Wednesday, March 26, 2008

divorce saga teaser

Apologies to all my faithful readers (I'm assuming) but I do not anticipate posting another divorce installment this week. What, you ask, could be more important than entertaining the internet (or at least half of Utah)? My job, that is what. And then, my long weekend mini-break to Colorado where I will rendezvous with Michele at the airport Friday and roadtrip to visit Liz in Eagle. I might squeeze in an episode tonight or en route but I am not making any promises. Especially since I am currently in the midst of drafting a brief for my day job (which likes to squeeze in as my night job on a regular basis as well) and I'm afraid the contrasting writing styles required of these two exercises might get twisted up should I try and write both simultaneously. The results could be disastrous. For instance, I might end up writing something like this here:

After yet another disastrous and isolating weekend, Mrs. A.A. (the "Victim") realized her complacence in tolerating Mr. M.A.'s (the "Bad Guy") behavior was beginning to set a dangerous precedent of allowing the Bad Guy to freely partake in illicit activities and fraternize with unsavory characters unfettered by any notions of the Victim's discomfort or displeasure. Despite this concern, the Victim failed to timely object. She did, however move for a change a venue in the hopes of obtaining a friendly forum in which to conduct, and hopefully, repair their marriage. While the Bad Guy pointed to the fact that the "unsavory characters" were family members, the Victim rightly countered that family or not the party must be expelled from their environs with the exclusive exception of inadvertent contact at the Bad Guy's parent's domestic abode........

WHEREFORE, the Victim respectfully requested that the Bad Guy concede to relocating to the more favorable venue in a northern jurisdiction that, while closer to the Victim's family, was also in close proximity to two of the Bad Guy's more well mannered brothers as well as his best friend and it was conceded that it was in the best interests of both parties to transfer their domicile to the more neutral venue of Salt Lake.


See, no one really wants that result. A time and a place for everything, right?

Monday, March 24, 2008

More Regina

As you might have guessed, I spent Easter weekend with my brother, his wife and my beautiful niece in Boston. I spent most of my time there holding this beautiful baby and eating.









Smug Marrieds

Recognizing that (I'm guessing here because I really don't know who is reading) the majority of my readers tend to be married and I might be running the risk of insulting those readers, I am going to make this little rant anyway. If you are feeling sensitive, either don't read the rest of this post or recognize that I am mostly being sarcastic (oh, and probably a bit sensitive).

I have a habit of watching the Today show in the morning as I get ready for work despite the fact that I do not particularly enjoy it and quite often disagree with or am irritated by the stories. I watch (listen mostly) to see what the weather is like outside and have some background noise to wake me up. This morning, I had this story forced on me. The whole thing was about how neuroscientists have discovered that marriage makes you smarter! It was bad enough when that study came out not long ago claiming married people are happier, oh and don't forget about the headlines claiming married people live longer (which also implies married people are wealthier) but now they are claiming marriage makes you smarter? UGH!

To be clear, despite my own wretched marriage, I am not against the institution and I would love nothing more than to (very selectively) find someone with whom I can spend the rest of my life. But in the mean-time, I really do not need to be bombarded with these types of stories. The "expert" on the show this morning prattled on about the "cognitive decline" of people who live alone and are "socially isolated." She also casually remarked on how it is more stressful living alone.

Well.

Personally, I find living alone to be less stressful - at least less stressful than having roommates or even a spouse (granted mine was a bad example, but still). The positives of living alone are great:

*I always control the TV
*I am directly responsible for whether there are dishes in the sink or not
*I am responsible for whether or not the bed goes unmade
*I can eat cereal for dinner if I so choose
*I can spend an entire day inside with no one around to judge me
*I can indulge in any number of guilty pleasures (eating an entire box of girl scout cookies, watching bad tv, etc) without scheduling it around anyone else's schedule
*I choose when I have visitors over
*I can walk anywhere in my apartment naked
*I can turn my music up and dance around however and whenever I like
*the dishes always get put away in the right spot
*none of my stuff gets moved unless I move it

I could go on and on . . . recognizing that there is an equally lengthy list of the joys of living with a spouse.

I am the first to admit that I often feel socially isolated. I often feel I have outgrown the single peer group of which I am supposed to be a part (honestly, I am just no longer interested in 30 single people cramming into a beach house for a long weekend of prancing around in bathing suits) and my long term friends, the ones I know best and those I feel know me best - are all married or dating someone long term. Every. Single. One. Besides that, I am often socially isolated because I work A LOT! As in, a good day is leaving work by 7 or 8 pm and 9 or 10 pm is not terribly unusual.

That being said, I still manage to fill my calendar with plenty of brunch dates, dinner dates, parties and trips so, despite the fact I often describe myself (especially in winter) as a hermit or social recluse, I am hardly socially isolated.

And if I am in cognitive decline, I wonder what I would be capable of if I were married and "obtain[ing] knowledge of two people" as this segment suggests. I have met far too many unbalanced (intellectually) married couples to fully believe that. I think my job presents plenty of cognitive challenges - usually more than I care for.

Plus the suggested hobbies to "strengthen your marriage" and "build[] fresh neural networks" can all be done by someone who is single: take dance lessons, watch movies (the discussion can be done with friends, family, strangers on the internet!), throw a party (I do this), learn a language (never knew this only made married people smarter), take on a home project (again, living alone is not a barrier to this). Sure, those things probably will strengthen your marriage and your neural networks but I doubt any more than for a single person doing the same activities.

Honestly, if there really is a "never-married penalty" then maybe the experts should stop flaunting around all of the great things marriage does for people and start focusing on why singles are so isolated, lonely, depressed, unhealthy, stressed and cognitively declining. What is the social reason for this?

In my own culture (ie, the Mormon culture), I have found that being single over 30 can be incredibly isolating simply due to societal expectation that I should be married by now. And possibly have a kid or two. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been asked why I am not married or why I don't have a boyfriend.

[As a sidebar: If I knew my own fatal flaw maybe I could do something about that but I think the biggest issues are 1) I do not like the social structure that is readily available to me for meeting people - I find them awkward and contrived and I am not comfortable in them (leaving me feeling reserved and withdrawn); 2) I do not fit easily into the mold making me more of an acquired taste, I believe; and 3) I was forced into singles wards for over a decade and at 31 I was kicked out and left to fend for myself among the other old maids in the family (or "traditional") ward.]

Maybe if single women weren't treated like sad, childless old maids and single men weren't treated like committment-phobic playboys, closeted gays or freaky weirdos (despite the fact that I have encountered all three), maybe there would be a little less depression and isolation. Maybe.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Part XIII: Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Black Friday for Christmas shoppers, Mitch and I drove back to St. George. We should have been in good spirits, we were on our way to pick out a new wedding ring for me. After two months of haggling with Morgan Jewelers over fixing or replacing my broken wedding ring, I finally told them to forget it, I never liked it to begin with (although I may be adding this in bitter retrospect). My negotiating powers even earned us some of the money back we had already paid toward the ring. I fought that jeweler the same way I was fighting to make my marriage work - vigorously. But even the triumphs were empty and a monetary refund could not adorn my naked left ring finger or patch the hole in my sinking heart so we were off to buy a fresh (hopefully) non-cursed ring.

My mother's cousin and her husband have a jewelery store in St. George and my mother suggested we talk to them about replacing the ring. So we were driving down from the chilly early winter days of Cedar City to the warmth of the dry desert air in St. George to pick out a new wedding ring for me. As we drove we talked with unusual candor and openness with a calm that rarely accompanied our more serious discussions.

