The Missing Toilet Paper

I have no idea what these two are going on about, something about crops and machinery, both taking turns chuckling their belly laughs. I hitched a ride along with Dad today, needing to get away from the house for a while. Old Soibert laughs with his belly, a perfectly symmetrical half-moon that starts at his neck, protruding beneath his farmer’s overalls which are cinched over his shoulders and held on by metal latch clasps fastened at the front. Dad also laughs with his belly, but his belly is more of a fat capital “D’ shape that starts at his chest. Dad prefers fat suspenders to farm overalls, his belly protruding and stretching the suspenders to each side of its girth. Both men are strong from working hard. I have never touched old Soibert’s belly but I imagine it is the same solid hard that Dad’s belly is, not the cushy flabby kind that you would get from an office job.

“What did happen to that toilet paper?” Soibert suddenly turns on me, still laughing his belly laugh. Dad suddenly turns curious. Old Soibert is a lot like Dad, nothing escaping either of them. I have been over at Soibert’s house and seen where he likes to sit in a big lazy-boy chair that faces a window looking straight at our house, the nearest neighbor within sight of his house, keeps a pair of binoculars handy on the window sill where he can grab them if anything interesting happens. He prefers the comings and goings at our place to the evening news.

I know exactly what Soibert is talking about. I thought for sure I had escaped that particular dilemma, believing for certain I had erased all evidence of that damn toilet paper fiasco. I stammer and turn red like I always do, giving away how guilty I am. They both look at me for a while, Soibert with a big ass grin on his face, Dad wondering what the hell was going on, both waiting for an explanation. After I scratched around in the dirt with one foot, looking at the ground for what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably only twenty seconds which is still a really long time,  the two of them looking at me, making me feel even more like a freak than I felt already, Soibert finally explained what happened, since it clearly wasn’t going to come out of me. “She used a whole roll of toilet paper when she was over babysitting the kids last week. She must really like toilet paper.

Again they both looked at me, thinking that now I would fess up. But how the hell could I explain that missing roll of toilet paper and how did one missing roll of toilet paper get to be everybody’s business anyway? It is just a roll of toilet paper. Do they count the stuff after I leave? The kids I babysat, the ones  Soibert is talking about, are his two little grandchildren that live next door to him.  The kids are too young to even think about toilet paper which means that Soibert’s son or his son’s wife, the kid’s parents, figured out the toilet paper was missing and blabbed about it to old Soibert. I wonder how much of Dorchester talked about the missing roll of toilet paper.

I thought about what I might say but it all sounded too corny and embarrassing and nothing I said could make a damn bit of difference. I wasn’t going to tell them about how I dropped the toilet paper in the toilet by accident. I could just hear the questions then: How do you drop a whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet? Don’t you sit down on the toilet? But what happened to the toilet paper after you dropped it in the toilet? It wasn’t in the trash can. Where did you put it? You couldn’t have flushed it down the toilet. It would have clogged the toilet up. What did you do with it? There was no way I was going to tell them the answer to any of these questions.

Eventually, Soibert and Dad laid off me, seeing how nothing was going to come out of me. I was safe for the moment. I kept to myself the explanation about how I got my period that day I was babysitting Soibert’s grandchildren, about how my period was too new for me to know when I could expect it to come knocking on my door, about how I did not have any sanitary napkins, about how I was trying to make a sanitary napkin out of toilet paper when the roll of toilet paper fell into the bloody toilet, about how I was not going to leave a blood stained roll of toilet paper in the trash can, so that now instead of talking about a mysteriously missing roll of toilet paper, we would be talking about a roll of soggy and bloody roll of toilet paper left in the trash can, and how I carefully took chunks of that bloody toilet paper, just enough at a time so that the toilet wouldn’t clog up the toilet, knowing that if I clogged the toilet, I would forever more be known as the idiot who clogged the toilet with bloody toilet paper, about how small chunk by small chunk I flushed the toilet paper down the toilet, about how I even tore up the cardboard tube in the center of the toilet paper and flushed that down the toilet, so there would be no evidence left, hoping beyond hope that no one would notice one stupid missing roll of toilet paper. I kept that all to myself.

“Not going to tell us anything about the toilet paper, are you?” Soibert was not quite done working me for details. I looked up from the ground I had been staring into, trying to come up of an answer that could get me off the hook.

“Nope.” It was all I had.

 

 

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Driving lessons

I had been labeled at an early age as a bad driver.

I was seven years old the first time I drove anything. My older brother wanted me to drive the lawn-mower tractor so that he could ride along on the wagon in back along with the rest of the cousins. He ordered me to get into the driver’s seat and grab the handles. At that time I still felt that I could do anything that my older brother could do, so I was excited to drive for the first time. I climbed up to the seat and took hold the handles the best that I could. The tractor had the type of handles that came out like a large V. I grabbed the ends of that V with purpose, but it took the entire length of my arms stretched straight out to reach each handle. I had to lean my body entirely forward, standing off the seat to just get the grip. Then my brother started the engine and those handles started to rumble in my hands vibrating and jumping as the motor spurted. I had a full load of my cousins on a trailer hitched to the back of the tractor. Then my brother put the gear into forward, yelling that I needed to steer as he ran to join the cousins on the wagon.

I just hung on to those handles not knowing what to do next. I did not have a clue how I might steer that tractor. The rumbling handles made my hands numb and turning in any direction, stretched out the way I was, seemed impossible so I just I hung on as I watched the tractor move across the stretch of green lawn. When I saw the metal poles of the swing-set come rearing into view, I heard my brother yelling at me from behind, “Your need to STEER!”. I pulled at the handles with my numb little hands but there was no budging. Just before contact with the metal pole of the swing-set, I jumped off the tractor and ran. Hearing the screams of my cousins on the trailer, I turned around and watched as the tractor crawled in jerks up the pole of the swing set, the back wheels grinding into the ground as the front wheels inched up the pole until the pole bent and collapsed, the tractor falling to the ground finding new purchase on the pole, chomping away at it like a hungry animal. My cousins all flew off the trailer, scrambling in different directions, screaming. All I could do was watch as the swing-set was turned into a mangled mess of twisted poles.

There was also the time that my cousin Debbie came over on her moped. I must have been about twelve years old at the time and I was having some friends over for a sleepover. We found the alcohol stash my parents had and decided to give it a try. I was a little tipsy by the time Debbie decided it would be fun for us to take turns driving her moped. I was the first to give it a try. This time I was ready for the vibrating handles and I knew enough to steer. Debbie explained to me how to rev it up and give it some gas to make it go and how to lay off the gas to slow it down. I took a couple spins around the yard and realized that I had forgotten to ask her how to stop the thing. In my inebriated state the only thing that I could think to do, under these circumstances, was to run the bike into the house. I broke a bone in my foot and caused enough damage to the bike that it would not start after that.

