When I married Glenn, a man I found on Match.com, my friends were slack-jawed. Impossible! It wasn’t just my age—57. I had never married before and was the last person anyone thought ever would.
“How did you do it?” they asked.
How many dates did I go on? How many sites? Did I lie about my age? Did he? How old was the picture I posted?
Glenn is the only one who asked: "Why did you wait so long?"
Glenn knew he wanted to marry me early on, but it was hard getting him to think about a wedding.
“Do you mind if I’m less interested in getting married to you than being married to you?” he’d say, hoping I’d drop the subject.
The truth was he didn’t want any wedding—the one he’d had 20 years before had been enough. He imagined City Hall with our grown daughters and lunch somewhere afterward. While I wanted to embrace this sane, thrifty approach and prove I was above the hoopla, something was keeping me back.
My parents got married in 1945 in the French equivalent of City Hall. They met in Paris, among the thousands of Jewish refugees from parts East looking for a way out of Europe. I have a photo of them from that drizzly day, both in dark suits, my mother’s wavy hair cascading down her shoulders, my father’s curls piled high. She is holding a bouquet of white flowers.
She was 23; my father, 10 years older. I loved to look at that photo, for she was beautiful and seemed truly happy. Then one day, I was taking it out of its cardboard frame to put into an album, and another photo that had been stuck behind it dropped out. In it, my father smiled warmly, but my mother’s face was drawn and dismal, her eyes dead. It had been only a year since she’d been freed from Auschwitz.
When Glenn suggested marrying at City Hall, I remembered that pair of photos, though I didn’t mention it to him. It was a secret I tried to keep even from myself: how long a shadow the war and my mother’s sorrow had cast over my life. Was it out of loyalty to her that I’d gone without love for so long? Had I always fallen for liars and seducers to fulfill her desire for romance and excitement, a desire that found no answer in her practical, hard-working husband and turned their marriage angry and cold?
Marrying at City Hall somehow meant repeating my parents’ marriage; it meant standing in for my lost, broken mother, a woman I resemble so much that those who knew her draw in their breath when they see me.
But my mother was 57 when she died, and I always imagined I would die at that age, too. Instead, I had found love and was getting married for the first time. Perhaps it wasn’t till I lived past the age she had died that I could finally separate myself from her, staking out an identity that neither denied my family history nor made it my only truth; only then could I be reborn as myself, embrace happiness, say yes.
It is no accident that the only man I ever thought I could marry carries the scars of war. At 19, Glenn flew missions over Vietnam, swallowing back his fear and horror. But unlike my mother, who practiced silence to protect us, he talks about his experiences like a man with a mission, revealing to others how they shaped a life of scholarship and activism.
It is also no accident that the man I‘ve chosen is a navigator. He seems to take maps in through his pores, setting out only when he’s sure of his way. Do I imagine that one day, we will have to take off for parts unknown, driven out of our home to unfamiliar lands? Whatever happened, I would put my life in his hands.
We took our vows, not in City Hall, but in a small restaurant that we love, surrounded by our closest family and friends, the community that kept us laughing and grounded through our many, separate years of going it alone.