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The Toaster Broke, So We're Getting Married
By PAMELA HOLM
MacAdam/Cage Publishing I DO?
Copyright © 2002 Pamela Holm.
All rights reserved.
I had exactly twelve hours of post-engagement bliss. It lasted until Jessica, who had spent the past year planning her wedding, heard my announcement. She countered my news with the requisite shrill screams, rapidly followed by "Now you have to think about the date, and the place, and your dress, and the ring, and your hair, and the music, the food, cake, guests, invitations. Oh my God, you have so much to do!"
While I felt comfortable saying I'd spend the rest of my life with Denzil, I wasn't sure how we'd weather the relentless onslaught of joint decision-making that apparently lay ahead of us. I looked at my little jade engagement ring, then back at Jessica. Jessica is a musician, someone used to seeing projects through from beginning to end, and I trusted her opinion. I hadn't realized this was what getting married was about. I was still caught in the butterfly-wing fantasy of happily ever after, still surprised at the turn of events in my life. Still a little stunned that this was something I actually wanted to do. There was no gun to my head, no extenuating circumstances, nothing to cover for or legitimize. Denzil and I were getting married simply because we wanted to and simply because we were in love.
I had done this before, and there are no parts of my previous wedding I would like torepeat. Not the waddling down the "aisle" six months pregnant with the pointy heels of my white pumps slipping through the slats of our redwood deck; not the part where my brother's chair breaks and he falls to the ground in the middle of the ceremony; not the gnawing fear that my parents would break into a drunken brawl at the reception; not the 110-degree weather and the feet like watermelons. None of it.
The day of my first wedding, sixteen years ago, my mother showed up six hours early to help. Helping meant sitting on the deck of our Appalachian-slum-style cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, drinking gin and howling with laughter as her pregnant daughter decorated the dry grassy area around the deck with a dozen plastic pink flamingos and streams of pink crepe paper. When my future mother-in-law arrived I was in the kitchen, bulging out of a pair of shorts and a flannel shirt, and ironing my wedding dress, for which I'd spent an extravagant $75.
Gary and I had been together since I was eighteen and he was twenty-seven. We were happy in our punk rock, artist, crash-pad sort of way. It was the early '80s and bad attitudes and black clothes were fashionable. I was skinny and sallow and angry, and liked it that way. I listened to the Clash every morning while getting ready for my miserable job at the sign shop, where I'd spend the day using power tools and getting leered at by men who were either working on or working off some sort of substance abuse problem.
Happiness seemed a little corny, and though neither Gary nor I were interested in drugs enough to actually do them, our world was populated by people who shifted between heroin addiction and speed binges. People who ran their cars into highway embankments, people who had to be bailed out of jail for breaking their neighbor's arm at a 4th of July barbecue, friends who threw up in the back seat of our car after raiding our medicine cabinet and taking everything they could find with sleepy eyes on the bottle. At the time, twenty-two and pregnant seemed as good a reason as any to get married.
The wedding was scheduled for 2:30. At around 2 o'clock my mom and I were crowded into the tiny bathroom. I was turned toward the clawfoot bathtub that had been jammed into one end of the shower stall. I could smell the gin on her breath as she wound strands of my shaggy hair around the barrel of a curling iron.
"I'm very proud of you," she said. I knew my mother was attempting to step up to the plate.
"You've done well for yourself. You have a good life here." A tiny green frog hopped out of the drain. I'd stopped flinching at the sight of frogs in my bathroom months ago.
"You're marrying a good man," she said. I wanted to grab the frog and kiss it. I wanted to believe this was the right choice. I wanted to believe I was embarking on a lifetime of happiness, but I knew there was as much chance of my being happy in this marriage as there was of that frog turning into a prince. My mom's hand slipped and the curling iron dropped onto my forehead, leaving a coffee-colored stripe seared into my skin. In lieu of any insightful commentary or advice, she combed my hair into a lopsided Lady Di do.
Our friends, most of whom looked like vampires, started to arrive dressed in their funereal best, draped in black suits and red velvet dresses, pale makeup and dark lips. They gathered on the slant of a dead grass hill under an oak tree, cowering from the sun while sipping champagne and fanning themselves with cocktail napkins. The minister, looking like he might drop dead from liver disease, heat prostration, or old age, leaned against his cane under the shade of the tree.
At 2:25 Gary rolled up and parked his '67 Volvo next to the oak tree. He had been delayed at the salon where his hair was being sculpted into a style normally reserved for small poodles. We took one look at each other and burst out laughing.
