Parting with the China From My First Marriage

Seventeen years, nine houses, three states, and two coasts later

Courtney Hazlett
Mar 4 · 3 min read

The email that topped my inbox caught me by surprise. The sender’s name was totally unfamiliar, but there it sat in my most spam-proof folder with the subject, “Your personal offer listing.”

A click and an “a-ha” later, the pieces came together: I’d forgotten that months prior, before pandemic purging was even a thing, I’d contacted a china resale outfit I’d found on the Internet, and the e-mail was informing me that my collection had been accepted. Finally, I was going to Marie Kondo those place settings out of my house, removing the last physical remnant of my first marriage, which lasted all of thirteen months…seventeen years ago.

My china has lived through three presidential administrations, but only one actual dinner party. It moved with me to nine different dwellings in three different states on two different coasts.

What was it about this pile of porcelain that was so difficult to part with? Why was it still here?

I’m not one to keep “stuff.” I’m aggressively unsentimental about most things: My kids’ art work goes into the garbage when they’re not looking, clothes that go untouched for more than a few seasons go straight to charity and nothing pleases me more than stumbling upon a cabinet full of empty shelves, and keeping it that way.

And yet, here I was with this set of china that I didn’t even like. It’s a pattern and color that begs to be paired with sweater sets, pumps, and pearls (which, to be sure, can look lovely). But I tend toward a ripped denim and high-top sneakers kind of look, and always have. The fact that I registered for, and happily received, this Pantone-of-my-nightmares pattern is a head scratcher of its own.

I remember the day I selected it. My mom and I visited a fancy concept store in a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to have a girl’s day ahead of my wedding. I was 24. Each room of the townhouse represented the items available for registry. Come to the bathroom for plush towels and waffled bathrobes. Make your way to the living room, for some lovely throws and objéct to accessorize your marital lounging. Enter the dining room, and, well, you know where this is going.

As we sipped champagne I played the part of bride-to-be, excitedly adding items to the registry that I thought would make me feel more like a Mrs. Ironically, so many of those items, as well as the the marriage, turned out to be a total miss.

Fast-forward seventeen years, a different husband and two children later, I’m in California, corresponding with a stranger in Tennessee about rehoming a few dozen plates. The process thus far had been laborious, considering the china had to arrive unbroken, and I’d probably pay as much in packing materials shipping as I’d make in the resale.

The process made me consider more deeply why I hadn’t gotten rid of it years ago. Why I hadn’t “accidentally” neglected to bring it along during a move, or just given it away.

It suddenly became clear that this china represented my biggest mistake. It’s not that it was just symbolic of the failed partnership — I had long since processed the grief— it represented my life before the marriage. That is what gnawed at me.

After all this time, I was still grieving the prologue before my colossal lapse in judgement (and time and money and feelings). Before I had checked the “divorced” box on a form for the first time. Before I had prematurely bifurcated my life from unmarried to married. Keeping the china tethered me to that decision. It was time to let go.

Instead of continuing the protracted exercise of reselling, I packed them up, put them in the trunk of my car, and drove to a nearby nonprofit that takes proceeds from sales and turns them into scholarships.

Fittingly, someone will end up learning from my mistakes.

Courtney Hazlett is a TV and film producer based in Los Angeles. A mom to two, she’s happy to no longer own any china.

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