By the time I was sixteen and wanted to get my license, the stories of my inability to drive were legend.  I took the Driver’s Ed course in high school, sliding behind the wheel in a car meant for students, a car that had an extra brake on the passenger side so that the instructor could stop the car if the student went careening off course. I fully expected that the teacher would need that brake when it came my turn to drive.

Mom tried going out driving with me on a few occasions before I went to take the driving test to get my license. She sat in the passenger side placing her feet up against the dash to brace herself for the inevitable crash, hanging on to the cushioned door handle so tightly her knuckles turned white. Each time I turned a corner or took off from a stop-sign a little squeal would erupt from her mouth. Mom was not the best driver herself and was probably not the best choice for a teacher but it was all that I had. The words I remember her saying while I drove: Watch out! Where are you going! How fast are you going! Slow down! Are you watching the road! Oh Crap! I think we are done! I hate doing this!

My Dad’s answer to driving lessons was to let me drive the car by myself in our driveway. He insisted that I needed to spend eight hours driving in the driveway before I could go take the driving test. We did have a long driveway with a loop at the end but there is only so many manuevers a person can do in a driveway. To this day I can drive backwards better than anyone I know.

By the time I took my first driving test I was a nervous wreck. I was happy to put my hands on the steering wheel to keep them from shaking. It was hard to hear the instructions of the man giving me the test over the beating of my heart.  I made several errors including driving on the wrong side of the road after botching up a Y turn. I had to wait six months to try again, that being how often the instructor came to our neck of the woods. I passed on the second try, but just barely.

After finally getting my license, I could drive by myself but the extra car that my parents had for the kids to drive was an old Rambler that was a stick shift. I had never learned to drive a stick. After complaining long enough about wanting to drive that car, Dad finally gave in and decided to teach me. We were sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the window at the Rambler sitting in the driveway. He waved his hand in the direction of the car. “There’s nothing to it. It’s like a letter H” he said explaining which gear is in which position and how to ease on and off the gas when going from one gear to the next. “Go give it a try it if you want.”

I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and went out to the Rambler, sliding into the driver’s seat, checking out and memorizing the position of first second and third gears. I managed to move the car in fits and false starts to the end of the drive way and then I got it to cough and sputter down Highway 13 to the gravel road that turned past my Grandparents’ house. Getting it out of the driveway was the hardest but once I had it on the dirt road and  going things went well. But I got stuck again at the first stop-sign with someone coming up behind me. I was blocking traffic. My panic at causing someone to wait for me to figure this out caused me to make things even worse. I just kept killing the car each time I went into first. Eventually, the man behind me got out of his car,  got in the passenger seat beside me and proceeded to teach me how to drive a stick shift. It was easy once I was shown how to do it.

I came home gloating about how I learned to drive a stick. I never told Dad or any of my family about the man who had to stop and show me how. It was better that I figured it out on my own without help. It was one victory that I had, proving that I was not a bad driver. The problem was that I knew I needed help so in my heart I knew I had not really made the victory.

It was Mohan, my best friend that last two years of high school who finally taught me how to drive a car. We were skipping school and I was driving the Rambler with Mohan in the passenger seat. Mohan came from a family with five kids, all of them girls. Her Dad always wanted a boy and Mohan decided to be that boy for him. Her Dad sold cars and Mohan knew cars and how to fix them. Her name was Cindy Mohan but she gave up the use of her first name because it was too girly. She had shoulder length blond hair that she parted just off the center, always wearing it in a ponytail low on her head, always wearing the same uniform, a jean jacket with a tee-shirt and jeans.

As we were driving the twenty miles from school to the nearest Shopko, she noticed that I was driving all over the road. “I know,” I acknowledged. “I am a lousy driver.” I will never forget what she said in response: “No you’re not. You just need some confidence. You need a little practice. We need to take a road-trip this weekend and you will drive.” For her that was all that was to it.

It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard but I knew that she was right. I could learn to drive. Just because I did not know how to drive did not mean that I “always”  had to be a bad driver. All I needed was practice. We did take that road-trip, driving to her Aunt’s house in Milwaukee, a five-hour drive each way and I drove most of the time, arriving home at the end of the weekend a competent driver.

The Smelt Fry

I wanted desperately to go to the smelt fry in town, but Denny was having none of it. Living out in farming country in the Northern half of Wisconsin, there were few things that ever really happened, the smelt fry being one of them. Smelt are tiny fish, that look like salmon, but rarely reach seven inches long. After being spotted in streams by flashlight late at night, the swarming schools are swooped up in nets. The oily little fish are brought into town, floured and battered whole, then dipped in a deep fry and heaped on a paper plates to be passed out to a waiting line of people who each paid their five dollars at the door, each taking a seat where-ever they can squish in, sitting side by side along room-long folding tables with rows of folding chairs, all lined up in the fireman’s hall. Many of my family would be there, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles and a few cousins.

I had sewn a new skirt from remnants I got when I was still working at the Ben Franklin store in a neighboring town before I had Kelly, quitting that job when I went into labor, becoming a stay at home mom. I had saved the remnants to make something for myself that wasn’t a pregnancy muumuu. Kelly was now two months old and my waistline was back to 24 inches and I made a skirt that cinched my tiny waist into 23 inches. The full skirt was light blue, matching my faded blue eyes and had a white ruffle sewn in the bottom. I wore the skirt with a matching white lace vest that fit tight on my tiny hour-glass frame showing off my best curves, which were now plentiful from breast-feeding. My body felt back to its old self again after the long months of pregnancy then recuperation from a cesarean birth, I was ready to show it off a bit.

Maybe Denny sensed the joy I felt in that new skirt and my recently returned figure and felt threatened by that, thinking perhaps I would be swept away by some handsome farm hand with a redneck tan. Or maybe he just hated to see me having fun; because he dug in his heals and flat-out said he was not going. There was no more talking about it. The subject was closed.

I had been stuck out in that old farmhouse we lived in, with nothing but the fields and the garden for company for two months. My only trips into town were to get the groceries and to take the diapers and dirty clothes to the laundromat for washing. It was true that I wanted to show off my returned figure, that I wanted something back from my old self, a girl I still remembered as independent of being a mother and a wife. I loved my new baby daughter beyond a love that I could have ever imagined having, but I was still a young woman, only twenty-one years old, wanting more than diaper changing and grocery shopping.