One of my aunts had decided to go through the temple that Thanksgiving weekend to take advantage of having the extended family all in one location. In my church, the decision to go through the temple is a deeply spiritual one that ideally involves extensive prayer, meditation and counsel with one's bishop. It requires an extra committment to God and the church which should be contemplated. Most of the time such decisions are made when a 19-year old boy or 21-year old girl decides to go on a mission. Or, like my husband and me, when one decides to get married. The trouble, as I see it, with making the decision to go through the temple at the same time as one is caught up in the romance and planning and stress of planning a wedding is that some of the solemnity and thoughtfulness required in making such a choice is lost among the guest lists, venue discussions, flower arrangements and lace. Not to mention the hormones. I don't recall ever sitting down and pondering and meditating on what I was agreeing to do when I decided to go to the temple for the first time or the various consequences of that decision other than I would be married.

From the time I was a child I was raised with the goal to get married in the temple. The concept was so ingrained in me that I never really questioned it. That is what my parents had done and so would I. I cannot say I was entirely prepared for the sacred covenants I made with God the day I first went through the temple, but it was so intertwined with getting married and full of tradition that I did not question that choice. In many ways I viewed it as a rite of passage into adulthood, one I was embarking on earlier than planned but one I had long anticipated nonetheless. There was no regret.

Until Mitch asked me as we were driving to St. George, "do you really think we were ready to go through the temple?" lumping me in with whatever regrets and doubts he was feeling.

"I don't know who is ever really ready, it is a big choice. But I think we were as ready as any couple our age." I responded, wary of what he might say next.

"We weren't ready," he claimed, again pulling me into his own guilty conscience.

I sat in the passenger seat silently, watching the rolling pine tree blanketed hills dusted with snow fade away to red rock cliffs and sage brush as the freeway continued its descent to a warmer clime. "But you are the one who insisted we get married so soon!" I screamed accusingly in my head as I felt tears pooling in my averted eyes. "You were the one who claimed you were ready to go through the temple when I questioned the timing." My chest felt heavy and my heart seemed to miss every other beat and then skipped to catch up. I struggled to remain calm. I didn't want to anger him now, not when the jeweler was expecting us. I didn't want to show up blotchy faced from crying.

Finally, in a small barely controlled voice I asked "how can you say that?" just as the tears escaped my lower lids and ran down my face.

There was no confessional that day as to all he had done or even what he was doing at that moment to spark this regret. His guilt was growing heavier and he needed to unburden himself so he pulled a select share of it and dropped it on my crumpling back.

When we walked into the jewelry store, we both managed to recover enough to play the part of a happy couple. Tom, the jeweler, found the ring I had always wanted. It was the closest thing I had seen to my Grandma's ring that was actually inherited from my Grandpa's mother - my Great Grandmother who died when I was 8. I remember Great Grandma sitting in her lay-z-boy recliner in her living room scowling around the room, hands crossed on her lap, fingers adorned with multiple rings with bright and shiny stones as only old women can wear in every day life. Her hair was always died jet black and when she smiled it seemed to be more of a sneer due to an earlier stroke. I secretly loved those rings and when my grandma started wearing the simple white gold wedding band with two rows of small inset diamonds, I longed for it. My mother loved that ring as well which probably encouraged my fascination. So when I had to finally describe what type of ring I liked, I described Grandma's ring and since Tom knew my grandma, he knew exactly what I was talking about and produced a close assimilation. The wedding band was white gold with one row of inset diamonds and the engagement ring was similar except the center diamond was larger and raised. It was more expensive than we could afford (which wasn't much) but we splurged on the $800 price tag.

My heart sang and I thought this new ring would solder together what was falling apart all around me. Tom was more than generous with the price and agreed to allow us to make payments for a year without charging interest. Even in those naive days when I truly did not understand what interest was or how it was calculated (shocking but far too true), I knew this was a benevolent gesture. I don't think we even made a down payment.

I walked out of the jewerly store lighter and more confident with the earlier disappointments buried and hopefully soon to be forgotten. Little did I know that my shiny new symbol of committment would later be a source of hurt, anger and embarrassment. Mitch did not understand the concept of interest rates very well either and his interpretation of "no interest for one year" was "no payments for one year." I can still see the monthly bill with a big red stamp insistently proclaiming "PAST DUE" with ugly amounts listed in the 30 days, 60 days and 90 days columns. I would plead with Mitch to pay this bill and he claimed it could wait because it was no interest for a year.

By the next Thanksgiving, I had to confess to my mother how Mitch would not let me pay Tom and how we really had only made one or two payments on the ring that was now nestled into its original box hidden in my underwear drawer away from curious roommates' eyes who were still ignorant of my true marital status. I could not bear facing Tom, I did not want to keep the ring but I felt an obligation to pay for it. I felt irresponsible and disheartened by the loss of someone's trust. My mom returned the ring for me and Tom renewed his genorosity by claiming we were even. He did not require back payment, he simply took back the ring without more.

Thanksgiving weekend continued to lope along.

In another effort to incorporate the family traditions of each of us, I agreed that we could pick out our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving despite the fact that my family never did this until a week or two into December. I was primarily pursuaded by Mitch's description of his family's annual trek of tromping through the woods and hand selecting a Christmas tree.

But once again I was to be disappointed. I failed to recognize that marching into the woods with axes was for men. Only men. So Mitch enjoyed that tradition with his dad and brothers and I participated by picking one of the trees that was unceremoniously thrown from the back of a pickup and dumped on his parent's front yard. It was short and a bit lopsided but I took it home to fill my living room anyway since the other's were snatched up by Mitch's siblings.

That night my parents stopped in Cedar on their way home to take us to dinner and spend more time with us. The original plan was for them to spend the night so I could play hostess. But Mitch made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome despite my efforts to be charming and welcoming to counter his frostiness. No matter how much my parents supported us with a car, bed or other furniture, he rejected them. He found countless ways to criticize them which forced me to choose sides. I was constantly caught in the middle. If my parents suggested one method of doing something as innocuous as suggesting we situate the bed on the far wall, Mitch countered that it should go on the opposite wall. From small choices to large, he was putting me in the middle - "them or me?" was his continual question whether it was ever stated as such or not. I had to choose him. My parents felt so awkward in my small home they slept in the trailer they parked across the street and left first thing the next morning despite their hopes to spend more time with me.

I was stretched out across an ever widening chasm, a foot on each side and one arm held by Mitch and the other by my parents - each pulling in opposite directions. I needed to make a choice, pick a side. If I chose my parents, Mitch might just let go and leave me there straddling the crevasse with nothing to hold onto, I couldn't step wholly to my parent's side. But if I chose him, what would my parents think? How could I hurt them like that? Consciously or subconsciously, I knew the answer, my parents would always be there. So I picked Mitch. I let go of their stabling hands and stepped over to Mitch's side of the divide before it was to wide and waved to them as they stalwartly stood by waiting for me to extend a hand back to their waiting outreached arms.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

it's a small world

So, a while back, before I started my saga, I was struggling for post ideas and did a lame little post about my Tiger Beat 5 in which I not only shared my 7th grade celebrity crushes but I also divulged my first real life crush and how it ultimately crushed me. And for whatever reason, instead of being my normal cautious blogging self that hides behind pseudonyms, first names only or initials, I included both his first and last name. I even commented on how funny it was that I could remember both his first and last name. I don't know if I was feeling reckless back in January, thought he would never google his own name (yeah, we all do it), if I doubted my own memory in terms of spelling or if I had some secret wish he would find me . . . Actually, I think it was none of these things. My guess is it was just a quick post I dashed off with little thought before hitting publish as I often do.

Well.

He found me.

My 7th grade crush found me and tonight I received the following little treasure in my inbox:

"Alyssa, sorry about the way you were treated back in the day. I just happen to be on the computer while standing duty on my submarine and what do you know, I came across this about me and junior high in Chico. Sorry about everyone hurting your feelings, I guess it's been 20 years. I hope all is well for you- Benjamin Kirscher"

How sweet is that? It is almost an Oprah-esque moment of overcoming the hurt from childhood.

