After I concocted my whirlwind romance, I found myself an alien in Papua New Guinea (PNG), bound to an extended family like a clump of tangled thread. The passion cooled. The novelty waned.
When in 2006, I obtained my Decree Absolute of Divorce, I approached the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, hoping to apply for an ecclesiastical declaration of nullity but I discovered then that the annulment process simmers slowly beneath the fiery furnace of a whirlwind romance gone cold. Yet, with raw honesty, the process can unearth truths about oneself – enabling one to understand what went wrong in one’s marriage and why it did so.
Although Pope Pius XI had defined the work of the Marriage Tribunal as “to care for the dignity of marriage, to work for the good of persons,” as a new divorcee, I felt completely overwhelmed with the questionnaire about my marriage, my knowledge of my partner, our home backgrounds, the courtship, our intentions, our partnership, our maturity for marriage, doubts, the wedding and reception, married life, commitment etc. Distressed, I withdrew from the process. I knew that I lacked the courage to answer those 50 thought-provoking questions.
In 2013, my courage returned. I was again spurred to seek an annulment as I witnessed my father die. I saw the yearning and desire with which he received Communion in his last days. It gave him peace. I did not want death to approach me and not be in a position to fulfil that yearning. Already in pieces, I knew no peace.
In 2014, after a preliminary interview with the Metropolitan Tribunal, I lodged a petition for a declaration of nullity. The eight years in-between had given me sufficient emotional and physical distance to provide detailed answers to the questionnaire. I revisited scenes. It roused memories. I yanked plasters from my unhealed wounds.
The questions led me to discover that despite the 15 years together, I hardly knew my spouse! Worse, I discovered also, how little I knew that young naïve girl who blundered into a marriage for which she was unprepared! But convinced that the Tribunal’s investigation would unveil what I already knew intuitively – that my experience of marriage had so sharply contrasted with my knowledge of what it ought to be, that mine had to be invalid.
The Tribunal notified my former spouse in PNG of the annulment process and offered him the opportunity to present his testimony of our marriage. The Tribunal auditors who sought to understand my marriage and its failure interviewed my three witnesses. I knew I wasn’t on trial, my marriage was.
It took three years for the Judge (s) of the Marriage Tribunal to render an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity.
Although anticipating the declaration, when it finally came – I was angry! I wanted to shout from every mountaintop, what does this declaration really mean? Is the Church trying to say that I was never married? Did my marriage exist only in my imagination? If so, what was I doing for those ten years in PNG? Playing dolly house?
With time, the anger subsided and common sense prevailed. I grew to accept that the Church had examined the quality of our consent given on our wedding day and concluded that we each lacked at least one of the essential elements required to make a binding union that day. Thus, our particular union, presumably begun in good faith and thought by all to be a marriage, was in fact, an invalid union as the Church defines marriage.
Paradoxically, 23 years ago when I first sought an adventure, I found one for which I wasn’t looking. That adventure was simultaneously painful and beautiful. In my memory-garden, re-runs of painful scenes occur. Yet such memories no longer throb with bitterness. I pluck from them the scenes of a God who carried me through those storms. He lifted me up amidst the chaos of a culture I couldn’t understand. He cradled me through crisis.
He whispered hope in my language, despite the loneliness of my marriage. In exile, my God serenaded me, while my simple love choked on the weeds of cultural confrontations. With clarity and conviction, I proclaim that my God gave Himself to me through spiritual communion, even when I could not partake of Him through physical communion.
This weekend, I will get married. Although it is my second wedding, it is my first marriage. So last Sunday, I withdrew from my bilum (string bag from PNG), a framed wedding photograph that once hung in my home there. I closed my eyes and kissed the cold glass; tears dripped on the slippery surface.
I removed the picture and in a corner of the yard, under the banana tree, I made a small pile of those 12 PNG years. I set the heap ablaze. The flames crept up the plastic surface of the wedding photo and the faces of that young happy couple there exploded into tiny bubbles, like infected pimples, before it burst into bright blue flames.
I feel relieved. Purged. Purified. Pregnant with hope. I lifted my face to the dying sun and very gently, I closed the door, on a marriage that never was.