As a kid, I never questioned whether I would get married. Most of the grown-ups in my life who weren’t married were gay, and it was against the law back then for them to be anything but single or liars. I didn’t think of myself as gay. I actually got along with boys so well (and with girls so poorly), it seemed utterly ridiculous to me that I wouldn’t someday choose to spend my life with one of them. Marriage was almost certainly going to be part of my story.
Marriage, or at least the proposition of it, did in fact become a staple dish at the laminated wood table of my romantic commitments. When I was six, the older brother of my best friend asked me to marry him (our running joke is we never broke it off). My boyfriend in high school proposed to me on our 1-year anniversary. My next long-term relationship developed in Japan, with my ex-husband. And a few years after getting divorced, my then-boyfriend got down on his knee on top of the Grand Canyon, and against my better judgment, I once again said, “Sure”.
With all of these engagement fails, you’d think a girl would be tired of the whole proposal thing. And you’d be right. But I also cherish the chapter of my life where I was a married woman. It was a great adventure, and I feel extremely fortunate that I got to experience it.
I have many stories from my marriage, but there is one tale in particular that I think about often, the period that marked the beginning of the end. Which in itself, was the start of another beginning, as all endings are. That memory is contained in three Japanese shophouse dioramas, prominently displayed in the only fully decorated room in my house.
(No, we didn’t meet in a shophouse. No, he didn’t whittle them for me. Patience, young grasshopper.)
He bought me the first two dioramas for our three year wedding anniversary, at the start of our two-year stay in Tokyo, Japan. We were there on an expat package through the Japanese company he worked for, which involved packing up our bags and our 10 month-old boy. He gave me one house to represent our adventures past (we had met in Shiga, Japan five years before) and one for the new Japan adventures that lay immediately ahead of us.
I remember being giddy with excitement. He wasn’t a big gift-giver. We were just starting out, and he had just finished financing himself through a masters degree at a prestigious university. Ergo, we didn’t buy each other a lot of “stuff” — grad student families live frugally by necessity, even more so when they start having babies. Knick-knacks like these were a rarity, and I adored them.
That giddiness faded sooner than I ever would have predicted. Emotional and spiritual shadows lurked on the cobblestones of the path we were attempting to walk together, tripping up what had been a relatively smooth road. By month 20 of the 24, we both felt more or less miserable around one another, all the time.
We decided to take some time apart, in order to figure out what we wanted to do. Five months pregnant and unemployed, I took my son back to the states and stayed with each of my parents, a month at a time. He fulfilled the rest of his commitment in Tokyo. We were effectively, if not legally, separated.
I did my best to think about the future without freaking out. Apparently so did he.
For like, two weeks.
That’s about all we could manage of “separation”. I remember taking his call from Tokyo, standing in the living room at my mother’s house in Georgia, listening to his gentle, cracking voice on the other end of the line. Each of us sharing that we hoped we still had a path forward from here, and that we both really wanted to give it a shot. We had another baby on the way, after all, and we very much respected and loved one another, and appreciated that we were changing and needed to adapt to that change — that at the very least, we wanted to try.
My clearest, sharpest memory, though, is his coming home at the end of the summer, seeing his baby boy again, seeing me again, and the light in his eyes that I hadn’t seen in what felt like a century. And how excited he was to give me a present, a tsumaranai mono, in keeping with the Japanese tradition of gifting pieces of your travels when you return.
Nothing special, he said. Just a little something.
It was the third diorama, with its thatched roof, noodle shop sign, and miniature bar stools. To add to my collection, and to symbolize our next adventure.
There were no more dioramas added after that, and this one marked our last adventure together. A few years and one more child later, we declared our journey fully traversed.
For the record, I actually really like my life on this side of the marriage continuum. Now that I’ve gotten some time and distance from it, I’m content to keep it in my rearview. Admittedly, I keep the concept of marriage available for reference from time to time, a metaphysical guidebook to other people’s stories. Ah, yes, I’ve been there. Oh, right, I remember that. But at present, I don’t have any desire to return to that way of life.
That said, I am a huge fan of what that final little house represented, and continues to represent. To remain committed to the future, rather than lingering in the past. Despite knowing that things may get rough, that maybe we won’t find our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just keep yourself open to whatever your life story has in store, and keep on adventuring.
As life goals go, you could certainly do worse.
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