My parent’s wedding song was the Theme to Love Story. To this day, the iconic melancholy melody punches me in the gut, squeezes my heart, and puts a lump in my throat – and it’s not because of a nostalgic longing for my parents loving marriage. They divorced after 25 years together; ten years beyond their expiration date, by which point the stench was enough for everyone else to notice.
I’ve occasionally hypothesized this sad song doomed their whole marriage. It feels like a song you’d yearn to listen to when mourning a love story, not celebrating it (like Drunk in Love, Crazy in Love, for instance). In my generous spirit, I tend to give my parents the benefit of the doubt in regard to their questionable romantic song selection skills. On their wedding date (43 years ago today), the only English they knew came from James Bond movies and Beatles songs. Somehow in 1971 USSR, the haunting melody served as the perfect expression of the intensity of their love.* (It was also the song of the year.)
Great love stories are easier to write than to live and often the greatest love story is plagued with a tragic ending. Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, Anna Karenina. Across cultures, love speaks an international language where heartbreak can be understood universally. In real life there are variations on love-based woe; heartbreak from death deepens a love story whereas heartbreak from divorce negates it. Every “happily ever after” ends with the unavoidable conclusion where one leaves the other first via death.
For their 15 year anniversary, my father bought my mother one of the only items of jewelry in their quarter century together. It was a round sapphire ring, with baguette diamonds encircling it like sun rays. The gift wasn’t a romantic gesture, but an apologetic one. A few weeks before she had just caught him in an extramarital affair with the whore from the donut shop. After extreme internal psychological torment and self-analysis, she chose to forgive him. This ring was a symbolic gesture of their new life; built on a frail foundation of distrust, perpetual suspicion, and unresolved anger. As a witness to their marriage, I saw a black hole of regret and resentment at the core, where love should have been.
It didn’t come as a surprise when a decade later, my father had found a new girlfriend and moved out, demanding a speedy divorce, which was finalized just in time for her to arrive in his newly purchased house. He was a new man, embarking at a second chance at love and a new life devoid of his past. My mother, the eternal victim has wallowed in various stages of anger, grief, denial, and fake acceptance with a dormant rage for the last twenty years. My father now has an 11-year-old son with his new wife (30 years his junior, no judgment) and my mother is still haunted by the whore from the donut shop from 1988.
I was 26 years old when my parents divorced. I never saw them act lovingly or respectfully towards one another. the most joyful memory my mind can muster is the two of them as dancing drunks at Russian restaurants for all the “round digit” birthday parties. My mother’s 35th, my 18th, my sister’s fake Bat Mitzvah party at 12. Their good times were ALWAYS accompanied by alcohol because they needed to get numb and enter an alternate reality before they could tolerate one another.
As I try to find the heart of every story, I stretch my memory to the 14 years we had together as “a normal family” before the donut shop whore. Sure we were Russian immigrants desperately trying to fit in with heavy accents, poor fashion sense, and weird foods but we were still a relatively ordinary nuclear family, who ate dinner together, went to the beach and united together in our plight to convince Americans not all those with an “s-k-y” at the end of their last names were Communists. These are the memories formed in my developmental years which buried themselves deep in my mind caves, in a section I can’t erase and these are the memories which inadvertently cause me to well up during the Theme from Love Story.
As a divorcee myself, I wonder if my son ever longs to see his father and me together, like a “normal family.” He was three years old when we separated; eleven years have passed. I’m remarried and he has a six-year-old stepsister. I’ve asked him if he ever secretly wishes to see his biological parents together and he looks at me like I’m crazy or stupid or both. “Um, NO. I can’t picture you with anyone but Andrew,” he says.
“That’s good,” I think while feeling secret gratitude that I have built him a [pseudo] “normal family,” which doesn’t leave him craving for an imaginary one that could have been.