April 4, 2011
On this day, back in 1992, on a Saturday, I got married. Today would have been my 19th anniversary. May 5th of this year will mark the 6th year since my divorce became final. These past few years I’ve always found it kind of ironic, the dates thing. My first date with my ex was on 6/6, my wedding was 4/4, my divorce was 5/5. Fortunately I think that’s about it for the numeric coincidences.
I don’t think about this day that much except when it rolls around. Like today. Next year would be my 20th anniversary. That’s kind of a big one, or it would have been. And every year when this date rolls around, I feel a sense of remorse. Oddly enough, I’ve felt that way for at least the last decade. Yep. I think you can do that math. Means I felt like that while I was still married, too. Different reasons, same emotion. I’m the first to admit, if anyone asks me, that I’m the guilty party in my divorce. I’m the one with the figurative scarlet letter “A” on my chest. I’m not the least bit proud of what happened or how my divorce came about, and I’m still ashamed of how much my husband was hurt by my actions. It didn’t have to be that way and I never wanted to hurt him. What I did was stupid, careless, unthinking. All that being said, though, it always takes two to make a relationship work. It also takes two to make it fall apart. ‘Nuff said on that for the time being.
Looking back, I’m hardly the same woman now that I was 19 years ago, or 22 years ago, when my ex and I first met. I had just moved back to San Diego after 8 years up in Berkeley (4 for college, 4 for work) and at the ripe old age of 25 I finally got around to getting my driver’s license and my first car. I was convinced that all of my friends were getting married (they weren’t) and starting to have children (ditto) and that I was going to end up an old maid, unmarried at age 30. Horrors. Well, back in 1989, it sounded a lot worse than it does now. After all, my Mom was married when she was 19, for heaven’s sake. Granted, that was in 1957, and the world was a little different then. I had split up with a previous boyfriend after two years together up in the Bay Area, dated another guy for awhile who then went off to South America somewhere to either find himself or join some band of revolutionaries, dated some other dude who decided that after I broke it off that he couldn’t live without me and then was going to hitchhike and bus his way to Africa (not sure how that works across an ocean), and ultimately I came to the conclusion that there were very few normal men to be had in Berkeley. As if I could actually be considered “normal” myself. Ha.
Coincidentally enough, when I started to write this post, I started wondering about that one boyfriend who went off to South America and whatever became of him. Strangely enough, I briefly dated a guy when I moved back to San Diego, who had once dated that guy’s sister – because they lived in the same neighborhood up in the SF Bay Area. Small world. So I thought I’d look him up online, see if he was out there somewhere. No luck on Facebook. So I went to Pipl. I had no idea where he was. Last I had heard of him (from the San Diego guy), he was in Europe with some girlfriend. That was probably 15 years or more ago. If you haven’t tried it, www.pipl.com is an amazing search site. It only looks for people. Took me a bit to remember the guy’s name – I knew it was Eric, because that was one of my top choices for a name for one of my sons. Last name was … uhhh … shit. Something Scandinavian sounding. Or Jewish. Yeah, that helps. Started with a J. After mulling it over for a bit, Eric Johannson finally sprang to mind. And darned if there wasn’t a match on some total stranger’s blog about a professor at a school in the Netherlands from UC Berkeley, named Eric Johannson. I met Eric when I was working at the UC Berkeley School of Education. He wasn’t as tall as I would have liked and he drove a crappy car with ripped seats that always snagged my nylons, but he liked to play basketball and had damn nice shoulders, looked good in tank tops, and gave credence to the saying about guys with big feet and their … ahem … other endowments.
