It was one of those ladies room encounters that was not unusual. We were washing our hands at the same time and she said “…I like your haircut…” “…Thanks, I like your boots…” I replied. We both smiled, wished each other a nice evening and she exited.
Mr. Wiz* was waiting for me outside. His face was ashen, as if he had seen a ghost. “…The woman that just exited the ladies room was my ex-wife; haven’t seen her for years…” Theirs was a college marriage that, according to Mr. Wiz, only lasted a few minutes. In actuality, it ended two years after it began. Before we knew it, she had blended into the crowd and was gone.
That chance encounter brought back a flood of memories and for the next couple of days, we both shared stories of our past marriages; silly stories, funny anecdotes, hopeful beginnings, sad endings. That led us to one of our favorite discussions. We loved to tell each other our version of our first meeting and how our relationship developed.
Curiosity got the best of us. Mr. Wiz decided to Google his first wife. When no information came up, he put it behind him and moved on. That prompted me to also give it a try, but what I saw stopped me in my tracks.
It was an obituary. I stared at it for a long time, thinking it could not be the right person, but then I recognized the names of his deceased parents. It was sudden; a heart attack. I read it over and over again in disbelief. In all the time that had gone by, I had forgotten his middle name, forgotten his new wife’s name, forgotten he had two daughters.
For the next couple of days, it was all I thought about. Did he have a happy life? Was he kinder to his second wife than he was to me? What had he looked like later in life? I thought about my ex-family: an ex- mother-in-law, an ex- dog and an ex-grandfather (his dad’s father) who was always a favorite of mine. To this day, each time I look for a recipe in the basket he gave me all those years ago, I think about him.
I wondered why a former spouse and everything that goes with them is called an “ex”? I realize that it’s a past relationship, but the prefix denotes such finality. For many, a divorce with children is just a new way of family life. When we move, it’s not our ex-home. When we change careers, we don’t usually refer to our old job as our ex-job. How about substituting the word “former”? All our life experiences need to stand up and be counted, so that they can be blended in that big cocktail shaker of life and poured out into the world, making us the person we are right now.
I remembered that, as the marriage to my high school sweetheart was sadly coming to an end, only one of the many friends we had ever spoke to me again. That forced me to wipe the slate clean and kick-start my life all over again. I thought about the last thing he ever said to me: “…Next time, I’ll find someone ordinary…” Left-handed compliment that it was, it actually gave me a newfound confidence.
I looked up, told him that I forgave him and hoped he had taken advantage of the do-over he was offered; I know I had made the best of mine. Then, as we do when we come to the last page of a book, I closed that chapter of my life and tucked it away, not willing to reread it over and over again, but not willing to tear out any of the pages either.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.