As wedding season comes to an end, a queer comedian's perspective on how divorce is her new beginning.
Image from Flickr user F. Tronchin.
By Robin Cloud
When you’re on the cover of a book about lesbian love and marriage, there is the assumption that maybe yours will last.
I remember seeing her for the first time. It was lust at first sight. Something about her all black, office lady work wear struck me but she was standing there holding hands with a transman so clearly I wasn’t her type. I was introduced in that casual friend of a friend way. We shook hands and there was nothing of it. She would later tell me she didn’t remember meeting me that night. Why would she? I was wearing a sweater with my tits hanging out, large hoop earrings, and lip-gloss.
I was in a relationship; a slow and steady Toyota Camry kind of love. We lived together in the house that we bought, shared a Subaru Forester, and a dog. She was an artist and a bartender and I was her “roommate” when it was time to visit her family. After five years, two marriage proposals, an ex-boyfriend that she couldn’t let go of, and my getting sober, love had shifted. I wasn’t in it anymore and couldn’t find a way to tell her.
But on that night, in the B Bar on Bowery, I had found the way; dressed in corporate realness, my walking papers had finally arrived. One year later, at our friend’s birthday party, I discovered that she was single and that was all the information I needed. I stared from across the table, focused like a homeless cat at a window. After the urging of her friend, I asked her to dance and by the end of the evening had given her a weighty but soft kiss on the cheek. She whispered that I made her nervous and I took that as a good sign.
There was pride in being married, in having a wife. It felt like I had finally accomplished a lofty goal, that I had done something right.
We fell. Like two boulders rolling down the side of a rain soaked mountain; fast, violent, and careening. We began our relationship in secret until my girlfriend at the time confronted me. I confessed. She was devastated and immediately went into bargaining mode: Did I want to have an open relationship? Could she just be my girlfriend on the side? I told her the truth, that I was in love and that I was leaving. She didn’t try to stop me, she could see it in my eyes.
We sold the house, the car, and I kept the dog. Within 5 months, I was living in a studio and was engaged. Looking back now it seems insane. Not the falling in love part because I’m human and well, that’s what we do. What was insane was the urgency under which I was ruled. I wanted the life that I had always said I wanted. I wanted a family, a wife, a baby and this woman had promised to give me that. So I signed up and was on my way.
As with most things rushed, it was good for a while. There were flags in various colors; but I ignored them because I wanted the dream of the life and I had attached this dream to this person and there was no undoing that.
Then about a year later I made a very common, yet fatal mistake. I read her journal. I have always been a snoop so that part of it wasn’t out of character but I was in no way prepared for what I was going to find: “If I didn’t care about what other people thought of me, I would cancel the wedding.”
My stomach dropped, sobbing monsoon tears and I called her. I told her what I had done. She said, “We have to break up now,” and I thought that this must have been the plan all along. Leave the journal out, she will read it and then there’ll be cause. But she talked herself out of that and we worked through it somehow. I convinced myself that she didn’t mean what she said and she convinced herself that she loved me enough.
It took me a long time to come to terms with that and I carried the weight of blame, being the butch it was my job to drive the sex train.
The following year, we had a beautiful wedding at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden where our friends and families surrounded us. I remember the lines from her journal swirling through my head as we walked down the aisle. Was I making a terrible mistake? Was this all real? Did she ever really love me? I focused enough to get through the ceremony, to read the words that I had written and say them to her, to listen to hers and believe that they were true. Months later, our wedding photographer sold one of the photos to a publisher that was printing a collection of essays about lesbian marriage. Suddenly there we were in all of our lesbionic glory, a fate sealed. And then, we just lived. We moved, we fought, we went on vacation, we were happy and then we weren’t.
The other day someone asked me when it all started to go bad and honestly, I can’t really pinpoint a particular moment because there were so many moments that made me question my life with her. I could say that it was when I moved to California under the understanding that she would be moving out in a few months only to have her tell me she wasn’t coming two weeks after I’d arrived. Or perhaps the time I threw magazines at her because I was enraged at her ability to tell me she hated me. Or maybe when she finally uttered the words that she couldn’t imagine herself with a pregnant person. I could tell you that we were not sexually compatible. It took me a long time to come to terms with that and I carried the weight of blame, being the butch it was my job to drive the sex train. To dominate each and every time but by then my ego was too bruised and heart too broken for that. When I finally stopped blaming myself, I realized that I wasn’t getting what I wanted either and was tired of being shamed for the nature of my desire. She would tell me that we can’t both be girls and I would say, it’s more complicated than that, it had to be.
It wouldn’t be fair or right for me not to mention my own failings. I am a person in recovery who spent my entire marriage not fully working the program that has saved so many. I went to meetings, once a week, but couldn’t find it in myself to do the work that’s required, to take the steps and walk them. Instead, my marriage became my focus and I smothered it with everything I could muster. I was really, really good at that. I could hear her muffled pleas for more air but it felt like it was going to be either her or me that could breathe and I chose myself. When I finally rededicated myself to the program, did the work and found the balance that I needed, she said it was two years too late. Sometimes I watch our old videos looking for signs, for the moment where I can say, “Yes, this is when it fell apart” but I never find it.
I was in a relationship; a slow and steady Toyota Camry kind of love.
On New Years Day, I made the gut wrenching choice that a lot of people have to make now in this digital age, I unfriended her. With a new year on the horizon, I wanted to move beyond checking her work focused Facebook page, searching for things that I’ll never find. I cried while I did it and my good friend was with me and she cried too.
Now we are legally separated. We speak to each other via our lawyers. The silence is definite and I recognize that divorce is a death. A death of love, the life you’ve known, and your concept of the future. Your status suddenly changes and you are a single person again thrust back onto the field when you were already showered and changed. No one ever tells you how hard it is to witness a marriage end. It is one of those secret pains, like a miscarriage, that people keep to themselves.
I find myself feeling the loss in small physical ways. Sitting on the subway surrounded by women wearing wedding rings, I absentmindedly reach for mine only to find a naked finger. The recognition of my change in status is absolute. There was pride in being married, in having a wife. It felt like I had finally accomplished a lofty goal, that I had done something right. Now I feel like a pariah that picks up and loses sympathetic lovers once they realize that processing while fucking isn’t really that fun.
I wrap myself in an invisible pink bubble and bounce through the streets of the city. There is no way around this pain, there is only me avoiding more of it. I recently turned 40 and I’ll be freezing my eggs so that my hopes of being a parent don’t perish with this marriage. It’s a strange place to be; living in the end while creating a beginning, but this is what life has given me, and so, I’ll take it.
Robin Cloud is a writer, T.V. host, and comedian. For the last 17 years, she has been a staple in the New York City performance scene. She has been listed as one of Go! Magazine’s Top 100 Women We Love, was featured on the cover of Diva Magazine for their “body issue” as one of twelve New York City celesbians.Robin has been featured in several articles about gay marriage and lesbian fashion in the Washington Post, and Gayweddings.com. Her non-fiction prose in forthcoming this Spring 2016 in Outside the XY: Queer, Brown Masculinity. In addition, Robin regularly participates in several reading and storytelling series including Queer Memoir, Drunken, Careening Writer’s, Mixer Reading & Music Series and Risk! Currently, Robin is in production for her short film Out Again and a documentary about the Ebony Horsewomen of Hartford, CT.