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Poodle in a Backpack

No one's ever asked me about my wedding before. Have I even thought about it? I don't think so. Not recently, anyway. I was a bride? I have to squeeze my brain like a grapefruit to extract a memory.

I do know the ceremony involved a mid-sized Lutheran church, a pastor, bride, groom, his parents (the Lutherans in question), my mother, and my mother's handler. My mother was deep into her alcoholism years and needed a companion when she traveled any distance. They'd flown thousands of miles to be there.

The groom wore a suit he regularly went to work in. I had on some yellow linen number with a matching coat trimmed in lace daisies. The pastor's outfit was very, very white, I recall, in contrast to the general gloom of the church, even on that sunny afternoon. I know the date was April 15, because the groom had to turn in his tax forms on the way.

My overriding remembrance is that no one was happy. Neither his parents nor my mother had been happy about much of anything in decades, and this event was no reason to break with tradition. His parents considered me a snob because I had once lived in New York City and because one day in their living room in Ohio I had read a newspaper instead of chatting with them, which would have been the respectful, Middle America thing to do.

My mother didn't like him for reasons she never made clear. His IQ was something in excess of 160. He'd gone through college on a full Westinghouse scholarship in math. He had a more-than-respectable job. I think she was hoping for breeding or good looks or connections or something and was unhappy not to find them.

The pastor had no particular reason to be happy. He just seemed quizzical. I do remember that at the mandatory premarital counseling session he had seemed perplexed, as if he didn't know quite what to do with these two strangers (strangers to him) ready to set sail from his church on such a serious voyage. He did peer at me as if to ask if I knew what I was doing.

Of course I didn't. Well, actually, I did but wouldn't admit it to anyone. I felt like a poodle in a backpack. Panicky, trapped, helpless. Hostage to something I couldn't fight. I knew I didn't want to be there, but without the nerve to cancel the engagement, I had to live with my choices.

Now that I think about it, the groom seemed a bit happy. A bit. Relative to the rest of us.

The ceremony apparently went off smoothly. I have to assume this, not because I remember it, but because in a few years it would require a lawyer and paperwork to undo it. The same lawyer represented both of us, and I do recall that he actually asked me if I'd known what I was doing.

A reception followed. Same cast of characters, minus the pastor. I think we took potluck, inquiring at several upscale joints as to whether they could accommodate us on short notice. We ended up at a fine spot that in later years would require three weeks' notice to get a table. Gloom similar to the church, but in this case it was called ambience and was included in the price of the meal. We ate. We went home. I recall only dining in the dark. Something significant must have been said or done. Why don't I remember?

The honeymoon involved camping in Northern California. I'd never been camping. Turns out it's a lot of work, much like being at home, only with mud and flies and no good cooking or cleaning gear.

The marriage and family therapist was a no-nonsense Asian woman on the staff of a huge university. Counseling was the groom's idea. He'd secretly been seeing her for weeks before I was invited to join the sessions. Poodle-in-a-backpack feelings returned, though I agreed to go. Again, no recall of the general theme of our talks, only two specific, queer things. First, she asked us how many bathrooms were in the houses we grew up in (groom: one; bride: five). Second, I remember the flash of heart-stopping shock and bewilderment when she asked me with great emotion and the groom out of earshot, "What are you doing in this marriage? Get out of it. You can do so much better!" I swear she said that. The memory is very distinct.

Had I any sense at all I would have clung to the woman as if she were a life raft, the last bit of flotsam from a shipwreck on an evil sea. I should have quizzed her mercilessly about what she meant, what she saw in me or him that forced her to break every professional oath and make a statement like that to a client. What was she thinking? I can do better? Better? Something to do with bathrooms? Instead, I left the office in a daze.

Cut loose from his bride, the groom went on to academic achievements and a professorship in the Cal State system. I only remember a few increasingly bizarre phone calls from him over the next few years. His story would end much later in a coastal town up north. It involved a motel room and a .357 magnum. That would leave only me from the original cast to regret it all. Oh, and the pastor. I'm sure the pastor, at least, had hoped for more.

