On the night of Nov. 3, 2008, my wife, Anne, and I decided to divorce. We didn’t begin the evening planning to, it just kind of happened.
We were in our basement, a cozy clubroom, for a gathering of what I referred to as the “Grievance Committee.” Oddly enough, I always swore it was one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. It was an occasional get-together to blow off a little steam, point out that someone wasn’t cleaning the cat’s litter box or lobby for funds to make a seemingly unnecessary home repair.
But what was different about this meeting was at the end of it, we were both crying. I can still remember every detail: Anne was sitting on the sofa, I was standing up and I asked her, as she wiped away the tears, “Are we through?” She looked up at me, her face the saddest I had ever seen, and nodded her head.
And just like that, after two years of dating exclusively, three years of living together and 10 years of marriage, we were finished. Fifteen minutes later, in typical Jim-and-Anne-Burger fashion, we had slipped into sweatpants and were back on that sofa, holding hands, drinking beers and laughing hysterically at some stupid movie.
Often, when you hear stories like this, the phrase “we had grown apart” pops up. That certainly wasn’t true in our case. We were closer than ever. There wasn’t some major criminal event or infidelity that toppled the union. It was as though two longtime roommates suddenly decided they wanted their own places.
I’m oversimplifying obviously; there were other factors. We never had children, so we didn’t share the bond of a common enemy. Also, after we were married, Anne and I resolved to visit a major foreign city every year. We loved to travel. We had the time, we had the money and had been to Barcelona, Paris and London.
Then, my mother, living in western Pennsylvania, had a stroke. Her health deteriorated rapidly and, at Anne’s insistence, we moved her to Baltimore and suspended any major trips indefinitely. I’m not saying devoting so much energy caused our divorce, but over time it didn’t help.
So there we were, marriage ending, what to do next? We talked about staying in the house and living separate lives. Neither of us liked that idea. We also tried to give the house to one another — financially impossible.
What we did decide, though, was not to tell anyone what was happening — yet. We had a trip planned to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the following week. We would go there and sort everything out. It was a brilliant move. Every day, at our own pace, we dismantled our life together. There is much good to be said about handling such business while sitting by a pool or over a cocktail at happy hour. We made relaxed phone calls to friends and family when we felt like it. By the time we returned home, all the details had been settled. She got the cat and I purchased the house.
Anne is a dear friend. The day our divorce was finalized, we went out to lunch together. When my mother died and was to be buried in a Jewish cemetery back in Pennsylvania, there was my former wife and her mother, standing at graveside.
I’ve since gotten remarried — to the only woman I would even consider filling in for the first Mrs. Burger — a girl I met when we were 17-year-olds attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was on the steps of the school that we were married, and moments before the ceremony someone snapped a photo of me sending a text to my brother and sisters, “I’m getting married in a minute. I’ll explain later.”
That’s how exclusive it was; only 15 people invited, but the first name on the guest list was “Anne.”
Jim Burger is a Baltimore-based freelance photographer.