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The Ties That Bond

heart-shaped-book-shelfI never thought I’d end up marrying my former best friend’s husband.

In their Halloween class picture, our preschoolers are standing side-by-side dressed as Batman and a ballerina. I have photos of their son giving my youngest a bottle, and of our six kids hanging out in the hot tub at Sugarloaf while the guys played golf. Over the years my friend and I logged countless hours confiding in and commiserating with each other. When both our marriages went south, I found myself looking at Batman’s dad in a whole new light. And, evidently, vice versa.

But how to break the news to someone with whom you’ve shared everything from babies to book groups that you’re about to take sharing to a whole new level? I knew she had moved on romantically so there was no residual torch-holding, but still.

Heart pounding, I finally just blurted it out over the phone and braced for the backlash.

“That’s great, I’m so happy for you! I always thought you and Brad would be good together.” Whoa.

My parents split up when I was 13. None of my friends came from a so-called broken home so I don’t know if theirs was a typical divorce. I do know that afterwards they barely spoke to each other. At least they weren’t fighting. During our awkward, infrequent visits with Dad after he moved out, his new wife would greet me and my sister by growling “John, get the girls a drink.” (Couldn’t she?) While our stepmother wasn’t exactly wicked, she certainly wasn’t warm and fuzzy. And we never really bonded with our new half-sister.

Brad and my old friend (fondly referred to as the FW, for First Wife) have adopted a more modern approach; they occasionally email, text, and even talk. Long before he and I were invited to celebrate her second marriage–to a likeable guy Brad’s brother nicknamed Buzz, as in Lightyear–I’d stopped worrying she and I would lose touch. We all get together regularly, for weddings, birthdays, baptisms, their annual Christmas party. Did I mention we used to attend the same church? Soon after Brad and I became a couple he spotted me and his first wife laughing and looking his way during coffee hour. He quipped to his fellow choir-mates, “that can’t possibly be good.”

Unlike me, the FW stayed in close contact with her former in-laws. Even after her first marriage fizzled, she and Brad’s mother remained the best of friends. The fact that his mom crocheted afghans for Buzz’s entire family was my first hint. The chummy gatherings I saw on Facebook confirmed it. As a 21-year-old bride whose parents lived overseas, the FW had eagerly embraced her new in-laws. And Brad’s mother, blessed with four boys, had been thrilled to welcome another female into the fray.

Meanwhile, Brad and Buzz high-five over backyard horseshoes and beer pong, and he and his former brother-in-law exchange pie recipes, power tools, and bad jokes. One Easter I found myself sprawled on a sofa saying “cheese” with my husband’s daughter, niece, ex-sister-in-law, and former spouse. What happened to the time-honored tradition of taking sides after a breakup? It’s all very cozy, if somewhat unconventional. As my youngest child observed, “just so you know, Mom, it’s not normal.”

Certainly not in my experience. But I’m impressed that my two long-time friends, post-divorce, have decided to bury the hatchet, not hurl it. And I know that their two adult children, who see them continue to parent, grandparent, and party together, appreciate it too.

Brad and I finally tied the knot, after 13 years. As our first anniversary approaches, my husband is about to embark on a three-week, 3000-mile transatlantic sail with my daughter Abby, her new husband, and another couple. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about blended families, new beginnings, and the unexpected twists and turns one’s life can take.

The Minuteman Library Network has an abundance of books on all the above, including dozens on surviving divorce emotionally, financially, and even spiritually. I was encouraged by the number of titles with a decidedly positive focus. I don’t know if Brad and the FW read any of these books, but they might have: Co-parenting 101, by Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas, or Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex, by Judith Ruskay Rabinor.

Other resources for moving on after marriage include Connect: How to Love and Accept Yourself After Divorce, by Dawn Burnett, and Daily Meditations for Healing from Divorce: Discovering the New You, by Marlene A. Pontrelli. And although this ship has already sailed for me, I got caught up in Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life, by Abigail Trafford.

Another title that drew my attention was Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey through the Hell of Divorce, by the former editor in chief of Redbook magazine. When I opened the book, three beautiful postcards of Bath Abbey fell out. I regretted not having stopped in Bath with Brad on our road trip to Cornwall last spring, after Abby’s wedding in the Cotswolds, so I took it as a sign. I wasn’t going to bypass that book as well. Stacy Morrison’s story, so different from my own, was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

The FW texted me recently, excited about meeting their son’s new girlfriend, and what did I think of the latest Elin Hilderbrand? I wrote back right away. More than 30 years after we first met at story time at the Westwood Library, she and I are still friends, with more in common than we ever could have imagined.

April Cushing is the Adult & Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the November 21, 2019 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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