Thank You for Letting Me Go

Diamonds are forever – except that, they’re not.

I read an article the other day about marriage. Till death do us part, and all that jazz. About the dismal state of civil union, ever-increasing divorce rates, how people give up too easily. How when we say I do it should mean for life, no ifsandsorbuts.

You’ve heard the song and dance. And at first I was inclined to agree. It’s just that – I don’t.

Reading it shot me back in time, to a poignant reminder of precisely why I think this kind of idealistic outlook is extremely dangerous. And I’m not talking 1536, when the desire to dissolve a marital contract was met with a public beheading à la Anne Boleyn.

Not quite, anyway.

Exemplifying her growing comprehension of gravity, our two year old littered the floor with Crayons and various foodstuff. She looked at us expectantly, perplexed as to why we weren’t scrambling to clean up after her. Normally we were the antigravity. Normally, but not that day.

We sat at the high-top table staring at our plates. Neither of us were hungry, though there was an unspoken understanding between us that going out for lunch was a good idea – a nice normal thing to do.

“Do you want to go?” I asked, for what might have been the tenth time that day.

“I don’t know,” he said, consulting the time. “Do you want to go?”

It occurred to me that I hadn’t given it much thought. After all, it was his friend. They had been close since childhood. Sure – I had spent a lot of time with him in the years since then. But in light of the circumstances, I felt I should serve a supporting role. I’d go if he wanted to go.

And then I thought of her. I thought of her standing there, alone. What if she was alone?

“I want to go,” I said, suddenly. “But we have to hurry – I can’t wear runners to a funeral home.”

We quickly collected ourselves and paid our bill, apologizing to the server and leaving a large tip. We pulled into the parking lot of a shoe store en route, and I ran inside. I bought the first pair of black pumps I saw in my size. There wasn’t time for any Cinderella bullshit, they’d have to do.

By the time we got to the funeral home, our little one was asleep in her carseat. We agreed that I’d go in alone; it would be best if the two of them stayed in the car. I doubted I’d be long.

“Are you sure?” I asked, standing outside the car.

“Yes,” he said, with an expression too complicated for me to quickly decode.

I closed the car door and headed toward the daunting entryway. My palms were clammy, there was to be an open casket. I had never been to a viewing before, let alone for someone I knew.

I felt like it should be raining. Shouldn’t it be raining? I looked up and saw pockets of sunlight bursting through light cloud-cover. It was February, and still too cold for rain. With a shiver, I steeled myself and kept walking.

As I approached the threshold I spotted her father. Thank goodness, I thought. He pulled me into a warm embrace and thanked me profusely for coming.

“She’ll be so happy you’re here,” he said.

Her father ushered me through a convoluted maze of hallways. The air was impossibly thick. Suddenly we were in a small chapel room with pews and an aisle. Light glowed through large stained glass windows, illuminating a number of enormous urns overflowing with lilies.

When she noticed me she turned, gripped me tightly. Then, the tears.

She felt frail, as though the past few days had whittled her down to a smaller version of herself. We stood like that, crying, for I don’t know how long. Eventually we pulled apart and from the corner of my eye I saw him.

These situations make you think strange thoughts.

I nearly put my hand up to wave, immediately scorning myself for being so idiotic. He was in a casket, visible from the waist up. He looked the same, but different. The incongruity of someone so full of life resting so still was unnerving. I glanced around thinking, hoping this was some sort of practical joke – that he’d spring from the casket and we’d all laugh over drinks later.

“Do you want to see him?” she asked, leading me to the front of the room.

I didn’t answer, just followed her. She explained how she had chosen his clothes, which she wanted to be nice, but also fairly casual – the way he was. She’d had the cuffs of his shirtsleeves neatly rolled up to expose the tattoos on his wrists, his sons’ names.

She’d wanted his hair to be styled as if he’d done it, she said, lovingly touching it with her fingertips. She beamed, commented on how handsome he was. And did I know they had to shave him? Your hair continues to grow for a time, after you’re – you know.

