I married Tom on May 24, 1998. It was a three day celebration at my adopted grandparents’ lake in Chesterfield, Virginia. Lake Margaret was a seventy-acre dammed stream that my adopted great grandfather had built in 1917 and named after his wife. It was nestled amongst the family’s seven-hundred wooded acres. The family business was a lumber company.
For our Friday night rehearsal dinner fifty places were set around one long table that ran the length of the screened-in porch that made up the lake side of the main house. The “Shack” was built of cream clapboards, green shutters, and a red tin roof, in the style of the nearby Fort Lee barracks. We ate lobster and apricot tart and drank champagne by candlelight while the local and septuagenarian piano teacher played an upright. Dinner was followed by a talent show.
Saturday was spent playing volleyball, waterskiing, and porch swinging while rain intermittently pinged the tin roof and encouraged us to drink whiskey instead of gin. Eventually the sun came out and most of our one-hundred guests mustered at the lake in time for a southern pork barbecue. Dinner was worked off with kayleigh dancing on the lighted tennis court where we jigged and reeled amongst fluttering moths to a button accordion and guitar.
My wedding dress was made from a skein of delicate, crisp, barely off-white silk whose ankle-length, panniered, and crinolined skirt opened to another of handwoven silver lace. It was bead-for-bead and pleat-for-pleat reproduced from a photograph of a wedding dress I’d found in a 1920s Vogue magazine by a former dancer turned costumer for the New York City Ballet. He had fingers like sausages but could make wonderlands out of tiny Austrian crystals. He also reproduced child-sized cream silk tutus for our flower girls that Barbara Karinska had designed in 1948 for George Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Our bridesmaids wore 1920s day and flapper dresses in shades of cream that I found at the Lambertville Flea Market over the course of a year. They carried white roses. I wore my hair in a chignon under a Juliet veil with apple blossoms and carried gardenias. We all wore black Wellingtons.
Tom and I were were married in a meadow, a clearing where our guests found their mismatched antique seats and a grand piano after they’d suffered or enjoyed a 3/4 mile walk through the muddy woods. Their chairs were laid with handkerchiefs and handmade funeral fans that I’d hand water colored with the english translation of the Italian aria that would be sung in the ceremony. Though the morning had been stormy, by the time the accordion and guitar began to play Planxty Browne, the sun was shining.
Sappho and Robert Lewis Stevenson were read and DeDannan’s “The Call and the Answer,” Frank Loesser’s “More I Cannot Wish You,” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Qui il bel sogno di Doretta” were sung, Loesser’s a cappella and in three part harmony.
Our reception was held at the local airport with cocktails on the tarmac amongst Cessnas and a small private jet that would serve as the background for the photograph that ended up in Martha Stewart Weddings. We had a seven course dinner, the menu of which was the final meal served on the Titanic and we danced our first song to an instrumental version of “Stormy Weather” played by the 10-piece swing band, “Voom Voom and Her Imperial Palms.” The cake was made by Sylvia Weinstock and driven at a precisely prescribed and unwavering temperature in a friend’s station wagon from New York City. Leftovers of booze, cake, and courses were later taken back to the lake to fortify a midnight skinny dip.
The next morning Tom and I flew to Paris for our honeymoon and I made sure to wear an old straw and grosgrain traveling hat and carry a new Samsonite train case.
So it was a good wedding.
We had a good photographer too, one of Martha Stewart’s which is how we ended up in the magazine. I have the contact sheets but prints were never made. The marriage didn’t last long enough. Nine months after the wedding I met and fell in love with someone else. It still remains the greatest surprise of my life. I hear a car crash when I think of it, the kind you see in a TV show when a character is singing to themselves while driving through an intersection and another car runs a red light and hits them completely. The kind that makes everyone watching the show jump because it is so unexpected. The story was not going in that direction.
When I arrived at Earhlam College in January of 1992 I was asked to dance in a performance of “Histoire du Soldat.” Though I declined the invitation to perform I did attend the first rehearsal where I met the cast. Tom was playing the soldier. Earhlam was not a performing arts school. Tom had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and ran the local Karate school and that was as close as you could get to a male dancer in Richmond, Indiana in 1992.
From the moment I was asked to do a slow cartwheel into a split and performed it with confidence, I felt his eyes on me and knew I’d piqued his interest. He followed me around for two weeks, sitting with me in the dining room and trying to buy me pizza. One night, just after I’d performed my evening toilette which consisted of a long and painful face treatment that left my skin inflamed and swollen — and I was wearing long johns — he showed up at my dorm room with a six-pack of Budweiser. When he was neither turned off by my thermals nor my cystic jawline acne I decided to give him a chance. I let Tom buy me Domino’s and he drove me in his 1977 yellow Toyota Land Cruiser to the karate studio for a floor picnic that I am sure must have included more cheap beer. He had just turned 21.
The floor of the karate studio was covered in industrial carpeting that the next morning left me with scabs down my back and skinned knees. We’d had naked athletics where the following evening small children would kick and punch through their katas. The exercise was rousing enough to inspire me to call my mom from the pay phone after Tom had dropped me off at my dorm and exclaim, “I just had the best sex of my life!” I was twenty.
I remember a lot of flipping; we were never in one position for very long, an abridged Kama Sutra played at 45 rpms. I think Tom was trying to impress me and I had a new fearlessness with sex. I’d found the fun in it. I was two years older than the other freshmen at Earlham College and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was playing in the common rooms and on the quad.
Tom stomped around campus in engineer boots whose buckles sounded like spurs so everyone knew he was coming. He wore a Lloyd Dobler-like gabardine greatcoat and had a mess of black curls and crooked teeth. He and his roommate had painted their dorm room purple, had a Trompe le Monde poster hanging over their futon, and kept their belongings in ammo boxes.
