I woke up today a single man, for the first time since
February 27, 2001. Helen and I married
on this day because our first serious date was on February 27, 1999; a dorm
formal during my senior year at Northwestern.
We’d known each other for almost a year, ever since Helen’s friend
Melissa introduced us during late night dining at the Foster-Walker dorm.
I proposed spontaneously—with no ring in hand—at the Howard
St. El stop in Chicago on February 27, 2000.
We spent that spring looking for rings in Chicago jewelry stores.
Now August 6 will stand as another date I’ll always remember. September 1 is also in this list, for much happier
reasons—this is when Helen and I gathered family and friends for a “wedding
ceremony” at which we wrote our own vows, choreographed our own dance, and
selected poems for guests to read that represented the life cycle of a marriage. We’d been legally married for six months by that
point, after a simple ceremony in downtown Chicago. On our wedding day Helen was 20 and I was 23.
I must have known at some level that this was very young to
be married, but at the time it felt right.
I’d always acted much older than my age anyway, and the idea of marriage
felt comforting more than constraining.
But we did rush into it nonetheless, and looking back there is no doubt that
one reason was because Helen was not a US citizen.
Helen was born in Hong Kong, and had a green card when she
began studying at Northwestern. Within
weeks of our marriage we began the citizenship process, which stretched out for
almost five years (Helen became a citizen in November 2005). We carried the citizenship files from Chicago
to DC to NYC, and would have trundled them to the Bay Area if necessary. There
is no doubt that Helen and I loved and cared for each other, but under other
circumstances we wouldn’t have married so quickly.
If Helen was born a US citizen, we may never have married at
all—perhaps would have dated for a few years and realized our goals in life
were never going to mesh. (Simply put: I
want to settle down and have a family; Helen doesn’t.) Somewhere along the way this year I recognized
this, and that helped to remove the sting of separation.
Within the last few weeks, though, I’ve realized something
else: I’m glad we married, because it’s the only way I would have lived
the life I have. And it’s a life I
treasure, filled with living in many great cities and traveling throughout
We came to the Bay Area two years ago because Helen began
business school; my landing a position at the UCSF Library at the same time was amazingly good timing. I wouldn’t have considered the position without Helen’s impetus, and now I am
glad I have it and know that I am going to stay here.
These past two years have been tough; in retrospect
something was lost in our marriage as soon as we arrived in Berkeley. Helen’s natural independence asserted itself
when her MBA program began, and it became impossible to make things work as
they always had. Last fall I tried to convince
myself that I still wanted to join Helen as she moves around the world (she’s
off to London next), but I really didn’t want to.
Now I don’t have to try to talk myself into anything--in its
sharp and painful way, the divorce was liberating. I wouldn’t trade the life Helen and I had for
anything, but that doesn’t mean it should have lasted forever.
What will remain are the countless memories, of which these
are a sample:
- Instant messaging with Helen for hours each night (summer 1998)
- Helen helping me prepare materials to protest Madeleine Albright’s planned commencement address at Northwestern (spring 1999)
- Returning from the Peace Corps after 3 days, because I missed Helen (fall 1999)
- Going to Hong Kong for the first time (2000)
- Wedding and wedding ceremony (2001)
- Traveling to Montreal and Quebec City, where we learned to love crepes (2002)
- Moving to Washington DC (2002)
- Going to England—Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, a bit of London too (2003)
- Attending Georgetown mini-med school about biomedical ethics together (spring 2004)
- Moving to New York City just in time to protest the Republican convention (summer 2004)
- Going home to Ohio together to campaign for John Kerry (fall 2004)
- Traveling to Buenos Aires (2005)
- Traveling to Brazil for Helen’s friend Silvia’s wedding (2006)
- Helen working as a poll worker in NYC, inspiring the one and only guest post to ever appear on this blog (2006)
- Driving across the United States to California (2007)
- Excellent month together in the summer of 2008 just before Helen went to London—this was really the end of our run because the gulf between us widened dramatically last fall (2008)
- Birthday lunch with Helen—bittersweet but enjoyable (July 2009)
received from Helen today: “This isn’t a goodbye, we’ll always be in
touch, and I have part of you in me, and you have part of me in you, just
because who we are is the result of our experiences, and we were a big
part of each other’s experiences”
(August 6, 2009).
It is hard to explain growing apart to people, because
it lacks the galvanizing pep of raw betrayal or malice. But life isn’t like the movies, and the truth
is that Helen and I began to drift away from each other a while ago. That’s it, that’s all.
This blog has been essential to helping me sort through it
all, and I haven’t minded the public nature of it one bit. Lots of people go through divorce, and several
people have told me my writings have helped them. That is great to know, for the writing—along with
countless conversations with friends, family, and at one point a UCSF therapist—has
certainly helped me.
With this post I plan to stop writing about the divorce. Here are all the posts from this year:
2. "Listening to Pop Music While Getting a Divorce" (3-16-09)
3. "March 2009 in Review" (3-28-09)
4. "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" (4-1-09)
5. "Moving Weekend and Settling In" (4-7-09)
6. "Sinking In" (4-26-09)
7. "Trip to Ohio and I Love You Day" (5-12-09)
8. "'Anywhere But Here': On Helen's Graduation Day" (5-17-09)
9. "Moving Up and Moving On" (6-1-09)
10. "July 11, 2009: Birthday Lunch and Wedding" (7-12-09)
Below are some pictures, arranged in chronological order from 2003-2009. Older photos are not online and I haven’t scanned them, but I have them all the way back to 1999.