Very few people thought that it was a good idea for me to get married so young to my first real girlfriend, after we had only been together for 6 months. While ultimately they might have been proved right, I don’t regret it. It didn’t work out but I’m a better person for it, and a better husband too.
By August of 2003, my soon to be ex-wife and I were unhappily married. Several times that summer I had moved out, only for us to reconcile and try again. We even moved from a one-bedroom apartment on Enfield Road, out to a two-bedroom duplex in North Austin, thinking that perhaps a larger living space might fix everything. It didn’t.
It meant a much longer commute for me too. We only had one car so I would take the bus for about an hour every morning to my job as a lowly legal assistant with the Texas Legislative Council.
The job itself was pretty basic. My undergrad law degree from Edinburgh didn’t allow me to practice law in Texas, but I was able to be a paralegal. So I assisted the State attorneys with the drafting of legislation during the 2003 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.
There wasn’t much that was ‘regular’ about that legislative session though. That was the year that Tom Delay led a campaign to gerrymander the Texas congressional district map to benefit the Republicans. It was extremely controversial and led to 50 House Democrats to abandon Texas, and hide out in Oklahoma in May 2003 in a last ditch attempt to kill the proposed legislation.
Then Governor Rick Perry called a Special Session for the first time in 12 years to bring everyone back for the summer to push through the new map. This prompted the Senate Democrats to walk out, and head to New Mexico for almost 2 months.
Usually the Texas Legislature meets for six months every two years, but in 2003 there were Special Sessions all summer. This meant that I had to be there all the time and often late at night. I was also managing Austin’s finest rock ‘n’ roll band ‘The Real Heroes’, and my friend Marc and I had started a side-business filming weddings. So I was busy. And that probably added some strain to the marriage.
It all came to a boil one night at the Crown & Anchor Pub in August 2003, the same place we had met 8 years earlier. Those early days were a very distant memory by then however. I just remember that in those last few months, we argued over everything and it seemed like it was always about me. Usually it was about something I was doing, or not doing, or couldn’t do, and how that made her unhappy.
There had been times before when she’d said that she couldn’t be herself when we were in Scotland, or that she couldn’t be herself when we were with my friends. But that night after the Crown & Anchor, she told me that she felt that she couldn’t be herself around me.
There were other things said too about me, and about my parents, that were extremely hurtful, and I just decided that I was done with fighting. I went to sleep in the spare room with the argument unresolved, and I got the bus to work early the next morning without saying goodbye.
I couldn’t do any work though. All I could think about was that this was the end. That I had to concede defeat. But I didn’t want my marriage to fail. No one in my family had ever been divorced before. All of my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins were married once, and had stayed together until death did they part.
And I really didn’t want to be the first to be divorced. I went back and forth a lot that day, but ultimately I decided I was going to go back to the house, and tell her that we should go our separate ways.
When I got home and told her, she agreed with me. I was a bit surprised, but more than anything I felt overwhelming relief.
She moved out that night and we quickly started to discuss the logistics of a divorce. An apartment opened up in Marc’s complex on Bull Creek, and I moved in at the beginning of September.
Very quickly, the relief was subsumed by other emotions. There was some anger of course, as a reaction against the hurt. I was also embarrassed that I’d put so much time and effort into a relationship which ultimately failed. I felt that I had failed. I had given up everything in Scotland and vehemently defended this marriage and my decision to commit to it with family and friends. I had believed in it and I was wrong.
I felt lonely too, because I’d lost my closest companion. I’d only been back in Austin a year and so I didn’t know many people in Austin well. And nobody really knew who I was, what I’d been through, or what I’d achieved. I was messed up again. I felt guilt too. I couldn’t help but think that maybe she was right, and I was just a bad person.
I know I wasn’t the perfect husband. It was basically my first relationship, and I didn’t really know what it was all about. I remember vividly she once asked me, in the middle of an argument, what I wanted from her. I was sitting on the stairs of our apartment, crying my eyes out, and I said I don’t want anything from her. I told her that I accepted her for who she was.
I realize now that what I was really saying was that I wanted her to accept me the way I was. In other words, that I shouldn’t have to compromise myself. I shouldn’t have to change. And that was a problem.
Marriage needs compromise. You need to do things together. You should enjoy doing things together. You need to grow together. You need to change together. You need to nurture a relationship. And keep nurturing it, forever. A relationship wont work if both people expect to be the same two individuals they’ve always been. I didn’t understand that at the time.
When I told my parents that we had broken up, they were supportive, but not surprised. I had similar reactions from friends – supportive, but no surprise. It felt like I was the last to know that our marriage was doomed. I was dreading telling my Granny about the divorce though. She had been married for 60 years, but even she just told me that it was “probably for the best”, in that very matter-of-fact way that Grannies do.
As break-ups go, it wasn’t the worst. We didn’t have kids, or a house, or any valuable possessions. We had a lease on the duplex that we broke, we had a car that she sold, and we had a lot of credit card debt in my name that took me years to pay off.