Maybe if my life as a new wife had some fun and laughter in it, I would have felt differently that evening. Denny turned out to be a solitary husband, coming home from work each day from the factory, not offering up a word, taking up joint, blurring his vision behind red eyes, picking up his guitar, or disappearing into the bathroom for an hour or more at a time, with the door locked, or sitting in front of the TV watching the news, anything to tune me out it seemed. If I tried to pick a conversation with him, he turned his back on me, making it clear that he felt trapped into marrying me, that he only married me because he had to, because of the pregnancy. He was doing his bit working at the factory, paying the rent, paying for the groceries.

Denny also decided that I was responsible for “the kid,” as he put it. I was the one who wanted to have her, he told me. I could not understand, though, after having her, after seeing her as a real live perfectly formed creature, with little fingers and little toes, a person who looked to you for comfort, who relied on you for everything to stay alive, who showed her gratitude with those eyes peering back at you, by nuzzling in and curling up against you, by wrapping those tiny little fingers around your one big finger, how could he not fall in love the way I fell in love. But he didn’t. Kelly might as well have been a hamster in a cage that needed feeding or a cow that need milking. She only represented a mouth to feed, a diaper to be changed, a chore that needed doing. Not that Denny did those things for her. I did all of that. He explained to me that he was the wrong sex to be doing that type of thing. Men did not change diapers. That was all that was to it. Men just did not have the stuff it took to feed or care for babies.

It was a Sunday and I had spent the whole day taking care of Kelly while Denny sat around the house finding ways to ignore the fact of our existence. He knew that I wanted to go to that smelt fry. I told him about it earlier that week and let him know my family would be there, expecting me to show up. I came out to the kitchen to let him know it was time to get ready to go. I had already gotten dressed up, had my blue skirt on and my make-up and hair done. He just said he wasn’t going, said it like he was choosing chocolate ice-cream instead of vanilla. He turned to walk into the next room and picked up his guitar, closing me out the same as shutting a door in my face.

Denny’s guitar woke up Kelly who had been sleeping in the basinet not more than a foot away from where he sat hang-dogged over his guitar. I stood just inside the door watching from the kitchen, waiting to see if he would pick her up. I decided not to run to her like I usually would. Surely if I stayed put, he would see her there, right in front of him, her little crying snivels. How could he not do something for those cries? But he didn’t. He did not halter his playing on the guitar, not even a twitch came to his bony shoulder that stared blankly back at me, even while Kelly’s cries turned from sputters to full-out wails for help, he just kept on playing his guitar, head down, absolutely no reaction, nothing.

What little spunk I had in me would be worn out of me in the two years we remained married, my resolve quietly disolving like a setting sun, but there was still some of me left this early on in our marriage. I looked at this situation just long enough for the steam to build up in me. I exploded into the room with an energy that took over my usual easy-going nature, took over the place in me that could never say no, took over my shy quietness. Through clenched teeth I hissed loud enough to be heard over Kelly’s wailing, in a way that allowed no retort: “I am going to the smelt fry. You can stay home as long as that’s what you want and, as long as you’re staying here, you might as well take care of your daughter. If you hadn’t noticed, she is awake and needs to be changed and given a bottle. The bottle’s in the fridge, just warm it up, make sure it’s not too hot. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure this out. You can do it!” With that I left before the dust could settle.

I went to the smelt fry, but the entire time I was gone, I worried Denny was home doing nothing, just letting Kelly cry. After greeting all my relatives and making excuses for Denny not being with me, I went home early. Kelly was fed and diapered and asleep. He managed to do what needed to be done.  I knew though, I could not just leave her with him. She needed someone who loved her.  I would be the one Kelly would turn to in life, I would need to be there. I knew also, that I was trapped in this marriage, I was trapped the same way Denny felt trapped, like a skunk in a cage.

The Race

The quest to figure out what was wrong with me started before I can even remember. It seems to have been with me since I was born. I look back now for details about where it might have gained root or where it had taken off on a life of its own. I can’t recall a time when it was not there.

From my earliest recall, I thought that there was some secret I was not getting about how life worked and constantly monitored myself against others to see where I came up wanting. It felt like self sabotage, as if there was this part of me, deep inside me where a war pitted against my success. On the playground I would choke when the ball was thrown in my direction, being all fumbled fingers. I would never get all my answers right on a test, mixing the letters on my spelling, freezing when it came to math, fumbling the answer in the same sure-footed way I would fumble the ball. I honestly considered whether other kids got some special pencil in school that helped them ease the correct answer onto their papers. I froze when called on in class, getting all blank eyed, the edges of my vision going all swimmy, the teacher’s voice coming at me down a long tunnel. As the rest of the kids looked on, I would feel my cheeks flush, willing words to come to my lips, but none would.

In fourth grade, some girls in my class wanted me to try out for a spot on their relay team. There were no formal tryouts like they have now. In my tiny town, kids just signed themselves up for what they wanted to do each year. There needed to be four girls on a relay team and three of the girls in my class were looking for number four.  I knew that I could run like the wind. I could anyway if I were not in a race, if it were not a test, if it were not something I had to win against someone else. If it were about winning, I would lose. I could not seem to stop it from happening as sure as I would fumble a ball, I would fumble a race.

The three girls on the team were looking at either me or my cousin Debbie as the last team member. This was familiar territory. I had been pitted against Debbie my whole life and had come up short. I am not sure how many times I heard my mother ask me, “Why can’t you be more like Debbie?” She would intermingle that with things like: “Debbie get A’s in school,” or “Debbie knows how to help out around the house without complaining,” or “I bet Debbie’s mother doesn’t have to drag her out of bed in the morning to get to school!”

After a time, it no longer became necessary for Mom to invoke Debbie’s name.  Even though Debbie was my best friend from birth until we separated ways in 7th grade, I grew to resent her more and more each year, Debbie becoming my standard for normal while I became my standard for everything that was not. Just seeing her became a reminder of that.

I lived right next door to my Grandmother’s house and yet Debbie who lived almost two miles away was the favored Grandchild. Grandma kept a box of toys with the nicest dolls in it for Debbie that I was not allowed to touch when I was at her house. The box was kept upstairs in the bedroom that Debbie used when she stayed the night.  There was no box of toys for me at Grandma’s house.

In addition to the special toy box Debbie had at Grandma’s house, she had a whole toy room to herself at her house. The toy room was in the attic with a window at one end overlooking the farmyard. The slanted beams in the ceiling made the place especially cozy with a soft light pouring in from that window. Debbie had ovens that made real cakes and a little table where you could have tea parties with all the tea dishes and even a place to set them in a dish drainer to make-believe they were drying after you make believed washed them. There were boxes or games stacked up against one wall.

