The woman who ran our apartment complex in O.B. looked pale and fragile. She was barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster. She took us on a walking tour around the parking lot, up and down the cement stairs that led to the upper-level apartments. Along the way she greeted tenants.
“Hey, Fred,” she said. “How’s your mother?” What a nice lady, I thought. The image of the frail, old woman was shattered when we entered the parking lot of our building and she cussed out a man parked illegally in the alley.
“Goddamn son of a bitch!” she shouted. “I told you not to park here! Get your ass out of that spot or I’ll have you towed!”
The apartment was no utopia. Cracked, yellow stucco was peeling off the sides of the building, and I found a cockroach in one of my shoes. But outside our bedroom window hung a telephone wire that all the escaped parrots of the world decided to call home. I was often awakened by their squawking, preening, and chatting. If I listened long enough, one would often slip up and say hello. Although the birds were obnoxious, they were a much better alarm than the Oceanside crackheads that perpetually tried to unlatch my sliding glass door at 5:00 a.m.
My boyfriend and I only lasted two months in that apartment. Somewhere along the way, the romance had faded and we became best friends. Sitting on the hood of his car, we hugged and cried. I tearfully waved goodbye as he pulled out of our parking spot and headed home to Nevada City.
I fell in love with Selig by accident. He was a right-wing conservative who didn’t believe in evolution. He represented everything I had been taught my whole life to despise.
“Well, he’s a Republican,” I explained to my mom right after meeting him. “And he’s also Christian.” Her gasp made me feel as if I was dating a terrorist.
“But I think I love him,” I added softly.
I had known Selig for over a year because he had worked with my ex. Our first date consisted of me badgering him to take me on a motorcycle ride. When we rode home in the chilly night and his gloved fingers shielded mine from the cold, I fell fast and hard. Me, the girl who up-chucked at the idea of marriage, was becoming keenly aware that there was something to the notion.
Being with someone whose ideals differed so greatly from my own made me stronger. In explaining to Selig my beliefs on gay marriage, abortion, civil rights, and other hot topics, I took the values I had been raised with and I made them my own. Selig proposed in December 2008, and I am now becoming a part of a family that voted for George W. not once, but twice.
Through our discussions we found a common ground that suited us both. He was not intimidated by the fact that I am an opinionated liberal. Through our differences he has taught me to be more unprejudiced. A Republican teaching a Democrat to be more tolerant? My mother would die.
On a spectrum of opposites, Selig and I look mild when compared to the extremes of our families. My parents have never been married, and until recently could not be in the same room together. Selig’s parents have been happily married for 34 years and still give each other piggyback rides.
My mom had her first pedicure last year, doesn’t believe in makeup, and takes nature walks to feel a closer connection with the trees and fairies. Selig’s mom is an exuberant volunteer for Red Cross who looks too young to have three grown children and is a walking advertisement for J. Crew. My dad is a lawyer whose specialties include divorce and defending pot-heads. Selig’s father is a corporate accountant.
My parents give thanks to Mother Earth, while Selig’s pray to God. And while all four of them are kind, sweet people, we had our doubts about how they would mesh.
I awoke the weekend of our wedding reception pondering what I would find when I went down stairs. My family had flown out from Nevada City, and we were all staying at the in-laws’ house in Washington State. I heard laughter echoing from the kitchen and entered to find the conversation changing from the history of my hometown to the time my mother was arrested.
“You see,” she began, setting the stage for her story, “it was at the beginning of the Iraq War, and we were gathering in the streets in a peaceful protest.”
I stood, grasping the rail at the edge of kitchen, trying to decide if I should run back upstairs and hide my head deep beneath the covers, or if I should brave the family fiasco.
The story continued, and in a partnership forged on shared protest experience, my parents collaborated in explaining how my mother sat in the street and refused to move, even when the police chief told them, “You’ve made your point, folks. Let’s move it on out. We don’t want to arrest you.” I glanced to my right and saw the O-shaped mouths of my newly acquired in-laws.
“The best part,” my dad added with a chuckle, “is that Utah was there!”
Utah Phillips was a renowned musician and had been a peace activist for decades. Utah, along with my parents, had experienced more powerful protests than the one that they’d attended on the streets of Nevada City.
“And Utah sits there,” my dad said. “This old, bearded man, and he shouts at the police, ‘Hey, what’s a guy gotta do to get arrested around here?’ ”
My mom and dad erupted in a fit of laughter, and without making eye contact, I resigned myself to giggling. I had just recently come to the conclusion that my parents weren’t just nuts — they were intriguing. The older that I get, the more that I realize that what embarrassed me most as a child is what makes me love them more as an adult.