A couple of weeks after the break up I went to Las Vegas for Nelly and Doctor Dave’s joint bachelor party. There were about 12 lads who came over from the UK and I was appointed Nelly’s ‘Best Man’ for the bachelor party only. This meant I got to organize the hotels, the golf outings, and I made bowling shirts for everyone. Someone else was to be his best man for the wedding day, which I missed.
Although I was newly single, I was not in the mood for a bachelor party in Vegas. So I fell back into the old routine of documentarian and binge drinker. It was a fairly tame few days by Vegas standards. I remember that when I got the final bill for our four hotel rooms, the total charge for all the porn that had been ordered off the TV was somehow higher than the cost of the actual rooms. Yet no one admitted to ordering any of it.
When I got back to Austin, Rick Perry called his third Special Session of the summer, to finally force through his new electoral map. So I was back and work as I tried to adjust to single life in Austin.
Those first few weeks and months were a pretty dark time for me. I wrote a lot to try and help process all of the emotions. I joined Friendster and tried to go out and meet new people, but I wasn’t much fun. I even got ‘catfished’ by a girl using a very old photograph of herself as her profile picture. But I wasn’t much of a catch anyway. I felt like damaged goods, and I wasn’t interested in starting another relationship with anyone else.
Marc and I still had our wedding video business too, and we generated a lot more business at a big wedding convention in the Palmer Events Center. We’d done a couple of those before but I hated them. We would hire a giant TV and it would just be him and I standing in front it, trying to bullshit with strangers and sell them on why our videos were the best.
To be fair, our product was pretty good and one of the things that set us apart was Marc’s photography which we would integrate into the videos, Ken Burns style. Also we were offering DVDs which at the time was something new. All of the established videographers in Austin still worked with video tape and were not really using digital media. So we did ok.
But Marc and I had different visions for the business. He saw the weddings as a potential career for himself, whereas I saw it as a way into making short films and music videos. A few days after the convention he offered to buy me out by paying me an hourly rate for all of the work I’d done. I was completely broke at the time, what with the divorce and the Vegas bills, and so I didn’t even argue with him.
So it was another divorce, but I got to keep the giant TV we had rented for the wedding convention for the rest of the month. I felt it was worth it because I didn’t have a TV, or any other furniture, and the Chicago Cubs were in with a chance of the playoffs.
That’s my strongest memory from September/ October 2003: sitting at home in my tiny unfurnished apartment, feeling alone and rejected, watching the Cubs on a giant TV.
That was the year when the Cubs had Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano as their starting pitchers and Moises Alou, Sammy Sosa, and Aramis Ramires knocking in the runs. After they made the playoffs and retired Ron Santo’s number, they beat the Braves in 5 games in the NLDS and then took a 3-1 lead against the Marlins in the National League Championship Series.
I watched every game on that giant rented TV. Seriously that thing was 6 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. It took up half of my apartment. I was in such a shit mood most of the time, but the Cubs run kept me going. And then Game 6 happened. Top of the 8th inning. 5 outs away from their first World Series since 1945. A high foul ball heads towards the stands and Cubs fan Steve Bartman reaches out to grab it, only to knock it away from Moises. The Marlins go on to score 8 runs in the inning and that was that.
The Cubs lost Game 6, and though they were briefly ahead in Game 7, they couldn’t hold on. The Cubs were out. The giant TV went back to the shop, and I was alone again. It was the first time I had ever lived by myself, and all of a sudden that little apartment felt very quiet. I was forced to contemplate the reality of my present, and an entirely new future.
I considered moving back to Scotland. After all, I’d only really moved back to Austin to keep the marriage alive. But there was a big part of me that didn’t want to go back with my tail between my legs. I didn’t want to return as a failure. If I was going to go back, I wanted to go back having ‘made it’ in the US.
That Christmas I went home to Scotland for three weeks. I made it to Doctor Dave’s wedding in Edinburgh, and I visited Jambo in a freezing Oslo. Overall I tried to be positive.
Back in Austin, I started to piece together a new life. My neighbor was an interesting person. One Saturday afternoon I was cleaning my apartment and she knocked on the door. She told me that she was trying to make a film next door and that their microphones could hear me banging through the thin walls. I told her I was sorry but I thought, “That’s interesting. I wonder what sort of film it is?”
So I looked her up online and found out that she made intellectual lesbian porn movies. I was very, very quiet the rest of that day.
After the Special Sessions were finished, I started a Thursday night poker game at my apartment and went out a lot. The guys in the Real Heroes became close friends too. I met a lot of cool people, but it was more than a year before I was ready to consider being in a real relationship again.
One of the people I met through my poker game was Melissa. I had intended for the game to be for guys only, but then other people started hosting it and the circle of friends grew. After a while Melissa told me about a girl she knew that she wanted to introduce me to. For a long time I wasn’t interested because I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t want to be set-up. It wasn’t until December 2004 that I finally gave in and agreed to meet this mystery girl.
Of course the mystery girl was Farah, and we’ve been together ever since.
Like I said, I’m a better person having been through all this, and I’m a better husband too. I also met the right person, at the right time. I love being married. Let me clarify that, I love being married to Farah.