Child Bride

WeddingDespite the various and sundry crimes my fiancé perpetrated on unsuspecting friends and strangers, my parents caved in to the pressure by his parents to allow us to get married.  Apparently, being the more innocent one in the relationship afforded me a certain elevated status in the eyes of my fiancé’s parents. For them, if there was any salvation for their son, it would come from being married and settling down.

So, I was to be the one to save Ron from ruin, and they didn’t want to wait for me to grow up first. I was only sixteen-years-old. He was twenty-one.

My fiancé’s mother reminded me of what a person would be like if they were an alter ego of well-known atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare. They both carried the same domineering obnoxious, and controlling personality. But that’s where the resemblance ended. They held completely opposite views of what happens when one…uh…shall we say…passes on.

So, three times a week, during the short respites from burglary and auto-thefts, Ron insisted we attend a little gathering of believers at the home of “Gifford,” one of his mother’s friends.  There I was taught that only 144,000 of us would make it to heaven. This number included only Caucasians, and only non-Catholic Caucasians at that.  Every Scripture was in secret code too, only to be unraveled by one of the 144,000 non-Catholic Caucasians.  We all assumed that Gifford was the one with the key to the code.  She seemed to think so too.

On the infrequent nights we did not show up for Bible study at Gifford’s, my fiancés mom would get one of his sisters to drive her the fifteen miles to my neighborhood and canvas the streets until she found us low-riding in Ron’s turquoise 1956 Chevy. She would then pull us over like a highway patrolman, and lecture us on the horrors of hell until we were sufficiently contrite.  Sometimes this took a couple of hours.

She often claimed to see horrible looking gargoylian demons sitting on our shoulders.  That in itself was enough to drive me running back to the house church, begging for mercy, while the parishioners swayed and shook, jerked and moaned, danced in circles around me, and prayed for my salvation.

I knew my fiancé’s mother was calling my parents on the phone and bullying them into allowing us to marry.  I was still surprised they didn’t put up more of a fight.  It didn’t take long for them to sign the consent.  Not only did they consent, they agreed to pay for an over-the-top garden wedding extravaganza and a formal sit-down dinner at an Italian restaurant owned, by all accounts, by a couple of Italian brothers with membership in the mob. I didn’t think of the wedding plans so much a celebration of future bliss as much as my parent’s celebration of getting my future mother-in-law off their backs.

My father’s mother came for a visit at some point in the planning of this gargantuan catastrophe.  I loved her, but she was not my favorite grandma.  I was much closer to my mother’s mother, who was pretty and brought me Dentine gum every time she visited. This other grandma had bird stick legs and a sour expression. I had overheard my parents discussing her “situation” many times. It didn’t sound good. They had to supplement her income and they weren’t happy about it. It seems grandfather had left her and my dad when he was an impressionable thirteen-year-old, and left for South America to stake his fortune with his brother, who had founded a major import business.  My father never saw him again, except for one brief visit after my father almost burned his leg off in a fire at the plant, saving a young employee in the process.

I was standing in the bathroom trying on my veil, turning my head just so, slight smile on my face.  My grandmother happened by the bathroom on her way through the laundry room to the kitchen.

“Well, if it isn’t the Queen of Sheba!” she squawked.

She had never spoken to me like that before.  Shock and hurt coursed through my body in quick succession.  My mind searched for an explanation for her hostility and came up with one that seemed plausible. Obviously, my mother must have told my grandmother I had been mean to her, and my grandmother believed her. I truly believed that my mom loved my brother and sister and alcohol more than she loved me. I thought everyone saw this as I did and felt sorry for me. Even so, I had been trying to hold on to the slim chance that it might not really be true.

I had always loved all my relatives unconditionally, assuming they felt the same way about me, and I wasn’t prepared to let go of that view in such a quick flash. I thought my mother’s alcohol-fueled diatribes would appear so nonsensical to my grandma that she would empathize with me and feel a sense of concern and obligation to make sure I was all right. At least Ron’s mother cared about my eternal salvation and tried to keep my feet out of hell fire.

I thought grandmothers had to like you. It’s a law or something.

Mary E. Pearson ~ The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The wedding took place on the last Saturday of December 1967, a year and a half before I would have graduated from high school.  I had gotten kicked out earlier that year, so I didn’t have any homework that weekend anyway. Although it was right after Christmas, the Los Angeles weather could not have been more perfect for an outdoor garden wedding. I walked down a curving white staircase on the arm of my father and out into a garden surrounded with ivy covered walls. The guests turned towards me as they stood together, quieting their murmurings about the absence of my mother.

She showed up later at the reception, full of vim and vigor and a good portion of a fifth of vodka. She staggered around the tables, greeting guests in her yellow and cream brocade sheath dress with matching coat and pill box hat, laying it on thick about having had diarrhea while trying to stabilize herself with backs of chairs. I was horrified, and yet felt strangely justified. Only later would I feel a sense of shame and regret so deep it made my chest hurt. All those shoulda, coulda, woulda’s clanging around in my head.

One night several years ago I had a dream.  My mom was in heaven with her family singing a song about the holy Word of God.  She, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and two of my aunts were using sign language to illustrate it as they sang, and somehow I knew they learned it there. One day on the other side of this life my mom and I will talk again, forgiveness and love will flow, and it truly will be unconditional. I think about that often, and what it will be like. But in the meantime, I have my feet planted firmly on the soil of this side of the divide, and I spend a lot my time trying to make it all count for something good.

