It took only two days to know it was a mistake.
It takes years for some people. And then the realization comes only after much analysis and backtracking, bundles of tapes that get spliced and replayed until the boredom of it all chases one or the other out the door.
That’s not how it happened for me. We were married on Tuesday. By Thursday, I knew it was a bust.
I sat reading the newspaper next to his bed in his upper flat, our not having moved in together despite having gotten married, where he lay thrashing about, begging me to go to the store to find something to relieve the symptoms of his terrible cold. It was, at that moment, unbelievable to me that I had married such a man, a complainer, a thrasher, a beggar. What was it I had seen in him? And how could that have changed so rapidly, whipsawing me from good to bad and back again like how the scenes in my father’s endless travel slides careened from the geysers at Yellowstone to the bear that forced its way into the car window and then back again. There were buffalo in the road, that’s for sure.
In the next room, my 11-year old daughter was still sleeping in the bed that was normally occupied by Julietta, the refugee from El Salvador whom I had never seen but to whom my new husband swore he was providing refuge. “She spends most of her time on the south side,” he said, when I pressed him about why Julietta was never around. “She likes you, though. Because of your pies.”
Pies had become the currency of our speed dial relationship. Apple, peach, lemon meringue. The mistakes of my life, my divorce, my terrible relationship with a mad man, never mind correcting me, he was mad, an addict and mentally ill, don’t get me started, funneled down to the making of pies to win the one man in the landscape who seemed normal. Whenever I sensed him losing interest, I would drive to his flat, a pie wrapped in foil resting on the passenger seat buttressed by my coat or my sweater so it didn’t list and become unattractive. We couldn’t have that. A pie doesn’t have to be beautiful but it helps.
He looked at me again, depressed, it seemed, because I’d not put down the newspaper to go find something to heal him. It occurred to me that if a judge had magically appeared in the kitchen, maybe the same judge who married us, and offered to annul our marriage, to wipe the memory of our impulse buy from both our brains, that he would have lurched from his sick bed and beat me to His Honor.
It irked me that he was thinking this way. The disloyalty and lack of faith were galling. It had been just hours since we’d stood before the judge, the two of us and my daughter, dressed in a blue striped dress we’d gotten just the day before, her hair fastened with barrettes and her bangs curled, eyes fixed on the judge’s belt buckle, not looking up or down, just exasperated and disbelieving that she was in such a place with the woman formerly known as her mother and a man her mother had known for only a few months.
Nothing about this was going to work out.
I folded the newspaper, put it on the bed for him to read. “I need to get her up for school,” I said.
It was the one thing I could do right.