Only, he was never mean or hurtful - he just made me laugh in history class - and I was never really scarred. There are definitely no lingering hurt feelings, these things are simply rites of passage and give one character which is probably why I remember it so well.

And "standing duty on my submarine"? Way to go Ben, you are either serving our country (something I admire greatly, thanks) or you are stinking rich and have some eccentric travel preferences. Either way, thanks for dropping a line. I hope all is well with you and please feel free to stop by again any time. And leave comments. I love comments.

Anyone else lurking out there from my past?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Part XII: Examining the Spiral and Thanksgiving

I did not know then, nor do I know now, with any level of certainty when my husband began coping with drugs. I do not know with any degree of certainty what drugs he was taking, although I have my suspicions. The pot seems obvious and the signs and symptoms should have been clear had I cared to watch for them but at the time I did not want to see any of the clues or manifestations, even as I was shaking my head at my mother-in-law for being so oblivious about her younger son's drug use.

The sudden personality shift, the seemingly out of nowhere rage, the company he was keeping (primarily his older brother, an admitted heroin addict) and the physical changes. I was emotionally vulnerable going into my marriage so I never thought to look externally when changes took place - instead I heaped them onto myself. As an oldest child I am predisposed to accepting responsibility for things not entirely within my control. My sister gets frustrated when I feel responsible for whether others enjoy themselves at a party I planned or on a trip I have planned, even if the frustration is due to weather or some other external force majeure. I think being told as a child that you are responsible for your younger siblings instills a certain amount of inner accountability which is generally a positive trait. However, without anything to counter my shouldering this entire burden in my marriage, I assumed and was told and accepted, 100% of the blame for everything that appeared to be wrong in my marriage. Everything was now my fault.

Our money problems? Not a result of his changing the plan and quitting one of his jobs or many of the jobs that followed - that was my fault for not working. It was also my fault because I refused to take out a student loan.

When rock climbing with my friends, me climbing stronger and better than him? Somehow my fault - I was trying to make him look bad in front of my friends or I had purposely made him climb later when the sun was setting making it difficult for him to see.

Dinner not tasting quite right - being overcooked, undercooked or just plain not to his liking? My fault.

Our clunky old car? My fault - because my parents gave us the old Mazda instead of letting me keep the newer Pontiac.

Him tearing off part of the back bumper on the car backing out of our carport spot? My fault - you know, because I parked too close to the pole.

Can't find the keys, a book, the remote? My fault, my fault, my fault.

Him being late or sleeping in? My fault.

Me challenging the opinion or alleged facts thrown at me by one of his friends such as "I can outrun a buffalo"? My fault for making him look bad and making his friend feel stupid (not for his friend being dumb enough to think he can outrun a buffalo that can run approximately 35 mph).

And perhaps the most damaging to me, our problems in the bedroom? My fault.

I carried this burden of accepting the blame because I thought it would make things better. By absorbing the indictments I thought I could will them away and make him happier and more content. I assumed that by putting all of my effort into the marriage I could fix it, even if I had to sacrifice everything else around me.

What I didn't know then was that the violent, self-destructive behavior he so abruptly displayed is a common symptom of the use of speed, or at least of coming off the drug. A drug he once told me was his preferred stimulant in high school. Another symptom is feelings of increased confidence, talkativeness, cheerfulness and feeling more alert and energetic. There were times when Mitch was nonstop. He had big plans and big dreams and ambition seemed to pour out of him. We talked about our future and everything was great. Shortly after we were married he developed back acne - something I once heard was a side effect of speed, although a few google searches failed to confirm this one. I also later learned that speed can increase the libido but withdrawal can lead to impotence. I do not know what drugs Mitch was using and it may not be fair to guess but there is little else to explain his abrupt change in behavior.

As far as I could tell, having nothing to compare it to, our sex life in the first month or so of marriage was that of a normal newlywed couple but for the increasingly frequent fights. After all, one of the things that brought us together so quickly was physical attraction. That was something I never anticipated being a problem. But by November this was already waning. Then spiking. Then gone completely. I became terribly confused by this erratic behavior. One day he could barely keep his hands off me and was absolutely insatiable and the next . . . nothing. He wouldn't even look at me, let alone touch me. He stopped reaching for me, stopped holding my hand, stopped caressing me and stopped kissing me. I questioned myself, not him. Was I not attractive enough? Was I doing something wrong? Was there something wrong with me for wanting to have sex with my husband more than he wanted to have sex with me? After all, don't all the stereotypes indicate it is the woman always begging off with headaches?

I had no one to turn to. I did not really have any married friends and I had already discovered the awkwardness of talking to my friends about any potential marital troubles and talking to my parents about my sex life was absolutely out of the question, which left me with no one. I was living in a conservative culture where sex is rarely discussed outside explaining how it is prohibited before marriage. But what happens afterwards I wondered. Is this it? What about those jokes about putting the marble or bean in a jar every time you did it the first year of marriage and taking one out every time you did it after your first year and never running out of beans or marbles? Our additions were less and less frequent, surely the drop-off didn't happen so dramatically and so early. But there was little else by which I could gauge the ordinary.

Despite Mitch's confession of no longer believing in the church, he still accompanied me to church on Sundays and I would look around the congregation comprised almost entirely of other young, newlywed student couples and wonder what their lives were like at home. I was unaware of what normal was so I convinced myself that what we had was normal. Yes, many newlyweds appeared unable to keep their hands off each other, even in church, but there seemed to be plenty who kept their distance from one another. I decided that sporadic flare-ups of extreme passion followed by days and weeks without much more than the inadvertent bumps and grazes of two people living in a small space was normal. I swallowed that horse pill of responsibility with everything else and assumed no one else would notice. After all, I didn't know what was happening with anyone else's sex lives, so how could they know about mine?

I was wrong. There are external signs of troubled marital affection just as there were signs of the drugs.

**************************************************************

We spent Thanksgiving with my family and oh, how I was looking forward to seeing them again. I was tired of sampling one bland casserole after the next at my in-law's house and counted the days to the annual bountiful spread with all my favorites that would be waiting at my grandparents' home. My family had always alternated Thanksgiving dinner between St. George with my mother's family and Idaho or my parent's house with my dad's family but I always preferred St. George - the weather was warm, everything was homemade and there was always a large crowd. Spending our first Thanksgiving in St. George allowed Mitch and I to stay in our own apartment and just make the 45 minute drive down and back the same day. Given the limited sleeping space at my grandparent's home, I eagerly volunteered our new little apartment to host my younger siblings who drove down Wednesday night and slept in the living room.

Mitch and I still did not have a bed but I believe by this time we had graduated from the hide-a-bed in the living room to an air mattress in the bedroom. My parents arrived Thursday morning with our bed -exhausted and frustrated by the tremendous journey they had endured to transport our bed to us. They started out early Thursday morning in their van, towing their camping trailer to add additional beds to my grandparents overcrowded house. The old queen size box spring and mattress did not easily fit inside either the van or the trailer so my dad tied them to the roof of the van and hit the road. My dad spent many of his younger years as a truck driver and has significant experience with hauling things and tying things down securely. But his experience was no match for yet another warning sign of my struggling union that seemed to say - it's of no use, don't give them a bed, they don't need it.

Interstate 15 is a direct route from Salt Lake through Cedar City and into St. George. Just south of Salt Lake, where the capital city now blurs into Utah County is what is locally referred to as The Point of the Mountain. Every Utah driver knows the unpredictable nature of the weather at the Point. I do not exaggerate when I say that going up one side, the weather might be clear and sunny, only to be caught in a dust bowl of swirling wind or a blizzard at the top and landing on the other side in a white out or more sunny sky. The constant winds at Point of the Mountain make it a popular hang-gliding destination. That Thanksgiving morning, when my parents were less than 15 minutes into their four plus hour drive, a sudden gust of wind caught the lip of the mattress piled on top of the van at just the right angle ripping it off the roof and down the highway pulling the box spring and baggage rack out of the roof but not off the top of the van. My dad and the highway patrolman who assisted my parents in recapturing the mattresses shook their heads in disbelief and agreed they had never seen anything like it and estimated the combined wind at the Point of the Mountain combined with the 60 mph or so speed at which my dad was driving must have created a gust of 90 plus miles per hour to have pulled the baggage rack off in that manner.

