I have a long and storied history of stupid problems, but this latest one takes the cake.
I no longer know how I feel about a day three years ago.
Today, I’m in the midst of my 11,489th day of life, at least according to Wolfram Alpha, the overwhelming majority of which were insignificant.
That’s not a judgment, merely a comment, an observation. Most days don’t matter. Most days are simply bridges between the handful of days that do, those ten or twenty or, if we’re lucky, hundred or so days that truly form the arc of a life. The important days are different for everyone, of course, and a moment that was trivial to one person can be critical to another.1 Days grow or shrink in significance as time passes, but every so often, a day’s import is clear even before it’s done. Usually, these are the days when things clump together. Given my own strange narrative, these days tend to involve the lingering strands of my father’s untimely demise.
Each of these days could be their own story. The day I learned that Pan Am’s insurers had appealed to the Supreme Court, and I finally, after four years of begging, got a Super Nintendo for my 11th birthday. The day I received my first settlement check as the Twin Towers collapsed. The day I turned 21, watched the Red Sox come back against the Yankees in the Bronx, and learned that another payment from Libya was coming, leaving me set for life. The day I ran my first 5k, and learned Osama bin Laden had been killed. The day my mom called from France to ask if I’d seen that Gaddafi had been killed, only to have to tell her about my own breakup, days earlier. Or, most recently, the day the only man ever convicted in my father’s murder lost his years-long battle with prostate cancer on the morning of my sister’s wedding.
Yes, that is a thing that happened.
Earlier: The guy who killed my father died. Later: My sister gets married. Today is a good day. http://t.co/jvsLNjz
— Scott Rosen (@DrObvious) May 20, 2012
That last day, in particular, appeared to be beyond monumental at the time. As soon as I got off the phone with my mom—who was at the salon with my sister and her bridesmaids, getting ready for the day ahead—I opened a Word file and began taking down notes for the epilogue to my book, a chapter I’d sworn I would never write. The confluence of events was too great to go unacknowledged, even if it robbed my tale of the deliberately ambiguous ending I’d planned from the very start. Under any other circumstances, I’d describe a villain vanquished and a wedding in the same day as some sort of storybook bullshit, but sometimes, real life can be even more fantastical than grand imagination.
That day, my mom and I walked my sister down the aisle together, as I wore my father’s watch and cufflinks. My sister said she did, as did her groom, and the celebration commenced.
The end. Happily ever after.
It took me nearly two years to pound the epilogue I’d begun that morning into some sort of shape that I didn’t completely loathe, and another six months for me to come to terms with the idea that what I’d written might be the best I could do. And that brought me to a Wednesday three months ago, in a coffee shop two blocks from home, when my cell phone rang as my computer crashed. When I couldn’t fix my computer, I dashed home and returned my mom’s call, only to learn my sister’s husband had left her. The word “divorce” wasn’t used in that conversation, but was strongly implied.
And, while it was far from my first thought, once my brain circled back to the epilogue, I knew it was up in smoke.
The problem with memoir is that the story of one’s life is a constantly moving target. Insignificant events become monumental, while the seemingly grand moments become a blip on the radar. And sometimes, in the middle of it all, it’s impossible to know how to feel about events in progress.
It’s easy to be glib at times like that—I’m practically the master at it. But it’s hard to say how to really feel. Was her marriage a failure? (If so, whose?) I’m inclined to say no on principle, because calling anything a failure is judging, and it’s not anyone’s place to judge here. My impression is that she tried as hard as she could to make things work, but he was unwilling to compromise. I’ve been there, albeit without rings or pre-nups involved.
I’m inclined to scrap the epilogue, to cut it from the book, with the possibility of it appearing on this very site at some future date. Maybe, if I feel properly inspired, I’ll give the epilogue one more try, an attempt to reconcile the joy of that day with the year of unhappiness that led to my sister’s divorce. It’s all muddy, and probably always will be: One of the points I tried to make in that epilogue was that, even as we were celebrating our father’s murderer’s death, his family was mourning him. Did that really make us any better than them?
That’s why my sister’s wedding day will always stand out for me. It wasn’t the beginning of happily ever after, as we’d expected, but it was another sort of first: The first time one of those confluences, one of those abundantly joyous days, was ret-conned.
And I have no idea how to feel about that.