Remembering Cathy

My aunt died this last week. I wrote something for her funeral, and I’d like to repost it here.

I first visited Alaska when I was only a year old. In fact, I celebrated my first year on this planet with my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Cliff. Apparently, I cried the whole way there. (Sorry, guys – I know how it is now that I’ve traveled as an adult.) I returned when I was fourteen, and every summer for several years thereafter. These short summer visits that I spent between Fairbanks and Central were some of the highlights of my young adult life. Not only did I get to experience the adventure and thrill of traveling far away from home to the Alaskan wilderness, but I got a chance to spend some time with Cathy before she started to decline in health. These moments are priceless and unforgettable; a testament to the days when I was a child, where spending time with loved ones seemed eternal and time was so easily taken for granted. Taking long walks and engaging in activities like mini-golf or fishing not only represented traditional summertime ways of passing time, but they represented normalcy. Things like fishing, ATVing, and camping are all typical all-American ways of bonding that, as a child, one doesn’t consider to be ephemeral. This is something we do, and we do it every summer, together. And so it will be forever, right? Well, not exactly. But growing up has taught me to cherish these moments precisely because they are fleeting, and because when someone you love passes away, these are the times you want to remember. These are the moments when you truly remember living for what it is: Simply being alive, full of love, light, and laughter. I would like to take the time to share a few of my favorite moments that I shared with Cathy, as she was when she shared her love for family with me.

One of the most unique experiences I had in Alaska was going with Cathy and Cliff to an old gold dredge, where we did some fishing. I had fun panning for gold with Cathy, but the best part was exploring something I’d never seen before. I’d never had the chance to see such an enormous piece of machinery up close, and I had no idea anything like this even existed. Like my dad, I’m fascinated by machines (remember Megan and I naming our snowmobiles after our giant robot shows?) and my sister and I came up with creative ideas for stories, comics, and settings for our projects. As trivial as it seems to just spend a day fishing and exploring an abandoned dredge, it had an impact on me. It is one of my favorite (and quirkiest) stories to tell.

Another moment I loved was talking with Cathy around the campfire at the cabin in Central. She was genuinely interested in my life, which, at the time, was full of normal teenage troubles – boys, school, and being a nerd. But she listened to me, and even though she’d never really played a video game in her entire life, she wanted to learn about a game series that was very special to me. When we returned to Fairbanks, we went to a pawn shop where we snagged an amazing edition of the game. For the nerd in me, it was a triumph for my collection, but it also meant that she was excited to learn about my hobbies and interests. She sat down with me to learn about it when I brought it back, and it meant a lot to me that she cared about things that I cared about – even if it was out of her normal activity circle.

My family, Cathy included, has always been supportive of my artistic endeavors. She encouraged us to draw on some tarps she had set up for temporary walls in her “at-home Hilton” while she and Cliff were remodeling, and she encouraged us to use her computer to create webpages for her black lab, Ruger. (Rudytoottoot.com.) Even today it means a lot to me that everyone has been so supportive of both me and my sister, and I truly remember Cathy as a compassionate, kind, and loving person. These moments I shared are only a few, but they represent what I spoke of earlier: The simple things, the little gestures that translate into actions of love. I loved Cathy very much, and I am happy to recall these memories to honor her. She will be missed, but she will be remembered for her impact on my life. I am so happy I got to share the times I did with her.

 

Edit (7/16/12): My sister also wrote something that I’d like to post here.  It is very touching.  Thank you!