No toy lasted in my house for very long. Games would get scattered around and there would be too many missing pieces to actually play any of them after the first week of Christmas had passed. My sister had cut the hair off all the few dolls I had while I was away at school in kindergarten. Things did not last at our house. I certainly did not have a whole playroom to myself.

I was six months older than Debbie but, due to our very different genetics, she always had at least three inches on me in height and it was me who got to wear all her last years clothes. I hated going to her house each August, just before school started, to go through all her hand-me-downs, sifting and sorting among the dresses that Debbie had picked out the year before, the dresses she liked for herself, the ones she wore new to school last year. Debbie got to go on a shopping trip to the city each year. I got to go to Debbie’s. I never wanted Debbie’s old dresses, all frilly with ruffles and lace. I was more of a tomboy to her curls. But I didn’t dare turn down a free wardrobe for school. I knew all too well that money did not grow on trees. Mom talked on and on about these hand-me-downs. On the way to Debbie’s house each year mom would want me to agree with her how lucky I was to get those clothes. I would always agree.

Each year as I tried on dress after dress that Debbie handed down to me, Debbie would tell me how glad she was to get rid of her old clothes and get new ones, feeling bad for me having to wear these old things. Each dress I would try on and have to go out to the kitchen to show my mom who was sitting over coffee with my aunt, how pretty the dress looked on me. They would say things like, “Oh now look how nice that one fits on you! Don’t you like that one?” I always said yes, and put on my brightest face. At least I did until one year Debbie pulled the cork on the whole scam, letting out of her mouth those fateful words, “No she doesn’t! Peggy does not like my old dresses!”

I don’t know if she thought she was trying to help me or if she was finally just stating some fact that needed to be known. But for me it was like a house made of cards crumbling around me. I felt the shame of it all coming in slashes of red across my face like big hard slaps. Maybe it was the shame of having to wear these dresses each year that really never fit me, were not me, the way I felt in those dresses bringing on the teasing from the other kids, the other kids smelling my shame. Maybe it was the shame of letting mom down that I felt just then, having played into this game each year for years about loving to come to Debbie’s for her hand-me-downs, it being our one time together each year, just the two of us, having heard myself just that same evening on the way over here, to Debbie’s house, tell my mother how happy I was to get these clothes, it being what she wanted to hear. Or maybe it was that I knew mom was just as embarrassed as I was,  having to rely on hand-me-downs, convincing herself and my Aunt how much I liked these clothes, making it all less demoralizing.

Mom drove me home in the quiet car that year Debbie let on how I really felt, Mom’s words hanging in the air between us, “I always thought you liked those clothes.” We never went back to Debbie’s for hand-me-downs again.

At a party with all the relatives at grandma’s house, two of my older cousins put Debbie and me together and judged us for which one of us was cuter. They looked at our hair and our eyes and the shape of our faces and noted how much taller Debbie was than me. Debbie wore a lacy party dress and had her short blond hair done up in cute little ringlets around her square face. I had on my usual mismatched tomboy attire and my thin hair was left wild and stringy against my triangular face. Debbie was selected as hands down cuter. The thing was, I wanted to be found cuter. I wanted at least that.

We all went out on the big grassy playground the size of a football field, just a big stretch of green.  Debbie and I squared off at one end of the playground and took our marks. I knew before going into it, that if I saw that I was winning against Debbie, my inner critic, that little devil that resided inside my head, that place where I was everything that was wrong and Debbie was everything that was right, would stop it all and I would just choke. I would choke. Whatever that thing inside of me was, it would take over and cause me to lose.

As we stood together that day, Debbie and I, me six months older than her and her three inches taller than me, on that starting line, I wanted nothing more than to beat her. I wanted so badly to be better at just one thing. I was small and lithe next to her tall and lanky. I knew in my heart that I could run faster than she could. I had seen her long lanky legs doing that loping run she had my whole life. My little legs could spin like the road runner cartoon if I really let them.

I needed to shut out that nasty part of me that just refused to let me succeed.  I determined to do it. On the starting line, Debbie by my side, I shut my eyes tight and listened for the go to be called and when it did I took off running. I never dared to open my eyes, knowing that if I saw myself inching ahead of Debbie, my spinning legs would just go all rubbery. With my eyes open, I would only be able to see Debbie taking the lead. With my eyes shut, I could just focus on the pounding of my feet against the green grass field and the taking in of my breath. I ran my heart out until I heard someone shouting for me to stop.

I looked back to see my classmates at the other end of the field. I was way off kilter. I could not run a straight line with my eyes shut. The girls all saw that I was running blind. They never pressed me on it. Maybe it was because they were the nice girls in class, not the ones who would spite someone just for sport. Maybe it was that in Northern Wisconsin in that part of farming country, no one was without their problems, everyone did their strange things, it being in the days of spare the rod and spoil the child, the days when children are to be seen and not heard. We all had our harsh realities and no one was immune.

The thing is they told me I ran faster than Debbie but they needed me to run a straight line. “Just do it with your eyes open,” someone said. Debbie and I were set up to race a second time. The thing is I could not open my eyes this time either. It would have hurt too much to lose now, after I had managed to outrun her, even if it was in a crooked line. I tried to self correct by veering in the other direction but I still ran off kilter. In the end, they chose Debbie as the last relay partner. I was OK with that. I had my small victory. I could run faster than Debbie. I would not be able to run the relay with my eyes closed anyway.

Trust Severed

We were already three hours late for the wedding; at least that’s what I had told them. I was standing up in my sister’s wedding that day and if they had it their way, I would get there three hours after the wedding started. We had driven all the way from Oklahoma to attend the wedding in northern Wisconsin but my husband’s mother lived in Madison which was on the way and we could never, I mean never, just pass Madison without stopping in.

When we moved away from Madison to Oklahoma, when Tim got into a master’s program there, it took a full month of saying goodbye to his mother. We had to have a special party at her house, which turned into many dinners saying good-bye, because we would not be able to see her all the time after we moved. Each of these dinners focused on how much she was going to miss us meaning miss Tim. She came up with a series of excuses why Tim had to come over to help her with this or that. The goodbyes were endless. Finally we were set to leave, but we had to postpone because Tim’s mom had to go out-of-town, and if we left as we had scheduled, she would not be able to see us off. Finally, it got to the point that if we did not leave, Tim would miss his first day of classes. Even so I felt like I could not breathe on that first day out-of-town, imagining that we would have to turn around for some reason having to do with Tim’s mom.

