Saturday, October 27, 2012
COM Ch 5: First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage
Chapter 5: First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage
Jason and I were getting married in a few months. And as a last hurrah, my mom offered to take me, Gina (my maid-of-honor), and Gina’s mom, Donna, on a cruise. We would get to spend some time in Ft. Lauderdale and then board a ship for a one-day trip to the Bahamas. I had never been to the Bahamas before or on a cruise. What a wonderful treat and a great way to finish out my single years! But it’s amazing how things don’t always go the way you plan!
The day before our trip, I was busy packing in the apartment that I shared with three other girls: Laura, Gina and Sarah. For four girls sharing a small two-bedroom apartment, we got along amazingly well. We had been dorm-mates in college. And after I graduated, we lived together for a year. I had always wanted to share an apartment with other girls for a while, experience the whole apartment-roommate thing.
And I have so many fond memories from that year. We set off the fire alarm once when we set our stove on fire (accidentally), we put up our first real Christmas tree together (have you ever seen four college girls try to put up a tree by themselves?), and we scared the wits out of Sarah when I hid in the closet and Gina and Laura told her to go in there and get some paper towels. (Boy, she was so mad she couldn’t even talk! She just went right to doing dishes, I’m sticking with my story: Gina and Laura made me do it.) It was a wonderful year.
Well, it was just Laura and me at home the day before the trip. Jason was visiting since I would be leaving the next morning for a week. I hadn’t found my birth certificate yet (which I needed for the cruise) or finished packing my things. And we would be leaving bright and early the next morning, around 4 a.m. or so, to catch our plane. It was crunch time. I only had a few hours left to get everything together.
I needed to find something in our “storage unit” in the basement. These were basically just chicken-wire cages all lined up along one wall of the basement. They each had their own door, and there was a door to the basement room that they were in. On the other side of the basement, there was a makeshift room where our neighbor, Jim, lived. (I don’t think it was a “legal” housing situation.) Jim was a fellow that generally kept to himself. He said “Hi” every now and then, but lived like a hermit.
I was in one of the chicken-wire rooms looking for something I needed for the trip when I heard Jim yelling upstairs, on our apartment level. He was banging on the door of the apartment that was directly across the hall from ours, cursing and yelling, “OPEN THE DOOR . . . TURN THE !@#$% HEAT ON!” over and over.
Apparently, no one came to the door, and so he gave up and came downstairs to the room where I was. When he walked into the room, he shut the door behind himself. My nerves tingled and suddenly I was on high alert. He was acting a little . . . well . . . odd! It was just him and me now, shut in the basement together. And he stood right outside the door of our chicken-wire unit, between me and the basement door. I was trapped and I began to get very nervous.
“Hi, I’m Jim,” he said. He began to babble about how the guy upstairs wouldn’t turn the heat on and how his heat wouldn’t go up if the guy upstairs didn’t turn his on. And then he proceeded to introduce himself to me several more times. He reeked of alcohol.
“Yes, Jim, I know you. We’ve met before.” I tried to act nice and calm, hoping maybe some recognition on his part would melt the steely look in his eyes. What should I do now? Do I walk boldly and calmly right past him while he was talking and hope he lets me by? What if he tried to block me or grab me? I would literally have to brush against him to get past. Should I look for things to throw or put up a barrier between us with boxes? What would he do if he sensed that I was panicking?
I didn’t know the best thing to do, and I feared letting him know that I was afraid of him. So I thought I’d wait him out. Maybe he would just leave. I made it look like I was reorganizing our boxes as I began stacking them into a blockade between him and me. I knew that I was trapping myself further because it blocked my exit to the door, but it also blocked his entrance to our storage unit. Plus, it was my hope that if he did try to enter, he would stumble over the boxes, while I would be ready to fight and climb over him if I had to. I never felt so trapped in my life! I was, literally, a caged animal!
He was still talking about how mad he was at the guy upstairs, while I calculated how fast I could get out of there. Jason (it figures!) had run out to the store just minutes before I went downstairs. So the only person in our apartment was Laura. She had apparently watched Jim through the peep hole on our door while he was banging on the door across the hall. And now she knew that I was downstairs and that Jim was with me . . . and that he had a gun. And so she came to check on me.
