Family TreeIt was fourth grade and, sitting in my chair, I suddenly felt my stomach drop. A glance at the clock said that it was 2:45, so why this? Why now? I could ask to go to the bathroom but the teacher was already giving instructions in a droning voice.
Tick.... The clock moved up a minuscule notch.
I looked down at my paper. A black and white diagram of a tree with blanks for names stared back at me. I glanced around the room and saw other students with bowed heads, diligently filling in the spaces.
Ten years earlier, in the community general hospital room, the nurses were up in arms. They had, on their hands, a couple of twenty-year-olds who were in the delivery room for the birth of their child. It was one thing that they were so young and quite another that the father was not white. But what really irritated them most of all was that this couple was not married.
Who did these young people think they were back in 1974?
Although I grew up being a part of my father's family and had grandparents that adored me, I always felt different. I didn't have the same last name as my father and only saw him on weekends. Thus, the fourth grade family tree assignment was really throwing me for a loop. Here, accompanied by a tiny illustration of wedding bells, was a blank space to write in "date parents' married."
The bell finally rang and I was momentarily saved.
Fast forward 25 years later at the end of a marriage counseling session. We were in the car driving home and I asked my husband, point blank, why he had lost interest in me.
"Because," he said unwavering, "I just got bored."
I wanted to know why. I didn't understand.
"Oh my God," he said. "Don't be so ******* dramatic. Look, for every supermodel out there I guarantee that there's a guy who's sick of banging her."
An analysis of those words has plagued me over the last three years. Who was this person that I married? Who was I to have married him? Did I really love him at that point or was I so scared of revisiting that fourth-grade moment of waiting for the bell to ring?
That moment in the car was the beginning of a realization.
I slowly reached for the door handle and started to get out, knowing that our children were waiting for us to retrieve them from their grandparents' house. These children were blood-siblings with a beautiful house and mother and father who both lived with them. Letters from school were addressed to Mr. and Mrs. _____. There was a fenced in backyard and a dog that waited for them at the door, wagging and panting.
But what was it really? That institution of marriage? What was it to feel like you had done everything right and yet it was all so wrong?
The realization, brewing deeper as I walked up the steps to my in-laws house, was that nothing is perfect. To try to strive for perfection in life is sometimes a very f*cked up phenomenon, as it has a way of leading us closer to everything we were afraid of. We can try to make all the right decisions and to conform to idealizations but in the end, what matters is what we learn and how we grow from it.
So back to filling out that fourth grade paper...