I spent part of this evening cleaning up around the house.
As usual, I couldn’t really stay on task. I wandered. Washing sheets from one room. Picking up in another. I clean like an ADHD squirrel, bouncing from room to room, lacking cohesion and getting distracted by each new corner. I once set out to dust my bedroom and wound up reorganizing the entire contents of my walk-in hallway closet instead. The bedroom went undusted. The closet turned out wonderfully, and I’m still not sure how that happened.
All of this to say, I didn’t set out to throw away wedding memorabilia today, but somewhere in the process of cleaning up my guest room, I stumbled upon my one-time treasures and decided that it was time that they stop taking up space…in my home and in my life. Unity candles are a lovely metaphor, and you never expect to see the day come that you toss them aside, but their meaning is lessened once the pair they unified sever all the ties the flame represented. I took out the ceremonial objects and unceremoniously dumped them into my trash outside next to the dirty cat litter.
(Is now a good time to mention that our unity candle kept getting extinguished during our breezy, outdoor ceremony? Seems now that that might have been a sign…)
Relationships collect stuff, just like people do. And, when a relationship ends, you have to decide what belonged to you and what belonged to the relationship. Sometimes it’s obvious–because let’s be honest, I am never going to repurpose my old unity candles to light a romantic dinner or ignite a bonfire–but some things seem to float just on the edge of belonging to one or the other.
My wedding dress was like that.
Once upon a time, when I wouldn’t have believed for a second that my marriage would end like it did, I picked out a dress.
It was antique white and lacy. Fitted. I picked it out in twenty minutes, and it was exactly what I wanted: simple, elegant, subtle. It was beautiful, and it made me feel beautiful when I wore it. I thought at the time that it was timeless, but it turns out there’s a time and a place for everything. That dress would never be a family heirloom. It wouldn’t be passed down or played with or lovingly refitted and reworn by someone else somewhere down the line.
Instead, it sat in a box that eventually became hard to look at. I sent it home with a friend one day, not wanting it in my house but unsure what to do with it. I couldn’t look at it without feeling a sense of mourning for everything that I thought I had lost, a brokenheartedness over the gap between what my dress had used to mean and what it had come to symbolize after my divorce. I knew I needed space from the weight of what it had become, but, deep down, I also knew that I wasn’t done with it yet. The dress wasn’t something I wanted to toss out or send down the line to Goodwill; it still meant something to me, not because of the relationship, but in spite of it.
I needed to carry it with me into my new life as a talisman, not as a millstone around my neck.
That’s how I wound up in a coffee shop with my artist friend, Jessica, explaining my plan for her to turn my dress into jewelry. It was all very symbolic for me; I didn’t want to lose what the dress had meant. I wanted to carry forward the beauty and the love. The hope. And I wanted to share everything it had meant, and would mean again, with the friends who had sistered me through the hell that had been the dissolution of my marriage.
Jessica and I talked for about an hour, discussing everything from the symbolism to the particulars, and, when we both ran out of hot beverages, she and I walked to my car and I handed her a box with an $900 dress inside.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked.
I nodded. She had the dress and a deposit on the necklaces she would be making. I walked away feeling lighter.
Several weeks later, we met up again. She had painstakingly created these necklaces, the lace from mine taken right over the heart of the dress.
I gave pieces of my dress to the women who held me when I cried, who held me together when I broke, and who held me up when I needed them most. The friend who answered the phone at 3 am when yet another lie came to light, the friend who hiked eight miles with me in 90 degree heat while I was right on the cusp of a mental breakdown, the friend who held my hand in court as a judge dissolved my marriage: these are the people who saved me from me when it seemed like things would never be ok again.
And, I kept one for myself, too, as a reminder of who I am and who I was. Who I am ever in the process of becoming. When I look at it, I think about how things change, how love is never wasted, and how beauty can remain even when it seems like nothing stays the same.