Tom was from a Mayflower family. Both his mother’s and father’s were such Philadelphia society that I don’t remember which side boasted the voyage. Their names were in social registers and a silver tureen sat on a table at his father’s house commemorating a sunken ship in their ancestors’ ancient trade.
Tom’s mother and father had rebelled against the family’s patrician ways by becoming evangelical Christians but by way of LSD and with an exploration of the paranormal. In the 1970s Tom’s father worked for the United States government shooting lasers into the sky in an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrials.
As I did, Tom remembered his childhood fondly. He was an only child and he and his parents lived on his grandparents’ estate in a modest outbuilding in the lee of a grand house. Tom told stories of being called to dine with the patriarch, a fly fisher and gentleman.
As in my life, when we met, Tom had recently lost the home in which he grew up, his parents had split and scattered and his own place in his family had been lost. By the time I saw the estate it had been sold and turned into law offices.
Tom’s father had remarried an old flame with two sons his age and he often felt like a second-class citizen. The first time I met Tom’s mother she gave me the official Myers Briggs personality indicator test out loud as she and Tom checked off my oral answers with knowing looks. (I am an INTJ and that seemed a great relief to my future mother-in-law.)
Neither of us could return to homes we had left. We both ached for the awkwardness of spending Christmas sleeping amongst our childhood things.
We moved in together within a month, abandoning our dorm rooms to take up residence in the almost uninhabitable 3,000 square feet above the karate studio, an abandoned department store. We built a four-foot tall platform bed in the center of the space. We painted it red and added gold trim. We hosted an art show and got drunk on the roof.
My family had lost our emotional and financial stability. Sunshine and ease had prompted my parents to move from Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida but the rays came at a higher price than they’d anticipated and one failed part of the plan led to another until we went further and further into darkness.
Tom was the first safe place I’d found since my family left our home and likewise.
During our first shared summer break Tom went on a solo road trip. When he returned he declared celibacy with no comprehensible explanation. I don’t remember how long his abstinence lasted but by the time it ended I’d lost my libido. During the years that followed it only returned for acute crushes on other men. During the years that followed I found sex with Tom uncomfortable and eventually, it genuinely pains me to say, repulsive. A snake had swallowed its tail and made a circle. The less I wanted to have sex with him the needier he became. The needier he became the less I wanted to have sex with him.
It never occurred to me that this was more than a phase we needed to get through. It never occurred to me that we were not meant to be. I was twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two and twenty-three. Tom and I continued to try and insulate ourselves with each other from outside dangers. I transferred to Columbia and he graduated from Earlham and then Union Theological Seminary. He worked at the School of American Ballet and I waited tables and auditioned.
Tom had spent some of his early years with his parents at hippie tent revivals and I imagine it influenced him. He had the charisma of an ecstatic preacher and because he enjoyed the attention the smoke and mirrors brought him he often came across to me just as hollow. He craved this kind of devotion so much that he often chose the short sell; he’d memorize compelling headlines for conversation but not read the articles. He spent his energies fabricating a good man and describing him, leaving little left to be one, at least to me.
During my senior year at Columbia my mother, with an unsettling amount of glee, called to tell me that she’d left my father. She was empowered by friends that jettisoning the broken man would give her a free and happy life. My younger brother had essentially been abandoned in all this mess and was short himself on nurturing so it fell to just me to try and be there for my dad. I wasn’t good enough at it. I failed Symbolic logic and eked out a passing grade in Ancient Greek 4. Phi Beta Kappa was no longer possible. and my father’s sadness still broke my heart every time I walked away or hung up the phone.
When I was halfway through finals of my final semester of my senior year of college, one week before my graduation, my mother confessed to Tom that my father had recently beaten her up and an ambulance had to be called. In the same conversation she revealed that my father had recently and secretly had a baby with a woman he’d been dating; she had discovered her pregnancy after they had broken up. My grandmother had mistakenly given up the secret.
I walked in graduation in my cap and gown and was handed my proxy degree. I was paying for my Ivy League education entirely with scholarships, grants, and loans and they were all dependant upon my being a full-time student. The failed class left me two points short of my graduation requirements, few enough to allow me take part in the ceremony, but too many to confer upon me a degree. I could have easily made up the difference at summer school but at the cost of $4000 that no loans or scholarships would cover. So I still do not have a degree.
For the next two years, I was twenty-four and twenty-five and twenty-six, I sang and danced full-time. I often woke up from a dream where I was center stage in a Broadway theater, alone, singing under a spot feeling the heat of the lights and warmth of the audience. I was “Fantine” in Les Miserables in those dreams and they were always gutting from which to wake. They were my dreams literally and figuratively and I needed to live them awake.
The summer after Tom’s and my wedding I’d attended an Equity chorus call for “Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan” which was mounting a tour and a Broadway run. Though I was proud of my audition and had been given a script and two call backs with Cathy, I’d not heard again before I knew they were setting off in the fall. It was now a Friday in February and I was on my way to the hospital to be seen for a rash caused by steroids I was taking to try and clear up my acne when my beeper went off. I turned back to the apartment and called my service. “Hi Hally, it’s Julia Flores and we would like to offer you the role of Tootles...” I still have the scratch paper on which I wrote “I START ON MONDAY” in unstable handwriting.
I cried when I got on the plane at Laguardia. It was like leaving home. I would soon realize that it was one I’d outgrown but it was still very scary to leave.
At some time I began to understand that my relationships with places and with people is fluid, that the only home I can guarantee I’ll stay in until I die is the one I’m in, the one with the large bones that make up a small adult person. By the time I’d write this long narrative Lake Margaret’s clapboards would be razed and her property broken up into lots for condos.