Inexplicably, my father chose this day to forget where I lived. Five minutes into the ceremony his Cadillac barreled up the dirt road in a cloud of dust. He and Susie, my stepmother, leapt out of the car panicked and disheveled. Until now I had understood the term "shotgun wedding" to mean something other than wanting to take a shotgun to your entire family.
The ceremony was a short, sweet blur that underscored the short, sweet blur of the bad idea that was our original decision.
After Cara was born my life changed beyond recognition. I wasn't working all day and staying up all night dancing with my friends. I was a mom. My days were filled with laundry and soap operas and a husband who worked ten-hour days and fell asleep on the couch every night. Our friends were getting in more and more trouble and the stakes were getting higher.
Living in the mountains with a baby proved to be isolating, so I joined a mothers' group, but when I realized the other mothers were even more confused and depressed than I was, I scrapped the group and started art school.
Things started to fall apart a few years into the marriage when the sweetness of motherhood and the fun of art school began to win out over waiting for my husband to come home from work and bailing our friends out of jail.
Gary's willingness to see the best in our messed-up friends held fast as mine diminished. When I left it was as much to get away from them, as from a husband. But instead of rolling gracefully into a new and better life as I'd imagined, I was sideswiped by such incredible sadness that Gary was remarried with another child before I found my footing.
I spent the next twelve years actively avoiding marriage. My avoidance was fueled more by the desire not to get divorced than the desire to remain single. I couldn't bear the thought of dividing the record collection and divvying up the Tupperware again. I couldn't stand to forfeit another saucepan, and try to remember which books were mine and which I'd given to him as gifts. And I didn't want to have to explain to Cara, that our world had just exploded, again.
Rather than take the more reasonable route of avoiding divorce by dating only men who were likely prospects for long-term commitment and family life, I took the alternate route of only dating men with whom there wasn't a chance in hell of a serious relationship.
Over the years my boyfriends tended to fall into two camps: those who wanted to save me from the desperate wilderness of single motherhood, and those who saw me as mommy and wanted to jump into the picture as child number two.
The list was long and diverse, with each guy being assigned some sort of semi-demeaning moniker to help my friends keep them straight when I called up whining. There was the grocery store boy, the angry Irishman, the Welshman, the British Guy who quickly morphed into "that British Bastard." There was the twenty-four-year-old, the millionaire, the musician, the artist, the Venezuelan car dealer, the motorcycle guy, the tattoo guy, the not-very-bright guy, the codger, the D.J., and the guy with the dogs. Most of these relationships came and went rather quickly, with the exception of Cork, a.k.a, the artist.
Cork's effect on our lives was dramatic and irrevocable. He hijacked me and Cara out of San Jose, a place that never felt like home, though until I met Cork I hadn't seen my way to leaving, as if the gates were locked.
He brought us to San Francisco and believed in me in a way no one ever had. I went from being an art student who made huge paintings and unwatchable performance art to traveling around the world installing Cork's work in museums and galleries. We stayed in the homes of people who owned the paintings and sculptures I'd been quizzed on in my art history classes for the past three years.
For six years we worked together and played together. Cork, Cara and I were the antithetical family, more a circus act than a cozy refuge from the outside world. Our house was a wall-to-wall museum of eclectica, and the rhythm of life was more a jazz solo than the soft cadence of a love ballad.
Even though laughter was the mainstay of our relationship, I was eventually worn down by Cork's nebulous but consuming depression, and the sad realization that without really meaning to I'd gone from artist to Cork's able assistant.
Aside from Cork, in the unlikely event that I began dating someone I actually liked, any ideas of a serious relationship were squashed by Cara, who was steadfastly bent on keeping me to herself. As long as a relationship was platonic she was a cherub, the smartest kid in the world, and the most beautiful, with a winning smile and quick wit. All these attributes quickly evaporated as soon as she saw a lingering look or an arm slipped around my waist. Actions which invariably prompted Cara to sprout horns and spit fire.
The few times I tried integrating someone else into our lives the results ranged from mildly troublingCara turning the offending boyfriend's toothbrush upside down into the scum at the bottom of the toothbrush cup to disastrousCara stomping up and down the hallway at 1 a.m. shouting "I-want-him-out-of-my-house-now!" punctuating each word with a firm stomp.
After several years of disastrous dating scenarios - men who "forgot" to tell me about their wives or girlfriends, men who cried on first dates, men who told me they were in love then didn't call for three weeks - I began to suspect I emitted a silent signal, like a dog whistle, audible only to men with serious mental health issues. Psychotics and criminals, philanderers and commitment-phobes. Guys with long-standing depression, orphans in search of their birth mothers, men still in love with their exes, disbarred lawyers, crestfallen artists. A barrel full of monkeys.
