Three years ago, my past and my future came together in a lush Oregon patch of land, brimming with wine grapes and berries. My family and closest friends spent three days dancing, eating, drinking and then crying the copious tears only an Irish family en masse can produce. (One of us starts crying, or talking about a dead relative, and then we're all puddles and blubbers. Within seconds. It's really quite amazing. You should invite us over and ask about our uncles.)
I'd had a lifetime of couplings with people whom I'd loved desperately, but they didn't feel the same way. There were relationships that couldn't survive the trauma of refused proposals — I'm thinking of one man who'd pulled out a ring on a snowy Colorado mountain top with his family waiting for news below, and another over lobster on vacation in Baja.
Finally, at 42, I'd taken the scenic route to marriage — and promptly veered off the road, to a full stop. I'd hitched up futures with Steve, the man who would follow me on the adoption journey I'd begun as a single person. Remember how in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Puck smeared everyone's eyes with magic flower juice and they all fell in love long enough to make a story? It was kind of like that with us.
Nearly nine months to the day after we married, we became parents to the sweetest, coolest, most magical child, Grace Magnolia. As Gracie became more firmly entrenched on the earth, Steve and I stopped evolving together, and faced some issues that proved to be insurmountable. On the day before her second birthday, we decided to split.
I can't think of one major incident that caused our divorce. We were truly happy in the beginning and I like to think we did best when we were working toward a joint goal. When we began dating, he was starting his own divorce and there was all kinds of drama around that. His teenaged daughters were understandably horrified that their father was leaving the 17-year marriage, despite years of trouble.
For me, it became a kind of personal campaign to show them that I was a good person, to force chirpy questions during stony-silent dinners as they texted and tweeted their friends. I'd started the process of adopting a child, because it became clear we weren't going to produce one on our own. He ultimately balked, but for me, there was no other end game. I was going to become a mother, with or without him.
By the time Steve's divorce was final — nearly two years after we'd met – it took only five weeks for him to kneel down and propose to me, and then our joint mission became getting married.
And we were happy.
Our next joint project was adoption. We filled out reams of paperwork and created profiles of ourselves we'd hoped would attract birth parents. Nearly nine months to the day of our wedding, we met a very pregnant young woman. Four days later, our Grace was born.
And we were happy.
But then there were subterranean forces and small quakes. I didn't realize that our financial inequality would weigh so heavily on me — he made more money, but most of it went to alimony and child support and obligations from his previous marriage. There were some behaviors I'd glossed over in the glow of dating that seemed ominous in the harsh light of marriage.
In the meantime, Grace had become the love of my life. I was her personal secret service agent; style consultant; kisser of boo-boos; masher of yams. I was devoted to this feisty, funny kid, and somehow taking care of two people seemed exhausting and overwhelming.
I focused on the smallest one. She is my sun, the center of my life and heat and love. I didn't realize that life was in mono before her; now it's in full symphonic stereo. For Steve, the center of his universe was our relationship. Of course, he became a loving dad, but he would have also been fine never having more children.
I don't know what I expected, really, but I'd envisioned us evolving together as husband and wife, doing creative and culturally fulfilling things. Falling deeper in love. That didn't happen, and the blows from a few isolated incidents became too great for the fragile glue of our time together.
We split. I felt oddly guilty that people came and celebrated with us and gave us beautiful presents for a marriage that didn't even last as long as Piers Morgan's CNN show.
Sometimes Steve, Grace and I all go to dinner together. My heart shattered when I heard that Grace told Steve, "We were at a restaurant, like a real family!" I ache all over when she wants to call him and he's not answering, or when he wants to talk to her and she's too busy cutting up magazines or some other task.
I want her to understand in her bones that we all love and support each other, regardless of the living arrangements. With Steve, it's a constant balance to try to stay open hearted and inclusive, even when I don't feel like it. Especially when I don't feel like it. It's sad to think that I'm working harder on my divorce than I probably did on my marriage. But we're Grace's parents forever, so it had better be The Best Divorce Ever.