“So, have you been married before?”
We were in the midst of a ‘get-to-know-your-coworkers’ type conversations when Cori, a co-worker, shot that question to me, deadpan. It struck a taut chord within me; it sounded like something I’ve heard before, but surely something wasn’t right.
“I’m only 24!” I quickly quipped, not sure exactly how to take the question. She just gave sort of an uneasy chuckle, and it was then that my brain was able to process the slight change in verb tense, and an extra word added at the end, that had caused all the initial confusion. It was then I realized how loaded the question was. Did she imply that I had been divorced? Maybe she was just wondering if I was currently married and it came out all wrong, but why wouldn’t she have just asked, “Are you married?” like all the other times I’ve gotten the question? Did I even look old enough to be married, let alone married before? I didn’t come to understand her slant on the question and the full weight of it until I was driving home later that night.
I elaborated, just for reassurance: “No, I haven’t been married before, and I am not married.” She nodded, then managed to open up to me about her experiences. Soon, what first began as a simple factual question became an open invitation for the both of us to share—and perhaps, vent—about our catalog of failed past romances.
You see, Cori had once been married. She probably had the same grand vision as most women do: that she’d find the right man, share a lifetime of growing together, and live happily ever after. Of course, as with all other relationships in history, her marriage would go on to experience some turbulence. But for some reason, whatever reason, hers was not able to weather the storm.
And when it rains, it pours. Divorce never just affects the man and the woman. The parents-in-law feel it. The friends feel it. The children, worse of all, embody it. She had three beautiful kids, two of whom came to visit the office, and they were a fruit of this before-marriage. I hurt for them. There is now something in those children now that can never be fully replenished.
I didn’t know Cori that well, but there was something that led me to believe that she had striven to make it work. Maybe she never gave up. After all, she at least owed it to her children to do so. But the thing with marriage—and any relationship, for that matter—is that it rarely matters what one does or thinks or says unless the other is involved. She never told me what it was that drove her and her husband apart. I could only imagine it was somewhere along the way that she lost the hope that had once compelled her to keep going in spite of previous trials. The real kind of hope that helps keep things alive.
As I was driving home later that night, in the harmonious silence of my car, I played back the question she had asked me: “Have you been married before?” It was then that it hit me. Of the four cubicles that sit in a straight row right behind me, all four of them are occupied by women. Of those four women, three of them had once been ‘married before.’ The only one who wasn’t divorced had never been married, and she, the youngest of the group, was at the ripe age of thirty. Of the three divorced, none of them shared commonality in race, background, or religion. And they had all brought children into the world.
It occurred to me what Cori had asked was not just an odd twist to a common inquiry. Rather, it was intentional. It was a conscious extension of her inner-self. It was an amalgamation of her wounds and pains from her past, as well as those of her fellow co-workers, friends, and family. It is the indelible scar of a broken covenant, of broken promises, and it is a scar that has come to mark so many of those around her. Her question, it would seem, was a reaching out for sympathy from a fellow runner in the race of human struggle.
It broke my heart. It hurt me to see how marriage has become so trite, how divorce is becoming so commonplace, and how one cannot even take for granted the marital status of the new 24-year old employee. Most of all, it hurt me to hear their stories and see how many of them have been wronged and abused, whether emotionally or physically.
I came back home that night with an eerie sensation. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and indeed, I had the next day’s trimmings and activities to anticipate. But what Cori and her kids and those like her had reminded me of was that there aren’t many who are nearly as fortunate. I will no longer entertain Thanksgiving as a holiday for cheap pleasure.
I’ve never been married before. But my hope is that one day, if I were to be asked that question again, I can respond, “I have been married before. And it’ll be forever.”