Which brings me back, sort of, to the subject of this post. Me, 19 years ago, getting married. I was a virgin until I got to college. I was a dorky, dweeby looking kid in high school until I hit puberty sometime in my junior year. Talk about your late bloomers. I started high school at 4’11” and weighed 75 lbs. I finished at 5’6″, 110 lbs and a C-cup bra size. By the time I finished college, I was one of Playboy’s Girls of the PAC-10 from UC Berkeley. And yes, I do miss the figure I had then (insert anguished sob here). I went from Escondido High School to UC Berkeley with absolutely no clue what to expect. Compared to my high school peers, I was a genius. To my college peers, I was just average in intelligence. My parents (divorced since I was 5) were of no help, neither of them had been to college, nor did either of them care that I was going to one of the toughest schools in the country on a full scholarship, as an aerospace engineering major. It was like it didn’t register on their personal Richter scales or something. I don’t think it registered on mine how important it was in terms of an accomplishment. To me, it was just a place that was far enough away from my Mom that didn’t have snow in the winter.
I look at how much time and effort parents put into their kids’ college choices these days, helping them out, moving them in, the whole bit, and wonder how I even made it back then. My Mom put me on a PSA flight to Oakland with a couple of suitcases, and I had to then find my way from the airport to my dorm room, courtesy of a BART train and a taxicab, because I guess the drive up from San Diego was too much effort for her. I was so anxious and tense the first few days there that my shoulders were as stiff as a board and I couldn’t even sleep because I was in so much pain. Being a complete novice as to medications as well, the best I could think of was to get some baby aspirin and down a dozen or so of those. This was back in the days before they discovered Reye’s Syndrome and took baby aspirin off the market. I never learned to swallow pills as a kid, because I had such large tonsils that I often choked on them, and on food I was eating, pretty routinely. I didn’t realize how big the tonsils were until after they got infected for the 4th time in my freshman year and a doctor advised me to have them removed that summer when I was well again. Amazingly, I was able to swallow pills after that. And I stopped snoring like a freight train at night, too. Wish someone had looked into that issue a little sooner, like, I dunno, maybe my Mom? Anyway, let’s move on, shall we?
A few weeks into my freshman year, I discovered that guys noticed me all of a sudden. And talked to me. I had no idea why. I’ve always found my deep voice rather off-putting, and certainly my well-honed sarcastic, self-deprecating wit wasn’t exactly what you’d call the America’s Sweetheart level of feminine charm. I really don’t know. I should try and track down one of those freshman-year boyfriends and ask them what the appeal was.
This was the point in writing this blog where I got sidetracked and decided to try and do just that and search for some of them online. Surprisingly, I found four of them. There’s a few more whose last names I don’t remember, shamefully, and another one who tragically died around age 30. John Johnson (yes, that really was his name) came up to me at a winter formal dance in my sophomore year at Berkeley and made some Monty Python joke and told me how bored I looked. I was there with a previous-ex and soon-to-be-ex again boyfriend, having a miserable time and wondering why the hell I’d been talked into going to this stupid thing, and this charming, funny guy who was also from my hometown of San Diego literally swept me off my feet. I miss him probably the most of all, since I know I’ll never see him again. I would have loved to have seen him with kids, he would have been a terrific father. He met the love of his life somewhere over in Asia or Africa when they were both either working in the Peace Corps or studying abroad, I don’t even remember. She was from Germany. They’d barely been married a year when he died in a hiking accident. I don’t know the details and I never found out – I just remembered getting a Christmas card from his widow, it turns out, the same day I was sending mine out, I hadn’t heard from him since the previous Christmas. I was shocked. John was always upbeat and cheerful, even though his life had more than its share of ups and downs. I think he was allergic to nuts, and shellfish, and tomatoes, and a list of about a hundred other things. He limped when he was tired, I can’t remember why now, but he might have been born with a clubfoot or something that had been corrected, but wasn’t quite 100%. He wasn’t the tallest guy I dated, or the best looking, either.
