The Last Thirty-Seven Minutes of My Marriage
By Dr. Elizabeth Degi DuBois, PhD
Exactly 360 days after filing for divorce from the person I thought was my ‘forever’, I find myself sitting on Z Family Law’s sofa, waiting for my almost-ex-husband to arrive to sign the final settlement papers.
I’ve been on this sofa all day. I’ve melded with the fibers of its cushions, grounding myself in throw pillows while my psyche has been hovering somewhere above my head. My mind has flitted from memories of our rehearsal dinner, my much-loved in-laws and the pain of losing them in the process of leaving my toxic marriage, and the third bowl of fro-yo I plan to have in just a few hours to celebrate being DONE with the worst year of my life.
I am restless and excitable.
A bit nostalgic, a bit nihilistic.
Burn it all down! The last vestiges of my marriage— the sports car he insisted I wanted to keep even when I begged for a more practical car for our growing toddler, the house I spent two years renovating while my PhD dissertation languished in grad-school purgatory— will be gone in just a few days. I’ll trade in the car, and slap a “For Sale” sign on the house we fought in for three years as our son grew ever more anxious. An all-out clearance Blue Light Special on all the things I thought would signify that we had a good marriage.
The accumulated property, the professional accolades I helped him rack up….so much sweetness has turned to dust on my tongue in the years of acrimony and resentment that built up between us as we built a life together. Fourteen years of a shared life have unraveled over the course of the 53 weeks from the day I filed for divorce to this evening, when we will sign the final papers.
In between trying to stay tethered to the earth by sofa-melding and anxiously downing coffee, I’d been juggling calls from my soon-to-be-ex and the various financial and legal professionals that have helped unspool my marriage. I have lost count of the number of times they have beeped in on each other, have lost count of the number of times my phone battery went down to 10% before I capitulated to taking off my earbuds so I can charge my phone while on speaker.
I am numb. Not in an “I’m in so much emotional pain that I can’t feel” way, but more in an “I have so many feelings that I just can’t hold all of them” sort of way. The fear and the sadness and the excitement and the newness and the freedom and the clarity on the financial details have all started to cancel each other out. Too many feelings to pack into one body, into one evening.
I close my eyes, willing myself to stay in the moment. My brain rattles back to an evening four and a half years before this one, when I was hunched over a different piece of furniture in a different kind of pain. I was on a hospital bed in the labor and delivery ward of George Washington University Hospital, in the midst of the worst contraction yet as my body prepared to transition from pregnant-lady to mom. After nearly a year of a very emotionally tumultuous pregnancy, the last push was almost here. The minutes were suspended in time; seconds felt like hours when the pain was this intense. My husband had brow-beaten an attendee to find the anesthesiologist to perform an epidural. I wanted to be numb, to just feel nothing through to the end of this crazy pregnancy process. I knew that the New Normal of being a mom was worth the pain and the fear and the uncertainty of the months preceding this night, but geez was I ready to be done.
Finally, finally an orderly appeared with a gloriously full bag of anesthesia attached to a rather terrifyingly-large needle. My doula and midwife helped shift me into position to get the meds, right as the wave of another contraction began to crash over me. As I tried to meld into the bed, to find something to ground me, my doula leaned over me and whispered into my ear, “feel this one, Elizabeth. Really feel it; it’s the last one you’re going to have.”
Tonight, the pain is different. Memories and years of planning a future being laid to rest with the signing of a final Marital Separation Agreement. A different kind of transition, a different kind of birthing into a new life. Sitting on the sofa in Z Family Law’s office, I close my eyes and rest my hands over the too-fast beat of my heart. My eyes pop open when Christy enters the room, asking if I am alright. “I’m just trying to really feel it,” I answer.
I can’t wrap words around what I mean— I’ve felt the loss of my marriage, felt the freedom of shedding the silent dinners where we radiated resentment at each other and the awkward tightness of acting civil in front of friends. Those feelings have come and gone. The feeling I’m trying to capture tonight is different; it’s honoring the courage it took for me to decide to leave my husband, trying to appreciate with gratitude the hope I felt at the outset of my marriage, and accepting with as much grace as possible the reality that it is truly about to be over.
These next few minutes of my marriage are the last ones. I really want to feel them. For better or for worse, they’re the last ones I’m going to have.