We celebrated our 15th anniversary in October. Our plan was to walk downtown to the Italian place that we’ve been going to since we bought the house. We were so broke back then, putting every penny into the mortgage and the badly needed upgrades to make the house live-able. Our occasional dinner out was a shared glass of wine and a pizza that we made enough for two. We spent nearly all of our free time (and money) slinging buckets of cheap paint, and drinking bottles of two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s, because we really needed things to be cheaper than two bucks. I was trying to become a writer, which didn’t pay much and even though Ryan had a good job, the mortgage - and all that comes with it - is a monster ball-and-chain to slap on your ankle.
So we’ve lived these years in a house that’s caught between mid-century and this century, and our kitchen still firmly stands as a painted-over 1960s relic. So it seemed somehow poetic that on our anniversary the Wedgewood Electra-Matic double oven would finally give up the ghost.
I called Ryan to tell him the oven is dying. The kids’ chicken dinner was suddenly back-lit by the white-hot heating element burning from the inside out, without flame or smoke. I couldn’t bring myself to douse it with baking soda. Instead, I pulled up a stool and watched through the aged glass as our oven was in the throws of a slow, smoldering death. A lot of old things have been dying like that around here, and like the oven, it was about time.
After 15 years, our marriage also started to feel like somewhat of a relic. It’s foundation is solid, but who we are as partners has been painted over and propped up more times than we can count. We’ve got some old, painful stuff that we should have ripped out years ago but instead we upgraded it with new hardware and egg-shell white, and called it good, year after year.
But for whatever reason, earlier this year we finally got tired of fighting over the same line in the sand and went looking for help. Life is long, but it goes fast. This year, with our third baby turning five and both of us just a few clicks from entering mid-life, there’s less and less time to waste. Too much time has already been wasted on that line - fluffing our pride and punishing each other for things that now have fuzzy details and warped edges. Did it really happen that way, or do we need to remember it that way? It’s hard to say, but on this anniversary we celebrated a victory: we don’t care anymore about being right.
It’s tempting to make it sound like we've arrived, but it’s more accurate to say we've just moved. It’s hard work moving. I’ll say that again - it’s hard f**king work doing that kind of moving. It’s ugly and uncomfortable, and so much easier to eat more chocolate, turn up the headphones, and look the other way. Things probably could have rolled out just fine like that for another 15 years. We’ve proven that it’s totally possible to be both highly functioning and deeply wounded. It’s totally possible to be with each other but not understand each other, and we’ve discovered that’s the loneliest place of all. To be seen but not understood. To love each other but not get each other.
What a terrifying thing to admit - to share the most intimate and private part of life with someone, and feel simultaneously like we are strangers in fundamental ways. Terrifying. It makes divorce sound like the easiest way out of that situation, because admitting that truth allows for the possibility that the other person might not WANT to really see me. Maybe we keep each other around, not because we like each other, but because it’s convenient and easier than being alone.
For a whopping decade and a half, it was easier for both of us to wonder in the dark if we’re worthy, rather than stand in the light of that flame and hear the truth. The reason being, is that no matter which way we turned at that threshold between denial and truth, something more than the oven had to die. And who wants to go looking for death?
Eight months ago, we took each other by the hand and decided to go looking for it. Did I mention it’s hard f***ing work? There may or may not have been things thrown against the garage wall, and solo drives up a mountain road, crying so hard I had to pull over. There were sleepless nights, and long brooding days, when we didn’t have anything but venom to spew, so we didn’t say anything at all. We were ripping things out that needed to go and it hurt so bad. But, we were so long past due to put down the torch we were holding over our bad memories. We had waived the flame over that dark room long enough, and so we started the process of shutting the door and calling that place a grave.
And here’s the nugget of wisdom that came from the work: forgiveness is all we can do. It is the hardest thing until you decide it’s the only thing. And when you both decide it’s the only thing, there’s a space of grace where anything can be born into possibility.
The alternative is grim. Where there is no space or grace or forgiveness? We. Us. He and I. We die instead. We would eventually succumb to the slow burning that destroys from the inside out, with no smoke or flame.
So on our anniversary, after the oven was turned off for the last time, we retraced our old steps downtown to dinner. We talked over tuna tartare and petit fillet about remodeling - where to put the new oven, how the kitchen island needs to be on wheels, and why the pantry needs a deep bottom shelf. We talked about what to rip out and what to keep, because like our marriage, we want what’s going on inside to be just as good as what you see on the outside.
Happy Anniversary, Babe. The oven is dead, hallelujah!