VOICES FLOAT SOMEWHERE behind me, low pitched and somber. “Thank you for coming . . . Thank you . . . I’ll make sure she knows . . . Their two sons, just over there . . . Thank you . . . Yes, so unexpected . . . terribly sad.”
I wear black, of course. Nearly wore green earrings for courage, but in the end, just black. All the better to match my shock. My despair. I don’t want to be here. Please. I’m empty, yet full of hot hurt. I don’t want this. Not this.
The coffin lies before me, rude and glossy and solemn. It’s smaller than I thought it would be. It should be much larger for what it holds—nearly thirteen years of memories. And my heart. Our dreams, unmet. And my life as it was, before. Who is going to carry it? Can it be lifted? Can it even be borne?
I am battered, bruised, broken. My eyes rough, allergic to the world. My thrumming head floats untethered, lost, my neck misplaced in my body’s jigsaw. A piece lost in my middle; crystal-edged air seeps in, frosting my skin, slowing my blood, chilling me into disuse. I’m splitting, disintegrating, tumbling into the crevasse, motionless. Voices drift through thick fog, or pierce with painful clarity with no warning or reason. Can’t move, don’t want to, can’t think, don’t want to be here.
I keep staring at the coffin. Blink—it’s still there. Close my eyes, breathe, then peek again. Still there. It isn’t going to go away.
It holds my marriage.
My marriage is dead.
Start the funeral.
I have wished for a funeral for my marriage. Some outward display to ceremoniously acknowledge what I have lost, what I am mourning, and the changes it has forced into my life. I have burnt the love letters he wrote me, crouching beside a furious fire, the words consumed at midnight. But that was a private occasion without the recognition an unwanted death deserves. I’ve yearned for the keening, wanted bruises to bloom from beating the grief to my breast, longed for the public acknowledgment and acceptance of the grief melting my face.
But of course, no one has a funeral for a dead marriage. No corpse lying peacefully nearby. No carefully chosen hymns, no gently playing accompaniments. No soft, respectful words pronounced over the gathered mourners. No tissue-sodden hands holding shoulders through tears. No funeral meal, no Relief Society bustling in and out of kitchens and homes in order to ease the passing of the beloved. When a marriage dies, there is no balm of time, no suspension of reality while you tenderly farewell the dead. No courtesy of distance, of allowed solitude before you face the outside again in faltering baby steps. Instead, the world continues merrily on, expecting you to keep up, keep smiling, keep on keeping on, because it’s not like anyone DIED or anything, right?
I just hurt like it. People avert their eyes, leave the room, change course to avoid me. Others circle like greedy dogs intent on gorging on the resulting distress and gossip. Others watch from afar, unwilling spectators unable to look away from the wreckage. I am a woman to be pitied, whose husband has left her. No reason given, no possibility of repair, just the instant, final, callous murder of a marriage.
Even without the proof of bodies or death certificates, two people no longer exist. I miss the man I thought my husband was. The man whose touch on my shoulder I instantly recognized, who could make me laugh until I needed my asthma pump, who knew just by looking when I needed a hug. The man who knelt in amazement before my new stretch marks, kissing each one in welcome. The husband who, years later, knelt with tears in his eyes as we were sealed as an eternal family. The other half who I believed would never leave my side, who would love me forever, because he promised he would.
I have lost the man who knew me at my most vulnerable, ugly and terrified, and loved me anyway. He was the man I would have wrinkled beside, cried on, yelled at, and absolutely loved for the rest of my life. That man is gone, though my sons still call him “Dad”; a stranger is in his place, a man with the same name, the exact same cleft in his chin, living elsewhere. That man told me there was no one else, that it wasn’t my fault our marriage was over; he just didn’t love me as a wife anymore. Yet he sat beside another woman in the flickering dark, popcorn scenting the air between them. That stranger cast off the family we were, and has walked away, leaving lives gaping and ragged behind him, and me, keening beyond hoarse.
With the death of the husband I thought I had, the woman I was as his wife has gone too. I miss her, and her sprawling, casual security of being loved. I miss her giddy, confident burrowing into his side as she wrapped her arms around him tight, knowing he would squeeze back while kissing the crown of her hair. I remember her dancing inside her own heart, just thinking of him. I miss her feeling of sexiness, her smooth legs and painted nails, and the evening lush with anticipation and desire. I miss her comfort in being surrounded by her man and boys, a woman so sated with love that the world could shrink to the lounge they lay on, and it would be enough. The woman who loved, trusted, reveled in being partnered, married, joined with him, has disappeared. Unnoticed, unsung, unlamented by everyone but me.
Grief pulls me, yanking between the loss of what I once held, and sorrow for what I will never live to remember. I will not spend sixty years with the father of my children. I will not be certain of his love for me. I will not be able to look at a temple and think of our sealing with happiness. I will not serve a mission with him. I will not see him ordain Patrick to the priesthood; he will not baptize Steven. There will be no father’s blessings or priesthood-holders-only discussions. No in-house, everyday example of priesthood, no trio reflections fixing ties before church.
I will not watch his face slowly melt into the lines of his fathers, nor will he watch my hair slowly tarnish from bronze to gray. We will not hold each other against the pain and suffering of the world, nor rejoice, palms joined, at missionary returns, close calls, new grandbabies, and birthday barbecues. And when he dies, I will not be able to mourn him with thanksgiving, respect, or a resurrection-bright hope.
I will have no funeral for my marriage. No gathered mourners, no tear-choked eulogy, no prayer-greased processions. No program to fold lovingly and place in the special drawer for safekeeping.
I will have a burial instead.
I approach the coffin calmly, sadness weighing my heels. The lid is unique to my touch, silken in places, raised splintered swirls in others. It’s fitting.
I lift the lid a little, and see a fading sunset inside. Carefully, gently, I slide in my disappointment, then the spikes of his lies. Unanswered questions plink in, tumbling past my heated embarrassment, to finally rest in the deep gouges of betrayal. In slips the clouded cocoon of our once-dreamed-of future, dissolved to melted whispers against my fingers. Before I close the lid again two pearls soar out, each fading beyond sight as they seek out my sons, the heart-caught bounty of this relationship.
The coffin lowers into the earth. It shouldn’t be there, but it is. I look to the horizon, take a breath, and cover the box with red earth. I sniff, squeezing my eyes shut, and grass coats the ground. My marriage is dead and finally buried. I don’t doubt that on a difficult day I will storm back to pour new mementos or frustrations into the marriage plot, possibly with more bashing from a nearby shovel than may be decorous. Or that at times I may water it too heavily with my tears. But no matter the tempest, it will stay buried, remain behind, while I continue on.
One day I will bring each son here to sit by the gravestone and watch the blooming flowers pushing up from beneath. One day, when the fierce sting has faded to a remembered ache. When I can tell my sons that the journey wasn’t wasted, that I buried my marriage with respect, and regret, and then chose to look forward. And I will tell them that it hurt so much when my marriage died because of what I lost. That our marriage was fun, and funny, and boring, and fulfilling, and difficult and flawed and exceptional. I will look them in the eye and tell them that yes, marriages can die, but they can flourish as well, because marriage is about two people choosing each other every single second. That marriage, and love, can be worth it.
And one day I will wear green earrings for courage, and smile, and peacefully leave my mourning behind me.