My parents divorced when I was five, shortly after my mom threatened to shoot my dad in the head while he slept. She had playfully hidden his Browning somewhere in the house, and the cop used my bawling preschooler self to convince her to reveal where she hid the gun. My dad declined to press charges, but soon the brilliant idea of divorcing was enthusiastically embraced by all adults involved.
Both remarried, and both divorced again. I once asked my dad why he married my mom in the first place, and he explained that when they grew up, it was just expected. So they did, in 1961.
Today, they wouldn’t have married. Hell, with birth control, I wouldn’t have been born.
My mom continued to beat her depression into nightly senselessness with Gilbey’s Gin, although after my dad left she’d wait to start drinking until after she returned from her crappy secretarial job. This was an improvement over the previous model, where she’d start drinking in the morning and usually be passed out by the time my dad returned home from a long day of cheating on her with his secretary.
My mom died of slow suicide from alcoholism at 61. My dad, an angry misogynistic atheist, would trail my mom to a slow and depressing death about ten years later, fifteen years after I had married myself.
You’d think I’d be down on marriage. But I’m not.
Being Married is the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done
My parents were great examples: great examples of what not to do. From them I learned that you have to deal with your issues. You have to communicate, and talk, and admit the truth. You have to put aside your own emotions, and commit to something bigger than yourself. You have to know why you’re together, commit to each other, and be a team. And you have to make your kids a priority.
Growing up, I lived in a very small world. No community. No religious identity. No extended family. No brothers or sisters. My parents put their needs and wants ahead of mine, and mostly I was expected to stay out of the way. When my stepfather came into the equation, a terrifying but ultimately decent man who was scarred by a childhood of physical abuse and two combat tours in Vietnam, my own life went from negligence to life-threatening fear of his alcoholic rages. Beatings and then the simple threat of beatings turned me into an A student. When I left for college he told me that he’d pay my tuition, but it was his house now, and I wasn’t welcome back. That was hard. What little connection I had to anything were cut. My mom also went back to drinking hard, and the liver failures that would ultimately kill her started soon after.
I went to a good college, but had trouble opening up to people and forming relationships, romantic or otherwise. I feared the pain of rejection, particularly after my affluent college friends told me they knew I was making up stories about my family to get sympathy. For years I shut down talking about my family and the pain. I was alone, and experienced building isolation after college. I drifted, unconnected to anyone or anything, unable to find purpose and meaning in life, and I fell deeper and deeper into untreated depression.
Somehow I survived my hard times, and came to a few hard-won conclusions about life and why we’re here, and most especially the importance of honest relationships and answers to the question of, “Why marry?”
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