[As a preface to what follows, I want to explain that over the past few months, perhaps the last few years, I have been tossing around in my mind the idea of writing out the story of my short-lived marriage. I have wandered in and out of a lot of blogs and the serial stories pull me in. Granted, many of them are romances with happy endings and most of them are very well written. But this is my story and I feel I need to write it just for me so I'm diving in unsure of where it will lead me. I can't promise anything in terms of quality of writing, I am just throwing something on the page and am waiting to see what form it takes as I go along. Feel free to read along or not. It may get ugly.]
I met my ex-husband at a party. He was tall, blond and quiet in his brown flannel shirt leaning against the back of a couch - the same brown flannel shirt I often wore after we were married. Meanwhile, I was rambunctiously dancing around the cramped living room with any boy who would look at me in my Gap v-neck maroon sweater and blue pants, the only pair I think I owned that actually fit me (in 1994 I was prone to wearing pants at least two to three sizes too large) paired with hiking boots I'm sure. And it wasn't exactly my Gap sweater, it belonged to my very soon to be former roommate and I doubt she ever knew I "borrowed" it that night (unless she's reading now . . . sorry!). If I had an image of this sweater many of you would proclaim you had the same one at some point in the early 90s - it had a blue stripe following the v-neck and for some reason I felt this sweater along with those blue pants that I remember as being very, very soft was dressing up. I was at a very low point that December evening and I desperately craved attention and thought a rebellious attitude (ahem, in a stolen Gap v-neck sweater) and a devil-may-care attitude would win me some attention. And I guess it did, just not quite in the manner I anticipated.
It was my sophomore year of college and I had just finished taking fall quarter's finals, decided to move mid-year after breaking up with my closest friends and was in the midst of enduring my dad's first heart surgery. This basement I was bouncing around in was the apartment of my most recent boyfriend. We hadn't broken up but we hadn't seen each other in close to a month. I had spent most of the quarter gravitating toward him, his always-high buddy and his constant companion Gracie - a beautiful yellow lab who was my biggest draw to the group. She never had a leash and I always knew where Patrick was from spotting her lounging on the lawn outside the building or standing anxiously peering in the glass doors of the grocery store. I felt privileged to be on a first name basis and be scent recognized by the campus dog. I climbed with them, camped with them and watched Tom Petty's Wildflowers album premier on MTV with them. They deemed Sweet Melissa by The Allman Brothers to actually be about me and they cooked for me and introduced me to their other friends. We climbed all over Southern Utah and I felt I had found my niche - a safe haven away from the chaos that seemed to erupt whenever I was back in my apartment. Then something happened. The boy stopped calling me. His friend made excuses and I was confused. I was most assuredly not in love with this boy. I wasn't even entirely sure how much I liked him. I liked that he was cute and funny and interesting. I liked that he had been to Europe, that he was a chemistry major and his all-around low-key attitude. I especially liked how he liked me and how he asked for my permission the first time he kissed me as he hypnotized me by staring strongly into my eyes so I couldn't help but consent. Even the girls in his gang of friends accepted me and urged me to join their bowling league.
He had been a filler for a larger heartache from which I hadn't quite recovered and now I was untethered - set adrift from this new gang. No more sitting in his basement apartment with Gracie at my feet, a boy on either side. No more bowling invitations. I was cast back with my kind and my kind seemed to be rejecting me.
Or so it seemed to me at the time.
Retrospect is much clearer than real time and in viewing that fall I recognize my faults, my tantrums, my pouting, my teenage penchant for drama. All aggravated and exaggerated by the hormones my doctor had prescribed that summer in an attempt to balance me out. What I later realized was I was a powder keg - take some out of whack hormones, add some more hormones to the mix and toss this chemistry experiment into a small apartment with 5 other hormonal girls and see what happens. Drama is what happens. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, tears and stubbornness all leading to me giving up and moving out.
The party was my last night in my apartment. I took my roommate's sweater (which I folded back up at the end of the night smelling of smoke and weed and returned it to her closet) because I was the last one to leave for winter break and I was bitter and feeling vindictive and that was as vicious as I could bring myself to be.
I wanted to make the fading boyfriend jealous, hence my reckless dancing and awkward flirtations. I suppose I succeeded in the end. Mitch cornered me and asked for my number and I eventually drove him home, along with his plastered brother who handed me $20 when I stopped in front of their house. I took Mitch's phone number, explaining I would call him when I came back to school in three weeks.
A few hours earlier all I could think about was running away from this town that seemed to be rejecting me but after I dropped off Mitch I couldn't wait to get back. A new interest! Perfect for a new start!
