When my eldest daughter was three (she’s almost 15 now), she decided to throw our family cat a first birthday party. She lovingly crafted noisemakers and party hats made from construction paper for everyone in our immediate family, including the cat. My girls and I baked a homemade cake (for us) and decorated it. And after dinner on the night of his party, we all sat around the table singing Happy Birthday to our furry family member. The party was so precious it became a beloved family tradition, and we have celebrated the cat’s birthday this way ever since.
As the years passed, either my husband or myself would snap a quick picture of the kids at the party. The photo would be the same each time, with little variation; one of our three children holding the cat on their lap, while the other two kids huddled closely around one another, grinning wide, toothy smiles over a birthday cake with a burning numerical candle and one for good luck.
“Make a wish,” I never failed to instruct the cat (wink, wink) just before taking his picture. My kids laughed every single time because I sounded so ridiculous. But silently I always made his wish for him.
In January of 2012, my husband and I separated. We briefly reconciled over Passover three months later, but after realizing being married was something neither of us wanted, we officially separated on April 8, also the cat’s birthday.
Our divorce was imminent, and my husband returned to Asia that afternoon. As our family tradition dictated, the children and I celebrated the cat’s birthday after dinner, this time without my husband to join in the festivities. The party was bittersweet, comfortingly familiar and yet not. But we pressed on anyway, even though none of us felt very much like celebrating.
That was three years ago.
Before my children left last week to spend spring break with their dad, they reminded me the day they were scheduled to return would be the cat’s birthday, his thirteenth, and requested I buy a cake to celebrate the occasion. However, in my confusion, I forgot. When the children learned of this, my eldest daughter asked her dad to buy a cake before going to the airport. He agreed, and the two of them promptly left.
That’s when my 10 year-old son told me: “Daddy got married last week.”
I looked up from my computer screen, dumbfounded.
“Are you sure?” I calmly asked, already knowing a large wedding celebration was penned on the calendar for late August, and knowing even better my son was awaiting my response to gauge his own.
“Yes,” my 13 year-old daughter confirmed. “He told us a few days ago. We asked if you already knew, but Dad said it was none of your business. He wanted us to tell you after he went home.”
But before I could fully comprehend the news, in walked my ex-husband and daughter, birthday cake in hand.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” I goaded him.
“For what?” he said, pretending he hadn’t a clue.
“Didn’t you get married last week?” I continued.
My ex-husband looked down at the floor. “Yes,” he answered, emotionless. “I did.”
I hesitated before speaking, my atypical silence eventually forcing my ex-husband to look at me as he braced for my response in very much the same way a misbehaved child awaits his punishment.
But that evening there would be no tongue lashing. Not from me.
“You’re a lucky guy,” was my one and only remark.
With that, I casually picked up the cake from the kitchen counter and brought it to the table where we all sang Happy Birthday in unison.
Before blowing out the candles, our children posed for their annual picture as they always did, a moment I thought my ex-husband and I would never again share.
For the longest time I anticipated how I would feel on my ex-husband’s wedding day, the day he would marry someone else, that someone being the woman who facilitated and expedited the dissolution of our marriage. Would I be sad? Would I be happy? Would I feel anything at all?
I no longer have to wonder. That day came and went without my even knowing, truly a blessing in disguise.
My ex-husband and I spent 24 years together, 16 of them married. We’ve known each other since we were teens and share three children together. Yet he thought nothing about keeping his nuptials from me, instructing our children to do the same.
Admittedly, I was at first offended. Hurt. Angry. But not because he married someone else. No, that wasn’t it at all. It was because I believed I was deserving of something more from him, that something being respect.
Indignant as I initially was, the truth is he’s no longer my husband. And what he owes me, apart from that which is specified in our divorce agreement, is absolutely nothing. A friend took the liberty of explaining this to me. Yes, he could have done things differently. Been more considerate of my feelings. But he didn’t. And he wasn’t. Truth be told, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
With or without his respect, what I do believe is life has a way of turning out for the best, even when it may not always seem possible, the end of our marriage being one of those instances. Though the children were disappointed, they are each doing fine.
“Make a wish,” I teased the cat, just like I had done during all those previous birthday parties before this one.
As our children blew out the candles on the cat’s behalf with an ease and lightheartedness I was once unsure I would ever see again, I wished my home, the one we worked so hard to rebuild over these past three years, will continue to be the happy home it has finally come to be.
So yes, my ex-husband is a lucky guy. Very lucky indeed. We all are.
Do you believe life has a funny way of working itself out for the best?