Chapter Seven: My Life Without Me by Jasmina Tesanovic

7. Marriages and Divorces

-To court, to court shall I take you all, because to nunnery shall I not go…

I was muttering while getting inside the courtroom where I was supposed to get married. It was a foggy rainy day in Belgrade: people tend to get married on those days of inner loneliness, when the bones ache from humidity and the blood pressure slumps. Our brains become slow and our archetypes pop out as strong as skeletons in cupboards. Our own buried bodies, our great great aunts.

Where was I when that happened?

Oh I remember very well. I was shooting my film, the whole night; it was actually an art performance. The camera was there, the video on stand by, and we, the performers were playing with our instruments and other props and toys. It was all happening in my parent’s house. Life was art in those days.

Early in the morning my husband-to-be rang the doorbell, all dressed up, pale with worry. I was exhausted and half drunk. My friends were lying everywhere on the floor. The film was done, but we were too tired to screen it. I told my collaborator:

- I have to go to a wedding.

- You to a wedding! Oh for heaven’s sake, you never cared about those! Let’s see the material first! He gave a dismissive wave.

- Well, it is my wedding.

- Oh, said he promptly.

He never asked me who I was marrying, discreet or disinterested as he was. I never asked him about the unmarried mother of his children, either.

So I left my former life at my parents’ house to hurtle into my new life with this tall and handsome near-stranger. I wanted to marry, and I wanted to live with a stranger. Art was life in those days.

Serbia was a new country for me. I had just come back from Rome and decided to live in Belgrade to get to know my “roots”, my native earth. Jasmine does not flower without mud, as my mother used to say.

We entered the courtroom. I shrank: a woman judge twice my age told me to leave the place and spit out my chewing gum. She commented on my ragged hair and shabby worker’s clothes (she had never heard of punk). She compared my rags to my husband’s nicely ironed shirt, that charming polite young man.

The polite young man could charm women twice his age and seduce their daughters, but I didn’t mind that. I just naturally refused to obey the law in the courtroom. So I remarked:

- No, I won’t spit out my chewing gum, no matter what.

My future husband, that nice young man, gazed sideways at me, embarrassed; he definitely agreed with the judge. I could have dressed better and spat out the chewing gum, but he stayed silent about it. That decision brought us ten years of marriage and a child.

The judge repeated her demand about the gum. She switched off off the horrible background wedding bells. The judge was a big and bulky woman. I suddenly noticed a black ribbon around her arm; she was mourning somebody. Maybe an office comrade? She had a tight small bun and a big tight bust.

I gazed steadily at nothing, standing as if alone on an iceberg. I was ready to say my simple “yes I do” or leave the courtroom.

That nice young man, my future husband, turned to the bun-wearing, responsible official:

- Madame Judge, he said, please do this for me. I don’t know the girl well enough, we just met, but I guarantee you that I will take care of her in the future.

The stern judge sighed, melting her eyes on the fine young man: ah, if only…

And I muttered my simple yes, without the wedding bells.

The divorce, ten years later, had a different judge; a young fancy woman of my age, with dyed hair and plenty of make up. She was in a hurry and was looking not at the people but at the papers:

- So, no alimony?

- No, I said, just a simple “no”.

The judge disapproved facing the papers:

- You can’t do that, the child is under age, we have to put down a number.

- Put any number, I said.

What a hypocrisy, the inflation was eating not only the money but the very stones in the falling country of ex-Yugoslavia!

My ex husband-to-be embraced me. The judge sensed this without raising her spectacled glance.

- One dinar, is that good for you?

She was ironic, she meant it as a joke, but one two three, the deal was done and we left the court, smiling, he sadly, I twice as sadly because everybody will tell me now:

- Oh I am so sorry to hear you have divorced, oh how sad. Then I will feel sad because I am divorced and because my presence made other people sad: my parents desperate, my friends confused, my child, well, yet to see…

I won’t abandon her to those conventions. Mine, mine mine, she is, and nobody will tell me what to do anymore. Divorcing the nice young man who charmed women twice his age, I managed to divorce my Mom as well. She treated me and my daughter as two daughters/sisters, and my ex husband as hers.

