Married At 19 and Divorced at 24

The truth about the worst and best decisions of my life

I read once that every woman should get married in her 20s so she can spend her 30s happily divorced. Well, I’m happy to say I’m way ahead of the game.

When I got married at 19, I thought it was a step toward gaining the independence and freedom that I lacked living with my parents. Despite being old enough to vote and to serve in the military, I still had a curfew, and my parents greatly preferred for me to arrive home before the street light on the corner came on for the night.

The truth was that I didn’t vote, and I certainly didn’t serve in the military. I just wanted to be able to go out with my boyfriend after dark without catching hell for it when I got home at 9 p.m.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was pretty close to helpless and immature. I had no business thinking I could make it on my own. Then again, if I got married, I wouldn’t be on my own. Would I?

I was about to find out.

My boyfriend and I got married in his mother’s garden, between the stockade fence and the swimming pool. Our wedding day was a catastrophe. The marriage was even worse. He was a drug addict, an alcoholic, and an abuser. I was depressed and dirty.

We lived in squalor, in filth that we created ourselves but couldn’t find the motivation, energy, or desire to correct. It was a marriage made in Hades.

When we got married, I was 19, nearly 20. My husband was barely 18. Our wedding came hot on the heels of his 18th birthday. I spent my 20th birthday screaming on the bathroom floor of our squalid basement apartment, convinced that my short life was already over.

We treated each other poorly. I was a horrible wife, but I have always been able to console myself with the knowledge that it’s very difficult to be the perfect bride when your husband beats you with beer bottles and shower curtain rods. And cordless phones. And his fists.

When we got divorced, I was a few months past my 24th birthday, and he would turn 23 later that year.

Why did I get married? As I mentioned, I thought marriage would afford me the freedom of adulthood. In reality, I never left the house except to go to a soul-crushing job that I hated nearly as much as I hated my new husband.

A friend of mine who was pregnant at 17 and happily married at 18 once described marriage as “a date that never ends.” She and her husband played hide and seek in the huge Victorian home they rented. They spent their weekends at a local hotel with a jacuzzi just for “a change of scenery.” They went on vacations. They went on safari.

I wanted what she was having, but that’s not what I got. Instead, I got beaten up and beaten down, old, haggard, and washed up before I was even old enough to drink.

No young woman should wear a wedding gown less than two years after wearing a prom gown.

All good things must come to an end. Fortunately, bad things come to an end as well. Everything is temporary. Nearly five years after I said, “I do,” I finally said sayonara. Less than five years separated the worst decision of my life from the best decision of my life.

I wish I could say that I packed my bags and left in the middle of the night, but I didn’t. My husband went away on a week-long trip to Florida without me — I wasn’t even invited. It was so quiet and peaceful while he was away — so clean. When he came home, it felt like putting on a pair of dirty underwear — gross.

Two days after he returned, I moved out. I didn’t take anything with me except my Chevy Camaro. When I returned to retrieve my clothes, my key didn’t fit in the lock. He had changed the doorknobs on the house and padlocked the garage.

I built an entirely new wardrobe with secondhand clothes from the Salvation Army. I owned one pair of shoes. I borrowed my mother’s underwear.

My estranged husband stalked me. He parked his car on my parents’ street and tried to run me off the road when he saw me driving home at night. He showed up at my job. He tied balloons to the back door of my parents’ house.

One night, my father caught him lying on the ground underneath my car in the driveway. He ran away, leaving behind his tools, a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, a wire cutter. My father called him on the phone and let him know in no uncertain terms if he came near me or my car again, he was a dead man.

It took years to finalize the divorce. My husband told his attorney that he wanted to try marriage counseling, and my attorney presented the idea to me like it was a gift. It wasn’t. I’d already moved on, and I would have declined even if I hadn’t. Marriage counseling? Please. I didn’t even want to see his face.

Every woman should get married in her 20s so she can spend her 30s happily divorced? I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’m not sorry that I went through my marriage and divorce while I was still young enough to enjoy another shot at being single. Trust me. I appreciate it so much better the second time around.