For a moment she seemed far away, smiling to herself. Apparently lost in happier times. I imagined lightness and laughter. He always had such an amazing laugh. Then the spell broke and her eyes took in the reality before her. Putting her hand over her mouth she crumpled over him, sobbing. I did my best to hold her up until her father ran to her aid.

At once the whole place made me nauseous; I had never noticed how pungent lilies were. I came to support her, though in truth, I also wanted to say good-bye. Viscerally, I knew it was my turn, but I felt out of my element, like I didn’t know the protocol for this kind of thing. So I did what felt right.

I placed my hand delicately over his, taking pause at how large it was. Working hands – strong hands, I thought. Before you say good-bye you have to say hello. I let the memories wash over me.

I recalled the first time I met him, being charmed by his charisma and boisterous way. Even so, I remembered thinking that underneath, there was something that pained him. I thought of the volatile fights he’d had with his erstwhile wife, how adorable their kids were when they were small, what an amazing father he was.

He was the best man at our wedding. While dancing with him during the reception he said to me, if there’s ever anything you need, I’m here for you. 

When he decided things weren’t going to work out for him and his wife, it wasn’t well-received. He didn’t want to fight anymore, not in front of the boys. Counseling wasn’t working, and after years of constant discord he’d had enough.

She hadn’t.

And so began the legal battle, the defamation of his name; restraining orders and phone recordings and police involvement. Daily taunts – year after year. He had just wanted peace and to see his sons, to live a happy life. But she kept that from happening. He made a promise to her and she was going to make him pay.

Everything he’d worked so hard for – a considerable fortune – was spent on legal fees.

All for spite.

The last time I saw him he told my husband he’d lose me, said he saw the signs. When his premonition was met with a nonchalant attitude, he yelled. Shook him. There was an urgency in his voice. Things became tense, I was standing right there.

Listen to me, you don’t pay attention! Can’t you see? She’s going to leave you.

I don’t know how he saw through my façade, how he knew something that I was not yet ready to admit to myself – but I remember how it felt to be seen. Our marriage counsellor later said that when someone wants out, they’ll have known it for about five years. Five years can be a long time.

I could glimpse through his armour too. I saw the pain he carried around. In that respect I suppose we were kindred spirits. I should have known then that he didn’t care anymore; he was going to say what he wanted to say, devil may care. I should have known what that meant.  

He had only wanted his sons in his life. Their absence was an empty cavern that ate away at him daily.

Finding the love of his life and welcoming a perfect little girl into the world was simultaneously a comfort and a match to light his pain aflame; he still wasn’t able to see his boys. To have his flesh and blood told he didn’t love them, to have them wonder and miss out on time that could not be repaid – it tormented him.

Medication helped take the edge off, but the ache remained. That horrible void. Friends served as finite distractions. Where alcohol didn’t diminish the pain, drugs did the trick. When drugs became the only thing that worked, rehab didn’t.

And then the phone call, saying he was gone. It seems in the end, he found a loophole. Till death do us part.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking down upon him. Sorry that it had come to this, that there was nothing I could do. And yet he was perfectly still, serene. I tried to fathom the crushing weight of not being able to see my own daughter. I couldn’t.

He had peace at last.

A few days later, I went to her house. I brought flowers – it seemed like the right thing to do. I noticed that the other bouquets were past their time, and worried that this would somehow make her feel worse. I changed them out and decided I’d return in a week with new flowers.

We caught up over coffee. The tears were still flowing. I recall thinking that it’s too bad grief can’t be cauterized. You have to let the well run dry. And it may never run dry.

I ran to the washroom to grab some tissue. No tissue? I scanned the cupboards, the closet. None to be found, and only a few rolls of toilet paper. I was distressed that she should cry so much with no tissue for her tears.

On further inspection, a lot of things were missing – everything had been in upheaval for so long. Finally, something I could do to help. She was outside, so I took a quick inventory of her kitchen cupboards, the refrigerator and freezer. I made a mental list.

