Dearly Beloved…

This is a memoir blog about my journey to becoming who I might have been.  It is meant to be read from first post to present.  To find the first post, search for “It Was A Dark and Stormy Night,” and read forward through date order.  If you enjoy this, please sign up to receive next installments automatically via email.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

My mother was sitting on her teal-green couch staring at something beyond the four walls of the tiny bachelor apartment where she lived. In her hands was a doll I had painted several years earlier. She gently kissed its face. A low moaning came from somewhere in the back of her throat. My sister and I gently guided her to the car and rushed her to the hospital. She was in the last stages of esophageal cancer. It was clear she could no longer remain at home. Later, her oncologist told us to say our goodbyes. She didn’t seem to hear them.

That night, I tossed and turned on my sister’s couch, a feeling of impending doom making me feel closed in. Eventually, I entered a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by the jangling of the phone. I jumped up, tripping over my suitcase to grab the receiver. I was sure it was news of my mother’s passing.  Instead, a nurse came on the line and said, “Your mother is wanting to know where her girls are! When can you get here?”

My sister and I threw on our clothes, grabbed our coats and purses and rushed to the hospital without even a backward glance at the coffee maker. We found her sitting up in bed, alert. We had our time of goodbyes and a few more precious weeks with her. I left for home to finish my secretarial classes, knowing I would not be back until she was gone.

A few days after arriving back home, I saw an ad in the local paper for a job at the beautiful, Spanish tile-roofed, Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse. I loved walking the complex and looking at the cool, creamy adobe style buildings with bougainvillea trailing the low walls and roofs. The opening was for the job of Deputy Clerk. I was sure I was not qualified, but went to the office and picked up an application. Later on, sitting at my dining room table, I began to fill out the four-page application. I got about halfway through and had a thought. This isn’t what they are looking for. Go get another blank one and start over. So, I asked a friend to go incognito and grab me another application. I filled it out again and sent it off with a prayer and not much hope.

One night, my children were all tucked in bed, and the house was finally quiet. I sat on the couch reading a magazine when the phone startled me. My sister was sitting at my mother’s bedside at the hospital. The time was nearing. We prayed together and cried. I told my sister things to tell my mom and she repeated them in her ear. I was grateful to my sister for calling me so that I could be there, if not in person, in spirit.

“Her breathing just stopped but I can still see her heartbeat in her neck,” my sister described. Within minutes the gentle ending heartbeats stopped as well. I told her to look up towards the ceiling and talk to her after reading so many stories of people looking down at the scene of their own deaths.  It was quiet and peaceful. After the call, I lay in bed and cried, relieved that her pain had ended but knowing we were all too young to lose her. She was only 56-years-old and I felt she never got a chance to have a happier life after facing the suicides of her son and husband.

Eight years earlier, when my father had committed suicide, my mother’s repressed anger at all she had endured in life came bubbling to the surface. She was quiet about it, taking it out in subtle ways. One day a couple of weeks after his death, my mother got a call from the mortuary. They had my father’s ashes and wanted her to pick them up. She ignored the request.  Then she received a letter stating that they would give them to the Neptune Society for burial at sea if she didn’t come get them. She ignored that request as well. She wanted nothing to do with the ashes of the man who left her so abruptly.

After my mother died, my sister and I planned her memorial service and drove around Los Angeles looking for a suitable cemetery to inter her ashes. We found a sweet little cemetery in Redondo Beach with lots of trees and shade. My sister made the call to talk to the staff at the cemetery offices.

“Do you know a Bruce Amthor?” the manager asked.

“Yes, that’s the name of my deceased father,” my sister answered.

“Well, we were asked to store his ashes in our cemetery years ago by a mortuary in El Segundo and they are here. If you want to pay the storage fee, we can inter the ashes next to your mother’s.” Wow!  It felt like a full circle moment for my sister and I. As a matter of fact, our mother had died on our parent’s anniversary.

I got a call about my job application while I was in Los Angeles attending our mother’s funeral. The Santa Barbara County Superior Court wanted to interview me! I explained the situation and asked if they could possibly give me a week. They agreed.

I was glad my skirt covered the shaking of my knees when I entered the conference room where the interview was to take place. I glanced at the seven people seated around a long oval table.  My stomach lurched and my heart went into overdrive. I didn’t stand a chance and I the desire to feign sudden food poisoning or cardiac arrest and rush out of there was strong. I was in full blown anxiety attack and I struggled to hide hyperventilation. Words actually came out of my mouth and when it was all over I smiled and shook hands all around. I stumbled back to my car and prayed, tears streaking my rose-blush powdered cheeks.

A week later I got the call. I had beat out 200 other applicants and was offered the job! Now I would just have to fight against panic attacks, grief, and depression, and walk through the doors I believed the Lord had opened for me.

Within a few months, my office at the courthouse became my new safe place. I worked with wonderful, caring people. I was issuing birth and death certificates and marriage licenses right along with the best of them. One day my boss came to me and asked me if I would like to take on the title of Commissioner of Civil Marriages. My eyes widened as he stared at me intently. I was starting to see a pattern here…God kept pushing me into unknown territory, challenging me beyond my comfort zones. My mind screamed “no,” but my mouth betrayed me.

“Yes, I’ll do it.”

For the next three-and-a-half years, I stood in a black robe at various locations around the Central Coast of California and had the time of my life marrying couples in civil marriage ceremonies. I still worked as a deputy clerk and made an extra money for each wedding I performed outside of office hours.The money helped me make ends meet as a single mother to three growing children.

I performed many different types of weddings. One evening after work, a couple showed up to the courthouse with white sheets thrown over their shoulders. This wasn’t a couple of drunks as I first supposed. This was to be a greek style toga wedding. The most beautiful wedding I performed was in a beautiful garden overlooking the ocean on a high cliff. A four-string quartet played Handel in the background. Unfortunately, halfway through the vows, the warning siren at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant sounded its alarm. I continued with the ceremony, thinking the couple would be better off married if we were all going to die in a nuclear accident. Soon the sirens faded and we enjoyed a lovely reception.

The most unusual wedding I performed was when all  300 guests flew in from India. Hardly any of them spoke English. All the people on the marriage license, on both sides of the family, were named Patel. The groomsmen tried to bribe me to say “You may now kiss the bride.”   This would have been terribly offensive as this was not the true spiritual wedding, which would take place in three months. I was glad I turned down the $200 to do it. The photo above is from that ceremony. I performed over 400 weddings, including marrying one woman to two different men after the first one, performed three years earlier, ended in divorce.

Things were starting to look up. I was finally in a place in life where things were working out.  I still suffered some anxiety, but I was definitely on the mend.  My children and I were safe, we had our needs met, and we were having fun for the first time in years.

And then something happened. A tall, dark, handsome and dangerous man came walking into the courthouse. All I saw was tall, dark and handsome.  I didn’t sense the dangerous… until it was too late.  Stay tuned!…

Have you ever felt you were making progress in your life only to make a mistake and take two steps back?  Let me know in the comment section!

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