Exemplifying my parents' persistence and determination to support me no matter the obstacle, they tied the box spring back onto the roof, tying it directly to the vehicle's frame, they then squeezed the now road burned mattress into the trailer and continued on their original course. Looking back, it would have been far more simple for them if they had just left the mattress or even turned around and dropped it back off at home and told me - us - to make do with what we had. Instead, they continued the familiar drive slowly and cautiously so they could bring us a bed.

The weather was so beautiful that year, we ate Thanksgiving dinner on long tables set up under the carport. I basked in the warmth of being surrounded by those who instinctively loved and accepted me. Not yet realizing how starved I was for attention, I relished every conversation. Well, almost every conversation.

That initial violent outburst I shoved into a dark, locked cupboard in a dusty corner of my head was not even a week behind me. In fact, it was recent enough I still carried a fairly ugly bruise on my arm to Thanksgiving dinner betraying my wishes to will the incident away. It was not unusual for me to have bruises - it still isn't. I bruise fairly easily and often end up with bruises of unknown origins. I was also still making sporadic attempts to rock climb and hike which were two frequent causes for battle wounds I proudly displayed as badges of my fortitude. So when my father innocently and playfully attempted to tease my husband about "hitting his wife" after seeing the bruise, the blood drained from my face and as my dad explains, he will never forget the horrified look on my face, betraying all attempts to cover up the abusive secret.

My parents and extended family noticed other warning signs as well - primarily the sudden lack of physical affection between newlyweds. Before we were married, I am sure my parents worried about how touchy we always were, if Mitch was in the room I was at his side, holding his hand, sitting on his lap or he was playing with my hair or trying to not so discreetly kiss me. Now, just two months into marriage he was withdrawn and aloof, refusing to interact with me or my family. While I was gulping down the love and attention, talking louder and more animated to disguise his gruffness, he withdrew deeper and deeper into himself until he was barely there at all.

Mitch did not allow us to linger with my family for long as he insisted we spend time with his family on the holiday as well. He must have feared what I might confide in my parents or other relatives if he agreed to leave me behind. That or my siblings were so uncomfortable spending one night at our apartment, they refused to repeat the experience and I feared I wouldn't have a ride home. But ultimately spending time with his family meant that I dropped him off at a church to play basketball with his brothers while I returned home to sit alone in our apartment missing my family foregoing his proposed alternative of spending time with the women in his family (who were always segregated into a secluded domestic role). I felt slighted when I was excluded from the basketball game. Our second date was spent playing basketball together in a church gym. Throughout our dating months we frequently played basketball together and I was generally the only girl in the game. We also watched a lot of basketball together and that was one of our shared interests. But he no longer wanted me there. I suppose he didn't want me to repeat the fluke incident of when I beat him in a game of around the world. Or perhaps, he wasn't really playing basketball - not the entire evening anyway. He came home late. Very late. And not with the brother I expected, instead of one of his basketball playing brothers, he was dropped off by his heroin addict brother S. I have no definite knowledge of where he was that evening or what he was doing but without the naive blinders of love and hope and youth, I suspect he was not playing basketball.

Monday, March 17, 2008

a few more photos. . .








My Weekend

This last weekend I took a mini-vacation without leaving town. I took Friday off work and hosted my brother, sister-in-law and my super adorable niece Regina:

Seriously, isn't she beautiful? Don't worry, I have more proof below. And look how cute we look together (that is a one of those rare photos where I actually like what my hair is doing)!

We spent most of the weekend hanging out in my apartment - eating mostly. Thursday night we had grilled cheese sandwiches with Irish cheddar (you know, for St. Patrick's Day) and tomato basil soup, Friday morning I made quiche and baked maple bacon, Friday night we ordered Malaysian from Penang - a favorite anytime they come to town and Sunday we had Indian food prepared by one of my favorite fancy restaurants Tabla but delivered with my groceries from Fresh Direct - so yummy. My brother also helped me assemble some new furniture I had delivered on Friday (Regina is showing off one of the book cases below) and get rid of my old TV.
Friday night Jason and Nadia went to the Metropolitan Opera to see Tristan & Isolde - their first date since Regina was born. I was so happy and honored to be the first one to babysit this sweet little one - even if she did sleep through our entire evening together and didn't even open her eyes when she cried for her 10 pm feeding. She just guzzled the bottle down with her eyes closed and I told her it was fine, we would have plenty of other girl nights for bonding over the course of her life. We had several little chats like that. Including Saturday morning when I spied her kicking and giggling in her crib while her parents were getting some much needed sleep. I picked her up and spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes making faces at her on my bed and telling her how beautiful she is and how it is okay if she decides I am her favorite aunt - it can be our little secret.

Saturday we met my brother's friend (who grew up two doors down and who will perpetually be 10 years old to me) for brunch and then took Regina for her first subway ride. She loved riding around in the little carrier with her dad and although there was many fun and interesting sights and sounds to take in on the subway, she fell asleep before we made it to our destination - Rice to Riches where we each selected a different rice pudding flavor to take home and then wandered down Mulberry Street so Nadia could see Little Italy. It was such a beautiful day - perhaps the first real hint that winter will in fact end someday - that it felt like all of Manhattan was strolling and roaming around.


Saturday night Jason and I ventured over to New Jersey to watch the Jazz lose to the New Jersey Nets at the last second. I am starting to fear I am bad luck for the Jazz since they have lost all three games I have attended this year (Knicks in December, Celtics in December and now the Nets!). We had amazing seats just 16 rows behind the basket near the Nets bench. Jason and I were pretty obnoxious fans. So much so that in the final minute when the game got really intense and the Nets were shooting free throws at the basket in front of us we stood up and banged our noise maker things together and yelled at the players. I could hear people behind us yelling to sit down but I ignored them because . . . it is a basketball game! While the Jazz were missing a crucial shot that lost them the game on the other end of the court, an usher ran down to tell us to sit down. What? Crazy, right? Seconds after we were told to sit down (because of our Jazz t-shirts I'm sure), the Nets were on their feet because the Jazz missed the shot and were coming back to our end of the court. Jerks. The food was disgusting too. And I don't have high expectations of food at a sporting arena but edible is one of the qualities I require. One highlight was seeing Kyle Korver up close - I have a major crush on him and I might have yelled "I love you Kyle" once or twice. And my brother may have even yelled "my sister wants your number!" Maybe. . . . and today is his birthday so Happy Birthday Kyle!! I don't think six years is too much of an age difference. (And if this post feels disjointed, I blame the fact that I am trying to write while watching the Jazz tease Toronto by letting the game stay close). Speaking of close - look how close we were sitting on Saturday!

And one more spotlight on Regina - I made several attempts to capture her energy on video but any time she was giggling and bouncing around and I pulled the camera out - she stopped what she was doing and just stared at the camera and refused to do anything. This is the best one - she was sitting on my lap and wiggling all over the place, I had a hard time keeping her away from the camera.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Windy City?

Take that Chicago. According to the elevator in my office building (or at least according to the little TV screen aptly named "Captivate" in the elevator in my building), and as confirmed by the link, New York is one of the windiest "big" cities in the country with an anuual wind speed of 12.2 mph. Not Chicago. I would suspect, however, that average would increase significantly if they (whoever the wind measurers are) moved their measuring site from LaGuardia airport to the corner in front of my building which I often refer to as the secret portal to the arctic circle. In the winter at least.

