When my partner Jeremy and I called his father to tell him we were engaged, we first heard Necip's congratulations and blessings. In the next breath he said, "You know the divorce rate is very high," and he proceeded to rattle off statistics with percentages in the 80s. My soon-to-be father-in-law knows something about divorce. And so do I. He's been married four times and in a recent email he listed his marriages: "first 5 yrs, second 11 yrs, third 2 1/2 yrs, and NOW! 21 yrs, still going strong and stronger." The fourth time has been a charm for him, it appears.
I got married the first time on the seventh floor of the El Paso, Texas municipal building with Justice of the Peace Tom Rosas presiding. Arturo and I signed the waiver on the forty-eight hour waiting period. We had a Spanish-English option for the ceremony. I wore what I'd put on that morning - an A-line skirt with a colorful floral pattern, a light green t-shirt, my huaraches with the soles made from recycled tires. I don't remember what Arturo wore. I do remember that after Tom Rosas pronounced us husband and wife we exited into the streets of downtown El Paso, jubilant. Arturo turned to the first person we passed, an elderly woman with elegant white hair pulled back from her forehead, and pronounced "We just got married," in Spanish. He translated the woman's blessing for me. I don't remember if she wished us happiness or a long life but we were thrilled, walking hand in hand.
We hadn't planned to get married that day. We'd planned to cross into Mexico as we ventured south to Costa Rica to settle in Arturo's home town. The Mexican border officials scoffed at Arturo's visa; he'd over-stayed a U.S. student visa by three years. They wanted money if we wanted to continue into Mexico. Arturo refused and he stomped out of the immigration office. We sat in our Isuzu Trooper loaded with everything we owned and decided to cross back into the U.S. I didn't have a valid driver's license. Arturo drove; his license was from New Jersey but he had no visa, no residential status. We explained to the first border official that we'd just been in Mexico for the day. La-te-da the hippie couple just wanted to see Juarez, inhale the diesel fumes and drive around in the jammed traffic for the day, you know. She glanced at our packed car and asked us to pull over. I felt jittery. The second border official opened the back end, peered at our stuff, had us open our cooler and said, "Go ahead." We waited until we were a few blocks into El Paso before we erupted with laughter. Arturo had just crossed the border illegally right in front of their faces. What were we going to do now, though? We could get married. Get married? Sure. I loved this man deeply and was now deciding at the age of twenty to leave my studies and follow him to rural Costa Rica.
Getting married didn't help Arturo's immigration predicament. We could have done research to figure this out beforehand but you have to understand, we were in bold, adventurous, passionate love and what could stop us? Someone at the U.S. embassy told us the best thing would be for Arturo to go to the Costa Rican consulate in Houston. On our way there in the middle of borderland desert, we drove straight into a border patrol check point, helicopters flying, dogs sniffing, idling car fumes spewing. The Chicano offical asked Arturo, "Where are you from?"
"Mannasquin, New Jersey," Arturo said,fidgeting with the gear shift.
"Where did you go to school?"
"Mannasquin, New Jersey."
"Where do your parents live?"
Suddenly, Arturo's entire life was solely based on New Jersey.
The official switched to Spanish and told us to pull over. He asked Arturo to get out of the car. In the meantime, another official approached me on the passenger's side and questioned me. He loomed over the rolled down window. Where are you from? Where is he from? What are you doing? I told him we'd just gotten married, that we were traveling. Our marriage certificate in the glove box at my knees. I didn't want to show it to him - it stated that Arturo was from Costa Rica. After a few minutes,I broke down and told him the truth. We were really trying to leave the country. To leave! Meanwhile, Arturo had done the same. They took him into an office and decided to give him a docket, allowing him fifteen days before he had to leave the country.
We eventually crossed into Mexico and drove toward our new life.
Our new life became our organic coffee farming life,
our happy life,
our mountain side shack life,
our divided between Costa Rica and the U.S. life,
our new house life,
our farm turned export-import business life,
our seven day work week life,
our city fighting life,
our rural patching over the pain life,
my life of yearning for balance, for my voice being heard
our business as our baby life,
our life of misunderstandings. Six, seven, eight years passed. In all of those years, I rarely ever called him my husband. We never exchanged rings or articulated any intentional commitment through ceremony. Our love grafted itself onto a dream, a business, a striving to build a right livelihood. I gave every part of myself to this love and its multiple manifestations - our home, our land, our work. We were married for immigration and even while our love existed,I never fully adapted to the words husband and wife.
Many people asked me, What happened? I gave the diplomatic answer, We grew apart(fourteen years separated us in age). I gave the angry reason, I could never count on him to be emotionally stable. I never gave the whole reason with its emotional complexity. It took me forever to leave. The slow painful process of separation dragged me (and him) through its muck. Divorce is dismal terrain and those who've gone through it know what I mean. The pain of divorce embedded a fear in me. Relationships all fall apart. The fear dictated and I listened. I sought solitude and found it in a little cabin with a view through the trees of Mt Rainier.
When Jeremy showed up in my life, I was guarded. I went to a New Year's Eve party alone. When he walked through the door, my heart busted out its break dancing moves. I hardly said three words to him. He called me the next day, launching our dating into the new year. He made great breakfasts. I'd forgotten I liked that meal.Working my social work job that dragged me out of bed too early, breakfast wasn't something I paused over anymore. The weeks built themselves into months. I mastered different story lines for us with endings that always resulted in pain, in separation. I told him as much. This is exciting, I told him, it's like writing a fiction story in which you don't know its ending but you know there is an end. He was patient through all of this talk.
Jeremy's love dissipated my fear, is dissipating my fear. His love is a verb and with his sensitivity to the full spectrum of emotions he has guided me to a place in which it is exciting to embrace a commitment to making a life together. The life he has helped me to see is such a sweet one, a real one, worthy of a ritual with all of our friends and family.