Tim said early in our relationship that it was just easier to just do as his mother told him. Over the years we spent together, I saw how she manipulated Tim and his brother to do her bidding. She was very free and easy with her love, affection and money as long as you towed the line and complied. I had lived on my own for several years before hooking up with Tim, and the idea of having a mother to cow toe around was foreign to me. I adored Tim’s mom at first, she being so overwhelmingly engaging, well-educated, cute and petit, she was downright charming. I soon found out that, like Tim, I was expected to follow the family rules which meant I was to show up at all the family events, put on a bright and happy face and do what I was told. The first time I got out of line, Tim’s mom gave me the silent treatment which lasted a full year. During that year I was still required to show up and put on a happy face. I was in love and wanted to make things right with Tim’s mom, so I complied.

By the time we left for Oklahoma, I was on speaking terms with Tim’s mom and for several years we returned to Wisconsin each Christmas to visit our respective families. Invariably, we would stop to see Tim’s mom before heading further up north to see my parents and invariably we would be hours late to see my parents. We could not leave late the night before, because that would be too hard a drive so late at night. Never mind that we had driven the 18 hour drive from Oklahoma straight through with Tim and I taking turns at the wheel. Never mind that we had already stayed for days with Tim’s mom. It would be agreed that we would leave early in the morning so that we could get to my parents for Christmas lunch. But in the morning we could not possibly leave without a large breakfast, a breakfast that lasted until noon making us arrive at my parents for dinner instead of lunch, my family having to tell the kids to wait to open presents until we finally arrived.

Of course that was not the end of the story. Tim’s Mom would then talk Tim into a cross-country skiing trip after Christmas so we could spend just a little more time together. On a couple of occasions we made the mistake of also trying to get together with friends for some cross-country skiing. Tim’s mom would find a way for us to have to linger on with her, while our friends waited hours at a restaurant for us to show up. The first time it happened I called my friends over and over explaining the problem so they were not in the dark. The second time I told Tim he had to make the calls. He never did. There would not be a third time skiing with friends.

So now I was faced with the prospect of getting to my sister’s wedding on time. I was standing up and this was extremely important to me. I knew from experience that we would have to stop at Tim’s mom’s house on the way up and knew there was no way out of there on time. I decided the only solution was to lie. It was the only lie I ever told during my marriage but it had to be done. I told Tim and his mother that it was a morning wedding. I told Tim and his mother that the wedding started four hours earlier than it did. Of course they decided the best solution was to wake up really early in the morning to get there on time. I set the alarm for the proper time, according to my lie and got up. I got ready and packed the car. I got the kids ready to go. Then I waited. As I suspected we had to have the big breakfast. I could see that both Tim and his mom were looking at me, waiting for me to become hysterical in the manner I usually did about leaving on time. They could not say anything though, because that would announce the fact that we were dangerously late for a wedding, a wedding that I was standing up in. We continued the charade until we finally left.

We left on the three-hour drive north to my sister’s wedding when the wedding was supposed to have started, according to the lie I had told them. Not a word was said by either Tim or his mother about how we could possibly make it on time for a wedding that was starting already.

I made it to the wedding on time because of the four-hour lie. My family was extremely relieved to see me, but was prepared to go ahead without me. Tim never said a word about it. We did not discuss it on the three-hour drive north and never said a word about it after getting to the wedding on time.

The Repo Man

Me with Elmo Somewhere in Canada Evading the Repo Man

The Nissan my ex-husband bought for me, after he totaled my car, was now being followed by the repo man. I just didn’t know it yet.  Tim had decided to quit making payments. It was not like I could make the payments. I did not have a job, having quit my last job, not able to continue one more day, being too exhausted. I was fried from the combination of depression and too many years going too strong, trying to do it all alone. In one rash moment, I gave up, quitting my job at a Legal Aid office in Phoenix, packing up the few things I owned, moving back to my parents at the age of thirty-eight. I had not lived at home since I was eighteen. In fact I had been dead set on getting out of there the day I turned eighteen. Now I was back.

I came back down the winding gravel road to my parent’s cottage on the Spirit River Flowage outside Tomahawk, Wisconsin in the Northern corner of the state near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A flowage is a lot like a river except that the only reason it exists at all is because a dam was put in causing a spillage area. The one difference between a river and a flowage is that a flowage can shrink to a slick stream of mud when the water is low at the dam. On the summer I moved back, the flowage was running high with water and I took it as a good sign.

Fortunately, both my daughters were taken care of for the summer. My oldest had graduated high school and was exploring life in Milwaukee, living with her father. My youngest, Daryl, was visiting her father in Japan for the summer. I had insisted that Tim take her, recognizing I was on thin strings at the time.

It seemed like a perfect place to recuperate. There was a little shack on the half-acre lot my parent’s owned that I cleaned out, packing in my few belongings, making it my home for the next three months. My parents were not thrilled to see me lulling around their place every day, looking forlorn and with no plan in life except to recuperate. They suggested little things each day over breakfast to get me moving along in some direction or other. “There is surely a job at the grocery store in town,” Mom would say with an edge in her voice and a frown on her face. “Tim should be helping out more with Daryl. When is he coming back from Japan?” my dad would demand. Dad always thought there should be some man who should be sorting this out for me.

I had a law degree. I was not going to work at the grocery store. The problem was that I was only licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and Arizona. This was Wisconsin. Not only was this Wisconsin, but this was the north woods. Making money here as a lawyer was not anything I had any familiarity with. People here tended to stick with who they knew. They did not know me and I was a woman to boot. Anyway, I did not even have the $500.00 necessary to pay for the bar exam and I had none of the study materials to get prepared to take the bar. I had no plan and there was no man who was going to sort this out for me.

I spent the summer looking up old friends and going to visit them. I liked it away from my parent’s house and the constant reminders about how lost I really was. In my Nissan rambling down the road in Wisconsin in summer, the pine and the birch trees making a tunnel of green, nearly covering the sky, with the black-top road my only companion, that being the nearest I could get to feeling free.

My parents turned out not to be the answer to my prayers in the way I had hoped. They did not understand the concept of being burned out. They had worked hard their whole lives and had no one to complain to about it. It was my choice to marry the men I married and I had made my bed. They wanted to enjoy retirement, not take on the care of their adult daughter and all of the problems that come with that. It was not that they were kicking me out. They just wanted me to figure things out and get on with my life.

Coming home from one of my visits, I found my parents sitting in their usual spot, outside in front of their house, taking in the sun at the time in the late afternoon just before the mosquitoes come out to drive everyone inside. “The Repo guy was here, wanting to know where you were.” Dad said sternly. “He wants to pick up the car.”

I had no idea Tim had been stupid enough to let this get this far. He had threatened to quit making the car payments, thinking he had paid enough and it was time for me to make the payments. I figured he had totaled my car and should be required to replace it for me. The Nissan was in his name, not mine; it was his car to pay for. “How the hell did they find me here” I wanted to know.  I could not believe that they could possibly find me out in the Wisconsin woods. It had not been that long since I had left Arizona and I left no forwarding address.