Whenever I have people over in the winter - such as for my annual dessert party - they enter my home with ruddy cheeks and wild hair, traumatized by the wind making wild claims that they were nearly carried away by it. I smile and nod and tell them about the arctic circle connection and hand them some comforting fudge or a cupcake as I instruct them to leave their coats on my bed because it is warm now and they are safe from the big, bad wind here in my apartment.

This past Saturday was especially blustery. And rainy. A bad combo on my corner since an umbrella does nothing to combat swirling, slanting rain. I attended a baby shower on the upper east side in the morning but despite the rain I decided to walk home. There was something so calming about walking through Central Park with almost no one around. The sound of the rain falling on my umbrella reminded me of rain falling on a tent and I laughed to myself about that night last August when my sister and I spent a mostly sleepless night warm and dry in our tent camped on a fjord in Iceland fearing we would be soaked any minute with all the rain pouring down. By the time I exited the Park, the rain was coming down in sheets, confirming my plan to stop at Whole Foods on the way home to pick up some groceries. Stepping out of the store, the magic of the rain and the sidewalks turned to rivers vanished and I did not want to find out what the wind and rain combo looked like that last block to my apartment. So I took a cab home and holed up in my apartment for the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of a tomato basil soup and grilled cheese sandwich lunch as the weather roared outside and I repeatedly told myself "you will go to Brooklyn for that birthday party tonight, you will not back out."

While I was trying to motivate myself to put down my book, get off my warm, comfortable couch and get ready for the trek to Brooklyn, I heard a horrendous crash. I did not budge from my spot. I am not sure if I really stopped to even acknowledge it as I just assumed someone upstairs or next door or outside or somewhere had dropped some big glass thing.

As I was getting dressed and convincing myself to go out, I heard sirens. Lots of sirens. Again, this did not phase me or even prompt me to look out the window and I did not associate the sirens with the crashing noise. I live on a major cross-town thorough-fare. One that is a favorite for the NYC police department to use to send about 30 cop cars, sirens blaring, racing down for no apparent reason. They often stop, blocking two lanes of traffic, just below my window. There is nothing to see when this happens but a lot of police cars and bright lights.

Earlier when I was at Whole Foods they were doing one of these drills at Columbus Circle, snarling traffic in the process. People were pressed up against the windows of the Time Warner center to see what was going on but after so many of these sightings I just assume the police are bored and need to feel important for a minute. It is an attention grabbing scheme (or perhaps a training drill, I don't know) so I ignore it.

But when I left my apartment not much later, I realized there was something to see just below my window. Traffic was blocked by several fire trucks - one with its ladder extended onto the roof of one of the car dealerships my window faces. The wind was horrendous and I was running late so I did not linger long to figure out what was happening although I did realize this must have been the source of the crash I heard earlier. I was beginning to think the wind had blown off the Lexus sign that was normally over the door of the dealership.

Walking up the hill toward the subway, the wind was at my back and I felt it shoving me along, trying to make me walk faster as my scarf kept managing to unwind itself in the swirl and nearly got away once. The wind was worse than I had ever felt it in terms of velocity but thankfully not at its coldest which can make you feel like you are standing there naked despite layers and layers of heavy clothing.

That night, after taking a cab home from Brooklyn (sure it was pricey but subway service was sketchy and my theory was if you can actually find a cab to hail in Brooklyn you should take it - plus I did not want to walk toward that wind at my apartment), I asked my doorman about the sign. He said the wind had reached 50 mph and blew the sign right off. Did you read that? FIFTY miles an hour!

My jaded, city-dwelling self could have had a direct view of the carnage if I had simply tried looking outside after hearing a tremendous crashing noise. Instead, I continued lazily reading on my couch.

At least it is nearly spring (or so the calendar claims), followed by summer when that tortuous wind changes its tone to a placating breeze welcoming me home each evening.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Part XI: November

One coping mechanism Mitch and I discovered early on for dealing with our shaky foundation was moving. We fell into a pattern of packing up our tattered belongings and moving somewhere new for a fresh start. I was never happy or even satisfied with the dank little motel room masquerading as an apartment we inhabited so by November we were fed up and more than ready to move out of the dreary thin-walled place that seemed to be choking our marriage. And not a moment too soon. Days before we moved I met our next-door neighbor on the landing as I stepped outside, only to discover I knew him. He was my newly assigned advisor, a new professor in the history department. I was mortified, fearing he could hear through our bedroom wall. But I was less concerned with him hearing the usual activities of newlyweds and more afraid he had overheard our frequent fights - the yelling, the screaming, the tears. I didn't even acknowledge that I knew him, I just ducked my head and ran down the stairs hoping he hadn't seen or recognized me an arm's length away.

At the first of November, we moved to a beautiful little apartment much closer to campus that was new - NEW! The carpeting and kitchen was all light and I fell in love with the bright blue carpet, the whole thing was so alluring despite its higher price tag. The trouble with moving from a furnished (however shabbily) to an unfurnished apartment is gathering up enough basics to actually move in. Neither of us brought much of anything into the marriage as far as material possessions. We had the wedding gifts, our clothes and a box or two of books. I also had a TV. That meant we had to round up a bed, couch, dresser and something to hold the TV. One of the strange things about college is how easy it is to locate a cheap, used couch. A brother or roommate of a boyfriend of a friend of mine (as such things always go) delivered couches and was often asked to haul away the old, rejected furniture he was replacing so he sold us a $20 nubby brown couch. Lucky for us it was also a hide-a-bed which gave us a place to sleep until we could locate a bed. Or, more accurately, until we could take delivery of the bed my parents were donating to our cause. Other items were soon donated including a dining table, a giant microwave and tv stand. We were set.

Moving into that new apartment with its large living room window, I was convinced everything bad was behind us. Late-night confessions of doubt and drugs were left to fester at the motel where they belonged. We had made it through the trying first month and now we were settled into this new routine and all was well. But I had only moved, briefly, into the eye of the storm - the calming center where all appeared as normal but for the hair standing on end on the back of my neck. Mitch was just bolstering me up and leading me down the path of trust again.

We attended classes, I searched for a job and I began my short-lived pursuit of a teaching certificate. I was a history major and a music minor and when I made the decision to get married I realized I should plot out a career path that might yield fruit sooner rather than later. I secretly wanted to be a lawyer but did not tell anyone of this out of fear they would discourage me. I decided that since Mitch had four whole years of college to go I should pick up my teaching certificate so I could start working before going on to graduate school, law school or otherwise. Wisely, the first class in the teaching series included an observation seminar wherein students were sent into schools to observe and help out. My teaching aspirations were targeted primarily at the secondary level - preferably history or music. Unfortunately, no one paid any attention to my goals and I was given the assignment to observe a 6th grade math class. I hated math in school. HATED! I confess that I only took one math class in college - Math 101 - and I took it my very first quarter of school to get it over and out of my way. And 6th graders? Kids who are trapped in that awkward not-yet-a-teenager but no-longer-a-child age are horrible. Half the girls are still playing with Barbies and the other are trying to experiment with their newly discovered hormones to attract the terribly awkward, runty little boys who coped by yelling, spitting and swearing. I was called mean and even worse, I was called Mrs. I hated being called by my married name with Mrs. attached to the front like an old woman. I believe that chance assignment is the single greatest reason I never pursued teaching.

The calm was short-lived.

