5135 Kensington Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. That address is forever embedded in my memory. Every Christmas morning, after making a giant pot of coffee, the first thing I do is press play on the movie “Meet me in St. Louis.” The songs, the costumes, and the magic of that film are woven into the tapestry of my holiday traditions. Sisters, Rose and Esther, faced the same struggles that most young women face. Trying desperately to get a husband, they linger on the porch and throw elaborate parties. It’s not so different than posting on social media to earn your crush’s attention. Throw out the breadcrumbs and see if they bite.
The movie is based on a collection of short stories written by Sally Benson. Benson’s maiden name was Smith, and she really did grow up at 5135 Kensington Avenue in a grand Victorian home at the turn of the century. Today, if you go to 5135 Kensington Avenue, you will find an empty lot where the Smith family home once stood on a normal city street. What once was grand is now normal, and therein lies one of the great disappointments of life.
I found that sometimes it’s better not to seek out things you see in movies or even meet celebrities. Films, books, and TV are there for entertainment purposes. Once you discover the truth behind the magic, it’s disappointing. We need magic in our lives. We have enough normal, so be entertained for entertainment purposes.
I played Esther Smith in a community stage production of “Meet me in St. Louis” many moons ago. I loved that I got to wear a corset and sing those beautiful songs, but the best part was imagining The World’s Fair in St. Louis. How exciting that must have been at the turn of the century! Oh, Rose and Ester, there were never such devoted sisters. Today’s blog comes to you from the great city of St. Louis, where I’m currently attending a conference called WordCamp US. This is my first time visiting St. Louis, and I find myself seeing it through Esther’s eyes.
I needed to channel Esther because I was here on November 1st. It had been just a date prior to 2014, simply the day after Halloween. This past November 1st would have been our five year wedding anniversary. The first anniversary since the divorce and the moment where November 1st gets redefined yet again. From now on, it will be the date that I saw St. Louis as one of the Smith sisters, forever embracing one of my favorite movies.
It was a hard day for me. I woke up feeling anxious and felt just a little bit off the entire day. I was happy to be in St. Louis keeping busy. Social media didn’t want me to forget anything though. My feeds were full of memories that I wasn’t quite ready to see. I had to keep reminding myself that although I may feel sad, it didn’t change the memories. They were still a very special part of my life. I could look back on them and feel happiness even with a cloud hovering.
My wedding was perfect. It was a day filled with grandeur and no normalcy. I remember the night before my wedding. I was in the hotel by myself, lying in bed feeling the stillness of the evening. I took a selfie of my head on the pillow because I wanted to remember my last night as a single woman. Tomorrow, I would have a forever partner.
The wedding day itself was filled with chaos and pure love. We had soft pretzels, a donut cake, local apples served as place cards, and each decoration was placed with a purpose. The tables were named after Philadelphia streets, and the food was an Italian feast. The boutonnieres and bouquets were made from sheet music, and each person selected their favorite song to use. Every single detail of the wedding was crafted from my imagination and showcased Philadelphia and our love in all of its glory.
When I got to the venue, I sat in the car for 30 minutes talking to my driver about his wedding in India. I could feel the love ooze out of him with every word, and it put me in the perfect state of mind. I love love. When I started walking down the aisle, I looked around at our family and friends and broke into tears. It was happening. We had waited eight years to get here, and now we would honor our relationship by committing to a life together in front of the most important people in our lives. Our guests danced and laughed, and I never felt more joy than what I felt that day. It had all come together magically, and we were married.
And now we aren’t. Just like that, the promise I made to commit forever was one I had to take back. It was the right decision. The ex and I could still be friends and support one another, but I could no longer be his wife. It feels as we have lived a whole life in those five short years but my grand marriage became an empty lot.
There is a line in the movie when Rose says to Esther, “My dear, when you get to be my age, you’ll find out there are more important things in life than boys.” Rose wasn’t even 20 and had also lived a full life in her short amount of years.
But that’s the thing, as a child we have dreams, and often one of those dreams is a big wedding. At a very early age, we are bombarded with visions of all-white castles and doves and flowers. We try on dresses and practice holding a bouquet. We dream of seeing our partner standing at the end of the aisle with tears streaming down their face because of how struck they are with our beauty. We pick music and centerpieces and menus. Sometimes even thinking about the elaborate honeymoon that will follow. It’s a joyful vision fueled by love. It’s bliss.
If this sounds like part of your childhood, it’s fine. Dreams are good, and you should dream about things larger than life because that’s what dreams are for; to imagine something that we do not have now but aspire to have later. The problem I see is that no one talks enough about what happens after the wedding. We shouldn’t only be planning our wedding; we should be preparing for our marriage. Often you hear people say that marriage is sacrifice and compromise. But why would we want something that requires us to sacrifice things and compromise on others?
We learn that if things are really worth it, they require these two things. Want to lose weight? Sacrifice. Want a higher salary? Compromise. It leads us to believe that in order to get the life we want, we have to do things we don’t want to do. What if we change that narrative a bit? What if, in order to get the life we want, we love ourselves extra hard and believe we are worth it?
If someone asked me today what the secret to a successful marriage is, I would say the answer is loving yourself first and then finding a partner who does the same. In other words, you have value, and your partner should honor that value through their actions every day. Once you can do that, the rest of the stuff is easy. Trust, respect, love – all those things will follow, but it has to start with you, not the other person.
This isn’t a perfect science. There are bad days, and sometimes bad years. People are perfectly imperfect and often need help and support, especially in a marriage. That’s why it’s nice to get married so that you have someone to remind you how special you are, even when you forget. It’s nice not to be married too because then you start to understand what it really means to value and love yourself. I haven’t figured this out completely yet, but I’m happy for this opportunity to teach me what that means. There is a power in self-love. Things don’t hurt as much, and you don’t feel the need to sacrifice and compromise. You learn to accept, with gratitude, the things you deserve.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard. Hard work is important. You know that whole idle hands thing. It’s true. Hard work gives you a sense of accomplishment which in turn gives you confidence which in turn shows you that you are deserving. That takes us right back to loving ourselves, and that is where the bliss truly lies.
Love is beautiful. Self-love is magic. Marriage is joyful. Being single is inspirational. We are not one thing. We are many, and it often changes. Like Rose and Esther, we will fall in love and then we won’t, but one trolley ride can carry us away to our happy place. You just have to take the ride.