For the next two days, I made sure to park the Nissan in with my parent’s vehicles blocking it so that it could not be snatched away when I was not looking. It was time to leave my parents place.  The repo man was making that clear. The only answer was  to move back to Arizona where I could get a job as a lawyer without having to wait the next half a year or more that it would take to pass a bar exam.  Daryl would be back in another month and school would start for her. I needed to find a job and an apartment and get her registered for school. After two months of floundering, I felt purpose returning to my life.  I knew what I needed to do.

I sent in a request to cash in my only retirement account which totaled a measly $3,000. It would take a couple of weeks of process. When it got here I would move back to Arizona.  I still had a couple hundred dollars left in my pocket. With that I left town, both to evade the repo man and to go on one last road trip before I went back to my life of work and single parenthood.

First Boyfriend

He was not someone who I would have picked out, not because he wasn’t good-looking – he was – it was just that it looked like he was trying to be good-looking. It was his clothes, mostly, that gave that appearance. They were never the things most of the guys wear – jeans, worn and tattered. No, he always wore black jeans or shirts with a yoke on them and a matching belt. He had moved here from somewhere else; maybe they dressed that way where he came from. It wasn’t like it was gawky or anything and it’s not like he stood out like a sore thumb for it, but it was just different. He sat across from me and behind me in my eighth grade English class.

I would never have noticed him if he hadn’t decided to leave his ID bracelet in my folder on the top of my desk during recess one day. We had two sessions in English every day. One was with Mrs. Theime and the other with Mrs. Boss, one teaching us grammar and the other literature with a break in between. It was when I came back from break that I found the bracelet, hidden inside my folder, causing my folder to bulge up funny. I was a little frightened seeing that bulging folder thinking that someone was pulling a prank on me. My worst horror was standing out; I could blush and wilt under scrutiny like nobody’s business. When I found the bracelet with his last name on it, I was a little confused. But things cleared up after class. He came up by my side, “Why aren’t you wearing it?” he wanted to know.” “You want me to wear it?” I asked. “Don’t you want to?” he responded and from then on I was his girlfriend.

The only difference after becoming his girlfriend was that now everyone in my class knew that we were together and he walked me to my bus everyday at the end of the school day. We never really talked. I never knew what to say and I suppose he didn’t either. It became something I thought about all the time though. I did not know the first thing about having a boyfriend but I thought it had to be more this. I had no idea about who he was or even where he came from. It was fun and exciting to have a boyfriend and I thought maybe I was the envy of girls who did not have one. My friends were asking me what it was like. What could I say? It wasn’t like anything. For several days we walked to the bus together and he politely said goodbye to me each time as I got on the bus. He was nice enough, anyway, and he was cute with that thick thatch of dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes, almost black even.

In the end it became too much for me. At break one day between Mrs. Theime’s and Mrs. Boss’ class I put the ID bracelet back on his desk. There was nowhere to hide it the way he had hidden it in my folder, so I just left in on top of the wooden desk. Later, my friend’s asked me why I had broken up with him. I said, “It didn’t feel right.”

First Job

I pounded on the locked and flimsy screen door, hearing the rattle of metal echo into the quiet of the morning on this little tree-lined street of old two-story white houses, each house with similar cement steps and metal screen doors.  After enough pounding to wake the neighborhood, I came to the conclusion that there was no one inside. I plop myself down on the front steps, brace my head up in my hands, waiting for something to happen, realizing that I may be here for a while. Maybe these people were just out somewhere and they would return soon giving me a very reasonable explanation for not being here.

This place is my summer job. Mom decided that I was old enough to work now that I was fifteen and found this job for me in this neighboring town through an ad in the local newspaper. In this small northern Wisconsin town of about 1,500 people the local paper runs anywhere from four to eight pages and is mostly advertisement. The ad was looking for a live-in sitter for five days a week with the weekends off and it paid $25.00 per week. That was more money in one week that I had ever held in my hand so I was intrigued yet just a bit scared. I had never lived away from home with strangers before and I was not what you would call your outgoing type, but rather more the type of person that hid behind her hair.

The first Sunday evening after being dropped off on this job was less than welcoming. I met the three older kids as they ran in and out of the room, racing around me as the baby was plopped in my arms by his mother. I loved the baby immediately, all chubby cheeks and squishy pink skin, a thatch of red hair on the top of his head and a quick smile. He was still in diapers and would take most of my attention. The room they gave me to stay in was off the living room and had no door, a string of beads, all the separated me from the TV and the chaos of kids. The Dad sat in front of the TV watching the news. I assessed the danger he might pose as he nodded to me when I was introduced to him. He seemed non-threatening enough. The mom rattled on about what I needed to know about the kids and their work schedule. I had the evenings free to myself, free to hang out where and do what I wondered.

By the time the mother was done explaining things to me and I got back to my room behind the beaded curtain, I noticed my suitcase lying open, the contents ruffled through. The little ruffians had taken every red cent I had in there, running off with it right under their parents’ noses. I was too intimidated to say a word about it though. The $25.00 I was going to make that week just got reduced to $19.00. The kids were nowhere to be seen at the present but they showed up later with their mouths and pockets stuffed full of bubblegum and candy, probably from the five and dime store five blocks down the street.

My duties included, taking care of the baby, watching the kids, keeping them out of trouble, keeping the house clean, mopping all the floors in the two-story house once each week and making supper every evening for the family. I had never been much of a cook and the mom needed to leave recipes with instructions for me to follow. She insisted it would be easy and I could learn. I was worried about the cooking, but I followed the directions and they ate what I made.

In the evenings I did the only thing I could find to do; I walked around town, stopping in the furniture shop, drug store and dime store while they were still open or I went down to the park at the end of the block and sat on one of the swings until it got dark outside. It was on that swing that I started praying to God. I prayed that there was some way that I did not have to work at this place. The only person I liked at all was that red-haired baby. The kids only found ways to mess up the house and torment me when they weren’t off finding mischief in the neighborhood. Before I had a chance to escape the house in the evenings, the mom rattled on about work and people I didn’t know and things I had no interest in. Her husband always plunked himself in front of the television set each night and I rarely heard as much as a grunt out of him. I wanted to be home where I had my own room and my own space and where I knew the people I lived with. I was lonely as hell.