***********************************************

The first time I was introduced to the cycle of abuse was sitting in a criminal law course my first year of law school just three years later. My heart started pounding and my pulse raced as I sank into my chair while others in the class batted around the legitimacy of battered women's syndrome as a defense. I flipped through the reading assignment I had neglected the night before horrified I was so ill-prepared for this discussion. Inside I was screaming, crying, running, defeated. How could this be I thought as I stared at the pattern colorfully illustrated in my text book: Tension Building at 12 with an arrow pointing toward Incident at 3 leading to Reconciliation at 6 and another arrow pointing to Calm at 9 and a final arrow circling back to Tension Building. Round and round with no end. I was seeing a counselor for the second time and no one had ever outlined the pattern for me or even acknowledged there was such a thing. Yes, the police once gave me a list of "signs of abuse" but I was too stunned by their presence in my apartment and the handcuffs on my husband to focus on anything more on the list than "cruelty to pets" which captured my broken heart as my dog barked wildly from the downstairs bathroom in which he was locked.

Discovering this in a class of opinionated, predominantly male, law students I felt overpowered by the horror of it. They were questioning the women in the cases in front of us, their judgment, their terror, their lack of rational thought. But what held me riveted was not the syndrome we were supposed to be debating, it was this cycle. How could it be a cycle, I wondered. How could my experience be set forth so plainly as a recognizable pattern in a base form of human behavior. My experience was not an anomaly. Perhaps this should have comforted me, instead I felt deflated. Somewhere in human nature a pattern was set out for manipulating a spouse into submission and I had fallen prey. I saw it so clearly sitting there with the graphic in front of me showing the cycle repeating itself in an unending circle. I recognized the placation of the abuser as tension mounted, I closed my eyes to block out the memories of violent outbursts followed by exaggerated yet somehow accusatory apologies that were ignored by us both as soon as possible.

Not many years, or possibly even months, before my marriage I recall loudly questioning these ridiculous women who refused to leave abusive husbands. My ignorant judgment failed to understand the emotional isolation to which these women were confined. They no longer understood what was normal and were so reliant on their abuser they accepted his accusation that it was indeed their fault when they made him so angry he was forced to hit them.

***********************************************

Memory is a tricky thing. Not long after Mitch and I moved, we moved into stage 2 of the cycle - Incident. I do not remember what escalated us from stage 1 tension or how or precisely when the incident occurred or even what happened.

One of the few pieces of furniture we had at that point aside from the couch was a glass-topped kitchen table donated by my aunt. He slammed something onto the table and it shattered. Then, during that fight, or perhaps another day, I forget, he hit me for the first time. Although he may not have hit me. He may have shoved me or grabbed me or perhaps I did just run into the open front door. I do not remember. My loss of memory is not due to the twelve and a half years standing between me and that date. Almost as soon as it happened I shoved it so far out of my head that I completely forgot about it. Completely. Even to the point of comfortably and rationally explaining away the bruise he left on my forearm.

What I clearly remember is standing in the living room after Mitch left sobbing hysterically holding the cordless phone with my poor mother on the other end, her voice cautious and still. I held myself in check as I returned to rational thought, recognizing this was not something I could disclose, so I wished it away into the some dark recess of my head, never to be opened again. I told her we were in a fight but withheld the violent details. My mother, however, has always been the intuitive type and from that point forward she knew there was something wrong and I believe she fervently prayed for me daily.

I'm cooking!

That is right, I am home on a Monday night cooking dinner. This is more than unusual, it is something of an endangered species and I do not remember the last time this sort of thing happened! As luck would have it I got home early enough to eat more than a grilled cheese or bowl of cereal at home AND (most essentially) I have food to cook with. More specifically, I was inspired while shopping at Whole Foods Saturday by all the brightly colored veggies to collect ingredients for a veggie stir fry. And one thing I really love about Whole Foods is their habit of passing out samples of the fresh produce. On Saturday they were passing out samples of various types of yams and sweet potatoes (yum!). Which inspired me to add some to my teriyaki stir fry of mushrooms and broccoli. The bright orange adds great color and texture and hopefully flavor. Unfortunately I forgot to pick up and onion so my mushrooms were sauteed in garlic (fresh) and the tiniest little shallot I found lurking in my cupboard.
Things are smelling good so I think everything may be ready to eat now.

By the way, before the task masters start cracking their whips . . . I'm working on the next divorce installment. Thank you everyone for your oh, so kind and encouraging comments. But I should point out that if I did take you all up on your advice to write a book, you wouldn't know what happens next. And we are no where near the rock bottom of this saga. Yes, it gets a lot worse. You may need kleenex. Or not. Just be prepared.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Part X: October

I suppose marriage is always something of an adjustment after the wedding festivities die down. There were no other parties to attend, no more gifts to unwrap, no more checks to cash - in their place we had classes to attend and bills to pay. It is difficult for me to point to anything we did together or enjoyed together. One of Mitch's classes was introduction to guitar. I had not ever played guitar but I was nearly finished with a minor in music so I eagerly volunteered to help him learn his chords and in the process started to enjoy playing myself. Mitch would not have it. He resented the ease at which I picked it up despite the fact I was not in the class. He resisted my other attempts to help him with classes as well. I failed to see how difficult the adjustment to marriage, college and working was for him.

After two years away from home living on a very lean budget, I was accustomed to some of the responsibilities we faced. Before we even made it to October, he grew tired of our new routine which required him to rise early to go clean one of the buildings on campus, return home to shower and rush off to classes and then work a few hours in the evening and somehow study and practice the guitar. Before long he was sleeping in and skipping his morning janitorial duties. Despite our agreement that I would just concentrate on finishing school, I could tell he was not satisfied with being the only one to be bringing in money. Of course, he failed to take into consideration that half my tuition was covered by a scholarship and the remainder paid for with money I had earned working full time over the summer as I had done the prior two years of school. But money was not the issue yet. He simply resented getting up early in the morning, so eventually he stopped. This astonished my sense of responsibility. I asked if he had quit and he would mutter various excuses about the early hour and some ill-tempered supervisor. But I let it go, deciding one job was enough and really I was asking too much of him to work two jobs.

A tension snuck up between us in those first weeks of marriage that caught me by surprise. The preceding nine or ten months of dating and engagement were feeling further and further behind me as my new husband began to change. Mitch's heroin addict brother - "S" - did not live in Cedar City most of the time we were dating and as far as I was aware Mitch did not spend any time with him. But that fall Mitch began spending an increasing amount of time with him as well as with his now frequently high 16-year old brother - "B". Mitch was arriving home with some frequency smelling intensely of smoke and who knows what else but if I said anything he blamed it on his brother's house. I tried to talk to him about B and encouraged him to use his influence to steer him clear of the path Mitch presumably regretted taking himself and to help prevent B from becoming too intertwined with their older brother but to no avail.

The morning of October 3rd, I woke up late for an exam in my music theory class. I threw on some clothes and grabbed Mitch's brown flannel jacket as I rushed out the door to take the exam without waking him. Hunched over my test, with my left elbow flat on the desk I held my forehead in my hand as I scribbled down my answers as was my test-taking habit. As I did so something in the left breast pocket of my jacket clanked heavily against the desk. I sat up to inspect the contents of the pocket. The first thing I drew out was a small plastic baggie containing pot. Shocked, I shoved it back into the pocket and tried to concentrate on finishing my test. But I had to know what else was in the pocket so, this time more surreptitiously, I opened the pocket wide to peer in. What I discovered was a small metal pipe. I hurried through the rest of the test and rushed out of class. My heart was pounding and I was sweating. Where do I go? Who could I possibly talk to about this? I slowly walked home oblivious to the crispness of the fall air as I continued to sweat. What could I possibly say to him? What would be his response? Surely it could not be his. There was no way it belonged to him.

As I walked, there was a buzz around me. Something was happening. People were asking others if they had heard the news. I felt conspicuous, as if I was the subject of the gossip they were all so anxious to convey. Walking through a neighborhood just off campus, a car radio was blaring the news out onto the street - OJ Simpson had been acquitted. This news, along with the increasing warmth of the sun confused me. I thought maybe I had stepped into an alternate universe of sorts where husbands changed character over night and murderers were set free. Walking slowly along the sidewalk in such a state I was nearly struck by a ball that had escaped the schoolyard across the street.