Cheez-Whiz and How to Tell a Story

There is nothing I could write or say that would be capable of capturing who Catherine Hendrickson really was. Everything I write here seems too shallow, too distant, from the wonderful human being she was. I can’t seem to find a way to talk about her that feels true. I have a thousand stories about her, but it feels like a book could be written and it would still fall short. One of the things I remember most about Cathy was her warm and friendly personality. Whenever you were around her, it was difficult to feel sad or upset. She always had a story or joke, though sometimes she’d forgotten she’d told you, and you’d hear her laugh her way through telling it three or four different ways. A particular story about Cheez-Whiz and coolers always comes to mind; after all, the Cheez-Whiz must have tipped over and sprayed all over the cooler, as there was Cheez-Whiz everywhere when they got to the campsite. It must have tipped over. But Cathy’s stories were worth hearing more than once, because she had such fun telling them.

She had a great sense of adventure, and I’ll always remember visiting her in Alaska, and all the experiences she helped us have. Watching us play our video games, even giving them a try herself, laughing at the mistakes she made, but always willing to try again. Staying in her garage during the remodeling of her house, surrounded by luxurious blue tarps (on which she suggested we draw). Exploring an old dredge, peeking into all the dark corners and feeling like we had discovered something no one else had seen, sitting on the slippery banks to pan for gold and mostly finding just mud. Getting ice cream for ourselves, and a bowl for the dog, because well, we couldn’t just not share with Ruger, now could we? Arranging flowers we’d picked together in the field, admiring the colors and the beauty of the wilderness in Alaska, in between jokes about beans and their musical qualities. Riding 4-wheelers, Cathy narrating from behind the camera, giving each scene her particular dramatic flair, regardless of what season it was, or whether it was a beautiful sunset or just the regular afternoon. Sitting around the campfire, talking and laughing about nothing in particular.

There are so many good stories, so many ways to tell them, and it feels like I could tell them all repeatedly and in different ways, but they still wouldn’t be able to capture the person that Cathy really was, or explain the value of those memories for me, and the people who knew her. But most of all, what I remember and what I will treasure is her kindness and her generosity. Cathy was a joy to be around, and every time I saw her, I knew I was welcome and loved, which was how Cathy treated every person in her life. She cared about all the people she knew, in a very real and palpable way. I feel lucky to have known her and seen her capacity for love and happiness, and I will miss her. I will always have these stories to tell about her, and while I will never be able to tell them the way that she could, they will be an important part of the stories of the people who knew Cathy. They will always be a way that we are connected, even if I can’t tell them quite as vivaciously as Cathy could.

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Part II: The Onset of Illness

We never had a honeymoon. It wasn’t really compatible with our schedules, and we didn’t even know where we would go.  We decided it would be a better idea to save our money and maybe take a nice two-week vacation later, when we’d had more time to think about things.  After the reception, we still had a few weeks before work started again, and we spent a lot of time with family and friends while we could.  It was toward the end of our stay that I began to get a constant, dull pain in my pelvic area.  I felt it every hour of the day; sometimes it would sharply remind me of its presence (usually at the most inopportune times), and other times it would just be an annoyance whenever I shifted positions.  Our next show for work involved the crew driving from Bakersfield, where they had left the trucks with our equipment over our break. Knowing I had a few extra days since Bakersfield is about two hours from where I live, I decided to visit a gynecologist.  Since I didn’t have too much time before I’d have to leave again, getting an appointment with a regular gyno was not going to happen.  I went into Urgent Care, who snobbishly told me that they didn’t have doctors who could do pelvic exams on site.  After a lot of researching, I finally found a clinic where they did have a gyno on site, and immediately scheduled an appointment.

It had been about three weeks of constant pain at this point.  The gyno did the typical examination, where you have to scoot your butt to the end of the table, put your feet in stirrups, and let them stick a cold metal speculum inside of you.  They wrench the speculum apart like a vice so they can get a better view of your cervix and vaginal walls.  Then they poke a large cotton swab inside of the opening to your cervix, and scrape some skin cells from the top of your vaginal wall.  This is obviously not a pleasant experience in the first place, but with the pain I was already in, it was terrible.  The gyno pressed down on my uterus while they felt inside for lumps, but couldn’t find anything. She recommended me to someone who could perform an ultrasound to have a clearer view.  I managed to get something scheduled before we had to return to work, so I was happy.  After running a few tests on site, she also determined that I had some kind of infection, so she prescribed some antibiotics for me.  I had to take them for 10 days.