On Friday, before my mom got off work and was able to pick me up for the weekend, a man dropped by the house. The mom sat on the front stoop with me as the three older kids jumped all over him. It was the first time I realized that these kids had a different Dad, their blond hair suddenly making sense to me. “Isn’t he cute?” The mom gushed at me. She was talking in a hushed voice and was gazing in his direction as she spoke. “Uhuh,” I mumbled thinking how completely weird this was. First of all, I saw nothing cute about this guy and what was she doing, getting all hazy eyed over a man she was divorced from when her husband was sitting about 12 feet away in the living room in his usual spot in front of the TV. My mom drove up to pick me up right after the kids left with their dad and I was never so happy to see her in my life. I said another prayer, asking for something to happen, anything not to have to come back to this place.

Now here I sit, this is the fifth week on this job and I am dropped off bright and early on Monday morning when they are supposed to be expecting me and there is no one home. Mom just dropped me and left for work. I don’t know a soul in this town other than this wacky family. I wonder just how long I will end up sitting here and what I can do, when a women walks up to me from down the street. Maybe she is a neighbor. “Are you waiting for someone?” She wants to know. I tell her about being the sitter. “I don’t know why no one is home.” I say “Didn’t you hear?” she asks. “They are both in jail and DES has the kids. They got into some kind of gun fight at the county fair last night. It was her ex-husband and her husband and her right in the middle of it. I don’t think anybody’s going to be by here. There ain’t no kids to babysit here.”

I put on an expression of shock and concern that a person should have on their face at this moment and did my best to keep the smile, that wanted to spread from ear to ear, off my face. In my head I just kept saying, “Thank you God, Thank you God, There is a God!” The nice woman was willing to give me a lift to the Post Office where Mom worked and that was the end of my first job.

 

Pam

Pam opens the door to her small apartment and I meet her for the first time. She is tall and lanky thin with wavy brown hair coming to her shoulders and has a quick, friendly smile. I think she is pretty. My friend Jerry introduced me to her, having known her through his brother and the motorcycle gang his brother ran with. Pam’s husband, the father of Penny, Pam’s four year old child, was in the gang and off somewhere cruising, leaving Pam and Penny home alone and needing a roommate.  I had just graduated high-school and landed a job at a pizza factory and needed somewhere to stay besides my parents’ home. As Pam and I introduced each other, I found out that Pam also had a job at the pizza factory. We could not only share an apartment but we could also take turns driving to work every morning. The deal was quickly made.

Pam was on welfare, so I had to write a note to the Department of Economic Security (DES) stating that I lived with Pam and we shared the rent but I bought my own groceries and she bought hers. I had to be at home at our apartment for the meeting with the lady from DES so that she could interview me to make sure we weren’t trying to pull a fast one on them. Pam would never cheat the system. She had too much integrity for that. I could tell that she was embarrassed to ask me to write the letter to DES and to have to ask me to be there for the appointment. I would never occur to me to think any worse of her for it. I was just so happy to have a buddy to live with. I needed a good friend at that time, the same as I needed air to breathe. I felt lost and alone with no direction, with no idea what life as an adult should look like and no idea of what I wanted for my future. Pam was a woman living on her own and making it. She was even making it with a kid in tow. I admired her.

At first Pam said she would not go out with me on the weekends. She said the she would rather just sit home with Penny, telling me she never went out. I was amazed and told her so. What was life except for living?  We were adults now. We did not need permission. We could make our own rules. We could have fun.  She was actually afraid to leave the house. I cajoled her, wearing her down, a little at a time, telling her that we could find things to do with Penny in tow, that it would be so fun, the three of us and I would help with Penny. She eventually consented, packing a bag of goodies to keep Penny entertained, and we were off, the three musketeers, taking on the world together.

That summer ran past like a dream, Pam and I working at the pizza factory, getting ready for work together every morning, pulling on own white uniforms and white thick-soled shoes that kept our feet from getting too sore standing at the lines all day long, talking about our lives on the drive to the factory, at lunch at the factory, on the way home and until we retired to bed at night. On the weekends we went to see bands that played in country fields and parks, dancing and getting high. We brought Penny along for the fun of running around and dancing in the grass. Every weekend there was something fun to do. We never left Penny alone with a baby sitter. We always went somewhere that she could tag along.

I don’t remember how it came out. I noticed that Pam had a couple missing teeth. I assumed that it was because of gum disease or a tooth problem or something dental going wrong. But she said it was from her husband hitting her. She never brought up her husband and I didn’t even know his name. It was weird to think about Pam being married. I had never laid eyes on the guy. I had heard he was somewhere in Colorado with the motorcycle gang. This was not the type of gang filled with teachers and accountants dressed up in leather.

I had encounters with this gang many times. They showed up in a bar once where I was hanging out and one of them covered in tattoos and leather, cuddled up next to me, dragging his nose ring up my neck as he recounted to me how he once killed a man and wanted to know if that thrilled me. I knew better than to bolt. I had been put in a scissor hold by one of these guys at a party once until I passed out. I was always saved by Jerry, who discovering me in distress would call it quits to my tormentor. Rocky was the leader of this gang of ruffians and Jerry was his brother. Jerry was the opposite of any of these guys, sweet and soft-spoken as butter, gentle and unassuming as a doe, but the gang never crossed him because that would mean crossing Rocky. At one party far out in the woods the gang showed up, taking over our spiked water melon, shooing us all to the edge of the woods. I always assumed Jerry somehow let on to where we were. They brought a woman along on the back of one of their bikes, calling her peachy cheeks, taking turns with her in the woods. Through the rest of the party there was always one of them yelling toward the woods something in the order of, “Are you done yet, it’s my fucking turn, get the fuck on with it.” I hid next to Jerry keeping my mouth shut.

I saw Pam open up during that summer we spent together. There was an edge to her that seemed to ease and relax over those easy summer days with the rhythm of the life we made together.. As the summer stretched on, we laughed more, played the music louder and danced more. We melted into each other in the way friends do when life is new and you get to figure it all out together. I left at the end of the summer to attend a technical college 45 miles away and had to move on. We were sorry to say our good-byes. I knew that I would always remember her.

The next summer I called Pam and asked to come by for a visit. She told me her husband was back. I was surprised, thinking that he was history for her, not understanding how she could take back a guy that left her stranded on welfare with his kid to feed and clothe. But I didn’t question her and she told me I could come by in an hour. She said to come by the back door. I found the instructions on how to park and how to use the back door strange, but again I didn’t question her. When I got there I saw her peeking out of the curtains watching for me and she actually pulled me into the apartment. When I got in and my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw the bruises on her neck and face. She said I could only stay a few minutes because she was afraid he would come home and catch me there. The Pam I knew over the prior summer was gone. The old fear was back but now it was far worse. I tried to convince her to leave him in the same way I had convinced her the summer before to go out with me on the weekend. But I only saw the fear in her eyes grow the longer I stayed and the more I talked. There would be no more music and dancing in her life.

