The way things end up isn’t always the way we think they will end up.
Today is a day when I can’t help but reflect on things not going as planned. It’s a bit of a strange anniversary, but indulge me a second, and you’ll understand.
On October 4th, 1999, I met my first husband. I started a job where he’d already worked for years, and my desk was beside his. We had these order codes—two letters and four numbers—that we had to read out to customers, and I happened to start on “BJ” day, as in, “Your order number is “BJ0004,” which was what I had to say over the phone. Well, I spent enough years watching Beavis and Butt-head that no one can say “BJ” in my presence without getting a chuckle out of me, and I sure as hell can’t say it without smiling. So I giggled. He repeated what I’d said in the best Butt-head impersonation I’d ever heard, and it was love. We had bonded over juvenile toilet humor.
This (plus other stuff of course) connected us until the end. When we divided our property in the divorce, we laughed together—me through my tears—when he wrote down that we each got a “small round stool.” The divorce was final on October 4th, 2006, exactly seven years after we had met. Back in 1999, I imagined that by 2006 or so, we would have maybe had a kid, and we’d be living the life of artists—him as a singer-songwriter and me as a writer. We were so confident that there was no other way for us to be.
That was not how things ended up.
Instead, in 2006, we were still stuck in the daily grind of a two-income household, and I was terribly unhappy in the house we had just purchased the year before (worst. neighbors. ever.). He didn’t want a kid yet, which made me not want a kid with someone who didn’t want a kid. We were idealists; we were charming and warm together at parties. We were us—not like everyone else. We felt like we knew something that other couples didn’t know. But this—him working long hours and me barely keeping my head above water in grad school two nights a week while life floated by—this was not how we were supposed to exist together, locked into a repetitive life. Dreams fizzled and we blamed each other.
You know how Jerry Seinfeld said he wanted to end the show while it was at the top of its game? I think that’s what happened to us. The horror of living anything less than exuberantly felt unfathomable. And so we didn’t fathom it.
By Christmas 2006, I had met my second husband, and we’d charged full-force into a life together (pipe down now—I had been legally separated and moved out since early summer; my heart was bleeding and I was goddamn vulnerable). Imagine that. See, I like living alone, and I am very good at it. I thought that since I had been forced back into alone-hood unwillingly, I would spend a few years there at least, getting smart old men drunk on cheap sherry while watching ““Da Ali G Show”” and inviting them upstairs to my Tempur-Pedic where I would whip their naked bums with my hair. I had all kinds of fantasies of how my post-divorce years might go.
But those fantasies? That was not how things ended up.
Not one of them involved a husband so soon. Now, here we are, having put to bed our three-year-old son, a kid who can bust an awesome move, who likes goat cheese and hot tea, and who pretty much knows all the words to “Rehab,” especially the no, no, no. Here my husband is, giving a Skype interview to some George Mason University students who read his book in class. Here I am, typing my editorial for a lean, mean literary journal, and drinking a second glass of chardonnay on a weeknight. Life is pretty fucking brilliant.
Things end up upside-down sometimes, which ends up being right-side-up. (I think I just blew my own mind.)
When I wrote Alan Good to accept “Shadows Without Bodies,” I told him I would “publish the hell out of [it].” I don’t know what that means. But I am publishing the hell out of it right now. Because the thing about it is that its wit is so dry, and its humor so understated, that I wanted other people to read it too. The tone of the piece is just perfect, and is pretty much summed up in the first line: “I’d been a vegetarian for about eighteen years by the time I got the urge to go hunting.” Divorce, suburbia, authority—Good takes it all on by taking it all off, stripping the bullshit away from the façade of peaceful existence and exposing its fraudulence. But then what comes after that? That’s the tricky part—the part that keeps most of us from stealing cars and shooting iron buffalo at the bottom of a cascade of bad luck.
Eighty-seven years collect and sit here. “A Woman” haunts with the second-person interior monologue of an elderly woman whose life has come to this, though it’s unclear what this really is, but she sees; she knows. We have an idea, but while the details are small and sharp, the full picture is out of focus. The way Isaiah Swanson accomplishes this, with the alternating cadence of sentences and present tense, is impressive.
Jan Bottiglieri’s “A Way of Happening, A Mouth” is a roadmap whose only set of directions leads backward, to the vague awakening of a poet. Because how could the poem’s speaker have possibly looked forward in that same moment, right when it was happening, and known that a hushed minute after dinner at summer camp would evolve into poetry, and would evolve the sensibilities of a poet? Only in retrospect is the moment given power, is the seed seen as a seed, and I dearly love this poem for making this connection, for breathing life into a relatively insignificant dot on a biographical timeline that proved to be both luminous and weighted.
So it’s kind of a special day. It’s the five-year anniversary of the end of a five-year marriage. And the next day is even more special: the four-year anniversary of a second marriage I never saw coming. Yes—I waited until October 5th, 2007 to do the deed, even though we had already bought a house and made a baby, because, as I told him, “Waiting a year is just the classy thing to do.”
That’s me, all class. But if you want to be Judgy McJudgerton, let me enter my defense: “The way things end up isn’t always the way we think they will end up.”
And they keep ending up all the time.
Photo source: Daniele Summerfield’s Blog