I sulked my way through Mayan ruins, pretended to doze on the world's most beautiful beaches, and tried to hide my revulsion when my husband made love to me beneath the thatched roof of our palapa in Tulum. In our most intimate moments, I could focus only on how incapable he had become of seeing the real me, and it made his touch unbearable. He seemed pretty much oblivious to this, although he must have felt the distance between us. There was a lot of silence that neither of us attempted to fill. I sensed that he was afraid of me, of my irritability, my peevish nature. But he had too much pride or self-preservation to actually confront me. We were both bewildered that our honeymoon felt nothing like it should, and we tried to fake our way through it.
Our marriage lasted six months. I was unhappy, dissatisfied, resentful, and certain that it was mostly (if not all) his fault. Leaving him promised relief from all the horrible feelings, all the fear and sadness and anger. When I marched out of our little apartment on the fourth of July, I experienced the pure rush of freedom.
Many weeks later, I agreed to meet him in an Indian restaurant so we could talk. Over lamb curry, I could feel his eyes scouring my face for some sign of recognition or warmth.
I had none to offer. I had already found another man to love, one who much more closely resembled my father in his perverse inaccessibility, and I had no thoughts of turning back. "So," he said, "are we going to work this out or not? I need to know." I couldn't understand what he thought we had left. He was a stranger to me, someone who belonged to a past I wished to leave behind. I gave him a sad little smile and shook my head and he let me off like a gentleman—or a coward. We left our food congealing on the plates and went our separate ways.
A lawyer acquaintance in our building arranged the world's quickest divorce. I agreed to let my husband sue me for abandonment. There was nothing to divide, just vows to nullify and possessions to reclaim and plenty to forget. Although I never really could.
Nearly a decade passed and, poised to leave New York for a different life in Los Angeles, I felt an overwhelming urge to contact him and try to explain, to apologize. In the intervening years, friends of mine had bumped into him in a bowling alley in Brooklyn, so I knew he had remarried and become a doctor. It wasn't that long ago, but somehow I can't quite remember how it went—did I leave him a vague voicemail? Did I follow that up with a wordy letter? I think I did both, but there was no response. I sent those mea culpas out into the world and always wondered if they'd found their target.
I never thought such a modest act of contrition made me worthy of forgiveness—I still don't. And I've since realized that only I can absolve myself. There's a particular stretch of pavement in Chinatown that brings back memories of my first husband. A song by the Cure will always make me think of him. But the legacy of our marriage, and of my father's death has been revealed most clearly in the love I've experienced since I left that Indian restaurant: in relationships that required forgiveness on both sides, and in the knowledge that the choices we make aren't just about the people we're with.
It took me years to see that my father's decision not to fight his cancer wasn't a rejection of me. I hope it didn't take my ex-husband as long to understand the same thing about my inability to fight for our future.