Guns and Butter
MMXI

A Story In Search Of A Moral

Ohhhhhh yes. You're right. I did start the story of my first marriage only to drop it like a buttered tea cup, didn't I? Sorry about that.

I think the problem is not so much that I am embarrassed (I am not; although I should be) as every time I start to put it together in my head it comes out like a badly written short story; one in which the characters behave in inexplicable ways from start to finish. It seems... lame to tell you that I did x y and then z without being able to provide any insight as to why. But honestly, I still don't know. I have absolutely no idea why - when I was, say, 15 to 25 - I made consistently terrible decisions seemingly at random. I imagine being in the same situations as the younger me and it's like yelling at the screen during a movie.

"Noooooo! Don't! Go! Into! The! Woods! "

Now if I turned on the water in my newly purchased house and blood came gushing out I would turn off the tap, get into the car, drive away and never ever come back. Twenty years ago - as far as I can tell - I would have looked at the blood and the spectral demon glaring at me from the bathroom mirror and said, brightly, "Hmmm, we'd better split up and investigate. I'll take the basement."

What the hell? Why if I loved Julian with every fiber of my being did I initiate so very very many other relationships in his absence? Why if I felt at best lukewarm fondness and at worst utter contempt for Andy did I marry him? Dunno.

So I'll tell you the facts as I remember them but it's going to be a bring your own analysis event. Actually feel free. Critique away. The best I can come up with is:

1. alien mind control

2. I spent an entire decade more than a little tipsy

and, frankly, as plausible character motivators neither of those are going to make the New Yorker.

College. Junior year. I don't remember the pretext but I wound up in a conversation with Julian from one of my English classes and the sparks flew so fast and furiously that we stood in the pouring rain and made small talk. I was instantly besotted. I was also dating Mike - a former Marine recovering alcoholic ten years my senior - who lived with me off and on. It was a little awkward to encourage Julian's capital R Romantic courtship (flowers, tiny gifts, notes crammed into my mailbox at three in the morning) while gently dislodging Mike but I managed.

I just laughed aloud because I was sitting here thinking how deft and tactful I was about the overlap until I suddenly remembered the way I finally ended things with Mike. His closest friend was getting married and he was the best man. The bride-to-be had invited me to all her showers and prenuptial events and it was a big deal for Mike. So rather than attend the wedding as his date like I had promised I... left town and hiked the Appalachian Trail with Julian and his family. Subtle!

Good grief.

Anyway, I fell madly in love with Julian and it was dreamy. I think I made this analogy before but that year exists in my memory like a classic film montage with, like, I don't know, a Snow Patrol song playing in the background. All plaintive crooning and swelling strings. There were parks full of tulips and rambling explorations through old neighborhoods and lots of art and staying up until 6 in the morning and Granny Smith apples with English beer and brie. If we quarrelled I don't remember it and if I was less than entirely faithful at all times I do not remember that either. Like I said, I was besotted but I did not have the best impulse control, once upon a time. 

Here's a picture from 1992. We went to Cape May for the weekend. I just looked at this picture for a long time trying to see what I saw then but all I can tell you is that I thought he was the most attractive person I had ever laid eyes upon. I wanted to fan myself every time he glanced at me.

He graduated that Spring but I had a year left. He stayed in Baltimore with me and got first a retail job and then a poorly paid position with an itty-bitty publisher. Every time I read about the tough job market for current college grads I murmur in sympathy because the early 90's sucked too. We were, I think, quite happy and quietly domestic but there was lurking discord: he was waiting to hear back on his Peace Corps application. To me it felt like a guillotine, a sword of Damocles, a sentence of death pending appeal. Huh. I guess we did quarrel. I pleaded with him not to abandon me for two years and he pulled sad faces and said nothing that ever made me feel the slightest bit better.

Have I told you all this before? Probably.

Moving forward.

