This drama went on and on until my mother met John in the summer of 1967. Unlike my father who was clearly a lunatic, a college drop out and a man who was more of a Good Time Charlie than a responsible person, John was actually a grown-up. Although my father had become a successful engineer thanks to his father’s reputation and his own inherent talent, he was still a man-child who had zero desire to get his shit together. John not only had the desire to become part of the emotionally mature world, but was already running at an adult level while my father and his buddies drank whiskey and tried to perfect their harmonica skills as if they were the next Bob Dylan. Now we can see why I have a thing for hard drinking, irresponsible fellas who fall in the “man-child” category.
When my mother’s engagement to John hit the papers in fall of 1968, my father skipped town but not before telling my mother that he would “pull a Graduate” if she actually married her fiancé. My father was referencing the 1967 film The Graduate. (If you haven’t seen it and this meaning is lost on you, just Google some information about the ending.) My father moved to Tiburon, CA while my mother prepared for her wedding.
When the exact date of the wedding was announced, my father tracked down my mother so he could call her to tell her that when she turned around that day, he’d be there. He didn’t specify that he’d be trying to ward off anyone with a wooden crucifix, as Dustin Hoffman’s character Ben did in The Graduate, but he did stress that he was going to fuck some shit up. My mother, knowing that my father is, as we’ve already stated, a lunatic, was terrified of what might go down on her big day. She was also sick to her stomach the weeks leading up to the marriage because to quote her, “I knew it was wrong. I knew I didn’t love John.” But both her friends and family convinced her it was just totally natural “cold feet,” so she proceeded with the plans.
On the day of her wedding day, as she stood before god and her loved ones, my mother said “I do,” to John. The whole time she was shaking with fear that at any moment my father would be banging on the church windows and screaming “Patricia!” just as Ben, in The Graduate, yelled “Elaine!” But luckily for my mother, my father got back into town a couple of days late. He’d been driving cross country back East with friends and got held up here and there along the way. My mother left for her honeymoon, and my father settled back on Massachusetts’ North Shore.
“I had been back from my honeymoon for just a couple days when my friends and I went to Summit in Peabody,” explains my mom. “I had gone up to the jukebox to play a song and as I stood there, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I knew in that moment that your father had come into the club.”
Since this story has been part of our upbringing, my sister and I have always squealed with delight as we asked: “But how did you know!?” To which my mother always responds: “I just did. I don’t know how, but I just knew.”
Just moments after her knowing that he had walked into the club, someone kissed the back of her neck and it was [spoiler alert!] my father. For the next four years my mother, the good Catholic, tried to make her marriage work with John, although the whole time she was confiding in my father about how miserable she was. My mother, again, the good Catholic, refuses to admit that she cheated physically on John, declaring it an affair of the heart, but considering her history with my father, I have a very hard time believing her. I just nod and smile and go along with the whole “no one has sex before marriage” schtick she’s been claiming forever.
The day her divorce from John was final, she and my dad flew to Santo Domingo and got married on the beach in March 1975. The entire ceremony was in Spanish and the only guests were one witness and a bunch of white chickens. My parents don’t speak a word of Spanish. They flew back to the States and moved into an apartment on Marblehead Neck and started their life together.
However, this story, the one that we’ve been told since we were wee ones, is the reason I have such an irrationally romantic look at love and relationships. I refuse to try online dating, because it’s not organic enough to be found in a work of literature. If I’m seeing someone and it’s smooth sailing, I will jeopardize it because I’ve convinced myself that love, real love, the type you find in storybooks, Hollywood and the kind that evokes the word “soulmates,” needs to be this up and down roller coaster of events. I’ve foolishly been able to walk away from relationships with the naive idea that if it’s meant to be, it will happen because I’m the product of such a situation. I’m overly nostalgic for former loves, because you never know how the cards may fall or how your hand will change later on in life; and I, too, have been in on-again, off-again insanity, and just assumed that that’s the path to forever. I realize it’s childish, but it’s also whimsical, hopeful, and yes, I’ll say it again: romantic. I do not want to be on a boat that sails without being tossed around; I want to be thrown off board, left to drown, then saved just so we can do it all again. Someone should really take away my Netflix membership.
When I tell both my parents (who are still together in case that wasn’t obviously as clear as day), that their love affair is somewhat of a blueprint for my own future love story, they both laugh. My father laughs because now, at 66, he’s so laid back and relaxed that he refuses to remember or even admit that at one time in his life he was chasing down guys twice his size through the streets of Salem, MA, all because they winked at my mother. My mother laughs because she does recall that craziness fondly, but she’d like me to find my own love story that’s different but still worth sharing. Granted, all love stories are worth sharing, but I have to admit of all the ones I’ve heard from friends and family, it’s my parents’ one I love most. I don’t know if I’m biased because it’s the story of how I came to be or if it’s because I’m just as much of a lunatic as my father that I do need that level of insanity to feel alive and loved. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that every time I’ve had a blow out with someone I’m dating, I just think of my mom and dad.
Sometimes you need to hide in a bush, threaten to break up a wedding and break into someone’s bedroom to make things work. Sometimes you need to bide your time, date other people, then go running back to the one who knows you best if you’re to make it out there in the world. Sometimes you just have to smirk at the fact that yes, things do fall as they’re supposed to and if it took my parents’ 13 years to get that end of things right, it could take me or someone else even longer. But at the end of it all, you can’t escape fate. I blame my parents for making me believe in fate; I also blame them every time I come home covered in mosquito bites because I’ve been hiding outside a former love’s apartment building in some bushes for four hours straight. You know, because that’s the rational and sane thing to do.