I went in for the ultrasound as scheduled.  I was so nervous that I’d stupidly googled pictures of cysts, ectopic pregnancies, fibroids, and tumors before I went in.  I knew which ones indicated Endometriosis, which ones indicated Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome; which ones meant cancer and death and pain.  The technician had the screen facing me so I could see what was going on.  I watched her move the wand around until little circles appeared on the screen, hollow in the middle with a thin white outline: This meant cyst.  A common type of cyst that did not mean cancer and death, thankfully, but they were still cysts.  She started taking pictures of them from different angles and pressing hard on my pelvic area.  It hurt very badly.  I watched her as she started measuring diameters.  Meanwhile, she had begun talking to me about having kids.  I absent-mindedly had a conversation with her while I watched her work. I knew what she was measuring, and I made note of what the final numbers were.  She never told me what it was, or what it could possibly mean for me.  Ten minutes later, I was sent on my way.  (By the way, thanks to my shitty health insurance, this event would cost me $648, down from $720.)

The night I drove my husband to Bakersfield to leave for work, I got a call from the doctor’s office.  She told me that yes, I do have cysts, and that they are common for women of child-bearing age.  They usually resolve themselves.  “I’m still having pain, though, so what can I do about that?” I asked. But what I was really thinking was “No shit? It took $650 to tell me this? I KNOW all of this already. But I know pain like this isn’t normal.” She told me I would have to wait it out and see. Keep track of my periods, what I ate, my pain, etc. If it didn’t go away in a few months, I’d have to talk to someone again, because there’s a possibility it could indicate PCOS or Endometriosis. I thanked her and prepared to return to work even though I felt uneasy about it with the cysts and pain.

We went back to work without much fanfare; the company I worked for traveled everywhere, and we worked long and difficult days thirty-nine weeks out of the year.  We’re talking 80-hour weeks with no days off, for sometimes two months at a time.  So while our friends cared for us and our marriage, they didn’t get to attend the wedding. Upon returning to our life on the road, our lives largely remained the same. 

Because of the extremely taxing schedule, most of the people in our department played as hard as they worked.  When they had a day off, heavy drinking wasn’t out of the question.  There were even some days when these guys knew they had to be up early, pulling a 12-hour shift the next day, and they would still overdo it.  I didn’t mind going out and having some drinks, but I found it increasingly difficult to recover and still function at work the next day.  I wanted something more constructive to do with my time off, but I was so overworked that it was difficult to really think about anything at the end of the day, let alone go out and make an effort to see the city I was in.  I attempted to get back on track with my thesis for my Master’s in Linguistics, and I was making good progress.

The hotel I had to work in was filthy and the rooms were small. The worst part was that they were undergoing renovations: Drills and saws ran for hours on end. Dust filled the air and chemicals from the insulation and paint bothered my lungs.  It was not pleasant, but it got drastically worse.  I woke up one day, not only feeling pain in my lungs, but in my shoulders, chest, and head.  It hurt to breathe in and out, and it hurt even more to cough.  I got ready for the day anyway, sat down at my desk, and realized I felt like I was getting a bladder infection.  By the end of the work day, I was begging my husband to get us a taxi to another Urgent Care because it hurt to do anything at all. 

$90 later, I had more antibiotics to take. I had apparently killed my immune system with the previous antibiotics, and all the dust and germs in the air took advantage of that. They gave me some more pills to counteract any other infections while taking the antibiotics.  For four days I sat in my dirty hotel room while someone covered for me and wondered how the hell I was going to make it through this trip.  I successfully fought off whatever infection had started in my lungs, a urinary tract infection, and a yeast infection.  I hope, if you’re a lady reading this, that you never have to experience this trifecta of terribleness.