He left for Honduras and I sank into utter despair and finished my last semester of college in a sea of grief and cheap Kahula. Man, it hurt.

This is one of the inexplicable parts.

I was heartbroken, missed Julian like a limb, wrote him faithfully all the time, fully intended to go down to Central America as soon as I graduated and spend as much time as I possibly could with him and... I started a fairly serious relationship with a guy in Chicago.

In high school I dated a guy named Gregg. We broke up (obviously) but stayed friends (it was his wedding Patrick and I attended last month, actually.) One night after Julian left I called him at one in the morning, like you do, and got his roommate Chris instead. We talked. Then we talked again a couple of days later. Then we started talking all the time and shortly after this I went to my friend Christine's Easter brunch. She served ham and Bloody Marys and while the former was quite delicious the latter was more relevant because if I had not started drinking before noon that day I would never have decided that an immediate trip to Chicago was in order. But I did. Air travel between Baltimore and anywhere used to be very cheap and easy so once I had decided to go meet Chris it was simple to get a flight the next morning and - elevated by all that spicy tomato juice - I did.  

We started a long distance relationship with lots of phone calls, some visits, and a trip to Florida where we stayed for a week in his parents' unbelievable beach house in West Palm. At the same time I was still writing to Julian (skipping some of the, ah, details of home fire maintenance) and planning my first trip to Honduras.

Sorry, I really feel like I have told you all this before. I don't mean to bore you.

I spent a month with Julian, came back for my brother's wedding and called Chris. He was furious and said that my trip to Central America constituted a de facto break-up. I said, ah, no, really? and c'mon baby don't be like that. He told me to drop dead. That was it for him for a while but he reappears later so heads up.

I had gotten into law school by this time but had deferred admission for a year. I am... not sure why. Because I wanted to be miserable and broke and lonely and wait tables? Whatever the reason I was basically killing time in DC and after a few crummy months packed full of unfortunate decisions

(my father and step mother had allowed me to move in with them rent-free and had even given me the use of a car. they, um, had to take the car away again - ok! I AM embarrassed about something after all. embarrassed and ashamed - because I was not behaving in a responsible manner. let the record show that the witness has made the drinky-drinky vroom-vroom motion)

I fled my American Express credit card debt and my student loans and everything really and went back to Honduras. It was ok. I still loved Julian like Tabasco but he worked all the time and I was bored. In retrospect I should have written a novel or volunteered to do just about anything but instead I was sulky and everything tasted weird and we kept losing power and water and I was never entirely sure that armed militia weren't going to come and murder us in our sleep.

Here we are in our doorway in Honduras (Shawna just fixed the picture for me so it is right side up. many thanks to her. I still want photoshop for Christmas.) I had chopped off all my hair and I remember being surprised that Julian was so grief-stricken by its loss. Men are weird about hair.

When he had the time we travelled quite a bit through Honduras and the rest of Central America, experiences which I remember with more fondness than I viewed them at the time. With very little money our transportation and accomodations were always the cheapest we could find, so travel consisted of a couple hundred miles in the back of a pickup truck filled with dogs or sleeping in a building whose third floor leaned eleven feet to the left of the first floor. 

When I left to earn a little (very little. none, actually) money before law school I was sorry to leave Julian but I was not sorry to get out of Honduras.

I went to law school in Cleveland rather than Williamsburg Virginia because I concluded that I could not live in a town that did not have a 7-11. I could cheerfully strangle my twenty-two year old self for this decision because in-state tuition would have rendered law school a three thousand dollar mistake rather than the infinitely more costly one it became.

Someone in the comments asked about law school. Why did I drop out? Because I hated it. I hated absolutely every second of it. It was nothing like I expected it to be and I didn't understand one word in ten. Nobody read cases the way I did. Nobody seemed to be interested in the stories involved or the relative fairness of the decisions. Contract law might have been in Finnish as far as I was concerned. I was probably the worst law student in the history of all time and the entirety of jurisprudentia gave a sigh of relief as the door hit me on the way out.