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No one's ever asked me about my wedding before. Have I even thought about it? I don't think so. Not recently, anyway. I was a bride? I have to squeeze my brain like a grapefruit to extract a memory.

I do know the ceremony involved a mid-sized Lutheran church, a pastor, bride, groom, his parents (the Lutherans in question), my mother, and my mother's handler. My mother was deep into her alcoholism years and needed a companion when she traveled any distance. They'd flown thousands of miles to be there.

The groom wore a suit he regularly went to work in. I had on some yellow linen number with a matching coat trimmed in lace daisies. The pastor's outfit was very, very white, I recall, in contrast to the general gloom of the church, even on that sunny afternoon. I know the date was April 15, because the groom had to turn in his tax forms on the way.

My overriding remembrance is that no one was happy. Neither his parents nor my mother had been happy about much of anything in decades, and this event was no reason to break with tradition. His parents considered me a snob because I had once lived in New York City and because one day in their living room in Ohio I had read a newspaper instead of chatting with them, which would have been the respectful, Middle America thing to do.

My mother didn't like him for reasons she never made clear. His IQ was something in excess of 160. He'd gone through college on a full Westinghouse scholarship in math. He had a more-than-respectable job. I think she was hoping for breeding or good looks or connections or something and was unhappy not to find them.

The pastor had no particular reason to be happy. He just seemed quizzical. I do remember that at the mandatory premarital counseling session he had seemed perplexed, as if he didn't know quite what to do with these two strangers (strangers to him) ready to set sail from his church on such a serious voyage. He did peer at me as if to ask if I knew what I was doing.

Of course I didn't. Well, actually, I did but wouldn't admit it to anyone. I felt like a poodle in a backpack. Panicky, trapped, helpless. Hostage to something I couldn't fight. I knew I didn't want to be there, but without the nerve to cancel the engagement, I had to live with my choices.

Now that I think about it, the groom seemed a bit happy. A bit. Relative to the rest of us.

The ceremony apparently went off smoothly. I have to assume this, not because I remember it, but because in a few years it would require a lawyer and paperwork to undo it. The same lawyer represented both of us, and I do recall that he actually asked me if I'd known what I was doing.

A reception followed. Same cast of characters, minus the pastor. I think we took potluck, inquiring at several upscale joints as to whether they could accommodate us on short notice. We ended up at a fine spot that in later years would require three weeks' notice to get a table. Gloom similar to the church, but in this case it was called ambience and was included in the price of the meal. We ate. We went home. I recall only dining in the dark. Something significant must have been said or done. Why don't I remember?

The honeymoon involved camping in Northern California. I'd never been camping. Turns out it's a lot of work, much like being at home, only with mud and flies and no good cooking or cleaning gear.

The marriage and family therapist was a no-nonsense Asian woman on the staff of a huge university. Counseling was the groom's idea. He'd secretly been seeing her for weeks before I was invited to join the sessions. Poodle-in-a-backpack feelings returned, though I agreed to go. Again, no recall of the general theme of our talks, only two specific, queer things. First, she asked us how many bathrooms were in the houses we grew up in (groom: one; bride: five). Second, I remember the flash of heart-stopping shock and bewilderment when she asked me with great emotion and the groom out of earshot, "What are you doing in this marriage? Get out of it. You can do so much better!" I swear she said that. The memory is very distinct.

Had I any sense at all I would have clung to the woman as if she were a life raft, the last bit of flotsam from a shipwreck on an evil sea. I should have quizzed her mercilessly about what she meant, what she saw in me or him that forced her to break every professional oath and make a statement like that to a client. What was she thinking? I can do better? Better? Something to do with bathrooms? Instead, I left the office in a daze.

Cut loose from his bride, the groom went on to academic achievements and a professorship in the Cal State system. I only remember a few increasingly bizarre phone calls from him over the next few years. His story would end much later in a coastal town up north. It involved a motel room and a .357 magnum. That would leave only me from the original cast to regret it all. Oh, and the pastor. I'm sure the pastor, at least, had hoped for more.

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