcissism.
Because marriage itself isn’t the sanctity of anything; the sanctity rests with the ideal to be better, more alive people because of it.
And as I sit in my car making my list, the sun looks like it’s resting. Like having Journeyed across our lives its holding position for one last look. Catching sight as it does of a 52 year old women who works too hard and sleeps too little—whose self-care is akin to a shot of whiskey while crying softly in a bathroom—in a filthy car with bloated ankles, blasting Led Zeppelin and 100% Life, and Panning out from a Jamba Juice scene to view a former self with a search light of the soul.
Realizing as she does that marriage doesn’t always make you more alive while you’re inside it; sometimes it makes you more alive in the parking lot of Whole Foods on a June evening long after.