This work trip ended up being 83-days in a row, which brought us from Kansas City, to Fort Worth, to Punta Gorda.  I had pains most of the time, although they’d either started fading periodically or I was just getting used to it, and I had fallen behind on my thesis work.  I was trying to eat healthy, work out, and take care of my body, which is admittedly very difficult to do when you work so much (and live in hotels).  I was also given a very kind-hearted, motherly woman to train, whom I am still in contact with.  She was – and is – like ­a mom to everyone at that company and helped keep our spirits up when we felt down.  I had started to feel a little better, despite the excessive amounts of work.  My husband and I planned to rent a car and stay in Fort Lauderdale for a few days over Thanksgiving before flying home.  A coworker of mine arranged for us to use her brother’s family discount at the W Hotel, which bagged us a great deal.  Everything was in order to be a vacation that was well deserved.

I got a call from my supervisor the night we were supposed to leave for Fort Lauderdale.  “I’m so sorry to do this to you,” she said sadly, “but there’s something wrong with the police forms for one of our sites in Sarasota.  Do you think that your trainee could talk to them, or is it too much for her to handle right now?”  I thought about it.  I thought I’d trained her well, but it was a lot of pressure to put a brand-new employee in front of police to answer questions about a business she’d just entered.  “I’ll go,” I told her, “But I’m losing money on the hotel and car. Can you reimburse me for those?” She agreed. 

I talked to the police and smoothed everything over the next day.  Since my boss had refused to let me stay in the hotel where the police were going to meet us, I had to drive an extra three hours that morning. But with everything taken care of, we took off to Fort Lauderdale.  We spent the rest of the night drinking martinis, talking, people- and dog-watching, and planned on a lazy afternoon on the rooftop infinity pool the next day. We also walked around, enjoying the ocean at night.  We fell asleep out on our balcony in an oversized lounge chair, listening to the ocean.  I felt happy that night.

I’m going to conclude this post here, because the next part goes into illness that is not only my own, but my husband’s.  This was merely the beginning of the end.  The story will be continued in my next post, which hopefully will come soon.  This is not an easy part of my story to tell, so it is hard to force myself through it again.  

Thank you, everyone who has read this so far and given me support. Your words mean a lot to me.  

Part I: The Wedding

Just after I quit my job to pursue the things I loved, and just after my family left sunny southern California to return to the frozen Minnesotan lakes, my marriage completely fell apart. Somewhere between my husband’s propensity to consume a day’s wages in booze nearly every day of the week, and his obvious lack of concern for my worsening depression and stress-related issues, I simply ceased to care about what became of our vows. I wanted out. It was a short run, but looking back, I can’t remember a time when we didn’t struggle with some kind of issue. I want to go through the events of our marriage and separation, but it will take a few posts. In this post, I will cover the marriage event itself, and how my body image issues and depression affected every choice I made. If you’re struggling with any type of mental illness, you know how debilitating they can be. For me, writing about it does seem to help. So with that said, I hope you’ll enjoy the story.

We were married in June of 2010. My wedding wasn’t anything spectacular, by any means. A small ceremony in Vegas with minimal planning, it fit right into our travel-heavy schedule at the time, and coincided with friends’ vacations, so we even had a few attendees. I got that pink, gorgeous hand-made dress from Etsy. I had it tailored to fit my body. I never had fairytale dreams about weddings or marriage, but I was excited to celebrate and get dressed up. I thought that by choosing everything from the music to the vows myself (with input from my husband, of course), and by trying to stick to my feminist values and goals, things would turn out great. I thought that a wedding was supposed to be about me, and my husband. But more on that later.

