I’m writing this after just having had a big fight with my mother. After spending a wonderful day together shopping and talking about my upcoming wedding, she left my apartment in anger after I mentioned wanting to do a father-daughter and a mother-daughter dance.
As a child of divorce, I never really had dreams for a perfect wedding. I always felt like it was out of my reach, something other people had. I’m one of those people whose parents can’t bear to be in the same room together. In my family the hatred is constant. My parents divorced ten years ago but have been fighting over custody and money ever since. Lawyers and the police were still involved when I announced my engagement. I don’t blame my mother for her anger. My mother feels she was left with the burden of supporting and raising me while my dad got all the good stuff about being a parent but did none of the work and paid none of the bills. Tonight she told me she felt like she “dragged him kicking and screaming through parenthood.” My father feels like he did his best financially but was always active in my life. I love both my parents dearly.
After my mother left, J held me in his arms and stroked my hair as I wept. Navigating the emotional minefield of my parents’ divorce has always made me feel as though I was doing a balancing act between the emotions of two people with a blindfold on. To do anything that made one person happy, was the deepest of betrayals to the other. I could never predict when something was going to upset the balance. In this balancing act there is no room for my own emotions, no room for my own happiness.
While I never envisioned a perfect, happy wedding, I did always envision having a father-daughter dance. I longed to be physically close to my father, to have a moment in time just for us before going off to make my own little baby family. I always knew what song I wanted. When I bought my wedding dress I could see that moment in my mind. The problem is that in my mind, no one else was in the room. When I started to plan my actual wedding I decided I wanted that moment with my mother too. So I picked out a song just for us. I filled it with hopes and dreams of my mother crying when she heard our special song, holding me close and telling me she loves me. Tonight she tossed aside my request to have a mother-daughter dance like it was hush money, buying her silence as I betrayed her.
When my mother told me she couldn’t believe I would hurt her by having a father-daughter dance, I cried. I knew exactly how this would play out. My mother would accuse me of prioritizing my father’s feelings over hers. She would list everything she had ever done for me, everything he had neglected to do for me and then to drive the knife right into my heart she would remind me of the emotional abuse my father put her through during their marriage. I turn into a blubbering mess as this plays out, just as it has so many times before. She leaves and I continue to sob. This is the woman who I know loves me above all else but who in this moment can see nothing but her own pain.
J, the wonderful man that he his, holds me as my nose runs into the glass of wine I am gulping down. He tells me that this is our wedding, that it is our day to do what we want and that she’ll calm down over the next eight months. I nod, trying to reassure him that I’m okay, but deep down I know that she won’t calm down. I know that my mother will feel the hurt of this her entire life. She will add it to the list of painful memories her marriage and divorce has given her. I will add it to the list I quietly repeat to myself every day, the list of reasons why I hope my child will never have to live with divorce.
I go into the bathroom, sit on the hard, cool ceramic floor and cry while I type this. I know that I will have to choose between my happiness and hers yet again. This time I will choose mine. My wedding was never going to be a happy event for my mother. I will never have the mother who excitedly helps me plan my wedding because she has already added the day to her list. Instead I will add the wedding to another list, my list of happy moments I created with my baby family.
This wedding has made me think a lot about my uncle Darrell. A few years ago I lost my only uncle, whom I loved dearly, in a car crash. My cousin who was fifteen at the time is now also planning her wedding. She will never have the opportunity to have a father-daughter dance. We held each other and cried together for that loss at his funeral. I have decided I will not rob myself of such a precious memory, a memory I am lucky enough to have within my grasp, because it will cause my mother pain. The pain of their divorce is not my burden. I will dance with my father to revel in a final moment of being a child. I will play the song that is special to us. Then I will leave their divorce behind and I will create for my future child the emotional support I have always craved. I will work toward ridding my life of the emotional scars my parents’ marriage has left me with. I will create new memories. Marrying J sounds like a good place to start.
Photo by Gabriel Harber