The second she swung the basement door open, Jim whipped out the gun from his back pocket (I had no idea that he had one!), wheeled around and aimed it right at her with both hands. Time seemed to slow down. My mind tried to register what was happening as I leaned over from my cage and mouthed the words “Help me!” (As if she couldn’t tell that I needed help! There was a gun aimed at her head!) Laura was amazingly calm.
“Jim, you know me,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Oh! Sorry!” he said, as he lowered the gun. “I thought you were the guy upstairs. He won’t turn the heat on.” (Thank God that she wasn’t the guy upstairs! What would he have done if she was? I’m glad I never found out!)
“No, I’m a girl. I just have short hair,” she said. And then she looked at me, “Heather, have you found my soccer bag yet?” Hint, hint! Wink, wink! She was a quick thinker.
“No, I still don’t see it!” I said, as I pretended to look around one last time. “I’ll come upstairs and help you find it.” I locked the cage door and left with her to go to our apartment. As soon as we shut our door, we stood there . . . stunned.
“That was a gun, right? He just pulled a gun out, didn’t he?” She told me that she had seen him waving the gun around through the peep-hole, so she knew that I could be in trouble downstairs. (Brave, selfless Laura! My hero! She knew he had a gun and she still came down to check on me.) We were unsure of what to do, and I was still in a state of shock. So I did the first thing that came to mind. I called the landlord.
“Uh, you may want to kick Jim out because . . . he just pulled a gun on Laura.” I told him, very matter-of-factly.
“Okaaaay?” he said. “Hang up the phone and dial 9-1-1.” Oh right! 9-1-1! Never dawned on me. I hung up, called 9-1-1 and reported what had happened. And then we waited until the police got there. And what do you do after you call 9-1-1 and are waiting for the cops to show up, while the guy who pulled a gun on you is still down in the basement, probably beginning to realize what he had done and wondering what you would do?
“Well, I’m going to brush my teeth,” Laura said.
“Okay, I’m going to clean my room,” I said. Because, you know, it was such a disaster since I was trying to pack for a trip.
Soon, there was a knock on the door. And when I looked out of the peep-hole, there was Jim with a plate of shrimp and a jar of half-used shrimp sauce in his hands. No joke! And what did I do when the guy who just pulled a gun on my roommate knocked on my door with a plate of shrimp and some shrimp sauce? That’s right! I opened the door. I think I was afraid that if I didn’t act normal and open the door then he would suspect that we called the cops, and he would get angry and break the door down or shoot through it or something. (So, of course, it was so much better to spare him the large barrier and just open it up for him!)
“Hi,” I said. And I smiled my best I-didn’t-just-call-the-cops-on-you smile. (And, yes, the cop did scold me for opening the door.)
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said. Then he held up the shrimp and the half-bottle of shrimp sauce. “Would you like this?” A peace-offering! “It’s all I have.” (Oh, yeah! Like I’m gonna eat that!)
“No, thanks. We don’t eat shrimp,” I said, politely declining. And I closed the door, wondering if it was thick enough to stop a bullet. I backed away from it, just in case.
A few minutes later, the cops showed up and escorted us to the next building. And then they tried to coax Jim out. And they tried. And they tried. And they tried! Apparently, this was just the beginning of a long, long night. (And all the packing I still had to do. And the birth certificate? I couldn’t leave without it. They wouldn’t let me on the ship. But they also wouldn’t let us back in the apartment.)
Jim, as we later learned, had a cache of weapons in his room. (This explains who took my chef’s knife from my wok set that was left out in the basement.) And he was not going to give up easily. From our view in the neighboring building, we watched as the SWAT team surrounded our building, hiding behind trees with guns drawn. (Or maybe it was some other acronym standing for the law enforcement group that comes out with all the big weapons? I can’t remember what their shirts said.)
The craziest part was that Jason had been at our place all afternoon. And he had left just minutes before this all happened. When he had left, all was normal. But by the time he came back, the apartment was surrounded by SWAT members, and they wouldn’t let anyone through. So when he tried to get into our parking lot, the cops stopped him.
