scorecardEnding my marriage was painful. But it took selling our dining-room table to make me fully feel the loss.
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Ending my marriage was painful. But it took selling our dining-room table to make me fully feel the loss.

Sarah Gundle   

Ending my marriage was painful. But it took selling our dining-room table to make me fully feel the loss.
LifeScience3 min read
  • Selling our dining-room table after the divorce was final made me sob.
  • This table had been with us through so much of our relationship, with its ups and downs.

"Are you OK?"

The men who'd answered my ad on Craigslist stepped back when I answered the door.

"I'm fine," I croaked. But I could tell from their expressions that my tear-streaked face told a different story.

My Craigslist ad had read: "Beautiful antique oak table with turned legs, 7 feet long, seats 12." I wanted to write: "For sitting with your family, for eating on holidays, for spreading out homework and doing taxes, for piling the mail and collecting stray objects, for sorting laundry, for leaning against at parties, for kissing."

I knew exactly how long the table was because my 6-foot-2 husband had lain across it once while embracing me after we got a positive pregnancy test. That seemed a distant memory that morning as I put a coaster under my mug of coffee and began to weep. Days earlier, I'd received an email from my lawyer announcing that my divorce was final — seven years reduced to two lines in the middle of a workday.

We had ups and downs

When we first met, my husband lived in a sixth-floor walk-up, and the love burned so brightly between us that we often couldn't make it up the stairs without tearing each other's clothing off. We would stumble into his tiny apartment and collapse on the narrow bed, a jumble of limbs.

Now we couldn't even look at each other.

When I got the email, I stared at it for a long moment and then went back to work. But sitting at our long table — its smooth, swirling knots of wood so arresting that I'd known immediately that it had to be mine — I laid my head down and sobbed.

"Why do you need me to come?" my husband had asked me when I insisted we choose a table together.

"I don't care what it looks like. I'll be happy with whatever you choose," he answered curtly, averting my gaze. On the fourth weekend I had reserved for table shopping, he still didn't understand why I needed him to accompany me.

"It's important to me. Why isn't that reason enough?"

I could feel my voice becoming shrill, but he wouldn't budge.

"Why is this an issue?" he asked. His voice was tinged with a dismissive tone I'd noticed creeping more and more often into his dialogue.

When I was eight months pregnant, we traded the tiny apartment with the narrow bed for a townhouse in Brooklyn. We left because of me, because I suddenly couldn't live in noisy, crowded Manhattan with a baby inside me. My husband didn't get it, but he loved me then.

So we spent our weekends house hunting, and he never once complained. We settled on a three-story brick in Ditmas Park but left most of the rooms unfurnished. Sometimes I wandered around marveling at all the space. Neither of us knew anyone in our new neighborhood. When we went out to eat, we drove back to our old neighborhood like homing pigeons. Without saying so, we both knew we'd made enough changes for now.

The table had meant so much in our relationship

I had decided the table would be our first major purchase. I searched for that table as if it were the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my life — as if that act of simple, shared domesticity would ease the loneliness of being with someone who's supposed to know you but doesn't.

I found the table in an antique store on Atlantic Avenue. I ran my pregnancy-swollen fingers along its soft edges, so like skin. I imagined sitting next to it, holding our baby in my lap while flickering candles lit my friends' laughing faces. Even then, in my fantasy, my husband's face was not among them.

That table did absorb memories like the lemon oil I so lovingly brushed across its surface for years. It was where I laid my baby's car seat when we brought her home from the hospital, and where she separated her Halloween candy into colorful, precise piles. It was where we decided to have another baby, and where I sat, dazed and exhausted, after miscarriages.

It was also where unpaid bills lay scattered, accusatorially, during the year he struggled to find a job. Where we sat with only the sound of clinking cutlery between us. Where I swept the dishes onto the floor in frustration and despair when I realized I didn't want a family big enough to actually need this table with this man.

I was relieved when my marriage ended in an unceremonious email from my lawyer on a random Tuesday afternoon. The fights, the strained silences, the seething, the caustic remarks could end. But it took selling my beloved table to two strangers, their faces respectfully averted from mine, to realize the real weight of its loss.