I left. Both times.
Marriage #1. I feel fat. I'm not fat, you can see that in my quite cute modeling photos. But the agents tell me that my legs are “too thick.” It is the age of Twiggy and I take their assessments to heart.
Instead: “I’m 19 and I will never find anyone who will accept me.” Also, my mom says “You’re never leaving this house until you’re married.” And since all my friends are either living away at college or living in apartments and working and I’m living at home and going to junior college (do “junior colleges even exist any more? The one I went to is now a “university”) and I fight with my mom on a daily basis …
One day this girl follows me down the hall and says that this guy wants to meet me. She’s only doing it because she has a crush on the guy and thinks he’ll be impressed if she drags me over to meet him. It backfires for her (and in a way, for me too). He doesn’t think I’m fat; he thinks I’m beautiful.
He and his friends drink a lot, but after all, it is (junior) college. He’s flunking out so he joins the Air National Guard to get out of the draft lottery but then his number comes up something like 356, so now he’s stuck with a six-year commitment to have really short hair (and somewhere in my subconscious I’m thinking “gross”). While he’s in basic training we write long sappy letters and then he comes back and his head looks like a furry egg and I pretend it’s adorable. I’m only making a big play for him because I find out his high school girlfriend wants him back. I am apparently quite shallow.
My dad catches us spending the night at his fishing cabin. We aren’t “doing it” but I feel like I’ve totally let my dad down so we get engaged a few days later and begin planning this big Catholic Polish wedding. About a month into the planning I start feeling sick inside but we’re in the flurry of picking out invitations and China patterns. Still, I casually mention to my mom that maybe I can put off the wedding for a year or so and go away to college or join Vista or the Peace Corps or something. And my mom blows up and reminds me: “You’re not leaving this house until you’re married.” So I go through with it. But at the wedding rehearsal I come up with a secret plan (which only someone thoroughly indoctrinated by pre-Vatican Catholicism could comprehend). It has to do with not going to confession before the ceremony so that the marriage will be considered invalid and easier to bail out of at some point in the future.
On my wedding night I stay up all night and use our wedding gift blender and the rainbow sherbet and rum to make a great smoothie and decide that sex is not what it is cracked up to be (up to a few weeks before my wedding, I still think the navel has something to do with sex, so I read “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex …” and can’t get the term “engorged with blood” out of my head).
I’ve read enough women’s magazines to really, really try to be a good “housewife” and I get pregnant and have a beautiful son and then eventually another beautiful son. But by this time I just want out. Then #1 gives me this beautiful new wedding band that I’ve admired, so I stick around a little while longer.
But when we’re getting ready to buy a house, I think “I can’t have a 30-year mortgage with this person.” There is nothing wrong with him exactly, but I am bored. I tell him “It’s not you, it’s me.” He’s terribly hurt and I’m terribly callous. I take my two little boys and became a feminist single-mother college student theatre major. He sees them when he’s not involved with someone. He pays child support when he doesn’t have to repair the motorcycle he buys to make himself feel better. Still, I don’t press it – after all, it’s my fault and I shouldn’t have married him in the first place.
And while I’m trying to avoid going on food stamps, I get a phone call from a director who wants me to audition for a new theatre he’s starting. Two years later, we’re married. #2 certainly isn’t boring. We perform together in Shakespeare and Neil Simon. We even give walk-on roles to my sons so that they can be with me at rehearsals. I try to ignore his explosive temper (and suspected philandering) because he’s supposed to be a strong male role model for my sons.
Then there’s the Thanksgiving when his stepmother follows me into the guestroom after a horrible dinner table blow-up and cries and says “Father and son are just alike. Don’t suffer through this like I have.” And his stepmother and I cry about our marriages but I stay married until one day when I look at my oldest son and see the pain in his sad, hurting eyes and say “That’s enough!”
My friend who’s the business manager at the theatre where I work tells me to go to the bank and get a loan for $1,000 so I can rent an apartment. When the bank calls the theatre my friend lies and says I make $25,000 a year, not the $10,000 a year I really make, and the bank gives me $1,000. I find an apartment and move out within a week.
And #2 tracks me down and tries to convince me that the emotional abuse and the hitting and the cheating (oh, so much cheating!) are in my imagination and we should get back together. And I am a big sobbing puddle on the floor, but I manage to say, “Forget it, Bastard!” and feel very, very strong and very, very complete and solid and real for the first time probably ever.
After that I decide that I only need myself and my kids. But then on January 26, 1985, I walk down the stairs of the theatre office and there is this familiar person who’s been hired to direct a play. And I remember that I’d had a big crush on him 10 years earlier, when I’d been unhappily married to #1. I also remember that #2 got a letter from this man about auditioning for something. I remember saying to #2, “Hey, I had a crush on this guy when he did a show at the University!”
So I tell all of this to this very nice man, who is a little bit embarrassed because he doesn’t remember me at all, so he invites me to lunch. And it turns out that he’s the first man ever that I can be perfectly myself with and perfectly open with. And despite the fact that I’d vowed to never, ever have anything to do with men except for occasional sleeping with and/or helping me to move heavy items, we begin a relationship. And five years later we marry. And the only time I have second thoughts is the morning after he’s moved in and the radio goes on and he says, “Oh, I prefer waking up to silence.” And I get in the shower and cry and think “Oh, no, I’ve done it again.” But somehow he gets used to having NPR on when we wake up, and we’re both disappointed when someone else fills in for Scott Simon on Saturday mornings.
And this person whom I love deeply lives through my sons’ teenage years (some kind of medal due there) and my dad’s asbestosis and my mom’s Alzheimer’s. He’s there through my Graves disease and my rheumatoid arthritis. He moves across the country for me and he’s my work partner and my dog walking partner and my camping partner and my mourning and crying and living partner. He’s an amazing writer and he makes me laugh every single day. He grandparents with me and dances with me and plays music for me and cheers me on and I cheer him on. We both agree that having had “training partners” helps us to be the kind and loving partners to each other that we’ve been all these years.
So even though this was supposed to be about divorce and most of it is, I can’t finish my story without finishing it with the fact that I’m really, really glad my heart didn’t turn to cement like it probably should have because I like things just the way they are now.
(C) 2011 Marilyn Stevens