My fiancé Steve sent a sweet email on March 23rd, telling me about his correspondence with an old friend who was looking forward to our wedding, then noting he’d had a realization: March 23rd marked what would have been his and his late wife Karen’s thirtieth anniversary.
Coincidentally, I’d recently read a novella in poetic form by Lesley Wheeler, The Receptionist. In the chapter “A Ghost at the Thanksgiving Feast,” the receptionist’s stepmother flames out at a mention of her husband’s first wife during Thanksgiving dinner. Later she apologizes for her unseemly outburst.
It’s never occurred to me to be upset by the fact of Steve’s life before me. I’ve always seen his first marriage as evidence of his ability to commit to and care deeply for someone, a sign he possesses the strength and flexibility a long, happy marriage requires. He learned how to love a partner, and let himself be loved by a partner, from and with Karen. She and he raised two wonderful sons who are now part of my life. There are no threats here, only gifts.
Everyone has a history. If anything, not accumulating a rich store of experiences by the time you’re over forty makes you more weird than normal. Yet often we’re quick to label the bulk of our romantic past with the pejorative term “baggage” and attach all kinds of angst to it. Why? The end or loss of any relationship brings great grief, but before that, even in that, there remains love and joy. Continue reading