Maybe that explains the next part of my life, a little.

I was drowning in debt, the only plan I had had for my life - Julia Valentine Blossom, Attorney at Law - was a complete bust, and the only way I had ever managed to even partially support myself was by waiting tables which is never a good route to prosperity. Julian was as hard to reach in Honduras as ever and he showed no signs of leaving early to come rescue me. Of course I should have rescued myself. I should have tugged on those wide bootstraps and slapped on a jaunty bow and done... something. But I didn't. I worried and I panicked and in my spare time I fretted.

I called Chris. Maybe we had been talking all along, maybe not. I don't remember. But at some point during the first few months of law school I called Chris and asked if I could come to Chicago for a weekend. I am pretty sure he said no. I am pretty sure I insisted until he finally said OK. It's a little fuzzy but I think I realized pretty quickly that Chris was not going to solve my problems for me. He was angry and no longer found me the least bit charming. His new roommate, though; he liked me. Yep, it was pretty clear after one evening that Chris' roomate Andy thought I was the knees of the bees.

Good grief I say again. This really isn't my favorite story.

Andy was a very nice computer programmer from Minneapolis Minnesota and what he was thinking I will never know. I could hardly have been more toxic at that period of my life if I had been bubbling green slime and stamped all over as biohazard. And to make matters worse he had just been about to embark on a very suitable relationship with the sweet friend of a friend of his. The very day my meteor crashed into his snowscape he had been scheduled to play tennis with a woman who kinda liked him that he thought maybe he kinda liked too.

I said, "Tennis? Bleh. Call her. Tell her something came up. Reschedule. Let's go drink and play pool."

So he did. Then he fixed everything. He loaned me a little money to tide me over in Cleveland. He agreed that dropping out of law school was prudent and helped me rent a room in a group house in Chicago. He drove the moving van for me and carried my couch into storage. When the first job I got making knock-off wallets in a Chicago basement (cold call, cattlesque recruiting actually) flopped he got me a job as a receptionist for his company and when I thought it sounded grown-up and sophisticated to get married he bought me a ring. I probably should have been grateful to him but in truth I just remember feeling vaguely annoyed all the time.

Whyyyyyyyyyyy? Why did he do all these things? His friends hated me. His family worried about my influence. I can tell you, I guess, why I married him (immaturity, vanity and anxiety) but I have never and will never understand why he didn't tie a brick to me and drop me in the nearest river rather than continue to deal with my pettiness and my peevishness and my... hey, embarrassment again.  

We got married in October the following year and we fought more or less every second thereafter.

The following summer I found myself alone at a bar one night and jostled into a guy with eyes like autumn leaves and a disconcerting sense of humor. We started talking and after half an hour I wanted him. I wanted him very very much indeed. I saw him three times before I finally confessed that I was married. He took it pretty well.

"You have thirty days to get out of your marriage or I am never seeing you again," Steve said.

The End

PS I just read this over and I am amused to discover that the story of my first marriage was really a story about Julian and how hurt I was and oh yeah I married whatshisname. I also was surprised that I do not possess a single picture of the guy. Not one and it's not like a ripped them all up in a fit of pique either.

PPS I think Andy wound up married to the nice young woman that he had ditched for tennis.

PPPS I think if Julian had really wanted to be with me he would have been.

PPPPS I think that by one's early twenties one should be past such things but I am willing to hear your shameful stories to the contrary.

PPPPPS Thanks to your clicking the advertiser for the cruise sweepstakes just renewed their ad through the end of the month - hooray for unexpected windfalls. YAY and THANK YOU! If you wouldn't mind continuing to click maybe they will buy space again in the future and I will use the money to take you all out to lunch. I also have an ad for a children's series called The Search for WondLa and The Well-Read Wife who does book reviews and has been very nice about buying ad space pretty often. 

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