“I just need to get right over there to that apartment,” he said, pointing to our building.
“That’s the one we can’t let anyone in,” the cop said. So he backed out and drove to a nearby parking lot. He didn’t know what was going on or where I was. But I watched him from the window. I watched as he pulled into one parking lot, turned around and drove across the street to another parking lot, and then turned around and went back to the first parking lot. He obviously didn’t know what to do.
I flagged down one of the cops and pointed out his car. (Well, my car, actually. That little, white VW Golf.) I told him, “That is my fiancé. Can you get him and tell him where we are?”
The officer got to the car and asked him a question that anyone would love to hear. “Are you the boyfriend of the girl that was assaulted?” (What? Like that wouldn’t scare him or anything!) Anyway, they got him over to us, and we all went to the officer’s makeshift headquarters where we sat for hours. Jim would not give up. It was getting dark and we were hungry and I still hadn’t packed. If we didn’t get back in soon, I would be leaving for Florida with just the clothes on my back and no identification.
As the night dragged on, we were asked to go to the police station so that the officers could sleep in shifts at the “headquarters.” We decided, instead, to kill some time at a restaurant. So Gina, Laura, Laura’s then-boyfriend (who, incidentally, is the lead singer of Chevelle. Shameless name-dropping! Hi, Pete! You never did take Gina and me up on our offer to be your back-up singers. Too bad for you! Just kidding!), Jason and I sat in a booth at Denny’s, bleary-eyed and a little tipsy from all the excitement. We tried to eat a little. Nobody ate much. We just sat and talked and tried to keep our eyes open.
After we exhausted our welcome there and still couldn’t get back in our apartment, Gina, Jason, and I went to the police station about midnight or 1 a.m. We were told to go there by the SWAT team, so I thought maybe they’d have a cot or something for us to sleep on. But they didn’t. Nope! It was the cold, hard floor for us - no bedding or pillows. I think even a jail cell would have been more comfortable. But they never offered.
Time was running out! But thankfully, at 3 a.m., we got word that we could go back to the apartment. It was finally over! And it couldn’t have been better timing. I had one hour to get everything together. When we got back, we realized that they must have used our apartment as a sort-of base or something because it was in complete disarray. (Oh, yeah! I’m so glad that I never had time to pick up all my dirty clothes before the police spent the night in my room! How embarrassing!) There were cushions overturned, footprints all over, and the whole placed reeked of pepper spray or something. It was how they finally got Jim out of the basement. It was very hard to breathe without coughing and feeling your throat tighten up.
I quickly put a few things together and said good-bye to Jason. And Gina and I left for the plane. I was exhausted and tried to catch a little shut-eye on the plane. But every time I closed my eyes, I would jump and awaken with a start. I kept seeing guns in my dream. Big surprise, huh? (Later, at court for this incident, we found out that he did have a gun like the one we described and that, when they found it, it was loaded and the safety was off. Great combo: drunk guy with a loaded gun! Thank God that he didn’t have a jittery trigger-finger.)
(Things like this just kinda seem to happen in my family. My brother, Bobby, was robbed at knife-point not too long after this. He was working behind the counter at his job when a guy came in, pulled a knife, told him to lay on the floor, and robbed the place. He’s okay, though. And apparently, it was a staged robbery; the knife-man was in cahoots with the guy working next to my brother. Bizarre stuff!)
It was the most bizarre night of my life! And what a way to start the vacation that was to celebrate my upcoming marriage. But it ended up being a wonderful trip, though . . . except for the motion sickness. I should have seen that coming. It happens on planes and in cars. But did that stop me from getting onto a cruise ship: a giant, floating, rocking prison with no way to escape? No! I was doing fine until I had a few little sips of champagne at dinner, and then (Ugh!) I couldn’t handle the constant rocking of the ship. And the rocking and the rocking. Back and forth, head-spinning rocking. So I spent the rest of the night in bed and missed out on a wonderful dinner.
