I went to Paris knowing that when I got back my crumbling marriage would disintegrate into divorce. I went to Paris, that fabled city of romance, alone. And it felt good to be away from the trauma of a deadening relationship.
That’s why I went alone: to step away from the bleakness that were my days here in Seattle. I went to the top of the the Arc de Triomphe, wandered Rodin’s garden, wrote bad poetry on the Left Bank thinking of Rilke.
There was a church that I found and walked into, not written about much in the guidebooks, that felt like a home that I would liked to have had back home. That is to say, it was still and beautiful and I felt content there for but a moment. I learned it was where the famed author Victor Hugo got married.
I listened to choir practice inside it. It brought me as much peace as I could possibly feel knowing that when I returned to Seattle, my relationship with my daughter would be forever altered. That I simply wouldn’t see her as much. Watch her grow as much. Teach and learn from her as much. I’d be leaving her mother and her mother would be leaving me.
An ungodly monster
Early on, when the divorce began growing into an ungodly monster, I wanted justice. Maybe vengeance. I had done nothing wrong to cause this rift between us. This growing animosity. I was an innocent! I was the one working diligently to try and keep the dark floods from washing the relationship all away.
I also wanted my wife to see my suffering and to know what it was like for me to lose so much. I was hurting and the only way to alleviate it was to hurt her. My daughter was young. She looked up at us, bewildered, as we fought wildly and blindly, but comforted, I hope, in our shared love of her. But it was so hard.
At the time, that was it and that was all, protect my daughter, best I can, from the ravages of what adults can do to each other as they fail. I wanted to raise her and love her as deeply and as warmly as I could even though I was roaring and crippled with a cold dark pain.
I don't how well I did or if I'll ever get over those moments where fault was everywhere and in everyone. Where trust was gone. Where the mirrors were two-sided. And what of pointed fingers and blame? What does it ever do? The damage is done. It was all my fault, too, of course.
Divorced as long as we were married
However much we disagree, my ex-wife and I have grown to respect each other. We’ve nearly been ex-spouses as long as we were spouses. And she’s been wonderful to our daughter; protected our kid as much as I have. We can’t keep the dark world out of our daughter's life but we can fill the world she’s in with as much light as we can.
People come up to my ex and I and say how great it is that we’ve remained friends. Why would it be any other way if we can help it? Anything else only harms our daughter. There are struggles, many struggles, without that extra burden.
Saint-Sulpice, that’s the name of the church where Hugo got married, in 1822. That’s the church when I gave up loving my wife. Or, at least, I gave up on a marriage empty of love. Life, outside the marriage, still contained love. I contained love. She contained love. It just had to be unearthed using tools we did not possess for the other.
She's happy and I'm happy that she is. She's happy that I'm happy, too.
"Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise," Hugo wrote in Les Miserables. It rises every day for me and for my ex-wife. She's happy and I'm happy that she is. She's happy that I'm happy, too.
And our child? She's 14 now and I know she's sometimes lost and afraid and angry and doubtful and sad and weak because of all of what my ex-wife and I did.
But next year, she's going to live in France as an exchange student. She went to Paris just last year with her mother and her step-father. They visited the Louvre, the Sacre-Coeur. They wandered the alleys like I did when I visited, knowing only somewhat how much life would change when I got back. They visited the catacombs. There is so much that dies. And that, too, can be beautiful in its ways.
“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” Hugo wrote that, too. My daughter is that pearl. What a bright lovely thing to have made.