“Why aren’t you married yet?”
I heard that question for about the millionth time at a party last night.
It is amazing to me how many people (so many of whom are totally miserable in their marriages by the way) have the… nerve?…lack of manners? to ask me that question. And it is usually people who do not know me very well which makes it even weirder.
Of course, they always add a jellyfish compliment to the end of their inquiry to somehow “soften” the question (i.e. “I mean you’re such a catch- why hasn’t someone snatched you up?” or some other similar b.s.)
(If you are wondering, it doesn’t really soften the question.)
And each time I am asked, I shrug and look away- unsure of what to say.
But rather than shy away from it, I decided that maybe I needed to answer the question once and for all for anyone and everyone who wants to know….
I am not married because of Dairy Queen, lipstick, puke and post-it notes.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
But it is the truth.
Perhaps I should explain.
I am a child of divorce. I have parents that you look at and wonder how on earth they ever ended up together. It isn’t a matter of one being good and the other bad- but just of the two being terrible together.
And there is no doubt in my mind that growing up that way impacts you. It shapes you. It confuses you. It hurts you.
I think somewhere deep inside, all children of divorce wonder if the two people who made them cannot love each other, then who can?
But ironically, that isn’t the chapter of my life that has stopped me from getting married. That would be the obvious choice I know. But I hate the obvious choice.
It is the next chapter that got me- it is the next chapter that I keep going back to and rereading.
You see, it wasn’t seeing two people who didn’t love each other fall apart but rather watching two people who adored each other fall together that left a permanent impact on my soul….
I think the first time I realized that something odd was going on with my mother was when I was around 12, and she got so excited (downright giggly in fact) because she was meeting a “friend” for coffee at Dairy Queen.
Not a steak dinner at Sullivan’s or an exotic trip to the Caribbean– coffee at Dairy Queen.
My mom and Dean (which is what I always called my stepdad because he was dean of a law school when he met my mom) would meet at the Dairy Queen near the school where she taught whenever they had time in their busy schedules.
I am pretty sure the coffee sucked.
I am equally sure that neither of them ever noticed.
My mother was 38 and was (and is) gorgeous and charming and generally amazing. Dean was 53 with silver hair and was handsome and powerful and brilliant.
But they could not have been more different. My mother drove an ancient Mercedes that had red nail polish stains on the gear shift where she had spilled it while trying to touch up her nails on the way to work (now do you people see why I text, apply make-up and read in the car??).
Dean would not have a wrapper from a straw in his car on his worst day.
Was he horrified by the nail polish? Of course not. Because it was hers- and thus it was charming and funny.
When they went on one of their first dates, my mother was an hour late as she was primping (to go out on a boat…).
I learned later from my stepsister that Dean- a former high ranking military officer- freaked if anyone was five minutes late. But, of course, that rule did not apply to my mother because she was worth the wait (According to my stepsister, that was the day she KNEW he was in love.)
And yes, they fell in love.
And yes, they got married.
And we became a non-traditional family of five with me being the baby, my sister the middle and my stepsister the oldest.
Rest assured, it wasn’t always easy. My stepsister would be the first to tell you that she got the shorter end of the stick as she was an only child who “inherited” two younger sisters (and while I am amazing, my sister can be a real pain when she wants to be (HA!)).
But by and large, we made it work and grew to love each other.
There are so many funny and wonderful and memorable things that happened during our journey together, but there are three events that I think about the most (If this were a movie, this is the moment where my sisters would chime in about how absurd it is that I think of everything so logically and in numbered order whereas Dean would applaud my organizational way of thinking)….
1. Whenever my mom and I would go to run errands, she would always reapply her lipstick on our way home. For years I thought it was the oddest thing. Who puts on lipstick to go home rather than to go out? I am not sure how long it took me to understand that she did it because she wanted to be beautiful for Dean. The person that mattered most to her wasn’t outside our home but inside our home.
2. When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, I got sick one day at summer school and called Dean to pick me up from school. He had a brand new Cadillac that he kept immaculately clean (i.e. no nail polish stains in that car). Once he picked me up, I think I started puking before we even left the school parking lot…. and continued to puke the whole way home. Did he yell at me? Did he get annoyed? Nope. He rubbed my back and reassured me and got me home as quickly as possible so he could take care of me. I never heard a word of complaint about how I more or less destroyed his car that day. Never.
3. Throughout their courtship and marriage, Dean left my mother sweet notes all over the house. Sometimes they were the mushy gushy Hallmark cards with flowers on the front, but more often than not they were plain yellow post-it notes written in his distinctive block handwriting. “I love you.” “Have a great day.” “You are the love of my life.” “Thanks for all you do.”
They were affixed to the coffee pot, the mirrors, the car- everywhere.
When he died, I found a huge stack of those love notes that my mother had saved. I pull them out from time to time- not to read them because they are not mine to read- but just to remind myself of what true love actually looks like.
And there were so many other things….
He always took her car and filled it up with gas as he would not dream of her pumping her own gas- especially if it were cold outside.
He bought her a Rolex one Christmas because she had always wanted one even though he thought watches should be purchased from the drugstore and cost no more than $10.
He made her coffee every morning.
When my grandmother got older and her health was failing, he went to her condominium every single day to have coffee with her and visit. He became her best friend.
And I do not mean to suggest that it was a one way street- she loved him every bit as much.
She made him his favorite meals.
She supported his career and helped his law school obtain accreditation.
She went fishing with him regularly and stayed in horrible, gross motels during these trips (If you ever met my mother, you would understand how big of a deal this is. If you know me, then you in essence know my mother and understand how big of a deal this is….).
She moved to Florida because it was his dream.
She scratched his back every night.
In April 2005 when we all gathered at Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville for him to undergo surgery, I walked in the cafeteria to find the two of them drinking coffee with him draped in a blanket that my mother had gone and bought at the gift shop because she could not bear for him to be cold while they ate lunch.
And when that surgery was over and the surgeons broke the news that he would not likely wake up and even if he did, he would be more or less a vegetable, my mother did what was probably the hardest- and the greatest- act of love that any of us can ever be called upon to do- she let him go.
And in the days that we waited for him to actually pass once the machines were turned off, she laid in the hospital bed curled up next to him and held his hand and combed his hair- refusing to leave his side for even a moment.
For better or for worse…. In sickness and in health….
So, you see, this amazing love story has proven to be both the greatest gift and the biggest curse that my parents could have ever given to me because–
I want Dairy Queen and post-it notes.
I want blankets when I am cold.
I want someone who loves my friends and my family as much as I do- in spite of puke or whatever else may arise.
I want someone who will cook my favorite foods.
I want someone who will keep vigil at my bedside when I am sick- and who will love me enough to let me go when that time comes.
I want amazing, big, important, unconditional, sweet, brave, forgiving, unbreakable love.
And I won’t settle for less.
Each time my heart is broken, I go through a period of mourning where I swear I will never love someone so much again– I tell myself that I will never again give someone my blankets and Dairy Queen and “puke forgiveness” kind of love.
But, after a while, I think about those damn post-it notes- and I soften. And before you know it, I am willing to try again because I am absolutely convinced that it is worth it.
So, for anyone who is wondering, I am not married because of Dairy Queen, lipstick, puke and post-it notes…. And I am actually really proud of that.
Thank you Mom and Dean.