But I did get to have my first, and only, facial and massage on that cruise. So that was nice. Actually, who am I kidding? The massage was . . . awful! Incredibly painful! I was laying there all ready for a nice, gentle, soothing touch to work out all the stress and kinks in my back, when they sent in Attila the Hun to pound my muscles into pulp. How anyone does that regularly for relaxation is beyond me! I grimaced the whole time, praying that the pain would end soon. Dear God, what did I do to deserve this!?!
Arriving in the Bahamas (and finally getting off that boat) was a welcome treat. I got to do a little shopping, take a tour on a glass-bottomed boat, and spend some time on the beach next to the ocean, swinging in a hammock between two palm trees. I could have stayed there all week! Felt like Wewak!
I came home with a little green ring, a rag doll, and a picture of myself climbing the stairs to get on the cruise ship. I kept telling Gina that she just had to get a picture of me boarding the ship for my first cruise. It was the only photo I just had to have! And when I got my pictures developed (before the days of digital), there I was . . . standing near the top of the stairs in my little blue dress, smiling down at Gina who was taking the picture. And just behind me, right next to my head, was the half-naked butt of an older woman who was boarding the ship in her swimsuit. Yeah . . . Figures!
I also came back with a much smaller self-esteem. (Don’t feel bad, though. It could use a little trim now and then.) Gina and I were shopping in Florida in the stores by the beach. We had just walked into one, and the guy working there (with really bloodshot eyes) looked at Gina and pretty much fell over himself. “Wow, beautiful! Very pretty eyes.” (She is really beautiful!)
And then after swooning some more, he turns to me and matter-of-factly says, “And you must be . . . the mother?”
I was . . . I was . . . speechless. I was horrified and mortified. And I stood there with a stunned look, my mouth hanging open and no sound coming out. (I’m sure that made me look much better!) And you must be the mother!?! The MOTHER! I am six months younger than she is!
“No, I’m . . . the . . . friend,” I barely squeaked. He apologized profusely, pulled me close, hugged me and kissed me on my forehead, and then began pulling me to the back of the store. Why? I don’t know. But I wasn’t about to find out, and I began pulling away with all of my might until he let me go, and I hurried out of there. (What in the world was going on this week?)
[Although, he wasn’t the last person to ask if I was Gina’s mother. It happened once again when we were out to dinner a few years later. Gina had been living in another state for a while. And she came back to visit just after I had my first son. I was looking forward to a nice dinner out with an old friend.
“So, is it mother-daughter night?” the server asked. I thought about punching him right in his smiling face.
“No,” I said. “She’s six months older. And that would have really crushed my self-esteem had I not already had it smashed to pieces by someone else who said the same thing. So it doesn’t bother me as much this time. But thanks for asking!” I replied. That’s it! No tip for you! (Of course, I did tip him! I didn’t want to, but I did!)
And as Gina and I laughed about it, I realized that I really shouldn’t go out with Gina anymore! Not in daylight, or moonlight, or artificial light. Alright, that’s it, not at all. (Don’t worry. I’m really fine about it all now. Really!) I mean, I could understand if it happened now, because my hair is prematurely gray . . . I mean, silver. But back then, I was in my early twenties with nice, dark hair. I don’t know how. . . I mean, how could they . . . what were they . . . I’m still at a loss!]
And those are the fond memories that I have of my last few weeks as a single woman. It’s a good thing that I’m not superstitious. Oh, well! My beautiful wedding day, that I took a year and a half to plan, was here.
(But before I go any farther, I need to apologize to you, Gina. I am sorry that I took the church that you once pointed out as “the prettiest church to get married in.” I didn’t mean to “steal” it because I really thought that we could both have our weddings there since we would have different guests. But it never really dawned on me that it may have bothered you until much later. And so whether or not you were bothered by it, I’m still sorry. I should have talked it over with you first. Much to your credit, you never let on if it did bother you. Thank you!)
So there we were . . . the church was packed, Canon in D Major was playing (I love that!), and Jason was waiting for me at the end of the aisle. I stood there next to my step-father, Bob, who was going to give me away. And I was waiting for the doors to open so that I could start my walk towards my husband-to-be.
