Two Weddings, Four Divorces, and One Marriage

© 2008 Ginger Manley

When I look at the fading photograph of my first wedding, I can still hear the rustle of crepe paper and feel its sharp edges against my five-year-old legs. I am standing in front of the fireplace in the home in which I grew up, with my right arm crooked through the arm of the groom. He is dressed in a suit and tie, but he is missing some of his front teeth, a condition which is considered normal for some people in East Tennessee. In my family, though, it was a first for a bride to have a snaggle-toothed bridegroom, but then he was only seven.

            On the groom’s right, as maid of honor, is my best friend, five-year-old Sally, dressed in her own full-length crepe paper dress which was made for her, as was mine, by my mother. To my left is four-year-old Lynda, wearing a tutu version of the paper outfits. She is holding a small square white satin pillow on which is secured the wedding ring. She has never felt sweet waxy lipstick, so her puckered-up mouth tells me that she is trying to absorb the sensation of this grown-up application, along with the scratching of the crepe paper. This was definitely a quickie wedding—we all had to be in bed by eight so we could go to school the next day. After we had paraded through the bridal shower, for which we were decked out, we discarded our wedding attire and dissolved our union.

            My second divorce took place when I was in seventh grade, following a whirlwind romance in which I was kissed for the first time. I signed on for life with that smooch, but alas, he wanted to taste other girls, so six weeks after he gave me his metal dog tags as a token of his enduring love, he moved on to someone else and left me brokenhearted. His red hair and freckles burrowed themselves in my heart and to this day, whenever a redheaded guy smiles at me, I melt a little.

           Then in high school and in college I fell twice more—conflicted and tempestuous romances in which I thought I was the one and only but, they were operating off another script. Neither of them was man enough to tell me we were through. They just called me up when they needed something, like a female’s body, and I was there to help them out. It’s tough to be a divorcee when you don’t know it’s even happened. So I tied three knots around my heart and vowed never to let anyone in again. That is not to say I wrote men off. Not true. I just vowed not to let them get to me again. And it worked for years.

            In the meantime I had another quickie wedding, this time the more traditional kind, where the bride is pregnant and the groom is sweating bullets. Well, maybe not sweating bullets—maybe it is truer that he was dodging bullets. Since I had only met the groom two months before our little trip down the aisle, I can see why everyone in attendance hesitated to buy good china as a wedding present when paper plates were probably more appropriate. But lust is a funny thing, and falling in lust is a lot more exciting than falling in mere love. Of course, lust burns itself out faster, too, but by then, if a baby is on the way, what choices does one have?

            Sometimes it didn’t seem like there were very many choices. By the time we were at our five-year anniversary, we had two children and had hit bottom financially. We talked about divorcing and concluded that we were too poor to be able to afford that solution, so we plowed on. At the ten-year mark, things were temporarily looking up, with the finances a little improved and more education behind us as preparation for a future. At fifteen years, however, the rosy glow was completely gone, and now it was just a matter of time until both children were out of high school and I could be alone. My heart was hardened, and my plan was to file for divorce the month after the youngest child left for college.

            Then something happened. On my fortieth birthday he gave me an awesome present—he quit taking me for granted, and in turn, I stopped blaming him for all my troubles. One of those knots loosened and it felt pretty good. Then on my fiftieth birthday, he tried to give me a gift he thought I would find hilarious. It wasn’t, and as I stood on stage before one hundred of our friends, being roasted, when I had specifically asked for this not to happen, I chose to forgive this man with whom I had struggled in and out of lust and love for almost a quarter century. By the next morning, the second knot was gone.

            On my sixtieth birthday, we had a quiet dinner. Many losses had occurred in our lives over the past few years, and we were just grateful to be able to sit down across from each other and enjoy a meal together. We celebrated our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary in England in September of that year, on the date that his stepmother was memorialized in her home church, after she had died during our visit to her. Since I had been the last person to see her alive and she had died unexpectedly, there was a brief time when the coroner had pondered whether I might have had something to do with her death. Fortunately the inquest cleared me of any wrong-doing, but the thought of my being locked away in a British jail had literally gripped my husband’s heart, sending him into a cascade of cardiac irregularities. At one point before we knew the outcome of the coroner’s inquest, he looked at me through dripping eyes and said, “I would be devastated if something happened to you.”

            That was the gift that untied the third knot. Choice after choice, day after day, our lives moving toward and away from each other for now going on forty-one years, the cord that bound my heart to keep out the pain now encircles him.

Two weddings.

Four divorces.

One marriage.

 

This essay was originally published in Gathering: An Anthology of Williamson County Writers, 2008, Cool Springs Press.