I am riding in the passenger seat, listening to my mother talk about the ways love has failed her. I can see the fifty-six years on her face, though she wears them well. She has been called “wife” by four men, “girlfriend” by eight names she has slipped into conversation, “lover” by strangers I will never meet. When I curiously ask, “Why stay married if you’re unhappy?”, she goes stiff. ‘You don’t understand,’ she says defensively. ‘You’re just a kid.’
I am seventeen the first time a boy mentions marriage to me. We are giddy with the idea of gaining light by revealing our dark to each other. But we are too entranced by how bold shouting ‘forever’ is to know how suffocating it can be. We have no idea that we will spend months listening to each other punch ‘fiancee’ out of our speech. Or that one day, when we are sharing a bed, we will look forward to getting away from each other in sleep.
At nineteen, I am doodling in the margins of my college notebook, when my teacher says, ‘Second marriages have a 67% chance of ending in divorce. Third marriages have a 73% chance. And if you’re on your fourth, well, really, what are you doing?’ I think of my mother in her fourth unhappy marriage. I think of my father in his fifth. I wonder if picking myself up and trying again is in my genes.
I do not pick myself up and try again when I learn that I am not going to marry the first person I loved. I pack the remainder of my tiny world into two suitcases and leave the photos of us to die on our bedroom walls. I write lots of shitty poetry and tell my ghosts to ‘keep quiet’ when I think nobody is listening. The next time a boy knocks on my chest and asks, ‘How deep do you go?’, I do not show him. I say, ‘Infinitely’ and leave when he complains about the spaces in me he will not be able to fill up.
My ninety-year old grandma, with her silver hips and bullet-wound lips, tells me, in a thick accent, that ‘Nice girls should be married.’ For years, I watched her treat love as the greatest task on her ‘to-do list,’ always cooking and cleaning to keep the relationship alive. But I am too weak, too selfish, too young to carry the weight of love. She says, ‘Find someone nice and settle down,’ but I have a desire for the world that must be fed. And I am trying to first settle the disorder in my head before I think about being sharing my bed.