Apart from my own dismal experiences of dating and holy matrimony, I had the memories of my parents' various divorces and breakups to help keep at bay any fleeting desire to get married again. My parents were of the generation that married too soon to know whether or not they liked each other. It didn't take them long to figure out they didn't. It did, however, take fourteen years of mutual misery before they decided to throw in the towel. They split up in 1971 when divorce suddenly became acceptable, even fashionable. I was ten and my brothers were six and twelve. The shift in our lives was foreshadowed by my father's lamb-chop sideburns and my mother's sudden penchant for purple corduroy hip-huggers and fuzzy velour jumpsuits.
My mother was well-suited to single life. She continued with her steady routine of laundry, cooking and bed-making, and seemed to effortlessly incorporate a forty-hour work-week at a camera store. She was suddenly empowered with the first dizzying effects of women's lib. Billie Jean King and Helen Reddy, burn your bra and throw the bum out. She carried out the fine-print instructions on the contract of her new life with grace, humming "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar," while making the transition from housewife to single working mother.
While my mom adjusted to her new life with the support of an entire nation, my father didn't fare so well. The fine print on his side of the divorce said no furniture, no hot meals, and the release of a tether that sent him sailing out of orbit on all-night benders, bar fights and a rapid-fire turnover of girlfriends, each nuttier than her predecessor.
Less than a year after the divorce my father married Linda, a buxom redhead with four kids. When we were all in the same house there were seven of us between the ages of seven and thirteen. We were the anti-Brady Bunch. We lit things on fire and shoplifted. We played darts in the living room and slid down the stairs on an upturned coffee table. We had raucous fights over which television show to watch. It was heaven. The fact that the marriage lasted two years was somewhat of a miracle.
For the next five or six years my brothers and I were bounced back and forth between our parents and their current lovers or spouses. There was Angie, the twenty-eight-year-old sex kitten/cocktail waitress with a killer wardrobe and two overweight children. Life with Angie was always volatile. She could turn from charming best friend into shrewish competitor with the bat of an eye. She and my father tormented each other at close range on and off for a couple of years. My brothers spent those years wondering what she looked like with her clothes off. I spent them praying she would move out, but leave her clothes with me.
When my dad and Angie finally broke up things just got worse. He hooked up with a woman named Elaine who worked as the bookkeeper for his plumbing business. When the relationship hit a rocky patch Elaine registered her displeasure by tossing the account books out the window of her Pinto on the highway before calling the IRS to have him audited.
The lineup on my mother's side wasn't much better. First there was Marty, who took me for Sunday drives when I was twelve. He half-impressed and half-terrified me going 90 m.p.h, on the highway while inching his hand up my thigh. Then there was Saul, the Jewish stockbroker with a cardigan for every occasion: driving, mowing the lawn, eating dinner. For years my mother was involved with her boss Jay, who once climbed through my bedroom window in the middle of the night, then sat at the end of my bed, drunk and in tears, complaining that my mom wouldn't answer his phone calls.
The fear of leaving another glaring pockmark on my marital record, combined with Cara's behavior, the caliber of men I ran up against, and a scrapbook full of bad memories, made it easy to stay single, or at least my own mutated, high-traffic version of single.
Excerpted from The Toaster Broke, So We're Getting Married by PAMELA HOLM. Copyright © 2002 by Pamela Holm. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rather uninspired. There is nothing about the author that seems particularly noteworthy and her writing lacks a sense of purpose. Easy read but ultimately forgettable.
As I was reading this book, I decided to google the author and discovered that she is already divorced and re-married to somebody else! That took the wind right out of the sails of this book for me. Decent writing, but I just can't get back into the story knowing the true outcome.
I laughed out loud and finished the last page with tears in my eyes. This book offers a love story with a down-to-earth, modern edge and a captivating personal account of the life of an artist and mother in San Francisco.
Modern and authentic, Pamela Holm opens her heart and mind to the reader revealing her feelings and experiences with single motherhood, dating and making the decision to marry. It's a love story, but like life, there are a lot of bumps along the way. This book is not just for brides-to-be. Pamela's search for and commitment to love has great universality. Also, fun descriptions of the arty side of San Francisco.
I really loved it. Besides being laugh out loud funny, it often brought tears to my eyes as the author's story brings to light what is really important in life.