Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Heathen Family Marriage

On October 20, 2000 I turned 24 and I got married. It was a Friday and I had known my groom for approximately 6 weeks. The ceremony was conducted at the home of the newly elected Mayor of Huber Heights and the only photographs were taken by the mayor's wife Barbie on a digital camera with a quality level similar to that of a Commodore 64. I have spent the past eight years attempting to turn these pixelated images into actual photographs. My latest and most desperately abstract effort has inspired me to ponder the fantastically, unlikely success of my marriage. It's good practice for when my daughter wants to know why it was okay for her parents to get married so impulsively, but it is not okay for her to do the same.

I moved to Dayton, Ohio in June of 2000. I had recently graduated from the University of Toledo and due to a series of catastrophic errors in judgment, I was living with an asthmatic pothead who also happened to be my boss at a job that didn't pay enough to allow me to live on my own. My beloved Aunt invited me to come live rent free in her newly acquired house and I was on my way to a fresh start. I had been to Dayton numerous times visiting my Aunt, but I had no social network to speak of. It was a glorious rebirth for me. I got a job in a bookstore and started building a mystery as Sarah McLaughlin would put it. It was great fun weaving the tale of my glamorous past as a collegiate actor, dysfunctional daughter and perennial smart-ass. It gave me an opportunity to write hundreds of pages of self-indulgent poetry alongside my hippie/poet Aunt and her stable of poet friends. It wasn't long before I caught the eye of a fellow bookslinger, who had a reputation for seducing the new female hires. I began dating the bookstore Valentino in earnest. I was keen to get the relationship underway because I had a prophecy to fulfill.

During my first weeks in Dayton, I spent a lot of time doing research on being a bookslinger. It was my little dream. In hindsight, I can see that I was desperate to set a goal for myself that might appear lofty, but was in fact ridiculously attainable. I was hanging out at a Border's one day when they had a psychic doing readings in the cafe. My future was wide open and the suspense was killing me, so I plunked down $5 and waited to hear about the fabulous things to come in my life. I got a little more than I bargained for. It turns out that the woman who did my reading was a very well-respected medium/spiritual counselor. She began telling me about the strong female ancestors who were buzzing around my aura, silently guiding me and protecting me. I don't believe in Jesus, but boy am I sucker for this supernatural crap. The psychic went on to generalize about how important children were in my life (I had just left a job working with kids) and that I would have children of my own very soon. I'm sure my eyebrows went up at that point as I thought to myself, Please let them be legitimate. She went on to explain a complicated romantic plot. I was going to meet my future husband very soon, but there would also be another guy hanging around and I would have to choose. Supposedly, the right choice would be clear to me when the time came to make my decision. I felt electric and immediately began imagining passing strangers as my groom.

Cut to my budding romance with the bookstore Valentino. Valentino was heading out of town to visit a friend in Wisconsin and I was feeling strange about the whole thing. We hadn't been dating long, but we had slept together and I was a little surprised that he would leave me so soon. It had always been my experience in matters of romance that my hot body was so irresistible that any man who was permitted near it would cancel his whole schedule and bend to my will. No sooner than Valentino was out of town, I met the Sloppy Guy. Sloppy Guy was getting ready to quit the bookstore. He had a real job as a security supervisor with Delphi and he was tired of being tired. Why would you work two jobs if you didn't have to? Ah, Sloppy Guy had taken a second job to pay for his (called-off) wedding. In between bursts of flirty, witty banter, I learned all about the Sloppy Guy's recent personal history. Like, how he had supported his fiance through college and was supposed to quit his jobs after the wedding and take his turn at school. Or, how his fiance announced that she couldn't marry him and he had to sit in the rain at the wedding venue and wait for any stray guests that might show up expecting a ceremony. And then there was the matter of getting his real job back, since he wouldn't be going to college after all. The final red flag was Sloppy Guy's admission that he had just bought a dog to help combat his loneliness. He was totally and completely broken. My first instinct was to resist him, for obvious reasons. I had a long-standing record of dating men who were chubby physically imperfect and disheveled. I thought it was important to love people who were beautiful on the inside and it had been my experience that men who paid too much attention to their physiques were assholes. This flawed generalization got me into trouble with the pothead back in Toledo and now I was a little gun-shy about Sloppy Guy's sloppiness. Still, I had a prophecy to worry about and Sloppy Guy was soooo charming, even when he was telling me his mournful tale of love gone wrong. I was also on a deadline. Sloppy Guy's last day was fast approaching. I decided to let things happen.

My first date with Sloppy Guy Aaron was on Labor Day. I met the dog, I saw the nearly unfurnished apartment he had been banished to by his breakup and I didn't run away. We had a nice dinner at the Olive Garden and went back to his place to watch Ferris Buehler's Day Off. It was the most subtle romantic gift I had ever been given. I had mentioned only once how much I love that movie. I fell fast and furious and for real. The idea of becoming engaged never felt right. I had been engaged before, so had Aaron. In both cases, the arrangements were really just last ditch efforts to keep together doomed relationships. I didn't think anyone would take us seriously if we announced we were engaged after only a few weeks of dating. I wanted no speculation, no doubts spoken aloud. Aaron asked me to marry him everyday that we were together until one morning in the shower I looked him in the eye and said yes and meant it. We agreed that we would get the marriage license and if we chickened out, it would expire with no harm done. Incidentally, the clerk who did our paperwork was the same clerk that did Aaron's other, recently expired marriage license and yes, he remembered Aaron.

Aaron and I did not chicken out, but the doubts and speculation came anyway. There were quite a few bets made by our co-workers in the book world. Valentino must have been more than a little bit confused, but we've never spoken of it. He is a dear friend to our family now and has been dating the same girl for as long as Aaron and I have been married. I like to think that I shook him up a bit. My various parents/grandparents were not very happy with me, but I was participating in a family legacy of secret, runaway marriages and they could only complain for so long. Now, everyone loves Aaron so much that they are embarrassed to admit that they once feared he was going to chop me up and bury me in an abandoned lot.

The fact is, we were both at the bottom of our respective barrels. We were both starting over from scratch. Aaron and I were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to reevaluate who we really wanted to be and how we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. I had unpacked baggage everywhere and so did Aaron. It was easy to see how our foundation should be put together, what with all the parts laid bare at our feet. It was hard work, but we never saw any reason to be insecure about the path we were on. Of course, we had absolutely nothing left to distract us from the task at hand.

So, what will I tell Violet about love and relationships? The same thing I was told, I guess. A successful marriage has done nothing to improve my eloquence on the subject.

When you know, you know. You know?

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