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.