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 stroked 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. Later, her oncologist told us to say our goodbyes but 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 was sitting on the couch reading a magazine when the phone startled me. My sister was sitting at my mother’s bedside, watching her while she got ready to take her last breath. We prayed, and cried. I told her things to tell my mom and she repeated them in her ear. “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 the marriage 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 his 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.
After she 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…wow…wow…wow! We both shed some tears over that. It felt like a full circle moment. And our parents didn’t have a voice in the matter.
I got the call while I was in Los Angeles. 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 interview. I walked in to a conference room and 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 just wanted to feign sudden food poisoning or cardiac arrest and rush out of there. Words actually came out of my mouth and when it was all over I smiled and shook hands all around, stumbled back to my car, and cried.
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 $60 for each wedding I performed, which came in very handy in providing for my three children.
I performed a Greek toga wedding, a beautiful wedding on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a four-string quartet playing in the background, a wedding in a gazebo in a backyard at the beach, a wedding interrupted by the warning siren at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, a wedding of 300 guests from India who all seemed to be 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. 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 in a good place. 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 the tall, dark and handsome. I just 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!