Why I Commemorate the Anniversary of my Husband Leaving Me

Mostly, life is a series of days that resemble each other. We get up, go to work, see friends, watch TV, read a book. If it is a good day, we might go for a hike to a nice vista, travel somewhere new, attend a particularly fun party or enjoy some nice sex. If it is a bad day, Revenue Canada might send us a notice of collection, or a huge SUV T-bones us at an intersection, or the basement floods. But for the most part, the details fade. There are only a few moments in our life that represent major crossroads, that stick out among the endless days, moments that are seared into our brain because of the intensity of emotion, the sheer bigness of the event.

The details of that day—that weekend, really—are as vivid to me as the moments I was told my father and my nephew died, or the days I gave birth to my children. As vivid as the day J first asked to kiss me, or asked me to marry him.

The weekend began with small to medium tremors, foreshadowing a larger earthquake. On Friday night, when we were lying in bed after coming home from drinks with friends, he told me he loved me but wasn’t sure he was in love with me anymore. In a desperate attempt to not panic, I attempted some mental alchemy with his words, spinning his straw statement into the golden possibility of change and renewal. He was not happy. Okay, well, this is an opportunity! Let’s talk about what needs to change! We can make this stronger!

 On Saturday, we attended an annual dinner party with friends from high school who had all moved to Montreal. The minute She walked through the door he ignored me. She was all he could see. Our master of ceremonies read out our goals from five years ago. Mine was to find J a studio. While the MC read mine out loud, J was not listening, but whispering in Her ear. I got drunk and belligerent in my invisibility and hurt.

On Sunday, February 22, 2015, J asked me to stop by his studio. He wanted to talk. I was coming home from a walk with my friend on the mountain and was laden with groceries for our contribution to an Oscar watching potluck our family was attending in a couple of hours. He sat me down in front of his wall of portraits of friends and family he had recently painted.

 “I am having an affair and I’m not sure I want to be married anymore,” he said in one breath.

I stared at the portraits. There was one of me of course, painted from a picture taken a decade before when we first moved to Montreal. The only one that had two portraits was the person with whom he was confessing to having an affair, the person at the party he couldn’t keep away from.

The silence was like the one between a lightning flash and thunder, between the mushroom cloud and the deafening vibrations of an explosion. I heard the words, but it took a while for them to hit me. All I could see were those two portraits.

I have to go make a kale salad, I said. I am sure I said other things. I don’t remember getting mad though, at least not in the studio. I felt like that woman on the highway in Wild at Heart, wondering around the lonely stretch of road with blood dripping down her face.

On the anniversary of my father’s death, the girls and I have root beer floats to commemorate his memory (my father used to make his own root beer). On the anniversary of my nephew’s death we go visit him in the cemetery where his plaque is beside my father’s. It is a way of pausing and taking some time to remember them, to try and keep them alive in our hearts.

February 22 is a smaller, more private commemoration. I take a moment to write in my journal (or on this blog) to think about the last few years and how far I have come. I commemorate this moment because it is like the San Andreas fault, a huge crack in the seam of my life. There is my life before J left, and there is my life after. More importantly, there is the me before divorce and who I have become in the six years since he left.

Taking a moment during this week to remember is a way of honouring my married self, the person who tried hard to be the best wife and mother she could be with the tools at her disposal. Though she tried hard, she got many things wrong. I want to honour both her efforts and her mistakes so that I can, with as much compassion as I can give to myself, not repeat them.

It is also a way to celebrate and recognise the hard work it has taken me to get to the place I am now. The J bomb exploded our family. It meant the death of a life that I worked hard to build, that meant everything to me. Commemorating its end is a way to honour that life and keep it alive in my heart, while celebrating this new adventure.

There are no cemeteries of failed relationships to go visit, no gravestones for lost loves to adorn with flowers. I guess I could commemorate this day with a bottle of wine and a hangover, but that seems counter-productive and masochistic—the point is to feel the pain, not mask it, and definitely not cause more of it.

So far, I have contented myself with taking a moment to remember, but I think I will start a new tradition this year. I will buy myself flowers, treat myself as both the person in mourning and the person who died. Lilies to remember the person I was up until the moment J switched off his love and left. Bright gerberas for the person I have become without him.

Yes, today I buy myself flowers.

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