It was a pleasure to burn
This week would have been my 15th wedding anniversary
I can’t believe the last time I wrote you was in May.
I can’t believe this is our reality. A reality where there is revolution in the streets and idiocy in the halls of power. Where 140,000 people have died and yet, my daughter’s best friends mother texts me to say I’m overreacting and the virus isn’t real.
I got a puppy.
I took down the blinds in my home.
I have crippling back pain.
I broke up with someone.
The governor’s press person keeps calling my boss every fortnight to complain about me.
I’ve marched in the streets.
I’ve had moonshine.
I burned my wedding dress.
We’ve all lived so many lifetimes.
This week would have marked my 15th wedding anniversary if I hadn’t ended my marriage three years ago.
I always congratulate people on divorce. Deciding to end something is not an easy decision. Anyone who has gone through the process knows that it is not the easy way out. I think being brave enough to say, I deserve more. I deserve happiness. Takes courage. A courage we don’t really laud in America.
I remember the moment that I knew it was over.
I was writing God Land and had come back from research trip that had taken about five days. I had two small children at the time (5 and 3) and just getting to go on that trip took so much negotiating. He wouldn’t take time off. So, I had to hire a patchwork of babysitters and a relative even came in for a weekend. I had made food for the entire week and put it in the freezer, carefully labeled with cooking instructions. Plus, special food for the kids. I had grocery shopped and cleaned and done laundry. I had paid babysitters out of my freelance earnings.
We were in couple’s therapy almost every week by then, trying to discuss the erosion of our lives and America. It was August of 2017.
I came back late on a Sunday night and the house was a mess. A literal bag of trash was in the kitchen and had tipped over. I had to wake up at 5am the next day to get up with the kids and take them to their school. Then, I rushed back to the house to pick up before the house cleaner came, I also had two freelance assignments due. As I was rushing around cleaning I noticed a small wooden sign that I had on the hutch, one that read “drink up, witches!” had disappeared.
It was just gone.
My whole marriage things had been disappearing. Mugs. T-shirts. Books. I believed I was just forgetful. And I am. Or you know what? Maybe I am not. But things would disappear. For example, I had a denim button-up that I loved to wear for nursing. I’d pair with a white nursing tank and boom. It was versatile. It kept disappearing. So, by the time my youngest was 3 I had purchased 4 of them.
The spring of 2017, I was doing a big purge of the house to get rid of baby things and I found all my missing things in a box in the back of a crawl space in the basement. All of them, just there. Put there because he didn’t like them.
We’d talked about it in therapy and he agreed never to do it again.
But there I was a full six months later, and my witches sign was missing.
I remember standing very still. I feel like I stood in that dining room for hours, just staring at the spot where the sign should be. He’d taken it. He hid it. This was my life. This would always be my life unless I walked away. Earlier in the year, a friend had told me that I didn’t need to play a game of chicken with my life. That I didn’t need to wait for the other person to blink before I veered away from the crash.
The next day in therapy, I asked for a divorce.
Two days later, we left for my brother’s wedding. He was getting married at 25. I wore a dress that was too fancy and cried at midnight in the hotel lobby where I sat watching a documentary about Princess Diana.
I got married at 22. I wanted a dress like the one Audrey Hepburn wears in “Funny Face.”
I had a $5,000 wedding budget and all I could spend was $200 on my dress. My aunt offered to sew it, but god bless, she was a little flaky and I didn’t know how I was going to go down to Oklahoma for fittings. So, I bought my dress off a discount bridal website.
The dress came to my future mother-in-laws house who was supposed to text me when it came so I could immediately look at it and see if it fit, because I had 48 hours to return it. By the time I got to her house, it had been 48 hours and upon examining the dress, I noticed a flaw in the fabric near the right armpit. I called the company, but they wouldn’t return or exchange. It turned into a huge ordeal. I reported them to the Better Business Bureau, but I was out $200 and all I got this dress with a flaw.
I remember sobbing that it was an omen. Of course, I thought everything was an omen.
(Me in 2005)
I mean, of course now, we think, “Oh a flaw in the fabric! It meant something!” But of course, it only does now that it’s over. If we hadn’t divorced would I have remembered the flaw? I think a lot about the book Unbearable Lightness of Being. In it Kundera writes, “Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.”
He also writes that a metaphor is powerful, it can lead to love. But it can also lead to divorce.
Was putting on that dress a metaphor? Wedding dresses are all metaphor aren’t they? White for purity. For virginity.
I was supposed to be a virgin.
But I had been assaulted at a conference where I had gone to present a paper my junior year of college. I tried to convince myself it hadn’t happened.
I never told anyone about that until after I left my marriage. Until the day I watched the Kavanaugh hearings in my house that I was renting one mile from where I had spent 11 married years and cried and cried, because I didn’t have to pretend I was “pure” anymore. Because we were all broken. All had a flaw in the fabric.
15 years later, my cheap flawed dress was not worth trying to resell. It wasn’t worth keeping. It wasn’t worth anything. I knew I wanted to burn it. I had been planning on burning it this past fall, but had gotten busy with finishing Belabored. Starting a new job. The caucuses. Then, one breath. Then, pandemic.
Finally, I said let’s do this. Let’s burn this. There will never be a right time to start a fire so let’s just start the fire.
A friend in my pod agreed to host the burning. I got the dress out and tried it back on. I hadn’t done that since the wedding.
The dress fit like I could stand to lose 5lbs. And my boobs were no longer at the same height they had been 15 years ago, so I had to hoist them back up into the sew in cups.
I turned on The Chicks album Gaslighter and my friend Eve Ettinger took some pictures of me via Zoom. They are blurry because I couldn’t figure out how to turn up the camera resolution. But I am so happy we got them.
That night, me and a friend (yes, she’s in my pod, I’m being careful) ripped that dress up like it was Cinderella’s ball gown and we didn’t want that bitch to go.'
And then we burned it and we read off a spell of letting go. And we not only sent into the flames the things we were releasing, but we spoke aloud the things we wanted.
I will not tell you all I said.
But I did say, I wanted to sell a third and a fourth book. I said I wasn’t done and that I am ONLY JUST getting started.
“It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”
-Ray Bradbury, but also me