Last week, a new sculpture was installed between Rhodes Hall and the newly renovated Mason Library on the campus of Keene State College. “Aurora” is the work of Rob Lorenson and was donated by KSC alumni Bruce and Linda Le Vine Mellion. As you can see from this series of pictures, “Aurora” is both shapely and shiny. Like the Northern Lights that share its name, “Aurora” captures in time and space the impression of charged electric particles, dawn on display. I took this series of photos because the morning when “Aurora” appeared was sunny, and I have a fascination with the three dimensional nature of sculpture. If I weren’t a professor and had there not been students around to see, I might even have been tempted to try to climb the dawn, or at least clamber inside of it.

Dawn is an apt metaphor for the new beginnings I’ve been envisioning for myself lately. Just like those friends of mine who have been through the ‘stile, I want to come through the hollow spaces of divorce a new and renewed person. I want my own dark shadows to be illuminated by the glint of new beginnings, an influx of mornings unsullied. We all want to believe there’s a morning after heartbreak; we all want to believe along with the Psalmist that weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Yesterday I got a tangible sign that this renewal is in progress, that one chapter will indeed close as another begins. As of yesterday morning, you see, I finally have the two things I’d been waiting for to feel this divorce-in-process is actually progressing toward “finalized” and “official.” As of yesterday morning, I have a ring and a date.

If you’re familiar with radio advice guru Dr. Laura Schlessinger, you know that she often chides gullible female callers that a marriage proposal isn’t really official until the blushing bride-to-be has a ring and a date. A guy can say he means to marry you, but until he buys an engagement ring and until you’ve set an actual date for the wedding, his promises are nothing more than sweet nothings designed to woo your bod into bed. Although I’m not a regular Dr. Laura listener, I’ve done enough cross-country road trips to have spent many an hour listening to the good doctor’s AM talk-radio pronouncements. Although I don’t agree with everything Dr. Laura says, the “ring and a date” rule makes sense.

And so as I wait for my divorce to become final, it seems to me, Dr. Lori, that the “ring and a date” rule applies in reverse as well. You ain’t really on your way to being divorced until you’ve stopped wearing your wedding ring and you have a court date for the paperwork to be finalized.

I stopped wearing my wedding ring about a week after Chris moved out. Although I’d intended to keep wearing it as a tangible sign to randy males that I’m Not Looking, Chris had stopped wearing his ring the day he moved out. In his case, he said seeing a gold band on his finger made him sad: he didn’t want the visual reminder of a failed relationship. In my case, the sight of my wedding ring didn’t make me feel sad: there were enough other things in my life to do that. Instead, the sight of a gold ring on my finger only pointed to the past, to what once had been, and I was wanting to move forward. Figuring that Randy Males wouldn’t be fended off by a ring alone, I decided it was time to send a clear message through what I said and did, not through what I wore: I no longer belong to any man, and I’m not looking (right now) to become re-involved. I’m my own person, and although I’m not an isolated island unto myself, I’m not looking for a ring or a man to complete me.

Months ago, before ultimately deciding to press for divorce, I had spent a weekend in Boston to seek clarity in the solitude of the city. I spent a lot of time that weekend walking the streets alone; I spent a lot of time looking at my own reflection. And in a shop on Boston’s Newbury Street, I bought myself an inexpensive hand-crafted opal and silver ring, a picture of which you’ve already seen. That ring was a gift to myself, a promise that no matter what my marital status, I am my own priority.

So for the past couple of months, I’ve had my ring, but I haven’t had a date. When Chris and I filed our divorce paperwork in early September, our lawyer said that the proceedings wouldn’t be official until a court hearing that would transpire between 30 and 60 days after our filing. Since ours is an uncontested divorce–we don’t have children or property to argue over, and we’ve already split our possessions and meager assets–this court hearing is a legal formality. Basically I will stand in front of a judge for 10 minutes while he asks a series of basic questions, I answer in the affirmative, and some sort of legal abracadrabra is pronounced, thereby dissolving a nearly 13-year union.

