Reflections, newsworthy items, and inspiring thoughts from author and award-winning radio commentator Jessica Bram.
Ever since I started telling people that I would be getting married this spring – which wasn’t that long ago, since we only set the date a month or two before – I have had the strange feeling of living in some strange, alternate universe from the one in which I’ve resided these past fifteen years.
As a separated and then divorced single mother all this time, I had gotten used to the “I’m so sorry” response to any mention of my status. Checking the “Divorced” box has always meant skipping over the first-place “Married,” second-place “Single,” and third-place “Widowed,” in a placement that seemed to suggest, “Let’s see, what’s left?”
Now, instead, I’m greeted like some kind of heroine. The Men’s Warehouse saleswoman turned from dour to positively radiant the instant I mentioned that the shirt I was here to buy was one I needed my son to wear at my upcoming wedding. Running into an old married friend who hasn’t invited me to her house in years, instead of “Keep in touch” I hear, for the first time in years, “When can you and your husband come for dinner?”
I’ll admit to mixed emotions. When a fundraising event invitation arrives with a $75 admission charge, I realize, with some dismay, that the evening will now cost me $150. It’s been decades since the words “I’ll ask my husband” have crossed my lips – not even when addressed to an auto mechanic or construction contractor. I haven’t used that one yet.
Old habits are hard to lose. When I received that notice last week that my Triple-A membership was up for renewal, I reflexively wrote out a check for my individual (plus one driving son) membership, completely losing sight of the fact that most memberships include spouse.
But here’s the hardest part. When people now refer to “your husband,” I get a small, uneasy start. That word has had so many negatives attached to it for so long. Ownership. Conflict. Marital Rights.
In truth, I’m having a hard time getting the H-word out at all.
I suppose I’ll get the hang of it. But this all does feel a bit weird.
The Westport Writers’ Workshop had a standing-room-only crowd at the launch of our new space at 3 Sylvan Road South in Westport Friday. The excitement generated by our new venue where writers can gather with writers, write alongside other writers, and develop their craft, was unmistakable. For me, it’s truly a dream come true.
The first hour was just a lot of catching up and schmoozing over wine and appetizers. Then several members of the faculty – Suzanne Hoover, Matt Debenham, Valerie Seiling Jacobs, Patricia Hermes, and I – read from our own work. Our members told us it was a delightful opportunity to hear from us, for once, rather than the other way around.
It also reminded me one basic fact about writers: we write in order to be read. Or in this case, heard. Published or not, serving as willing and appreciative readers for each other is how we writers keep ourselves motivated to keep writing.
Yes, I did, which is why we kept the guest list to strictly family. Originally we were aiming for about a dozen. But our five sons (my three, Bob’s two), our siblings, and our siblings’ kids brought the number to 28.
Which made 30, when you included the Times reporter and photographer. Oh, yeah, very private.
My reason, of course, was to promote Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey. As every published author knows, once you’ve written a book your job has just begun – kind of like having a baby. For the rest of your life you’re always thinking up ways to help it succeed – or in this case, bring it to the attention of readers. It seemed like a story with a twist, which is how I pitched it to Weddings@nytimes.com.
Wouldn’t make an interesting story, I asked, for the author of a book heralding the rewards of the single divorced life to decide to remarry? Wouldn’t it make for a compelling testament to the institution of marriage itself, which the entire Times Weddings section seems to stand for?
It wasn’t just about selling the book. I really believed this. If my central purpose of writing Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey was to encourage people suffering in bad marriages, or facing divorce, that no, divorce is NOT the end of the world – which is exactly what my mission was – wouldn’t the example of my own happy ending – finding a wonderful guy, falling in love, and taking a chance on remarriage – be the ultimate proof?
They agreed, and we had a reporter, Eric V. Copage, assigned to write the story.
Luckily, he was a really great guy, and a pro, which actually made the process almost pleasant, although at times grueling. We began with an excruciating two-hour telephone interview on a Sunday, in which Bob and I on separate phone extensions, told the story of our meeting and courtship. As a personal essay writer who is accustomed to telling the personal details of her life to the immediate world, I was all right with this. It was no doubt more of a challenge for the more private Bob, but he was a good sport about the whole thing.
It was tricky, because I had already told much of the story in two chapters in Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey, called “Opening My Heart” and “Then Comes Love.” Eric had warned me that the Times would be unwilling to rehash material already in the book. In addition, having worked with the Times before, I knew how careful we had to be to ensure that the facts were absolutely accurate. A cruise to Bermuda could not be called a cruise to the Bahamas. Had three months or four passed between the networking meeting and the day that Bob first contacted me, and was that first contact by phone or by email?
We got into a bit of a tussle when Bob reported his job title at Fidelity. His actual title is “Director of Architecture,” which is an understood term in the software development world to mean someone who conceptualizes and designs software systems, but does not actually engage in the programming. But the Times editor refused to use the word “architecture,” insisting Bob come up with a less misleading title. This was plenty tricky on the other end, with Bob unwilling to invent a whole new title for himself on the chance that someone at Fidelity – like the entire Compliance or HR departments, for example – might read the Sunday NY Times. You see the problem.