I liked the idea of having a room of my own, a child of my own, in a town which will finally show its underside to a woman on her own: a woman without a job, money or property. I left all that behind to the nice young man who didn’t want to say just a simple no. But as soon as I left the keys, the savings, and the house, they all scattered. Property and power could not hold themselves together: they needed me and my life as territory.

I never took anyone to court, except my husbands.

Enough work for one woman — though not enough work to put the world in order.

After I divorced my husband, my good friend, a feminist, met me in the street, hand in hand with my daughter.

-What’s up, she asked.

- Nothing, I just divorced .

- Congratulations, she embraced me with deep but short emotion.

-Thanks, my dear. My heart felt relieved, and I thought afterwards: we should always say that, even when somebody dies.

“Congratulations” is just a word but it makes a big difference…it gives you the courage to go ahead with your life. Every torn sack finds its patch, and not only once. That’s how I see marriage.

And here I come to get married again: in the court with two men and one woman…

I really tried to be there this time; I dressed in black, and for some strange reason I wore multicolored, very thick socks over my shoes…

This time my parents did not know anything about it; I tried to keep it a secret because I felt that I was doing something socially unacceptable. I was a divorcee, so was my second husband. We had other people’s children to look after, and our judge was a silly middle aged woman who wanted to have some fun. The same kind of jolly fun at every single wedding she performed, as if it were hers… All dolled up with a ridiculous turbo-folk pop star hairstyle, and a sing-song voice. In a courtroom of the municipality in Belgrade, where the top notch gypsy bands, free lancers, wait outside to serenade the newly wed… Gypsies never charge you, they just follow you and play. You can give them a fortune, but you don’t have to give them a dime. Deprived of your cash, they will just stop following you.

I wanted to sing with the gypsies, but the judge woman started reciting in her silly voice a law which was not silly at all: a canon of life and death commitment which sounded like a last judgment. Plus some material property issues which sounded more like business. What about love?

- So , may I address you Misses or Miss, she asked my best woman. My friend takes a deep breath and turns crimson:

- Well, I used to be married, but then I divorced, and now I have a partner and she is a woman, I guess I am a Mr.…

The judge woman couldn’t believe what she heard: the best lesbian coming-out I ever heard at a wedding…

I started laughing so loudly that my husband to be, another nice middle aged man dressed properly in a suit with a ring in his pocket, gazed in apprehension at his best man, a hard core male chauvinist. What was to be done?

Since I could not pull myself together, my husband to be took it personally. He gave me a sour glance that made me state preemptively:

- Marriage stinks …

He was about to abandon the marriage but my Mr. Best Woman, relieved and happy about her coming out of closet, hugged us all, very moved:

- And I intend to marry my Missus, one of these days, here with the gypsies!

We went through the ceremony in a daze, as if drunk. The judge wanted to get rid of us in a hurry. Afterwards we went out to drink, and we put up a really heavy fight; my husband’ s best man left us, embarrassed, but he paid our bill. The waiter poured us free wine as if understanding what we were going through, while Mr. Best Woman witnessed our unofficial divorce. There and then we decided to split forever. Because marriage stinks.

- Because we are all compulsive heterosexuals, says Mr Best Woman, as a verdict.

The court room again, after many years of marriage: I am not in the court room at all. Instead, my female lawyer is representing me. My second husband, now a kind-hearted middle-aged man, is reluctant to proceed alone with this paper ritual. He thinks it is not proper, nor does the judge… So I don’t know how that proceeding really went. I was not there, this time literally. I received a piece of paper from that court saying that I was not present, but that my absence did not matter. I was divorced again, anyway.

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store