And They Said It Wouldn't Last ...

Today is my parents' 32nd wedding anniversary. They met and married in two-and-a-half months.

My mom was in the Army and my dad was in the Navy.

My mom was a Christian, straitlaced, with a no-nonsense air about her. My dad was a troublemaker, a party-guy with a devil-may-care attitude.

My mom had a difficult background: a dysfunctional migratory family, an abusive alcoholic father. The Army moved her across the country where she could get away from the reputation her family had built.

My dad was a mama's boy: the youngest in his family, he was coddled and spoiled in every way. But when he flunked out of college after the first year, my grandma cut the pampering and drove him to the recruiter's office herself.

Opposites in every way, their paths should never have crossed, their eyes should never have met, their stories should never have merged.

It took a miracle.

A miracle, a crazy man, and a bar.

Here is the story of how they met, as told to me by my mother. (adjectives by: me)


Late spring, almost summer in New York can be sticky and hot. And in 1974, you sometimes had to tough it out with the weather; air-conditioning was a luxury, not a standard item. The city owed you no favors: great glass buildings reflected the sunlight right into your eyes, steam rose off black asphalt streets even during the night, and the smog would envelope you in its unwanted embrace, smothering you with humid kisses and pinching your cheeks with the smoky fumes of burning oil.

The movies offered a means of escape, drawing audiences with fantastic stories and tightly-drawn characters. And air-conditioning. Lots and lots of air-conditioning.

My mom, twenty-one years old, went to the movies with a girlfriend. She settled into her seat and sighed with relief: she could breathe again. Without choking.

The movie began and she was quickly engrossed. She's always been the perfect audience, ready to suspend disbelief, forget her surroundings and immerse herself in the story.

Halfway through the movie, she was snapped out of her movie-trance. Some stranger behind her was heckling. She tried to ignore him, but he kept it up, a steady stream of expletives and innuendo, eventually directed at her and her friend. So they left.

And so did the crazy guy.

He followed them as they hurried along the sidewalk. There were no crowds to get lost in, no shops to duck into, and no way they'd turn into an abandoned alley; they had, after all, been to the movies, and a dark alley always spells trouble.

There was no place to go, no taxi to be found, no friendly bystander to give them a hand.

What there WAS ... was a bar.

My mom is not a drinker. Never was. She'd experienced firsthand the devastating effects of alcoholism, she'd felt the blows of an enraged drunk, she'd heard the screams of terror and cries of pitiful confusion when her dad was on a bender. She never wanted to be like that; to her, drink was the devil, and she'd be damned if she'd ever walk that line.

But ... there was that creepy stalker. And he was getting closer.

So my mom walked into a bar. She'd never been there, didn't want to be there now. She looked around--the smell of beer curled her lip and crinkled up her nose--and tried to keep from throwing up.

Seating themselves, she and her friend celebrated their getaway, smiling cautiously before giving over to laughter-tinged-with-hysteria.

And yet.

There he was again. The Movies Man had followed them into the bar, taken a seat at their table, invited himself into their conversation. He had plenty to say--none of it complimentary--and he wasn't shy. He threatened, he snarled, he bullied, he shouted. He wouldn't let up, and he kept moving closer to her, even as she kept edging away. He was vile, and he was drunk, and he was crazy. Plus, he smelled.

She didn't know what to do. She was tempted to tell him off, throw a punch, thrust a knee. But she was small, and she was scared, and she kind of thought that's not what a Christian would do: Jesus wasn't violent. Then again, she was no Jesus.

She opened her mouth, ready to let fly, when:
"Is this guy bothering you?"

She looked up. And up and up and up, and there she saw ... the slightly enlarged pupils of a man who'd knocked back more than his share. But he'd offered help, and she was desperate.

"Yes." Without hesitation, without emotion. "Yes, he is."

And then he was gone. He took the stalker with him. Booted him out the door, like you see on cartoons.

She didn't know what to think, how to react. What do you do when someone rescues you? How do you thank a Good Samaritan, especially when the "Good" is not necessarily a given?

She watched him as he made his way back to her table. He sauntered slowly; he obviously thought highly of himself. His grin split across his face; he obviously knew how to have a good time. He'd wrapped his cigarettes in his shirt sleeve; he'd obviously taken it to heart when someone had compared him to Vinnie Barbarino.

She thought and stared and thought some more.

He drank ... but he'd gotten her out of a bad situation.
He smoked ... but he'd been the only one to see her trouble.
He had an ego ... but he didn't stand idly by when she was in danger.

Plus, he was cute.

"He won't be bothering you again," he said, with authority.

She knew he meant it.


He ran away after he kissed her the first time. Like Liesl's boyfriend in The Sound of Music. She laughs when she sees the movie.

Here's how he proposed: "We're getting married." Not a question. He didn't want to give her an opportunity to say no.

Probably there were bets made at the wedding: a year, two years. The outlook wasn't promising. She was too good for him; everybody said so (including his own mother).

They honeymooned in New Jersey. Had a weekend together and went back to work on Monday.

They started their life together in a small trailer, a camper, really. You had to sit on the toilet to take a shower.

They were married eleven months when their first child was born, just in time to keep her from being transferred to Germany.

Two years later, they had their second child, a sickly baby, in and out of the hospital for the first few months.

She stopped going to church, because he didn't want her to go. She submitted, because she thought that was what Jesus would ask of her. But she kept praying. He couldn't keep her from praying.

He became a Christian when they'd been married five years.

They've moved to a million different cities, driven a million miles, had a million arguments and made up a million times.

They smile at each other across a room. They hold hands in the car. They say, "I love you," every day.

He rescued her, but if you ask him, he'll tell you it's the other way around.

"She's the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. (His mother agrees.)


Gretchen said...

Awww! What a great story! Happy Anniversary to your parents.

Cindy said...

Beautiful, Mei! Loved it.


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