Our relatives were a bit puzzled when two nicely dressed but complete strangers, Eric Copage and a Times photographer, Thomas McDonald, showed up at the wedding ceremony on our back yard patio. By then neither Bob nor I, preoccupied with other matters, was paying much attention. They even followed us to the restaurant afterward, which made me feel a bit guilty as they stood for two hours alongside the window refusing anything but a soda.
Later that afternoon, when everyone had left, Bob and I set out for Newport, Rhode Island for our so-called “honeymoon” (which we preferred to call “a few days break,” there being no cans tied to the back of the car). The fun resumed early the next day – that’s right, Marriage Day One – when Eric called at a pre-arranged time to follow up with “a few more questions” which turned into an additional hour or so of questions and diligent fact-checking.
On Day Two, our afternoon scenic hike along Newport’s Cliff Walk was only briefly underway when my cell phone rang. It was Eric again, back with more questions and fact-checking. I fielded them while Bob found a seat on the rocks, briefly took in the view, and then absorbed himself using his BlackBerry to research how the world’s oceans had formed.
Bob and I felt entirely amiable about this, and not the slightest bit resentful of the interruption. How could I, when the poor Times reporter was working so hard? I found myself wishing that the Times paid their reporters by the hour instead of by the story (or however they do it). But of course this was out of the question. When you included Eric’s previous interviews of our closest friends for “background”– three each, not a word of which made it into the story – it became clear that this would send the paper into even quicker financial ruin than that to which it is already headed.
Over our three days in Newport, the cell phone rang regularly, as Eric followed up with more questions posed by his editor, his editor’s editor, the copy editor, and the copy editor’s editor. That was before a fifth editor, returning from a trip of his own later that week, sent over yet another question or two, which resulted in bumping the story another week.
In the end it all came out fine, and we loved the article, of course. The only inaccuracy turned out to be a minor matter of the groom’s name. Apparently the nickname-eschewing New York Times copy edit department, in their wisdom and ultimate authority, decided that Bob should be called “Robert,” a name he does not use. So be it.
Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey just received a noteworthy award – first place in the Connecticut Press Club 2010 Annual Awards, nonfiction book autobiography/memoir category. I’m honored!
But here’s what makes me even happier – a comment from a reader like this:
“Even though it has been many years since my divorce, I got a tremendous amount out of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey. What I would have given to come across a book like yours at that very painful time in my life! Thank you for sharing your journey.”
– Susan Palmieri
Thank you, thank you to all my readers – especially those facing divorce or going through the tough times – who have written to tell me that my story gave you comfort. Yes, you will have a happy ending too!
Know anyone going through divorce who could use some cheering up? It’s easy to order it now.
Yes, that’s us all right – the couple under the canopy in Sunday’s New York Times Vows column.
How did it happen? The NY Times seemed to think there was something intriguing about the idea of the author of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey – someone who has been holding aloft the banner of the fulfilled single life – remarrying. I had to agree. The next thing I knew Bob and I were being interviewed by a Times reporter in an intense two-hour Sunday phone call about every intimate step in our courtship.
It was an interesting process, to say the least.
Look for it in the Style section. More from me tomorrow on how it came about – and how we spent most of our three-day honeymoon getaway on the phone with Eric V, Copage, the Times reporter, undergoing the paper’s thorough and relentless fact-checking.
Here’s a new book review of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey by Portland, Maine matrimonial attorney Alan Nye.
He calls it:
‘The perfect book for any woman going through a divorce and looking for confirmation that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
I admit it: I have spent most of my life cynical about weddings and pessimistic about marriage in general. So imagine my surprise when last Sunday, April 4, turned out to be about the most perfect wedding day I could ever imagine.
It was exactly the way I think all weddings should be. And exactly what I wanted. No party, no hoopla, just a small, private ceremony at home in the living room. But the weather turned out to be ridiculously warm and glorious for an early April day. So we had each of our family – our sons, our siblings and their families – grab a chair, a vase of flowers, and join us in the back yard. In the distance a cherry tree was just beginning to open in a delicate net of pink blossoms, fooled into thinking it was June. The Rabbi had brought with him the chuppah – that’s the canopy under which all Jewish weddings are held, signifying the shelter of the home – held aloft by each of our brothers.
I’ll tell you a secret. I was terrified. But I felt something else, too, and it was as palpable as the scent of the grass and the warm noontime sun. God was under that chuppah with me.
And so was my best friend. If I ever got really scared, all I had to do was glance at Bob. Oh, yeah. I know you.
After the marriage blessings and the Kiddush, Rabbi Orkand repeated aloud what he had asked us to write to him beforehand – why we were marrying each other. It had taken a lot of thought. I had recounted all those things I loved and admired about Bob – his warmth, his integrity, his extraordinary musical talent. But then I said this:
But none of these is the reason I am marrying Bob. I am marrying Bob because I trust him to be completely in my corner, no matter what happens in life, no matter what the challenge.
It was enough to make a believer in God, fairy tales, and miracles - and maybe even marriage – out of anyone. Even me.