Confirming the weariness of my barely 20-year old looks, one of the children cried after me "Ma'am? Will you get our ball?"

Ma'am? I had never been called ma'am in my life. This must be an alternative version of reality. I chased down the ball and threw it back to the grateful gathering of kids pressed against the fence.

When I finally reached our empty apartment I had convinced myself none of it belonged to my husband. He must have taken it away from his brother I rationalized or maybe someone else put it there and he was not aware of its existence. There had to be an explanation. And I am sure there was. The first in a long line of explanations of how this or that did not belong to him and how none of it could possibly be his responsibility or fault. And having found myself in an isolated position without a friend, family member or unbiased outside opinion - this also began a long series of excuses I accepted. I swallowed them whole for the sake of our marriage and moving forward.

This, along with the increased job responsibilities, led to our first fight that Saturday. A milestone I presume all married couples reach sooner or later. But I was not prepared for the furious wrath unleashed on me as my crying reached hysterical levels. We were in the car driving to his parent's house and I refused to go. I needed to go home and I felt we needed to solve these issues right now. Instead, he pulled over, I got out of the car and he drove away.

And he did not return for me.

One piece of advice that I received prior to getting married was to resolve fights and issues within the marriage and to not run to friends or parents as that would only complicate the matter. This is sage advice in most instances. However, there are times when one should check in with the outside world to gauge what might be normal quarrels. Without keys to return to our dark little motel apartment, I walked to my old apartment where I found my former roommate. My heart ached to divulge all, to fully explain my blotchy skin, blood-shot eyes and tear-streaked face but I held back. Especially when I could see how uncomfortable my friend was with hearing any of my troubles. She did not want to hear about Mitch's ferocious temper and moodiness. She was recently engaged herself and planning her own wedding in December. I brushed the fight away and spent the afternoon pretending it had been my intention to spend Saturday afternoon with her all along, not that I was taking refuge after my husband left me standing on the sidewalk without a key to go home or a car to follow him.

Not many days later, I found myself in the unlucky position of being stranded alone with his mother in her kitchen. She was lamenting her teenage son's behavior - his moodiness, his anger, his apathy, his plummeting grades. By this time I knew B was spending significant time with the heroin-addict brother and his drugged out girlfriend and often skipped school to do so. B had also taken to hiding from his parents at our small apartment where he could not be easily located since we still did not have a telephone. My mother-in-law seemed at her wits end. I could not understand how a woman could be so oblivious when she had already had two sons travel this same path (even though I was in the early stages of denial myself). I could not longer keep silent when she asked me "you don't think B could be doing drugs, do you?" My heart softened as I saw her sincere confusion. She wanted so much to believe the best of her son. So I told her "yes, B is getting deeper and deeper into drugs and alcohol and is spending nearly every day with S and his girlfriend." She was shocked and I was afraid. I told her not to tell B or Mitch I was the one who told her. I could not imagine how angry Mitch would be if he knew what I had done. And I especially did not want S to find out. I had seen him paranoid and delusional and had heard of his rages as well and had no desire to witness one. My in-laws reacted quickly by confronting B and sending him away to live with another older brother. Mitch couldn't figure out who had told them, so I lied and claimed the signs were obvious and they must have figured it out on their own.

But I could not remain silent for long. He was changing too and I needed to know why.

Late one night in October as we were lying in bed I timidly asked him about the changes I was witnessing in him. We spoke quietly lying on our backs without touching. I listened to him tell me how hard it was to go to school and work and I silently accused him of spending too much time with his brothers. He openly accused me of not doing enough so I agreed to look for a job that would fit with my heavy class and music schedule. After some silence he asked me something unexpected.

"Do you believe in the church?"

Unsure of where he was going with this I cautiously responded "yes."

After several heavy seconds crawled by, he resumed "I don't think I believe in it."

I nearly gasped from the shock. This was the boy who less than a year earlier had encouraged me to start going to church regularly. This was the boy who suggested to me that we take an institute class together. This was the very same boy who had urged a shorter and shorter engagement - meaning a shorter and shorter timeline to going to the temple together. My whole world was turned on its head. While I was not always certain of my thoughts or feelings toward the church, it was all I had ever known and even during the time when I had not been actively involved in it, the church was a part of me so I felt powerless to react.

Instead, I rolled over and silently cried myself to sleep.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Part IX: The Reception

It took months for me to realize my broken wedding ring was a bad omen. At the time, I focused my energy on making long distance complaints to the jeweler from my in-law's house upset that my ring had not endured even a week of marriage. After a number of lengthy phone calls involving endless minutes on hold with various people shifting the whys and hows and whats through various transfers, I was told white gold was unstable and essentially these things happen. Perhaps a better, if not more accurate, explanation than "fate is trying to tell you to cut all ties and run now." Meanwhile, we were still getting a monthly bill (because Mitch hadn't had the discipline to pay the $800 ring off over the summer) and I didn't have a symbol of our union for our upcoming reception.

Adjusting to those first weeks of marriage were not unlike the weeks, months, even years I spent adjusting to being divorced through the end of the decade. As I reclaimed my single status I felt separated from everyone around me as if the word "divorce" was not just an estrangement from my husband but a detachment of me from society and my peers. I spent a good part of my twenties walking around with this filter of divorce altering my perspective and attitudes and reactions. I felt compelled to disclose my marital status without prompting simply because I thought it was relevant to everything as if that word somehow defined who I was.

It was a similar, yet very different, acclimation those first weeks of marriage.

I was self-conscious starting a new quarter of school without that ring acting as an explanation of how much my life had changed since my last final. When male acquaintances from the prior year chatted with me about my schedule or potential study groups, I interpreted it all as flirting and I worried about how best to subtly break the news that I was married, convinced that if I had the ring it would have done that job for me.

But more than just acting as a hint of my marital status, I wanted the ring for Saturday's reception - the reception my mom was planning, the one to which I had invited all my friends and family, the reception I actually wanted as opposed to the open ill-fated house my mother-in-law had thrust upon me. I could not imagine conspicuously standing in a receiving line for two hours without a wedding ring. Luckily, I managed to convince the jeweler to not only replace my ring but to loan me a temporary ring for the reception while the new one was being made. It was yellow gold and not what I had picked out but it was better than a blaringly naked finger.

After class on Friday we drove to Salt Lake for our reception and stayed at the only hotel I believe we ever shared - the Anniversary Inn. It was our one honeymoon indulgence. For some reason we stayed in the Napoleon room which boasted a large sleigh bed that occupied the better part of the room, a gas fireplace in the corner with a TV hidden behind a cabinet. The room's biggest selling point was the bathroom which held a large whirlpool filled by a waterfall. There was also a mini-fridge with sparkling cider and cheesecake and each pillow held a chocolate truffle. We thought it was all so luxurious and incredibly fancy. I took a bath shortly after we arrived and when I came out looking for my chocolate I discovered Mitch had eaten it.

After checking out the next morning, we went to my parent's house to help prepare for the reception.

My mother and I (but mostly my mother) had spent the summer planning the Salt Lake reception. Unable to afford a reception hall we also opted the route of the free cultural hall at the church. Luckily, Salt Lake is full of churches and although it took some finagling, we managed to schedule it at one of the newer churches with a carpeted cultural hall and lower ceilings so it didn't feel like a gym. With the aid of friends, neighbors and ward members, my mom transformed that room using lamps (no overhead lights), a natural looking archway filled with silk flowers under which we stood to receive people and beautiful centerpieces on the tables - large hurricane lantern vases ringed with silk flowers on a deep purple table cloths. My bouquet was also made of silk flowers both so it would last for both receptions and due to my father's allergies to flowers. I had african violets. A flower, up to that point, I loved but I cannot now see without a twinge of heartache. Instead of neglected dj equipment stashed in the far corner of the room, my dad played periodically with his string quartet or one of his talented friends played the piano elevating the room to something a bit more elegant. The food was better too with turkey salad sandwiches and other tidbits I doubt I ever managed to taste as opposed to the frozen slices of cheesecake leftover from the open house the week before. As this was the proper reception it was here that I had a wedding cake - a simple three-tiered cake frosted in a basket weave design adorned with the only fresh flowers we had at the reception.