Yet John was like an Energizer Bunny of enthusiasm. The guy ccould have made friends with a terrorist and the next thing they would have been hoisting a couple of beers and talking like old buddies. I saw him a couple of times in my senior year of college, by then I was living with a guy out in Concord (East Bay), and I remember John and I always ended up goofing off and having the best time doing something that always looked suspicious yet was actually pretty innocent. He insisted on giving me a foot massage one night at his place in Berkeley after dinner, complete with a foot bath first – which he managed to upend all over both of us and on his bed. I had to take the BART train and a bus home, and he escorted me all the way there because he didn’t want me getting home and having my boyfriend at the time wonder why I was soaked through on a non-rainy evening without him explaining what happened. I got home well before my boyfriend did, fortunately, so no explanation needed. But that’s just the kind of guy John was. A gentleman. Who gave great massages and was incredibly ticklish after sex and did a great rendition of the Knights of Ni. The kind of guy I seemed to push away in my quest for some unattainable douchebag who would end up ignoring me, dumping me, or both. Because I didn’t think I was good enough for someone like that, that I was somehow damaged goods because of my perpetual cynicism that I could never shake. If you’ve read my earlier entries on this blog, you know my upbringing was hardly anything for the pages of a Parents magazine. Unless they have a “Don’t” section with black X’s over everything like Glamour does for photos of women with pantylines.
Recently I found and scanned in some photos I had from a glamour photography shoot I posed for back in the late 80’s. I had curly, permed, 80’s hair, big earrings, big blue eyes, a winning smile, and a figure that, well, was worthy of Playboy. And I still hated myself. I was convinced that my thighs were getting lumpy, my stomach was poochy, and my breasts were the wrong shape and size. I don’t remember John ever finding any flaws in me. Maybe that was why I always pushed him away, he liked me too much. How could anyone not see how flawed I really was? And I don’t mean just in the sense of my physical appearance … mainly, I still find the biggest flaws are within my character. But I didn’t recognize them back then, or maybe I did and thought I could overcome my “demons”. Case in point, we have a happy photo of the newly married couple here at the reception, right before the garter toss:
Looks nice, right, other than the privacy-protecting pseudo whipped cream over the faces of my ex-husband and ex-brother-in-law? Except now when I look back at this picture, I realize of the men in the photo, how many of them I either A) wanted to have sex with; B) had already had sex with; C) dated; D) would have sex with in the future – all options circled in red. The only one I forgot to circle is the category of E) “My Mom thinks I had sex with him”, which would have included my brother – the guy in the tux with the beard, standing up behind me. John is actually the third guy in from the right, in the light-colored slacks and black jacket. This was the last time I saw him. 😦
One saving grace is that there aren’t more people in this photo, because in a photo of the entire reception, there would have been at least three other guys circled who fell into category A) or B). And three more who didn’t make it. Now I don’t know about you or the guests at your wedding, but the fact that I had intimate knowledge of at least 15% of the male guests in the room strikes me as a bit high, not to mention, uh, a bit out of the ordinary?
Which brings me around to why I started this post to begin with. Wondering whatever made me think I could stay faithful to one guy for, as it turned out, over 15 years? Certainly at the time I married him, it wasn’t in my nature. Or maybe he just wasn’t the right guy. My ex was, and is, a nice guy. Not as charismatic as a guy like John, but a decent guy. I don’t think he ever made me feel swept off my feet nor was he big on giving foot massages. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough for him – which is maybe why I married him. I shouldn’t have, in retrospect. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. I liked him as a friend and I think at the time that was all I was looking for. It should have been enough, but we eventually became the kind of friends who hang out at lunch once in awhile at work and say hello in the hallways … not the kind of friends who stay married. And as former President Carter so famously put it, I still had lust in my heart for any number of guys over the years since 1992, including the guy who’d introduced me to my ex. (He was one of ones who would have been circled in that same photo, if he’d been there). I never acted on it until 2004. My mom died that year, on my son Sean’s 5th birthday in February. I remember getting a phone call that night, after everyone was in bed, from my mom’s boyfriend in Las Vegas, she’d had a serious heart attack (after a couple of massive strokes the previous year) and the ER docs were trying to get her heart going again.