I know we all wanted to be drunk, party, and live the crazy, carefree life in Vegas for a few days. We stayed in the gorgeous, yet expensive Encore, and one of the first things my husband did was complain about the cost. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ll cover this.” We did agree that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so it wasn’t terrible to spend the money. However, the complaints started up again after some booze. I’m pretty sure he spent as much paying for our friends’ drinks and food as I did on the hotel. But I decided to say nothing, because I just wanted everyone to be happy, and it wasn’t worth fighting about. My car got hit by a drunk driver trying to park, and the hotel couldn’t locate the footage on their roaming cameras. So now my driver’s side mirror was destroyed, and we had to cover it. Then we drove over a broken wine bottle while parking our second night there. My husband replaced the tire, thankfully, even though he was pretty angry about it. Again, I tried not to complain, because I didn’t want to make it worse. I now felt terrible about the choice of hotel, even though I’d defended it earlier. “Why’d I have to choose this place? Why’d we have to drive? If only I’d chosen to fly.” The nagging, insecure voice inside my head was already ruining everything. But it was about to get much, much worse.

We went to see our professional photos the day after the ceremony. We were already irritated with the heat, the stupid car problems we’d run into, and his parents complaining about every food choice we made (it’s Vegas; everything is expensive). The lady we were meeting had this nice, elaborate slideshow ready of all the pictures – and there were so many of them. Like 200 of them. I knew she was going to try to upsell some packages, but again, I just wanted something simple. The wedding package I’d paid for included six poses, so I was determined not to make it more expensive or complicated than it had to be.

Now, I have never been a fan of photos, especially of me. But I was not prepared for this. I took one look at them and almost had to leave the room. First of all, my husband had cut his own hair before the ceremony and messed it all up. He looked completely unlike himself, but I wasn’t too concerned about that (although I knew he was pretty embarrassed). No, what I was focused on was myself. Like most wedding photographers, the greatest attention is lavished upon the bride. Photo after photo of me getting ready and making weird faces at myself in the mirror while I concentrated, me bending over to adjust my shoes (which had actually caused my feet to bleed) and my fat cleavage hanging out, my stomach looking plump as I tried to get the damn corset lacing as tight as it could go, my arms looking as wide as my head in nearly every shot, and my keratosis pilaris ruddy and obvious on my arms, because I’d picked at it out of nervousness. (“Don’t worry,” both the photographer and the saleslady assured me, “we can edit the redness out.”) That fake, forced smirk-smile I do when I’m told to smile for a photo. That squint I make when I’m outside, causing my face to look rounder and even pudgier. My pale white skin nearly blending in with the pale pink dress. And to add the cherry on top: The stupid poses that they wanted me to do: Having him lean me back for a kiss so my back fat looks more prominent, me leaning my head on him like I’m some kind of frail flower who wants him to pet my hair. It was all foreign to me. This was us? I paid for this? I was hoping we’d look moderately cute. At least, I’d felt moderately cute. But here it was, the truth, in my mind: I was some fat, pasty Midwesterner marrying another fat, pasty Midwesterner. Hallelujah, pass the deep-fried cheese balls.

Now, I don’t think that fat, pasty Midwesterners don’t deserve love and happiness. In fact, they represent the body shape of so many Americans today, and everybody who wants to be in a relationship deserves to be happy with someone who loves them, no matter their race, sexual orientation, weight, physical or mental issues, or their financial situation. Hypocritically enough, though, I didn’t want to be that person. In my head, it meant I was less than. I was hideous, and I did not deserve nice things ™. And now it had been commemorated forever. I watched in horror as my mom bought all the worst, most unflattering shots. I would have to look at these every time I saw her. She would show them to her friends, and they would try to think of something “nice” to say. “Oh, your daughter got married? How, um, nice for her. Oh, her hair sure looks pretty.” There’s nothing like Minnesota Nice to let you know when someone’s just trying their hardest to be polite. I managed to pick out six where you couldn’t see me very well and hurriedly signed some papers. The second I was done, I left the room, and immediately burst into tears. Why did I think that I could ever look pretty? My thoughts wandered back to the ceremony, where my mother couldn’t resist making that comment about how much I was “built” like her as she watched me get ready. That old backhanded compliment. My mom has complained about how fat and ugly she is her whole life. Then she draws a direct comparison between our body types. I know what she’s saying. I get it.