Needless to say, after the prior week's poor turnout and the terrible awkwardness that filled the large, empty space, there was some trepidation that we might have a repeat no-show performance of the prior week. But everyone swallowed that concern, afraid if it was vocalized, surely we would be doomed for a repeat. But thankfully people came. They came and they were generous both with their compliments and their gifts and I finished the evening feeling as I should have on my wedding day - toasted into marriage. We were even given a proper send off and discovered our car had been filled with newspaper and garbage and written on with soap. Something we realized we could have done without when we were at the car wash the next day cleaning it out.

We opened our gifts with my family at my parent's house and ate leftover turkey salad sandwiches and wedding cake and I was truly happy that day. We instructed my mother to keep the top layer of our wedding cake in their deep freezer to preserve it for our one year anniversary, not realizing we would no longer be living together on September 16, 1996.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Part VIII: The Honeymoon

From what I hear, the wedding day is almost always exhausting. There is the pre-wedding day planning stress, the stress of pulling everything together on the wedding day combined with the stress of hoping it all comes together and that people actually show up, on top of the often stressful task of making a monumentally important step into the future by agreeing to spend the rest of one's life, or eternity, with another person. Combine that with the typical lack of sleep and food deprivation that is often endured on the wedding day and under the best of circumstances the newlyweds will end their day breathing a collective sigh of relief to have the complicated stuff behind them and the part they have been looking forward to all that time right in front of them - the honeymoon.

But I did not have the typical wedding day.

My selective memory of that phase of my life omits what, if any, comfort my new husband attempted to give me as we drove up the canyon to our honeymoon destination - a secluded cabin in the woods. But I do remember pulling myself together enough to be genuinely excited about the cabin someone had given us for the night (or perhaps two nights?). As tradition dictates, my groom was in charge of the honeymoon. We didn't even begin to dream of traveling great distances to exotic locales. Our biggest dream was to stay at a hotel in Salt Lake after our reception there the week after the wedding. We knew our budget was unbearably lean so we focused on going somewhere on our wedding night that would be beautiful and cheap. Luckily we got beautiful and free after some friend or relative of Mitch's offered this cabin that was no more than a 20 minute drive from our dismal open house. We were students (or at least I was) with limited means from humble families which made the cabin seem luxurious. It was September and the small cabin was located in an extensive grove of Quaking Aspen. These white-barked trees are tall and slender and make the most beautiful rustling noise when even the softest breeze passes through their branches. In the fall, their small leaves turn a brilliant yellow and fall softly losing their restrained patter in favor of a sonorous crunch after gathering on the ground in a dry heap.

Of course, when we arrived that night I couldn't see my favorite trees and I probably did not pay enough attention to hear them. But there is something consoling about crisp mountain air and a dark sky full of stars that, combined with the subtle whoosh of the Quakies, surely settled me and helped me forget the debacle of the day as soon as I stepped out of the car onto the gravel driveway.

There are many questions I carry with me from those days, most of them start with "why":

Why was Mitch in such a hurry to get married?
Why did Mitch want to marry me?
Why did I not have the good sense to just slow down?
Why did I not pay closer attention to the trepidations of those who loved me?
Why was I in such a hurry?
Why did I settle?

Over the years I have resolved or let go of these questions as they relate to my actions - mostly blaming my age, my vulnerability, my fears and my fierce stubbornness. I cannot, however, answer for Mitch. Relating to him, I can only guess. And my guess usually boils down to one thing: sex. He wanted it but I would not give it unless he jumped through certain hoops and he knew that without ever asking. So he reformed himself for me. More accurately, he reformed himself so he could have me.

From the time of our first date that New Year's day, he changed nearly every aspect of his life to conform to me and what I wanted. I do not know with whom he spent his time before our first date but from that point on he spent nearly every waking hour with me. He reformed himself spiritually and not only returned to regular church attendance but encouraged me to do the same. We took an institute class called "The Miracle of Forgiveness" and read from that book or the scriptures with some regularity. We even started praying together at some point in our courtship. When we met he did not have a job and he had not even applied to college. He changed that for me as well and started working and, with my help, applied for and was granted admission in the fall. He also changed his look and shaved his goatee after I indicated I didn't like it and then he removed his earring for the same reason. Neither of us ever had much money for clothes and although I don't remember doing much shopping I know at some point I did start influencing what he wore.

I also had a huge impact on our activity choices. The reason I was attending Southern Utah University was to take advantage of the amazing natural space surrounding it. I loved Cedar Mountain to the east, the Parawan Gap and Pocket Rocks to the west and the varying desert landscape all around. I loved that Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks, Navajo Lake and countless unnamed wonders were a short drive from my college town. I loved rock climbing and hiking and camping and accepted that he shared those loves without question, ignoring his twinges of jealousy when I could out climb him or start a fire or pitch a tent with greater ease and skill. I viewed all of these things as our shared common ground. Unlike with most of my boyfriends up to that point, I was not the one conforming - he was, at least up until that point.

But in the end, I believe the true driving force of our courtship was not our shared interests or love for the outdoors, it was hormones which meant there was no question what was going to happen at the end of that long and arduous wedding day.

Mitch was not a patient person, nor was he selfless or accommodating. Needless to say, the wedding night was not much better than the wedding day. But I accepted it as part of the deal (since all I ever heard was how difficult it was the first time) and by the time we returned to our apartment I had adjusted enough to take home a urinary tract infection as a souvenir.

I believe I was happy those first few days. We unwrapped the gifts from the open house which, I remember oddly enough, included a vacuum which we thought was incredibly generous and a can opener - the manual $4.99 type, which we found odd. We started classes that first week of our marriage - me, my junior year, which would become my most tumultuous year of schooling, and him as a freshman. I was excited to discover I was on track to graduate early if I managed to line up my classes right. Mitch and I had long conversations both before we were married and in that first week about how it was sensible for me to go to school full time and push through since I was so close to being finished and he would work and take a lighter load. At that point I had decided to collect a teaching certificate along with my history and music degrees and that fall I took my one and only education class.

For me, taking 20 credits (the maximum without paying extra tuition) a quarter, which included time-consuming music classes, was no different from what I had done the prior two years of school. But for Mitch it was a hurdle. He was switching from a summer of mowing lawns with little responsibility to a morning janitorial job, 12 credit hours of his first quarter of college and evenings working at Wal-Mart. I had no idea how jarring such a transition would be for him. But that first week we managed it and felt like most newlyweds - like we were playing house and somehow none of it was real.

By Thursday morning we were falling into a routine. I was sitting in the Mazda - the same 1979 Mazda GLC I had driven briefly in high school that had virtually risen from the dead to be reunited with me after we got married - across the street from the science building under a no parking sign waiting for Mitch to finish class. I twiddled mindlessly with the ring that was still so new and a bit unfamiliar on my finger. As I gazed across the street waiting for students to start streaming out, I realized something about my ring felt different as my left thumb hooked over the small diamond and twisted it toward my palm. Looking down I started when I realized my ring was broken. Broken! The engagement ring and the wedding band were white gold and interlocked in a slight twist (the least amount of twist I could find) with a couple of miniscule pin-point sized diamonds adorning the sides of the main diamond. But the ring was somehow severed and while the main diamond was intact one or two of the smaller diamonds were gone.
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