This past Sunday, I went to a wedding. The “young” woman (26) is the daughter of a friend I’ve known since Junior High School. Kay met her now-husband while she was attending the same high school that her mom and I attended and after many years of dating, graduating from college and beginning a career, Kay and Kory are now husband and wife. As Scully’s Mom and I made the hour-and-a-half drive to the wedding venue I thought back to a day in June, 1982, that I, as a young bride-to-be, waited for my guests to arrive and prepared to wed a man I wasn’t in love with.
Our relationship was tumultuous from the start and despite repeated warnings from friends and family, I continued to see Robert. I was a practicing Catholic at the time and although the church forbid co-habitating before marriage Robert and I got an apartment together in a suburb roughly 20 miles outside of Los Angeles and each of us moved our meager belongings into our new one-bedroom “home.” My parents were so upset by the move that we didn’t see or speak to one another for nearly two years.
It wasn’t long before things between Robert and I turned violent. He was a heavy drinker and occasionally used drugs and because I did neither and was upset that he did, he became violent whenever I broached the topic. I spent more than a few nights in the local ER only to return home to flowers and gifts the next day. Each time, Robert assured me that “it would never happen again,” so when it did I was surprised until I slowly realized that not only would it continue to happen but each time would be worse than the one before.
Despite the obvious warning signs, we planned a wedding for June 2, 1982. It’s been said that one of two things happens when couples plan to get married – they either focus completely on the wedding and forget about the marriage or focus on preparing for the marriage with the wedding being a celebration of what’s to come. I did the former. I knew that I wasn’t in love with Robert (in fact, I was scared of him) and yet my desperate need to loved and wanted, to be part of a “couple,” was stronger than logic and I soon shifted my attention to wedding plans – and for a while, that seemed to work.
As the time drew near to actually marry Robert, I told no one that I didn’t love him (and never really had). I simply went through the motions and after the hour-long Catholic ceremony, I was his wife. He had been drinking before the wedding and continued to drink at the reception and when it came time to give the vendor the last payment, he shoved a stack of our wedding cards into my hands and told me to go into the bathroom and “see how much money you can find in these.” Through tears, I opened every card and with the money we received and a $200.00 loan from his father, we paid what we owed and headed off to Las Vegas for the honeymoon, with little more than $100.00 in our pockets. All I remember about that trip is almost being escorted off the plane after Robert became belligerent with another passenger and stumbled over to where the man sat, threatening to “beat the &%$@ out of him.” I honestly don’t remember anything after that.
I’ve been divorced for many, many, years but each time I attend a wedding, I find myself traveling back in time to my own wedding and I become filled with sadness and regret. I also ask myself why I can’t let my terrible experience remain in the past where it belongs and focus on the loving, committed relationship I’m in now. I feel ashamed that I can’t set my feelings aside and be completely present for the couple whose love I’m there to celebrate and I sincerely and honestly ask G-d to help me let go of a past so painful that it returns to haunt my thoughts during times that are meant for happiness and love.
Kay and Kory are likely on their way to their honeymoon destination by now. They’ll come home to a condo they bought, furnished, and decorated with the help of family and friends and they’ll continue on with their lives as a married couple. As I watched Kay on the dance floor Sunday, I noticed she looked genuinely happy and her smile told me that she thought of nothing but the fun she was having in that moment. At the same time, I felt my breath catch in my throat and tears come to my eyes, not because I was happy for her but because I was sad for myself – what I experienced was envy. Immanuel Kant describes it best:
” Envy is a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own… a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others…”
I felt small on the ride home and wondered if there will ever be a time when I don’t envy the fortune of others? Perhaps, as I prepare to turn 50 next year, I’m beginning to mourn my “youth” knowing that age is simply a state of mind and turning 50 doesn’t have to be the end of anything! Or perhaps I went to a wedding and simply had a bad day traveling back down the halls of memory.
It’s funny about taking a trip “down memory lane.” I can do so with all the lights on and find enjoyable memories – things I want to remember. But I can also make the trip with the lights off, failing to allow the light from my current life to surround me and lead the way. I can become a better person by refusing to allow my past to turn me into someone I don’t like and I can ask G-d to give me the strength and courage to let this particular event from my past become a very distant memory.
I hope Kay and Kory are having a good time in the tropical paradise they chose for their honeymoon and as I think of them this week I will ask G-d to allow me to turn the ugliness that is envy into the brightness that is self-less happiness for a young couple just beginning their journey together.
Holding on to the past has become difficult and painful. I believe it’s time to let it go.