I told her boyfriend Bob to call me back as soon as he knew anything. He was in tears, the poor guy. I called my brother and gave him the news, and told him I’d call him back again as soon as Bob called me. Then I went back in the bedroom; the ringing phone had woken my husband up. I told him my Mom was in ER with a heart attack. He said “oh,” and turned over and went back to sleep. Admittedly, my husband knew that my relationship with my mom was far from close or loving … but she was also the only parent I had left, my father having passed away three years earlier. I left the bedroom, checked on the kids, and went back out in the living room with the cordless phone in my hands, waiting for Bob to call back. In the intervening minutes, I can remember praying, one of the few times in my life I really have prayed, for my Mom not to make it. Bob called back about 45 minutes later – she was gone.
A lot of things died in me that evening. My husband never got up to check on me as I sat out in the living room and broke down in tears. My long-ago vow to myself, that my marriage would be better than that of my parents and would last far longer than their record of 11 years, shattered. I had spent most of my conscience life trying to prove to my mother that I was not only good enough, but that I could do better than she did – I had a more successful job, a nice house, a decent husband, and a stable home life that wasn’t filled with shouting, screaming, and senseless accusations – all because I wanted her to NOTICE. Yeah. The same mom who couldn’t be bothered to drive me up to college and who didn’t visit me once in 4 years there, until I graduated. And then couldn’t leave fast enough to get back to a non-existent life. The one whose daughter nearly dropped out with a 1.6 GPA her freshman year, but ended up graduating with two bachelor’s degrees three years later and a 3.7 GPA, but she never noticed. The mom whose only “birds and the bees” advice to me was to give me a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex to read … when I was 8 years old, thus giving me a lifelong mental image of homosexual men ending up in the emergency room with shot glasses or other weird objects up their asses.
That was February. In April that year, my 12th anniversary came around and I belatedly realized that I had surpassed my mom’s 11-year mark for being married. I didn’t give a shit anymore. All the grand scenes of reconciliation I used to imagine with her that I played out in my mind over the years, where she would apologize for being such a bitch and for hitting me and slapping me and warping my mind the way she did, where she would tell me how proud she was of me and show me she was actually interested in my life and in her own grandchildren … it would never happen. I don’t know what made me think it would happen. But it took that long for it to actually sink in. The cracks that had begun to open in my marriage even before February started to spread and deepen, turning into deep fissures that old hurts bubbled up through. The same hurts I used to squelch and bury and ignore over the years, wanting to present the perfect facade to the outside world, and mostly, to my oblivious and uncaring Mom. My marriage died right along with her because it just didn’t matter anymore.
Since then, my life’s playbook has been looking like the John Madden one above with regard to men. (Notice the nice subtle way I go about saying I have a tendency to be a slut? Yeah, I thought that was well played.) At least until the last couple of years. The notches on the bedpost routine gets old, although certainly never dull. I would say I’m too old for swing clubs, but having been to those places, I know that isn’t the case! 😉 So what happens now, you may wonder? I wonder too. It’s hard to know where the behavioral me ends and the real me begins. I know deep down that my promiscuous tendencies stem from low self-esteem, a need for acceptance in whatever form I can get it, even if that is in the form of being told you could suck the chrome off a bumper. Yadda yadda. Throw me a few more psychology books and I’ll have a master’s degree in still trying to figure out how I tick. The parentheses of my life at either end of my marriage of my actions tell me that being faithful that long didn’t change that part of me one iota.
But I’m happy now, in the relationship I’m in. That relationship is hardly without its flaws or complications and is far from perfect. I’m the first to admit that the fantasy aspect of being married – the elaborate dress, the rings, the ceremony, the whole bit – still appeals to me. I’m a girl, after all. I love dressing up and I love jewelry. Duh. Hint, if anyone’s reading this, I love rings by Verragio and Ritani, and I think this is a really nice dress …
Will I ever end up married again? Do I need to be married again? I thought being married meant love and security, a feeling of being cherished. I never had that even with a ring on my finger before, but I do now, in probably the most unlikely relationship I could ever end up in (like, OMG, he voted Republican, for one thing). What I’m trying to figure out now is if the difference in my current relationship, a relationship where I actually feel loved and accepted just the way I am, is due to my boyfriend, or to me? I like to think it’s a little of both.