Three days ago, my son attended his dad's wedding. He got dressed up in a suit and bow tie and led the way down the aisle as the pageboy, wrote a little speech which the best man delivered on his behalf then well and truly burnt up the dance floor.
I don't suppose I'll ever find out what he wrote in his speech or how he was really feeling on the day. I was not there with him - I was 4000 km away on the other side of the country.
I do know that he was very excited to be flying to Brisbane unaccompanied and that he was chuffed to be asked to be part of the wedding party. He was also looking forward to seeing his dad's sister and brother, who had both flown in from England. Except for a very casual marriage ceremony he and I went to several years ago, it was also the first real wedding he had ever attended.
When he walked off the plane, he didn't give me the enormous hug that I was expecting; not like other times when he has returned from holidays with his dad. He did give me a little hug, but it felt rushed, awkward even. His trip to Brisbane lasted only three days this time. I know that he must have been extremely tired from doing the flight twice in less than half a week and from all the excitement that he'd packed in in between. He'd probably only had five hours' sleep the night before after getting home late from the reception then getting up early to get to the airport. This is what I told myself to rationalise his lack of affection. I can't deny that it hurt though.
On the way home in the car, I asked him all sorts of questions about the wedding, mainly about what he had to do as a pageboy, if he'd had fun dancing, if he'd had a wonderful time catching up with his aunt and uncle. He responded to everything without going into much detail then suddenly he said: "why are you asking me all these questions?" I wasn't really doing anything other than what I normally do. Each day when he comes home from school, I bombard him with questions about what he did at recess, what he did at lunch, what he learnt that day, what was his favourite thing that happened during the day, and so on and so on. I got the feeling this time that he knew that this wedding had nothing to do with me. I felt intrusive then for asking.
So how does it feel when the man you married marries someone else?
The day of the wedding, I was laying on the grass out in the garden, my baby crawling around on top of me, enjoying the spring weather and watching the clouds form and reform themselves into animal shapes. And as I daydreamed, I asked myself that very question: what exactly are you feeling?
It's been almost seven years since we went our separate ways. It was my decision. That doesn't mean it wasn't the hardest damn decision I've ever made in my life though.
For at least two years afterwards, if you'd asked me how I felt, I would have said angry. I was angry at the man I married for belittling me for four years, for controlling me, for uttering unspeakably cruel words which echoed in my ears day after day. I was bitter for the time I had lost by being with him, time I felt that was supposed to have been the very best years of my life. I was crushed by the sting of infidelity. I was exhausted beyond measure from lack of sleep. Then like salt to a wound, I was also shocked and deeply hurt by the judgement I faced from others from having left a marriage and from having taken my son away from his father.
But mostly, people didn't really ask me how I felt and to those wonderful enough to really care, I usually shrugged it off and said I was coping pretty well. I'd got married young and I knew full well that there were whispers behind my back underlining my stupidity and speculating an expiry date for my relationship well before I'd even walked down the aisle. When I ended the marriage, I knew there were just as many whispers of I told you so. Many arguments ensued in those first years. Not just between my ex and I. Not everyone in my camp was happy with my decision and my ex's family definitely weren't. I was the one to pull the plug and that therefore made me the bad guy. Those were the years of cries and whispers.
I didn't have any close friends at the time who were divorced or separated. In fact, a lot of my friends were still living at home with their parents or were setting off to backpack around the world. Every time I spoke to my ex on the phone regarding the finer points of our separation - the distribution of our belongings, the signing of the divorce papers, the organisation of his visits with our son - the conversation would turn ugly after a matter of minutes and my stomach would twist in angry knots of hatred. Yes, I really did hate him. I hated him for a long, long time.
But time marches on. Each season fades into the next. Eventually we learn how to sleep again and slowly, ever so slowly, we heal during that sleep. We go to new places, we meet new people. These places and these people can change us for the better, if we let them. A cloud that was once a dragon gradually turns into a butterfly.
So this is what I realised, as I lay there: I realised that I did not feel anger, or resentment, or bitterness or envy or even scorn. I realised that I genuinely want my son's father and his new wife to be enormously happy and to stay together in that happiness for the rest of their lives. I need my son to know that relationships can work and that they can last. I want him to see as many examples of that in his life as possible. With all my heart I hope that their marriage is blessed with children, because I want my son to have more brothers and sisters. When they come along I know it will feel like another party that I'm not invited to, but I will still be delighted for them. I know that even if I never see their future children, I will love them simply because they are my little boy's little siblings.
Something has shifted over these years. My son's father and are aren't exactly friends, but we can talk on the phone now without arguing. I now realise we have very little in common and even if we did, I don't think it would be respectful to his new wife if we were to be 'friends'. Everybody is different, but that's just how I feel about it. I see him very seldom and I know that if it weren't for our son I would never see him at all. We don't really talk about anything except our son, so our limited conversations are centred on a little boy who we both think is absolutely incredible. That is one thing we do have in common.
My relationship with his family has changed too. There have been several times over the last couple of years where we have shared a cup of tea at each other's homes when I have dropped my son off to see them or when they were bringing him home to me. When my daughter was born, they sent me little baby dresses in the mail. Whenever they see her, they always fuss over her.
Sometimes it seems that it all happened decades ago. Other times it feels like it didn't happen to me at all, that it happened to someone else altogether. Every now and then I think of one of our happier moments, years ago. For such a long time, I couldn't remember any of the good times we had together at all; they were so clouded by all the hurt and sorrow. And when I think of one of those moments, I stop and smile.
I have discovered something that I believed impossible seven years ago. I have discovered that it is possible to find a sense of peace.
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