I left wondering what I could do. I still wonder.

The Wedding

I am the second from the left

I see Denny walking up to me as I’m leaving the church, him wearing the suit jacket I suggested over his jeans, me wearing a bridesmaid dress, my hair wild, not having enough time to properly make it up right, me four months pregnant with his child. Did he possibly know what I had gone through to get here? I am so angry, my teeth are grinding but I need to put on my smiling face. I am supposed to marry this guy, the father of my unborn child and my relatives are surrounding us, evaluating us, determining whether he is worthy of admission to the club. I tell myself that I should not care. But I do care because I am forcing this smile on my face as Denny walks up to me.

It all started earlier that evening in our upstairs apartment in a two story house out in the country twenty miles away from this church: Just this casual comment, “Why don’t you wear your suit to the wedding?” I ask. But I see immediately the resistance, the scowling look his face takes on, the tightening of his jaw, the movement off the couch and into the next room. I follow more persuasive now, “I will be all dressed up in a gown. It will look odd if you show up in jeans and not even a tie. A suit will look so much nicer.” But he does not want to even go to the wedding. “All your relatives will be there judging me. I am not going to dress up like a monkey to impress them. What’s the point? They won’t like me.” “There is nothing to worry about.” I tell him over and over again. There is nothing to worry about. My relatives are all sweet Wisconsin country people. It takes a lot to cross them.

It’s my cousin’s wedding, the cousin who I grew up with. We were best friends our whole lives and I am standing up in the wedding. I want this to be about her. I want this to be about me and her. But it isn’t about that. “Just wear the suit jacket with your jeans,” I suggest. But he doesn’t like that any better.  “That will look stupid. I can’t wear that together. The jacket is too dressy.” I try again. “It’s just a corduroy jacket, it will go. People wear suit jackets with jeans all the time.” “It’s stupid.” He responds. “I will look stupid. I’m not going.” he leaves me standing alone in the room.

I tell him about my relatives. “They are not going to judge you,” I say. “They just want to meet you. What difference does it make anyway?” He picks up on this, “What difference does it make if I go? Why should it matter? It’s just a fucking wedding.”

I have had it. This argument has gone on for too long and I want it to end. “Just wear your damn jeans and tee-shirt then.” I say. In my mind I am thinking what a baby. I am going to marry this guy. He is the father of my child. “Just wear what you want and just come to the church. You can leave right after the ceremony. You won’t have to talk to anyone.” He has stopped talking to me and picks up his guitar. The conversation is over. I know that he is not going. He has seen my anger and is not going to take the bait.  I am not worth the fight.

I have had enough experience to know that I am getting nowhere. I will have to go to the wedding alone. My relatives will see that I have chosen poorly. They know I have decided to get married. They don’t yet know about the baby. I know about the baby though, my body a walking baby factory, my belly puffing out. This is my future. I can see it clearly. I have this to look forward to, this nowhere of a relationship, this nowhere of a life that after tonight will be an open book for all my family to see, proving my mother right: I can’t attract anyone worth their own salt.

I am not going to beg for his car keys.  Maybe he will have the heart to consider that, just maybe, he could at least drive me to the wedding since I have no car.  Its two miles down a dirt road to the highway. I can hitch a ride. I grab my bridesmaid’s dress, throw it in a sack, and head out of the house. When I get to the gravel road in front of our house, I do not look back. I am not going to give him that satisfaction. Maybe he will come to his senses and come after me. I keep doggedly walking ahead. I can be stubborn too. Two can play this game. The minutes tick past with each step, only the sound of gravel crunching under my feet. The house is now out of sight and no Denny. The bastard is not going to come. I will have to hitch a ride. I calculate the time to get to the wedding and it will be close even if someone stops to pick me up. I look for cars on the dirt road but none come. The sun is setting; lights are coming on in the two other houses on this road, making the road seem even lonelier.

I curse the day I met that asshole. Why couldn’t I leave him when I had the chance? Why did I take him back? Tears run and I let them. I will come alone to the wedding. I can hear it now: “Where is Denny?” and “Why didn’t Denny come? Is he sick?” There will be concern in their voices. It will all be well meaning, no one suspecting that he is home because I told him to wear a suit, because he is too chicken to meet the relatives, because he doesn’t love me. What will I say? What can I say? He’s an asshole. I am going to marry an asshole. But what choice do I have. I’m pregnant. That’s what you do. You get married.

I am able to catch a ride on the highway. “Where you headed?” the man asks. I tell him about standing up in a wedding. I always want the ride to know I am expected somewhere, as if it’s some kind of safety hitch, someone will be looking for me, and you better not do anything stupid. I know it doesn’t mean much but it’s something. “Did your car break down?” I can see he finds it weird that I have to hitch a ride to a wedding. Who doesn’t have a ride to a wedding that they are standing up in? Me, that’s who, me with the asshole husband to be, me with the asshole father to my unborn child. “Yeah, I had to walk two miles to get to the highway for a ride.” I say. “You gonna be late?” he asks. “I hope not,” I say. There is nothing else to say.

I have the ride drop me off at my parents so I can get dressed there and do my make-up and hair. They can give me a ride the rest of the way. The only person home is my older brother. “Everyone left for the wedding,” he says. Why aren’t you there?” “Car broke down,” I grumble. “Can you give me a ride?” I hurry into my dress and make-up, quickly pulling up my sweaty hair that has gone limp from walking the dusty two mile dirt road. I had it in curlers before I left home. Home, do I call it that?  Nothing can be done about it now.

I walk into the church just as the bridesmaids are lining up to walk down the aisle. “We had given up on you,” my Aunt chastises me. “Where were you? We were going to go ahead without you!” Luckily, there is no time to explain. We have to start our walk. The music is playing now. I put my head high and take the steps in the way we had practiced them: One step, close, two step, close. I put a smile on my face and walk into the sanctuary. I look up and smile. I look down and take a step. I smile and refocus ahead of me. I can’t look into the faces, the faces of my expectant relatives. I feel my protruding belly. I am not big for four months but there is a bump and it shows in the slinky dress. I am a tainted bridesmaid.

I stand in the front of the church with all those faces of relatives turned my direction, listening to the preacher go on about the sanctity of marriage and the meaning of the vows: to remain there for each other, for the rest of your life, remain faithfully there, giving to one another, in sickness and in health, being a partner for life. I wipe a tear. Tears are appropriate at weddings. It’s OK.

I look now at my husband to be, the father of my unborn, as he walks up to the church, after the wedding, after leaving me to get here on my own, after listening to vows of marriage. He looks at me with his head down, apologetically. “I should have worn the suit. I feel out of place in these jeans,” he says to me as if this is a concession to the argument earlier.