To this day, my mother doesn’t know my husband Mike was married twice before. She has asked her share of “none of your business” questions over the years, most of which I answer. But I knew what her opinion would be about my choice to marry a man with two divorces under his belt, so I keep a few details to myself.
She did know that when I moved to Pennsylvania I would live in Mike’s house, built just four years prior to our wedding day. The house that he had built with Kathy. Now, mom might have been a little fuzzy on the details of wife number one and wife number two, but on one point she was clear: Never move into another woman’s house.
The first time I visited Mike’s house, he picked me up at the airport in Baltimore. We stopped off for burgers at the Round The Clock Diner (his favorite), then continued north past mile after mile of sprawling farms. Just before we turned toward town, a sign advertised free range brown eggs.
As he turned the key in the front door, Mike apologized for the sparse furnishings. That happens after a divorce. Some of Kathy’s pieces were still there: the piano, the blue striped sofas, a nightstand. She had moved some to a smaller place and needed time to figure out what to do with the rest. With a mighty effort to be the good guy, Mike left the piano in place.
It was easy to see that Mike and Kathy planned every detail of the house – the stereo system wired into each room, the placement of upstairs windows for the best farm views (a key to Lancaster County living), the plans to finish the basement. But I knew from his stories that very soon after moving into this house, things changed. That the excitement of a new house had washed away as storms of sadness drowned his marriage.
I knew the facts pretty well. The dance of separations, the efforts to try again, his pleadings for Kathy to stay. I peered into the bedroom where she had slept after they argued. The office, where a few craft supplies sat abandoned on the closet shelf. The basement, cluttered with remnants of her past hobbies: plastic crates of Beanie Babies, yarn for granny squares, crushed silk flowers.
That evening, we sat in the back yard and watched the sun set over the tasseled stalks of Pennsylvania corn. Mike told me about the landscape plans and how fast the evergreens had filled in across the property line. I picked a leaf off a shrubby overgrown plant near the patio and recognized the fragrance of mint.
Kathy had planted the mint soon after the house was finished, causing a bitter argument. It was way too close to the patio and disrupted the neat stone border. Like everything else she planted, there was no room for growth. After just a few years, it had taken over; mint will do that if you’re not careful.
In June of the next year, I married Mike and moved into that house on the first day of summer. While he was at work one day, I found a shovel and gloves in the garage, and headed out back. I attacked the mint first, trimming it back, digging around the roots, and yanking handfuls of woody stalks free. I turned over the dark soil underneath, and stepped back, sucking in air as if I had been given space to breathe, take root. This was where my hosta garden would go. I took off the gloves and headed inside.