A month later we visited our families for the reception. Our mothers had taken the reins on the planning here, an event they seemed to enjoy a lot. I gave my feedback for many of their suggestions, but they did the lion’s share of the planning. The reception was scheduled in Fargo, North Dakota, because I knew most of our friends and family members couldn’t afford to go to Las Vegas for the ceremony. My mom also wanted photos of the reception, so she’d hired a professional photographer for this event. I tried to tell her no repeatedly out of fear, but she didn’t listen. She assured me this person would do a much better job. So I brought the dreaded dress again and prepared for round two of my self-esteem being crushed into nothingness. But before I continue, allow me to tell you how my family affairs have always functioned.

My parents divorced when I was 12, which led us to have two separate holidays and celebrations for every event in our lives. This was fine, because at the time, our parents didn’t get along very well and my sister and I would rather just not deal with any drama at two events, rather than try to force two people who seemed infinitely angry at each other in the same room for obligatory pleasantries. However, this has continued into adult years. Everyone has their own version of events. Mom has her parties, Dad has his, even my grandparents have theirs. Add in extended families, and my husband’s families, and this gets to be too much. So I asked that everyone who couldn’t make it to Vegas come to Fargo for the reception. If there’s one day I can ask people to get along in the name of love and peace, it should be a wedding reception, right?

Photos came first. I arrived on time so my mom could do my hair. She wanted this to be a mother-daughter bonding moment, and I wanted her to have this. I sat in my sweatpants, talking to her while she took her curling iron and started working. She immediately tried to tease my hair a la Beauty Pageant participant. I told her to just leave it down in pretty curls. “That’ll look bad in photos.” But I’d worn my hair down before. “No, it will look better like this.” I fought with her. So much for my mother-daughter moment. Needing a break from her trying to pull my hair and make me look completely ridiculous, I went to the bathroom to talk to my sister. I had to put on my dress before she finished my hair, anyway. So I put on my shapewear that I bought, thinking it would help. But I saw myself in the mirror, and started to panic. Oh my god, I look hideous. Fat. I have to go out there like this. People will see me like this; they’re going to want to take pictures of me. I nervously picked at my nails without thinking about it, and chipped some of the polish. Oh, shit. I called a friend and asked her to bring nail polish remover with her. I returned to my mother, where she finally got fed up with my bangs and I simply pinned them back with a bobby pin.

A few of my friends began to trickle in. Even though they hadn’t been present at the wedding, I wanted them to be in the reception photos, as if I’d had bridesmaids. They all had different body types, so I told them to buy green dresses, whatever kind they’d feel confident in. One had opted for a taffeta prom dress, another for an empire-waist silky dress. We all mismatched and I loved it – my mom did not. But she was just plain mad at this point. She was fuming about my hair, my nails, and my friends’ dresses. She was angry at my sister because she had dreads, and dreads are not proper wedding hair. “You better take those out!” She told my sister, who kind of laughed and offered to wear a hat. My sister also feels extremely uncomfortable in dresses, so I’d helped her pick out a suit with a matching green shirt (which she had worn to the wedding, and my mother was quite upset with her for this as well). I don’t remember what she had to wear for the reception, but my sister mysteriously couldn’t find her suit when it came time to get dressed.
When we were all ready, we went to take the photos around the Avalon in downtown Fargo. It doubles as a dinner theatre and event hall. It’s actually a very beautiful building, but since Fargo is not very big, many wedding photography sessions take place here. So it’s not the most unique setting to those familiar with the city, but the photos still turn out nice and with a bit of an antique flair. In fact, I had taken a camera out during my college days and photographed many of the old buildings in this area; there is a lot of history there. I clung to this idea, hoping the scenery would be vintage and dreamy. I have no idea how they turned out. My mom never told me.

