After his arrival in New York, neither Mary nor I heard from John for days. He'd been cleared to do light duty for three weeks, but so many policemen were working at the site they now called Ground Zero that even light duty at a desk turned into long overtime.
His partner's wife, Caitlin, began to correspond with me, filling me in on what they were doing, pretending to complain about how they were volunteering their help clearing away debris after their regular shifts, as proud of them as any lover of a hero could be. She sent me a counted cross-stitch panel. "John said he promised you one to match his," said the card that accompanied the delivery. I had it framed, and hung it in my kitchen; I looked at the tree with its inscription 'John + Sully' each day before I went out and when I came home, in amazement at his romantic streak.
Even after his e-mails to me became daily again, I missed him so much. I wanted to hear him swearing loudly at the evening news, to see him grinning, carefree, at somebody's jokes, to have him at my mercy in my bed. I should never have encouraged him to be part of my life, to become an integral part of my life -- or else I needed to accept that I had done so, and see what I might have to do to keep him there.
"Father," I said to the priest, having made yet another appointment, "you know my circumstances. I've talked to you about this so many times. People have been pestering me to get that marriage annulled since Adam left me -- what, thirteen years ago? In fact, my mother started pestering me to have it annulled the week after he and I were married. I've been adamant about the sanctity of my wedding vows all that time, even though he's probably married again with six kids somewhere by now." I pulled a tissue from my purse, because I knew I would start to cry. I always did when I talked about anything in my life. "But it's killing me not to be able to even consider John's proposal. I know that doing what's right is often hard, and accepting what's right is often hard. I guess I'm just asking -- is it wrong for me to want an annulment now, after all this time?"
"An annulment is an acknowledgment that a sacramental union never actually took place," Fr. Del said, tapping a pencil on his head hard enough to make a bink, bink, bink sound. "Now there are some broad categories that are usually explored in pursuing an annulment, as we've discussed before. Did both parties understand that their union was to be a sacrament, that is, something holy that tells us about God's faithfulness to his people?"
"I knew that, see, this is where I immediately start to have a problem with -- "
"Did Adam?" interrupted the priest. "You may have had an understanding of what sacramental marriage was about, but an annulment can be granted if the other party did not."
"Well, we talked about being together forever and respecting religious beliefs, and agreed that ending a marriage wasn't an option, yes, so he said he understood all the preparation talks we had with the priest at St. Stan's in Modesto," I said, feeling beleaguered by my past.
"We also ask if there was an openness to life in the marriage. Did you want children?"
"Hell, yes -- I'm sorry, Father -- yes, I really wanted to have kids."
"Did Adam?" asked the priest again.
"He said he did, but he didn't want to be irresponsible, either, and bring children into the world before we could afford to raise them, or before he was mature enough to be a father because -- "
"And the third thing is, did the couple willingly, knowingly, honestly commit to sharing all aspects of their lives together?" he interrupted again.
"I did! That's why this is a sticking point for me! I did! And I know you're going to ask me, 'Did Adam?' and yes, he said he did! And I know he cheated on me more than a few times, but he was always repentant, and we're supposed to forgive without conditions, aren't we? We knew all those things, we agreed to all those things -- "
"Is there any possibility that you might have been mistaken?"
I stared at him with my mouth open. That thought had never occurred to me. I had always been so sure.
Fr. Del put his pencil down and clasped his hands under his chin. "How did Adam share your life with your family?"
I thought for a moment, but not long, because the answer was obvious. "He didn't. My mother despised him, and he knew it, so he refused to go with me to visit. Jesse hated him with a passion, because apparently he hit on her even before we got married. Maybe she should have told me that before the wedding."
"What about his parents?"
"I think I met his mother on about four occasions. She always seemed distant and sad, kind of depressed and resigned. They were short visits; Adam used to say that his mother was disappointed in him, which was common ground for us -- my mother was perpetually disappointed in me. His stepfather was nice, though, and tried to make me feel welcome, as much as he was able."
"So he didn't want to share your life with your family and made little effort to share his life with his family with you," Fr. Del said. "What other aspects of your married life did you share intimately? What interests? What activities?"
"We both worked," I said uneasily. "We watched some TV together, went to movies and restaurants together --" was that what we called life? -- "We fixed up the house together to make it a better investment," I offered, feeling oddly in need of saying something positive about the union I'd defended for so long. I felt reluctant to say to the priest, I thought the sex and his beauty were worth anything.
"Now," said Fr. Del, looking at the ceiling. "How does John share your life?"
Immediately the image of the brick house from a dream, simple but inviting, sprang to my mind. In the dream, it had been our house, a place that would never be an investment but was our home. The expected tears began to burn in my eyes. "All the people I love, love him already," I whispered. "He tells me about what his job is like, what books he's reading, his adventures when he was a boy." I remembered one summer morning years before, when John joined me for a walk with the dog, and we spent several hours ambling in the shade of the trees by the river, talking about religion. "He shared his life with me before I even realized he cared about me."
Fr. Del reached out and patted my hand. "You see the difference? You spent a number of years with Adam, but what you've described is more like an extended date than a way of experiencing God's love in the Sacrament of Matrimony."
"' ... experiencing God's love in the Sacrament of Matrimony' sounds beautiful," I said, "but I don't see a lot of married couples looking for God's love in each other, or finding it. Does that mean they aren't really married, either? Should they all get annulments?"
"What a peaceful world it would be if every married couple sought the Lord's love and mercy in each other. What a happy parish we would have if all our parishioners came to God humbly and offered their very spirits to Him in true worship! Unfortunately, not every couple, not every parishioner is as interested in their relationship with God as they are interested in getting a good parking space so that they can make a speedy getaway on Sunday morning, or catching the opening kick of the Raiders, or a million other things."
"I don't know, Father. Annulment still seems to me to be a convenient way to dodge the consequences of past actions, however mistaken the actions might have been." I put my tissues away; the tears had not fallen.
"There are very few people who have gone through the annulment process and come away from it calling it 'convenient,'" said the priest. "To admit to a mistake of that magnitude, to address the refusal of a spouse to participate in a holy marriage -- the process can be quite painful. And as to avoiding consequences, can you honestly say that you haven't endured the punishing consequence of your marriage to Adam? Aren't you still feeling those consequences?"
"Yeah, I am. And I wish I could be free from this millstone around my neck. I can honestly say that marrying him was a mistake -- I don't think I even knew what love was back then. But then, that's the scary thing: do I know what love is, even now? What if John turns out to be a jerk, too? I was so sure about Adam, that he was wonderful, and he just flat out wasn't. I don't want to go through another messed-up relationship."
"I don't believe that John is a jerk."
"And how would you know that? From his talk with you after the attack on New York?"
"I've been his confessor and spiritual advisor since his mother moved to California," said Fr. Del, "so I've known him a good deal longer than I've known you." At my astonishment, he shrugged. "A lot of people like to have confessors far from their local parish. Why does that surprise you?"
"I don't know. It just seems like the last few years, every path I walk someone is shoving John in front of me, telling me he's the best thing that ever happened to me." I stood up. "And okay, yes, I'm ready to believe that he is, but it's still pretty irritating.
"So what happens when no one can find Adam to have him respond to this, and all my statements supporting my request for an annulment sound totally lame?"
"Sully," Fr. Del said, sighing, "Let's just apply for the paperwork and see what happens, all right?"