When I left, I drove to Costco and loaded the cart with missing items: cereal, crackers and granola bars, frozen dinners, juice, milk and cheese, paper towel, toilet paper, and diapers for their daughter. More flowers – not lilies. And tissue.

I went back to her house the next day and put everything away as she looked on, verklempt. I told her to take care of herself and that I was there to help, anything that she needed.

I read this article that’s gone viral the other day, about marriage. Till death do us part, and all of that. About the dismal state of matrimony and ever-increasing divorce rates. How people give up too easily.

But do we?

Diamonds have become the paramount symbol of marital union because they last forever. But, wait. You know that’s not true, right?

You wouldn’t be able to have a diamond cut into the intricate shape your heart so desires if it were impervious to outside forces. It’s merely an ad slogan hatched by Frances Gerety for De Beers in 1947, designed to put some air into the flattened post-war jewelry market.

The campaign led De Beers to form a crooked monopoly over the world diamond market – and it’s influenced our ideas about matrimony ever since. A Diamond Is Forever has been touted as the most impactful advertising slogan of the 20th century. You have to admit it’s pervasive.

But diamonds don’t last forever. Don’t believe me? Take a hammer to your engagement diamond. Hit it hard enough and it will break, it doesn’t matter how much you idolize it. Life is like that, relationships can be broken and sometimes it’s not worthwhile to try to salvage the splintered pieces. The recipe goes: the more idealization, the more disillusionment.

Perhaps it’s not divorce that’s the issue, but that we’re being misled by Almighty Commerce about what a marriage should be, when some relationships simply aren’t meant to stand the test of time. De Beers was actively seeking to use propaganda when they hit the motherload with Gerety, and they’ve been brainwashing us all the way to the bank ever since.

As a society we put so much emphasis on fidelity, that as long as we’re good there, none of the other vows in the agreement seem to carry much weight. What about respect? Kindness, understanding, compassion? They’re all in there.

What if, despite our best efforts, it just doesn’t work? If one or both partners aren’t holding up their end of the bargain and it’s clear that they don’t plan to change, do we not have every right to void the contract?

Of course we do.

Isn’t it healthy to admit when the jig is up, instead of two people continuing to dance to two different songs? What if one partner doesn’t want to dance anymore? What if both people stop dancing altogether.

Marriage licenses ought to come with a contingency plan, a termination clause, and some guidelines as to how to reasonably conduct ourselves in the event that things don’t go as planned. Plans go awry all the time and we already know that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. It’s reality.

Since the inception of marriage, countless people have been forced to remain in unhappy, unfulfilled situations. It’s been a long road in our collective history to gain the right to uncouple, but the stigma remains. Oh, I’m sorry! People say, assuming the worst. The notion is so antiquated.

It shouldn’t surprise you that I’d make a feminist issue out of this. But what most people don’t understand about feminism is that it’s not about women rising to a status that supersedes men – it’s about equality. Equal rights. We should all have the right to end a partnership if we so choose.

Divorce rates are on the incline because people are coming to realize that in some situations, it’s a reasonable and viable option. Shaming and stigmatizing divorcees doesn’t make you better,  it only perpetuates an air of non-acceptance.

Think of it this way. Wait – first, put down your self-righteousness. Okay, ready? Now think: perhaps one day you’ll find yourself in the midst of a divorce. Hey, it could happen. Maybe you’ll find out that the person you married isn’t who you thought. Perhaps they’ll find that out about you.

Should this come to pass, I hope people are kind to you. I hope that the person you’re divorcing is kind to you. And I hope that you can find it in yourself to be kind as well. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and you don’t have to tear one another to shreds. Just because you’re happily married doesn’t mean that some day this may not be so.

Things change. People change. Relationships change. If someone doesn’t want to continue to invest in a marriage any longer, it’s their choice. In saying I do we also have the right to exercise our power to say I don’t.

There’s that old adage – if you love somebody, let them go. And although it wasn’t easy for either of us, I am grateful to my now ex-husband for understanding this all too well.

Thank you for letting me go.

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