And I waited! And I waited! And I . . . waaaaaited! It seems that the guy in charge of the music was waiting for the doors to open before starting the processional music. And we were waiting for the processional music to start before we opened the doors. Ten, fifteen minutes - who knows? I was yelling at one of the attendants to go tell the music guy to START THE MUSIC so we could open the doors. I’m sure people were beginning to whisper, thinking maybe I pulled a Runaway Bride.
Finally, we heard the first notes of Here Comes the Bride and the line of bridesmaids began their walk. As I started my walk down the aisle, I only had one thought in my head. This is your wedding day. It will be over so fast, so try to remember it. I made sure to look around at all the guests and the bridal attendants, to soak up the memories. And about halfway down the aisle, it occurred to me. I hadn’t looked up at Jason yet. Oops!
But when I did, I smiled at him and he smiled at me. We had waited years for this moment. And now it was here! And suddenly, I had the overwhelming urge to . . . turn and run. I wanted to yell, “Stop the music! We’re not doing this! It’s not what I want!” But it isn’t what you think!
I wanted to turn and run with Jason. I wanted to get out of there and to board a plane and get married on a secluded beach somewhere. Just him and me (and any passers-by who would like to be our witnesses). I wanted to get away from all that the wedding had become.
Somewhere along the way, wedding preparation takes on a life of its own. It becomes this unstoppable force that just keeps rolling along, whether or not you get your feet under you. Sometimes, it feels like you are the servant to this domineering master. And before you even have the chance to catch your breath, the wedding day is upon you, and you are wondering, How did we get to this point already? He just proposed a few months ago! (Or so it felt like!)
And for me, what I really wanted to get away from was the sick, disheartening feeling that I had been carrying around because two very prominent people in my life weren’t very supportive of this marriage. For months, I had quietly been bearing the burden of knowing that they were not happy for me. And I had a hard time enjoying the engagement and the wedding with this cloud hanging over it.
One of them had noticed the unhealthy fears and behavior changes that surfaced once Jason and I got together. But she incorrectly interpreted it as though the relationship was unhealthy. She wasn’t convinced when I explained what it really was: long-repressed fears coming to the surface and needing to be worked through.
But, God bless her, she was just trying to look out for me. And she cared enough for my well-being to speak up, even if it risked hurting our friendship. (Which it did, for a while.) And I think it may have had something to do with her own issues, too, because she had just called off her own wedding just months before. But it was still hard, especially since she was standing up in the wedding. And I couldn’t really ask her to step down, even after she told me that she didn’t think I should be marrying him. What was I to do?
And the other person who wasn’t very supportive . . . well, let’s just say it was their own issues, too. And I’m sure they meant well. But it still hurt! And that’s all I’ll say about that.
Because of the subtle and not-so-subtle grief that I got from those two people, I walked down that aisle feeling as though the smiles on my guests’ faces were actually condescending smiles of pity and sympathy, instead of joy. I could almost hear them thinking, Poor Heather! She thinks she’s in love. But she’s also thinks she’s a chicken and the Queen of England, so we can’t be too hard on her. Poor, confused thing!
It wasn’t what I would have wanted for my wedding day. But it would be over soon, and I would be a married woman and starting a life of my own. (But as a bonus, my biological father was there with his family: my beloved grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and my half-siblings on my dad’s side. And I got to have Sara, my half-sister that I barely knew, stay with me for a week beforehand. So in some ways, the whole “big, white wedding” was worth it just for that.) So, given all that had happened in the past few months, things could only get better! Right?
The ceremony went just fine. None of the attendants passed out or fell down the stairs that they were standing on. So that was good! But my dress was way . . . too . . . tight. I had wanted to get it fitted so that it showed off my nice, tiny waist. (Hey! It’ll never be that tiny again.) But I guess that I shouldn’t have fought the seamstress to take off that last quarter inch, because she pulled it just a little too tight. And for the whole day, I had to choose between breathing or sitting.
And then, it was a hot, humid ninety-five degrees outside . . . in early June. And you already know about how well heat and I get along. I have always had trouble with intense heat. And going from the heat to the air conditioning to the heat to the air conditioning was wreaking havoc on my system. And I was beginning to feel sick!
