To this day, I honestly couldn’t tell you what I was thinking then, 37 years ago, at 18 years old, getting married, one month out of high school.
I do know I was harboring some very strong feelings at the time for at least two other guys, and that I wanted very badly to be a “grown-up” living anywhere my dad wasn’t. I also clearly remember my older sister telling me her car was in the parking lot if I wanted to turn tail and run.
I should have taken her advice. But I didn’t. I should have known then that the marriage was a bad idea. But I didn’t.
Instead, I blithely spent the money earmarked for my college education on a wedding and party, complete with white dress, fresh flowers and multi-tiered wedding cake, where I promised to lovehonorandobey ’til death, a person I barely knew and didn’t love, in a church-sanctioned, overblown and unnecessary act of sticking it to my parents.
I should have known that the person I was actually sticking it to, was me. But I didn’t.
I learned pretty quickly that the person I married had some horrifying views and opinions about anyone he considered to be beneath him. The short list of things he considered beneath him included women, hippies, and people of any race other than caucasian. Since I fell into at least two out of three of those categories, I’m sure you can imagine that we had some pretty “animated discussions” and by discussions, I mean fights, both verbal and physical.
The last of those “discussions” came 8 months into our wedded bliss at the conclusion of the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. I foolishly shared the shame I felt at my race causing such pain and suffering for another race. For that, I earned a broken arm, bruised ribs and a quickly blackening eye. I still didn’t know what I wanted, but I sure as hell knew what I DIDN’T want, and I got out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t know it then, but I also earned a life event so awful, it had great potential to become a meaningful lesson, and would eventually make me happy.
So how do you get through the pain and secrecy and seemingly endless suffering it takes to find meaning in something as awful as abuse? Well, for one thing, you first have to accept the fact that other outwardly happy people have NOT somehow avoided the difficult and painful things in life. Quite the opposite. They have chosen to examine what caused them pain, find meaning in it, learn from it and then happily move on.
Secondly, you have to accept that you are who you are because of (and sometimes in spite of) your personal life events. If, for instance, I hadn’t been running so hard away from the bad experience, I may never have run headlong into something better. Therefore, voila, vis-a-vis, abracadabra, just like that – you’re happy!
I’ve made light of my experience in the interest of brevity, but every year on the 17th of July I post this picture. Partially because my sister and I look adorable. But mostly because for me it evokes a cautionary tale about looking before leaping, listening to friends’ advice, the ripple effect of unwise decisions, and just how great it is to have been in love with and happily married to the worlds most wonderful guy for 26 of the 37 years since.
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