I never believed that marriage was “just a piece of paper,” and I don’t believe that the bonds of matrimony can be severed with a mere signature. Still, these last few months I’ve felt myself holding my breath, my spirit held in abeyance: until the hearing, it’s not official. It’s not as if I have great and glorious plans of wooing every man in sight after the paperwork is filed: there really is no rush to finalize a separation that has already been realized in practice. But in the back of my head is the thought that I can’t truly move on until everything is legal and there is some sort of official closure.

Closure. That, in a word, is what I’ve been craving. Until the paperwork is filed, the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, I can’t let out the metaphoric breath I’ve been holding. It’s not official until the hearing. Although I’m not holding my breath for a last minute reconciliation, I feel stuck in yet another in-between state. After being stuck on the dissertation (and a dying marriage) for so long, I’m really, really ready for the boat to reach the other shore. Although I never believed a Marriage Certificate could magically make two souls one, I now have come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that a Certificate of Divorce will give me official permission to begin a new life, unfettered.

And so yesterday I got the date I’d been waiting for. On the morning of Tuesday, October 26th, my lawyer and I will appear before Judge John P. Arnold for an Uncontested Divorce Hearing. This date is exactly one week before what would have been Chris and my 13th wedding anniversary; this means I’ll have exactly one week to weep, drink, or do whatever it is that normal people do to mark the dissolution of a 15-year relationship. Will I last through the 10 minute hearing, or will I break down into tears? Afterward, when I hold the Certificate of Divorce in my hands, will I feel a sense of relief or an upwelling of regret? And when the hearing is done and the papers have been signed, will I finally feel that this current chapter of my life is complete and entire, and will I feel (finally) like it’s okay to move on?

In some sort of weird cosmic convergence, yesterday afternoon I received in the mail another sort of closure. Chris’s parents in Ohio had shipped me my wedding dress and shoes, which had been sealed and packed in a box in their attic for the past dozen years. When I went to the Post Office to retrieve the package, I didn’t expect it to be so large; when I laid it face-down on my couch to cut the tape that sealed it shut, I was taken aback to see the word “BODY” in huge typeface on the bottom of the box, followed by its measured dimensions. Yes, it looked a bit coffin-like, this rectangular box that took up most of the space on my sofa; opening it felt something like an open-casket wake where the process of facing the deceased is an integral step toward emotional closure.

For some reason, I had to open that box: on one level, I was curious to see whether Chris’s parents had included any sort of note in the box (they hadn’t); on another, I was curious to see a dress that I remember only from wedding pictures. When I opened the box, I was surprised to see how she lay: although she’d been professionally cleaned and packed, my wedding dress was wrapped in a flimsy blue plastic bag like last week’s recyclables. There was no box or pretty wrapping; just a satin and lace dress, a crushed and filmy veil, and two white satin shoes orphaned in individual plastic baggies. In the box, too, was the receipt for my dress, its paper yellowed: apparently this box hadn’t been opened for 13 years, my dress never seeing the light of day since the day or two after my wedding when my mother-in-law had taken to have it cleaned and folded.

Because I, like the apostle Thomas, am one who has trouble believing something I can’t touch, I had to open that blue plastic bag: I had to feel for myself the touch of satin and lace. My memories of that day in November some 13 years ago when I wore that dress are foggy: in pictures, this dress fit me perfectly in the bust and waist but kept slipping slightly off one shoulder, off kilter. In pictures, I was a painfully young, painfully naive bride: I hadn’t yet grown into those white satin shoes. Yesterday afternoon I carefully stroked my wedding dress, the first fingers to feel its virginal whiteness after all these years, in an attempt to recollect or realize whatever became of the girl who wore it so blithely over a decade ago. Dumbly, my dress said nothing, lying crumpled in a box that’s now under my bed. I have no idea what to do with my dress, shoes, or engagement and wedding rings: each of them is stored away, too sentimental to sell, too tainted to give to any younger, more hopeful soul. On some level, I think I thought (I think I hoped) that touching my dress would unleash a torrent of tears, a catharsis that would burn away the residue of regret that remains in a failed marriage’s aftermath.

Instead, I’ll have to wait until the morning of October 26th. I’m certain to arrive at the courthouse promptly, I plan to bring my own Kleenex, and I hope my own private Aurora will be bright and auspicious.