 

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.

A wedding of 300 Indian guests ~ one of the over 400 weddings I would perform.

A wedding of 300 Indian guests ~ one of the over 400 weddings I would perform.

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!

Here Comes The Bride

Despite the various and sundry crimes my fiancé perpetrated on unsuspecting friends and strangers, my parents caved in to the pressure by his parents to allow us to get married.  Apparently, being the non-criminal element in the relationship afforded me a certain privilege with my fiancé’s parents. Namely, I got to be the one to save him from ruin, and the sooner I got started, the better. I was only sixteen-years-old.

My fiance’s mother was sort of the alter ego of well-known atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare; same domineering obnoxious personality, completely opposite view of what happens when one…uh…shall we say…passes on. So, three times a week, during the short respites from burglary and auto-thefts, he insisted we attend a little gathering of believers at the home of “Gifford,” one of his mother’s friends.  There I was taught that only 144,000 of us would make it to heaven. This number included only Caucasians, and only non-Catholic Caucasians at that.  Every Scripture was in secret code too, only to be unraveled by one of the 144,000 non-Catholic Caucasians.  We all assumed that Gifford was the one with the key to the code.  She seemed to think so too.

On the infrequent nights we did not show up for Bible study at Gifford’s, my fiancés mom would get one of his sisters to drive her the fifteen miles to my neighborhood and canvas the streets until she found us in his turquoise 1956 Chevy, pull us over like a highway patrolman, and lecture us on the horrors of hell until we were sufficiently contrite.  Sometimes this took a couple of hours. She claimed to see horrible looking gargoylian demons sitting on our shoulders.  That in itself was enough to drive me running back to the house church, begging for mercy, while the parishioners swayed and shook, jerked and moaned, danced in circles around me, and prayed for my salvation.

I knew my fiance’s mother was calling my parents on the phone and bullying them into allowing us to marry.  I was still surprised they didn’t put up more of a fight.  It didn’t take long for them to sign the consent.  Not only did they consent, they agreed to pay for an over-the-top garden wedding extravaganza and a formal sit-down dinner at an Italian restaurant owned, by all accounts, by a couple of Italian brothers with membership in “the mob.”  I didn’t think of the wedding plans so much a celebration of future bliss as much as my parent’s celebration of getting my future mother-in-law off their backs.

My father’s mother came for a visit at some point in the planning of this gargantuan catastrophe.  I loved her, but she was not my favorite grandma.  I was much closer to my mother’s mother, who was pretty and brought me Dentine gum every time she visited. This other grandma had bird stick legs and a sour expression. I had overheard my parents discussing her “situation” many times. It didn’t sound good. They were constantly having to supplement her income and they weren’t happy about it. It seems grandfather had left her and my dad when he was an impressionable thirteen-year-old, and left for South America to stake his fortune with his brother, who had founded Cost Plus.  My father never saw him again, except for one brief visit after my father almost burned his leg off in a fire.

I was standing in the bathroom trying on my veil, turning my head just so, slight smile on my face.  My grandmother happened by the bathroom on her way through the laundry room to the kitchen.  “Well, if it isn’t the Queen of Sheba!” she squawked.  She had never spoken to me like that before.  Shock and hurt coursed through my body in quick succession.  My mind searched for an explanation for her hostility and came up with one that made sense to me. My mother must have told my grandmother I had been mean to her, and my grandmother believed her. But I truly believed that my mom loved my brother and sister and alcohol more than she loved me. I thought everyone saw this as I did and felt sorry for me. Even so, I had been trying to hold on to the slim chance that it might not really be true.

I had always loved all my relatives unconditionally, assuming they felt the same way about me, and I wasn’t prepared to let go of that view in such a quick flash. I thought my mother’s alcohol-fueled diatribes would appear so nonsensical to my grandma that she would empathize with me and feel a sense of concern and obligation to make sure I was all right. At least Ron’s mother cared about my eternal salvation and tried to keep my feet out of hell fire.

I thought grandmothers had to like you. It’s a law or something.
― Mary E. Pearson, The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The wedding took place on the last Saturday of December 1967, a year and a half before I would have graduated from high school.  I had gotten kicked out earlier that year, so I didn’t have any homework that weekend anyway. Although it was right after Christmas, the Los Angeles weather could not have been more perfect for an outdoor garden wedding. I walked down a curving white staircase on the arm of my father and out into a garden surrounded with ivy covered walls. The guests turned towards me as they stood together, quieting their murmurings about the absence of my mother. She showed up later at the reception, full of vim and vigor and a good portion of a fifth of vodka. She staggered around the tables, greeting guests in her yellow and cream brocade sheath dress with matching coat and pill box hat, laying it on thick about having had diarrhea while trying to stabilize herself with backs of chairs. I was horrified, and yet felt strangely justified. Only later would I feel a sense of shame and regret so deep it made my chest hurt. All those shoulda, coulda, woulda’s clanging around in my head.

One night several years ago I had a dream.  My mom was in heaven with her family singing a song about the holy Word of God.  She, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and two of my aunts were using sign language to illustrate it as they sang, and somehow I knew they learned it there. One day on the other side of this life my mom and I will talk again, forgiveness and love will flow, and it truly will be unconditional.