I figured maybe I should lay down after the ceremony and rest a few moments before going onto the reception hall. So the whole bridal party stopped off at our new apartment for a small break. As soon as I got into the bedroom, I stripped out of my gown and laid down on the bed in my underthings, as everyone camped out in the living room.
Unfortunately, we forgot that the landlord had just painted the whole apartment. The fumes were overwhelming. And the whole place was hot and sticky since the air conditioning never got turned on. So while I had a moment to rest my head, I also began to get a lot sicker. (Wow, this day just keeps getting better and better!)
And did I mention the motion sickness? I don’t do well in the backseat of cars or in planes or on boats. I was already sluggish and weak, since I hadn’t eaten anything or slept well in a few days because I was so busy with last minute preparations. And now I was sick from the paint fumes and the heat. And then, we had to get in the car to drive to the reception. A forty-five minute drive of constant rocking, up and down, back and forth, head-spinning rocking!
I probably should have driven the car myself, because being in the back seat pushed me over the edge. The best man was driving, the maid-of-honor was in the front seat, Jason was next to me, and I . . . I was puking my guts out into a little plastic baggy.
We even had to stop at a gas station so I could run into the bathroom in my beautiful, sleeveless gown with the huge, puffy skirt and throw up into the grimy public toilet. And to make it even better . . . the bathroom was on the outside of the building, facing the street. Oh, to be a car driving past at that moment! Oh, yeah, another one of my finer moments! (We now point this out as “the gas station Mommy threw up in while wearing her wedding gown” to our kids.)
Well, we finally made it to the reception hall. (What was I thinking picking one so far from the church?) And I was sick the whole way there. I had to get something to eat because I was losing strength fast, and a lot of body fluids. When we arrived, we had our little introduction and processional into the reception hall. They put on the Star Wars theme song, introduced the attendants, the parents, the bride and groom . . . Mr. and Mrs. Jason Blah, Blah, Blah.
But all I could think was food! We took our seat at the head table, where I immediately undid the back of my dress because I couldn’t breathe sitting down, and I shimmied out of my crinoline-skirt-under-the-dress thingy under the table. And I waited to be served the meal that we carefully picked out a year before. The one I had been anticipating for months.
And I couldn’t eat one bite of it. My stomach was so tight from puking the whole way and from not eating for days that I couldn’t get any of the food to go down my throat. It was all too heavy, too much starch and protein. (Stupid Champagne Chicken!) So I requested some fruit and was able to get a tiny bit of watermelon down. And that was all I had for my wedding dinner - three bites of watermelon!
When I got up to go to the bathroom to splash my face with cold water, the reception planner took one look at my woozy, pale face and she grabbed my hand and said, “You are going to lay down in my office.” I was too weak to fight! And I really did want to lay down. That sounded so nice.
So while everyone else ate the wonderful dinner (I got to hear about how good it was later!), I laid down in my unbuttoned gown on the floor of a dark, cool office in the basement. I couldn’t pick up my head if I wanted to. So I just laid there while the light from the security-television screen flooded the room with the most soothing blue light. The chill of the floor felt great on my head. And it was quiet. And it was peaceful. And Jason sat at the table alone, eating his wedding dinner by himself and greeting our guests without me. And he had no idea where I was.
Finally, though, someone told him where I was. And I’ll never forget the moment when he came downstairs. It was the best moment of my wedding day. From my sideways view to the door (since my head was on the floor), I saw the door open and Jason’s feet walking towards me. Then I felt him kneel down next to me and gently run his hand over my hair and my back. And we just sat there in the cool blueness all alone for the most peaceful minutes of my day. Just him and I on the floor of the basement office, while the guests celebrated our wedding just above us. And that is, honestly, my favorite memory of an otherwise wacky day.
We did eventually get upstairs to dance and enjoy the guests. And it was only by sheer willpower that I made it through. But, finally, it was all done and over. Months of planning and preparation and headaches. And now we were married and heading out to Texas for our honeymoon. (Hey! Don’t mess with Texas!)
And that is the beginning of our life together! While the engagement and wedding day may not have been all that we wanted them to be, we now had time to ourselves to just be young and married and care-free. All the time in the world!