Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Zest of A Radish (or, the story of my divorce)

I was a radish tossed into a sack of potatoes, trying hard to imitate a potato. "Why do these potatoes act like my sharpness, my bitterness, my incomparable zing are a pain in the ass?" I'd wonder. … 

Well, its time to raise your standards and honor that zing. Honor it in your friendships, in your work, in your recreational time, in your love life. Honor it and pay attention to those who honor it.
-Heather Havrilesky
Radishes are my favorite vegetable.  One year I ate over 1,000 of them.
This is a painting done by Lucille Conklin which hangs in my house.
When I recently came upon the above quote in
article, my
appreciation of radishes deepened.

This is the story of how I came to be divorced, but in order to tell it I need to go back in time, to before I was ever married.

My mother tells me that I was born strong-willed and rebellious. In her words, “Celeste, you have been feisty since you had breath to be feisty with.” Though it may have been difficult for my parents, I feel that my temperament was a necessary ingredient in cultivating the courage to pursue life on my terms. You see, I crave freedom the way other people crave convention- freedom of expression and exploration, freedom to feel exactly what I feel and speak without censorship. I live for the freedom to make the unknown known. This is the kind of freedom that terrifies most people, but for me it is life-giving. You can only imagine the blocks a personality such as mine might bump up against growing up in Mormon suburbia. As my friend Don says, “it must be funny for the people who know you day-to-day… thinking you’re this sweet and generous person they hang out with and not necessarily knowing this depth and burning urge for freedom.” Don gets it.

Fast forward to 2007. I had just started teaching school and was working long hours. One weekend, I decided I wanted to go out dancing. I mentioned this to my brother Joe, specifically stating that I just wanted to get out and have fun. I was not looking for a relationship. I ended up going dancing with one of Joe’s friends. He was smart and confident and we had some chemistry. By that first date, he knew he was in love and told me that he planned to marry me. I loved him, too, but deep down I knew that he had no idea who I really was. When I tried to tell him, he didn’t listen. He was looking at diamonds and planning our life complete with kids and a house in the suburbs. On the day he proposed I asked him what he wanted in a wife. His immediate reply was “a girl with a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I told him in no uncertain terms, “I am not that girl.” He claimed he didn’t care.

The following two months were tumultuous. I felt pressured into making one of two choices: break up or get married. I wasn’t ready to break up and so, in early December we eloped. I have never regretted the decision to get married. I learned a lot about myself and I was forced to out grow some old insecurities. My husband and I had a lot in common. We both cared about each other, we were smart and talented. We wanted a lot out of life. But, where I had been born fighting convention, he was the exact opposite. He had spent his life striving for normalcy. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college. He had dreams of church leadership and fatherhood. I had dreams of travel and of connecting with fellow free-thinkers. For four years we made it work.

We didn’t fight much, but we didn’t connect much either. We knew what topics would spur an argument and, for the most part we avoided them. Slowly, we began to live separate lives. One day, in 2011, I rolled over in bed and said, “I think we need a divorce.” He calmly replied, “I agree.” Our whole divorce process went quite smoothly and quickly. Neither of us wanted anything but a chance at happiness. I didn’t ask him for a penny. My freedom was reward enough. He went on to meet a truly lovely Mormon girl whom he married in the temple. Their son is turning one this month.

I went on (after a couple of rebound relationships) to settle into, and thrive in, life as a single person. In the months where I was trying to decide whether or not to divorce, I had many family and friends encourage me to stick it out, to endure the censorship of my soul. They would say things like, “you don’t want the stigma of divorce,” or “when you find a good man, you keep him,” or (and this one is the one I LOVE to hate) “you don’t want to get old alone.” The truth is, I never worry about getting old alone. I really like my own company. I sincerely believe that the only thing worse than death is not really being able to live one’s true life in the first place. I’ll risk solitude for the privilege of a lifetime: the chance to be myself.

I will say that our society has no idea what to do with a woman who is single and childless by choice. I know that there are several well-meaning friends out there praying that I’ll find a man or religion or both. While I appreciate their good intentions, this kind of pity does not endear me. Instead, it fuels my fire. I do not get my worth from my marital status. My place of belonging in this world is certain. I am worthy because I say I am. I am worthy because I am here.

I think a lot about my brother Charlie who passed away in 2009. In a lot of ways his death was the beginning of the end of my marriage. Charlie was the first person in my life who loved me unconditionally. He had the sort of energy and fearlessness that most people only read about in books. He was brilliant and bold and loved without expectation. Even during my marriage, he was the person I would talk to and confide in the most. He explained the world in a really wise and wonderful way and tried to give me pointers for winning at the game of life. He wanted my freedom even more than I did. He encouraged me to listen to myself and honor what I heard. When he passed away I lost my mentor, brother, confidant, and best friend. I also slowly realized how much my marriage was lacking.

It is not always easy to step into the unknown, but it is worth it. Since getting divorced, I have never once wished I were married. There have been hard times, yes. There are still moments when I feel alone- especially since my only other non-Mormon family member is gone. But even in those painful times there is the peace that freedom brings. There is the satisfaction that can only come from living life on one’s own terms. Whenever I start to compromise and allow my fears to run the show, I feel Charlie’s presence. It tells me, “Celeste, you love yourself too much to live a life this small.”

The day after we received the devastating news of Charlie’s passing, his law partner sent this quote. It was so fitting that we had it printed in my brother's funeral program. It is not always easy being a bright, spicy radish in a world of potatoes, but it is far better than being stifled.

“I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark

Should burn out in a brilliant blaze

Than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor,

Every atom of me in magnificent glow,

Than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.”

-Jack London


  1. There is so much to appreciate in this post...your vitality and your ability to embrace uncertainty truly resonate. Love the radish quote. Cheers to honoring your zing!

    1. Thank you! Embracing uncertainty is hard but it is also the pathway to everything we want. What I want most of all is to become myself. :)