That girl

15 years ago today, one month shy of my 21st birthday, I was married in a strip mall.

The decision to marry—at age 20—was on par with most decisions one makes at that age, including all the requisite limited forethought, stubborn assuredness and defiant invincibility.   I wasn’t old enough to go to Vegas.  I wasn’t old enough to toast to a lifetime together.  But I was old enough to change my last name and call someone my husband.  And I was old enough to make a binding legal and spiritual covenant to a boy-man that whispered forever with the confidence of someone far older than 21.

And so. We exchanged vows at 10 am on a friday morning, having planned the whole event in 9 short days.  It made sense to us, as we had lain in our apartment together in early October.  We should get married. We should do it now. A few telephone calls, a short drive to the chapel, which was nestled near a flower shop and a Subway restaurant. I had a turkey sub, we paid extra for the Photography Deluxe Package.  It was all arranged.  All that was missing was the unplanned pregnancy to give it that final air of irony (that would come 8 short months later) but among the 25 guests, there were certain whispers.  Does she look heavier, in the middle there?  I could swear her face is fatter.  

And yet, as far as hastily planned, shopping center weddings go, it was really quite lovely.

And for a little while, the marriage was too.

Until it wasn’t.  And then…well.

You knew how the story was going to end before I even began, didn’t you.

Fast Forward

I drove by the shopping mall the other night with my teenager in the front seat of my mini-van.  The wedding chapel was gone, there’s a yoga studio now.  A Starbucks. A store that sells cellular telephones. It looks wholly uninteresting and non-descript.

“Your daddy and I were married there…” I told her, pointing.

“There?  Where?” She peered out the window, uncertainly.

“In that shopping center. There was a chapel there.  But it’s long gone now.”

That marriage, that husband.  That’s long gone too, I think.

“You got married in a strip mall?” She seems incredulous and I wonder what she imagined from the pictures she had seen in the photo albums. She sucks in her breath and sounds a little defiant. “That is incredibly lame.”

Those photo albums are in the back of the closet now.  She won’t be looking through them again anytime soon, I know this.  I was 20 when I married, 34 when I divorced.  As I sit at the light near the strip mall, There’s a grown up husband at home waiting for me at home, standing in the kitchen, putting dishes in the dishwasher. A different husband chosen for different reasons, at a different time in life, one with strong hands and a constant kind of love that keeps me whole and safe.  I drive a mini-van and drink red wine.  I hear my own voice speaking and it sounds calm and certain.  If I am rash, it is a calculated rash, heavy with knowledge and failure.

No one, especially not 20 year old girls, say “I do” with the intention of changing their mind.

And before I judge her too harshly, that child there with the white roses in her hair and that irascible certainty, I have to stand back and admire her just a little.

That girl, was something.
Aren’t we all something at 20?

My daughter will never know very much about the girl who married a boy in a shopping mall.
That girl and I are in different places now. And this makes me sad, all of a sudden.  Because I want this almost-grown daughter of mine to know that part of me.  I want her to know that I once lived on the edge of things.  That I took chances and wore my confidence haughtily.

That I understand how it feels to know everything. To need little.  To love desperately. 

That girl.
Divorced, after 13 long years of marriage.  After more than a decade of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, pounding away with hopefulness that if I was just a little stronger, a little more pliable, I would make it work.
That girl.
She was foolish.  But happy, for awhile anyway.
Drunk on the curses and the curiosities of being young.

I am not her anymore and I don’t think I would want to be. This makes me sad too.

I blink a little as we roll past the shopping center, squinting at the storefronts.  Where did she go?
Where is that girl now?

I stare into the rearview mirror of my car as the shopping mall fades.  She’s not there.

Then I look at my daughter, flipping through the radio stations.
Her face is brightly beautiful in the bluish glow of the dashboard dial.

And all is not lost.

Because just then, I see her.
I can see that girl sitting right beside me.


  1. The dignity you have revealed in the 20 year old experience of life is a breath of fresh air. This made me cry for reasons I do not completely understand, but again, thank you. Your writing is consistently amazing and surprising.

    • Your beautiful comment made me cry. What an extraordinary and wonderful thing to say. After reading this, I went back and read what I wrote. And I saw the dignity in “that girl” that I hadn’t even seen when I wrote about her. Thank you for giving me that. <3

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I am 33 years old with a little family of my own but can definitely relate to things that have passed by, the person I used to be and the person I am now. I guess life takes us on a journey doesn’t it. We change, people change, our experiences diversify but then again we see or feel something and it’s exactly the same as it was all those years ago (or not!) 😉 I love that you can see yourself in your daughter. That must be a nice feeling.

  3. As I read this post while laying in bed at 6am on a Sunday morning I am stunned at my visceral reaction to your honest and heartfelt words. It’s as if they are coming out of my very own soul, typically hidden to the world but now realized in text form before my very eyes. This post took my breath away because I see my life in it. The marriage was almost 13 years and I was a ripe old 18 year when I walked down the aisle of that orange carpeted sanctuary. The daughter is turning 4 tomorrow which leaves me fearful, tearful and amazed at the thought. She is the precious gift that cams out of over a decade of “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.” I am now living my truth, that I am a still semi-overweight, but much less so, out of the closet lesbian. I am independent, so much more confident and thankful for the lessens that marriage taught me. I too have compassion, respect and a little bit of “atta-girl” for the brave young 18 year old that stepped along that path with the typical bullheaded determination that faced everything else with at the time in her life. She will always partly be me although now I see her. Truly see her. All the balled up insecuritis and brute force she is trying to mold her life by. Thank you for sharing your heart and past. It touched my soul this morning. 🙂


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