And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
So they say when you get married, you not only marry your chosen person, but you marry the entire family. I found out, years and years ago, then when you divorce your chosen person, the entire family divorces you, whether you want them to or not. It’s a hard fact of divorce, and one that hardly anyone ever talks about. I was reminded of it this week. And yes, it does lead to a moment of happiness, or at least, a moment of peace.
I met my first husband when I was sixteen years old. He was the first boy to tell me my eyes were beautiful. I’ve always been sensitive about my eyes – I was born with strabismus, a condition where the muscles of the eye don’t work quite right, and as a result, my eyes were crossed. I likely saw double for the first sixteen months of my life, and then between 16 months of age and 15 years, I had five eye surgeries. When I was sixteen, the surgeries were behind me, and it was clear my eyes would never be perfectly straight. I was playing in the band at a new high school, and at the first football game of the season, I was in the stands, waiting for the halftime show. This boy sat next to me and said, “I know you’re new here. You have the most beautiful eyes.”
I married him five years later.
We stayed married for 17 years, and produced three amazing children. Then for reasons I won’t disclose here, we divorced. Suffice it to say that I was the one who did the leaving, and it remains the hardest decision of my life.
I’ve been married to Michael for 21 years now, and away from that first marriage for 23. The first Christmas after my divorce, I asked my now ex-husband if I could send Christmas cards to the members of his family, members who I considered my family. He said no, they never wanted to hear from me again.
So I remained silent.
I saw them years later at my oldest son’s wedding. One sister-in-law spoke briefly to me. No one else did.
Then, a couple weeks ago, my daughter told me that my ex-mother-in-law was in the hospital with COVID. And then a couple days later, she died.
I will admit that my first thought was of my ex-husband. Is he okay? Can I help? Eventually, I sent a card. It felt like the only thing I was allowed to do.
But I thought of my mother-in-law. And whenever I think of her, one huge memory always comes through.
When we were first married, I would drive to my in-law’s house after work to pick up my husband, who car-pooled with his father. One day, on the way to their house, I was following behind a motorcycle. From the side of the road, a small cat came out of the field and began to cross. I watched, horrified, as the motorcyclist veered out of his way to hit the cat.
I can still remember to this day that little cat, flat out in the middle of the road, his head up, looking after the motorcyclist, as if wondering what happened and why did he do it.
I pulled over and parked, then stood over the cat to make sure no other vehicles hit him further. Eventually, he stood up and walked wobbling to the other side of the road. I held my hands on either side, so he could bump off of me and not fall back down. Then he disappeared into the cornfield.
I feel as if I was stone-faced when I got back into my car. I drove to my in-laws’ house. When I walked in, my mother-in-law looked up at me, did a doubletake, and she said, “What’s wrong, Kathie?”
I burst into tears and told the story. Before I was halfway through, my mother-in-law encircled me with her arms and held me so close, rocking me back and forth, and saying, “Oh, how awful. Oh, how awful.” Eventually, she sat me down at the kitchen table, brought me a cup of coffee and a cookie, and she hugged me again.
“Some people are just bad people, Kathie,” she said. “But you’re a good person.”
I’ve never forgotten it.
Because of COVID, my ex-mother-in-law died alone.
There was a memorial service for her this week, at her church. It was for family only, for the family I used to be a part of. If not for COVID, it would have been a typical funeral, and I would have slipped in and sat in the final row, so I could pay my respects and say goodbye. But I couldn’t. This was COVID era, and I was no longer family.
So I watched it on the video link.
When it was over, I headed out to Starbucks and then I had to go pick up a last-minute gift I’d ordered for my granddaughter. As I drove down the street, I suddenly had to grind to an almost-halt behind a very slow-moving vehicle. I saw that there were several, all moving really slowly. I thought maybe there was an accident ahead. And then I noticed the telltale flags on the antennas. And the flashing hazard lights.
“No,” I said out loud.
The cars turned at an intersection. I saw one son’s car, a bright red Kia Soul, and then my other son’s car, a little white Smartcar. I was at the end, the final car of my mother-in-law’s funeral procession.
I didn’t follow. But I watched them go up and over a hill. And then I said out loud, “Goodbye, Mom. Thank you so much.”
I felt at peace.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.