At the actual reception event, we were going to do dinner first, followed by a dance. I’d made sure to provide vegetarian and vegan options as well as meat. A whole buffet of food came out, looking absolutely delicious. I was very happy with this moment, because everyone just talked, ate, and seemed to enjoy themselves. It was as close to normal as it could be. But my husband’s father and brother left abruptly after the dinner, barely saying hi. My dad showed up briefly after the dining, but my stepbrother was ill, he said. I know it was hard for him to be there in the midst of my mother and her meticulously-planned event, but it still disappointed me. The moms were doing okay, until after most people had eaten. “Oh, I don’t think there’s enough food.” “Oh, there’s too much food!” “Why isn’t everyone eating?” “They won’t let us take home the extra food!” “What a waste of money.” “I wish I’d planned this somewhere else.”

I’d also specifically requested NOT to do a special dance. I just wanted to mingle and try my best to have fun. But of course I was made to do it because it’s “traditional” and I’d opted out of pretty much everything else, so, being put on the spot, I did it to make my mother happy. Thankfully they invited other couples out on the floor about 30 seconds in, so it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d imagined, but it was a very long 30 seconds for someone who can’t tolerate being looked at. “What if I trip? Are they all watching me? I want them to stop looking at me, I know I look terrible. Oh, they’re taking pictures, that’s great. More pictures I won’t want to see.” Trust me, I know you’re annoyed with me at this point. I get annoyed with that voice, too. But for some reason, it never ceases to tell me how terrible I am. I wished I could feel happy and enjoy the moment, but I was filled with dread and wanted to run away, to a place where no one would make me do these superfluous things.

Over the course of the night I drank quite a bit. I wasn’t completely drunk, but close. It was the only way to stop my self-consciousness from ruining everything. I just wanted everything to stop. I wanted to go hang out with friends and be myself. I didn’t want to put on this spectacular show of gender performance, of being the beautiful bride that the little girls all wanted to be. I wanted to be a badass that the little girls wanted to be. I never changed my last name, and made it very obvious that I wasn’t planning on doing it, and yet I was repeatedly referred to as “Mrs. Husband’s Firstname, Husband’s Last name.” What, I don’t even get to keep my first name now? Gee, thanks, guys. But most of all, I wanted my mom to respect my wishes about what I wanted this event to be.

But you know what? A wedding, with as much attention as they put on the bride, isn’t about her. It’s not “her” day. It’s a day for the parents, really. It’s about performing senseless rituals that are outdated, steeped in sexism and female ownership, and defended as tradition, in order to prove to the older generation that you have successfully navigated to this marker of a “normal” life. Other markers will include having children, owning a home, having well-paying and “respectable” jobs, and writing stupid Christmas letters to people that you’d otherwise never talk to, and that ultimately, no one bothers to read. Okay, that last part was glib, but the rest is true. It was the night I realized that as hard as I fought to have secular vows, to retain my identity, to respect my sister’s gender fluidity and to include everyone in a way they felt comfortable but to still appease my mother, that I failed to grasp what the whole event means to others. People will always see me as an extension of the man I married, and to some extent, that I have certain duties I am now required to fulfill simply because I chose to take part in the ceremony of marriage. If I’d planned the wedding between my husband and myself alone, I could have a certain level of satisfaction with my choices. But because I wanted everyone to be happy, I was not happy myself, and it became about everyone else.

If you made it this far, I’m surprised. I wanted to retell basic events of my wedding and reception because mentally, I am not calibrated to deal with the kinds of things that undoubtedly will arise with matrimony. But I also wanted to tell you this because I am twenty-seven years old and I have been married and separated already. I have dealt with severe body image issues and depression, and I am finally learning how to navigate through these things now that I am free from a toxic relationship. I’ll write more about the relationship in another post, which will hopefully come soon.