Our first date was January 1st. I believe it was my first day back in Cedar City and my first day living with two new roommates (this time with my own bedroom) and I called him. I was nervous and anxious but much to my mother's later regret, she had encouraged me to make that call. She saw the state I was in and didn't know the details of our meeting so she suggested I ask him over to help me put the new desk together I had purchased at Shopko for my new room. So I did. We sat on the floor of my bedroom connecting board A to board B laughing and talking and then we went to a movie. It was so refreshing to be starting over. I was set on keeping to myself and resisting any friendships from my new roommates and I was reluctant to make much effort toward my rock climbing friends since more than one of my prior boyfriends were wrapped up in that crowd. Mitch was something different. He was separate from all the messiness of the prior quarter of school and he encouraged me to steer clear of the crowd I was gravitating toward at the party. That first night, as we stood in line at the movie he pulled on my excessively long braid and complimented my eyes and I let down a bit of the guard I was holding up.
Despite my exceptional (and often annoying) memory for dates attached to significant as well as insignificant events, I don't remember when Mitch first kissed me - whether it was that night or one of the next few nights since I immediately fell into seeing him every day. He wasn't a student, didn't have a job and lived at home. Looking back I have no idea why I accepted all of this so readily and easily other than to say it just shows how un-serious I was about the whole thing. I would go to class in the mornings, study, go to the gym and then meet Mitch to play basketball at the institute gym or to drive up Cedar Canyon for a hike or just to hang out with my roommate Gretchen (the one I was set on not befriending) and her sort-of boyfriend, our neighbor. The four of us fell into play mode and it was easy to let the pain and sting of the past quarter of school melt away as new friendships replaced the old. We played racquetball and went swimming on campus and built blanket huts in the living room and made ridiculous videos of our nonsense. I knew I wasn't a solitary being and these new friendships filled a significant void. I felt free to be silly and fun and wacky and I was.
Gretchen and I started cooking together, something I had never tried in college. I was so used to living with and on top of five other girls that the kitchen was rarely used for much more than a bowl of cereal or a frozen dinner. I have a very vivid image of some wretched pasta concoction called Michaelina's. The grocery store was practically giving them away for free and as an excessively poor and jobless freshman I purchased more than my fair share of 4 for $1 pasta dinners (they may have been 3 for $1 but either way, very cheap!). I also sustained myself on the cases of top ramen and mac & cheese my parents gave me as a moving away from home gift. No, cooking wasn't something I even considered trying as a freshman in the dorms and the prior quarter of school hadn't proved to be much different. Gretchen and I joined our meager grocery budgets and experimented with recipes and transformed ourselves into decent cooks. We, along with our boys, were fast friends and by February I did little without them.
By Valentine's Day my relationship with Mitch started to feel serious and this was my first Valentine's Day with a boyfriend. I kept my expectations low and he surprised me by making me dinner. At his parent's house. Mitch didn't have a car so I drove myself up the hill, dressed up once again in the same soft blue pants I had worn the first night we met with a matching blue turtleneck sweater. Signaling the significance of the evening, I applied both eye liner and mascara and ignored his faults as I waited for him to open the door. His 4-year old little brother was by then well-acquainted with me and was anxious to lead me down the stairs to the small table set for two in the basement. The setting was complete with candles and a rose in a vase he likely bought at the gas station. When Mitch emerged, I was touched. He had set this all up and shooed his brother away so we could eat the Parmesan chicken with fettuccine he claimed to have made (I'm convinced it was his mother who pulled it all together). We toasted with sparkling cider and finished the evening cuddled on the couch watching a forgettable video.
Caught up in the romance of the night, Mitch nuzzled up to me and continuously whispered how much he loved me and I nodded along. I had previously explained to him my reluctance to be serious. I was, in fact firmly determined to stay single until I was the ripe old age of 25. My newly engaged second roommate had confirmed that plan with all her "John says . . . " and John-knows-all attitude, her mindless doting and her transformation from a 19-year old into a 42-year old following the gift of a ring. I really didn't know her pre-engagement but in my mind her impatience with all our silly fun was a direct result of her upcoming marriage which meant she had to shun us in favor of being adult. That held no appeal for me whatsoever. So I resisted getting pushed toward marriage and mostly without too much thought or effort.
But the pressure started that night as I cuddled up with what I considered a rebound consolatory boyfriend when he whispered "I want to marry you" into my unsuspecting ear. I don't know if I physically jumped but inside my stomach flopped and I held my breath. It was one thing for him to insist he loved me, quite another for him to suggest something as far off as marriage. I was 19, he was 18. I had plans. Big plans. I wanted to finish college. I secretly wanted to go to law school but dared not utter that desire to anyone. And despite my very poor church attendance, I thought maybe I wanted to go on a mission.
So I told him "I want to go on a mission". To which he responded "Okay, but that isn't for two more years."
"Wouldn't you be willing to wait for me?"
"But you don't really even go to church."
"I know, I've started going again and I have been thinking I need to get back on track because I have always wanted to go on a mission," I insisted. Which was all true. My new roommate was very active in her church attendance which was helping me baby step back into activity myself. And Mitch was in no position to talk. He got his girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of high school after he was kicked off the basketball team for doing speed.
Uh, yeah. I know. What was I thinking?
Well, that Valentine's Day I was thinking fairly clearly. We both agreed we needed to get more involved in church and head back to the straight and narrow together. I thought I had successfully deflected or at least deferred his marriage talk. . . .
to be continued.