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.


Ma said...

I remember that Thanksgiving so vividly. I could feel the pain you were going through even though you tried to put on a good front. When we stopped to see you in Cedar City we could see how much you were struggling and that you were trying to make excuses for Mitch. You were especially hurt when Mitch insisted that you had to go to his parents home that evening even though you saw them all the time. We really wanted to take you away from him because your pain was obvious, but we knew you, and knew that you had to leave when you were sure that the time was right.

It breaks my heart to see anyone have to endure what you endured, but it was especially painful watching my own daughter suffer.

Tiffany said...

Heavy sigh.

Among many thoughts running through my head, I am more and more impressed by your parents as this story progresses. I can't imagine the restraint.

Bravo on another amazing installment. I know a lot of people follow TV shows, but every time I run into someone, the conversation usually turns to, "Have you been reading Alyssa's divorce story?" Move over, Lost.

Aimee said...

I'm with Tiffany - I'm totally hooked. You know when you start reading a good book, and you can't start anything else until you have finished that book? That's me with your story. It is so completely compelling, I can't stop checking your blog to see if you have posted more!! Thank you for being willing to share this with us.
A faithful reader, Aimee (Tiffany's blog introduced me)

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