Months before Jack and I marry, he and I drive to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving weekend. His car is a stick shift, which I am unable to drive at that time, so he drives while I sleep. Jack was supposed to map out our journey to Cape Cod before we leave. He asks a parent of one of his Grade seven students, who drove to Cape Cod the previous summer, for her advice as to how best to get there, and she gives Jack a Triptek map that will take us from Hamilton, Ontario to Cape Cod in a step-by-step method. He does not look at the mapped out journey in its picturesque entirety before we leave though I advise him that he should. What is to be an eight hour journey turns into a sixteen hour scenic expedition. These are the days before cell phones so we can’t call our Bed & Breakfast from the road to explain our tardiness, and I worry that our room will no longer be available.
“At some point I just want to stop and look at some fucking water,” Jack says.
He has tears in his eyes. I feel my heart ache for him and I soften with regards to our predicament. I smile at him and reach for his hand and we laugh quietly together. What had turned into an intense, angry, sullen car ride in the previous seven hours reverts back in that moment, to a journey of levity. We belt out James Taylor and Eagles’ tunes, which begins our tradition of singing sappy songs when we drive long distances together.
We finally reach Cape Cod the day after we are scheduled to arrive. As we get closer to our B&B I persuade Jack to stop at a payphone and call the proprietor to explain our delay, which he does. “They’re holding the room for us,” he smiles.
When we arrive at the accommodation I don’t want to socialize with the other guests whereas Jack wants to chat up everyone there. I never have the energy for making small talk with strangers. I also feel tremendous Catholic, school girl guilt over the fact that we are not married despite staying in the same room as a married couple. I spend the entire weekend hiding my ring finger from plain view.
That trip to Cape Cod is foreshadowing of what our lives will look like together once married. Jack can never be trusted to plan anything. He possesses no initiative. He is not a man when I know him, but still a boy. I am angry and incapable of opening my heart. Because of the violence I survive in my life I am guarded. When I look at pictures of that trip, I see my refusal to smile. Like my mother, I am impossible to please. Jack should have left me after that trip. Instead he signs up for a lifetime of misery because he wants to be married…to anyone. Unfortunately, (for him) he is stuck with me at the time in his life when all of his high school and university buddies are tying the knot with their high school or university sweethearts. Jack is afraid that he will be alone forever and there I am – this broken, codependent woman whom he perceives to be beautiful, sexy, strong, passionate and alluring. He is captivated.
When Jack proposes he wears a woman’s tartan skirt he’d bought at Sears because he cannot find a man’s kilt to rent. More likely, in Hamilton, Ontario – a city rich in Scottish heritage – he can find a man’s kilt to rent but finds it too costly to do so. He opts instead for a twenty-dollar ladies skirt off the Sears sales rack. When I see the kilt, I can only think of the ladies kilt my father’s workmates sent to my father from the Sears catalogue as a cruel practical joke to infer that my father was not a true man. Jack has the kilt on back to front and I adjust it for him when he gets up from one knee. Then I tell him that I can’t live off of his teaching salary of twenty-eight thousand dollars a year. My own work situation is precarious, and I know that I will eventually quit. I cannot marry Jack or anyone, who doesn’t earn enough money to support us both. Jack cries when I refuse him and I feel terrible that I am hurting him. He is a decent man who adores me, and I begin to consider that I am alone in the world. I need someone. Jack has a big, beautiful, loving family that I wish to be part of in the same way I hungered to belong to Sé Keen’s family. With time, I change my initial ‘no’ to an unenthusiastic ‘okay’.
Though I remain somewhat estranged from my parents even after attending Cissy’s wedding, I call to tell them that I am getting married and my father shouts into the phone, “Book a hall!”
“You be quiet!” my mom laughs. “Hang up the phone!”
“Book a hall!” my father says again chuckling before hanging up. He wants rid of me, they both do and it hurts.
My mother maintains that I am their problem child and they are tired of worrying about me. They need to know that I will be taken care of by a man, a husband. I am living out of the house and working, but I continue to be a source of anxiety for them. My happiness is secondary to their own, which for my mother rests upon the accumulation of wealth. My strongest memory of my mother is her sitting on the living-room sofa and counting her money, which she invested in stocks and bonds over the years. Then she shreds every sheet of paper she has written figures on so no one knows how much money she has squirreled away. Her monetary investments are where her heart lies. My father is a stereotypical canny Scot. He is tight-fisted with his money. “Tight as Casey’s bloody drum,” my mother always says.
As we prepare for our wedding, little goes right. The old priest at Jack’s parish in Hamilton refuses to marry us because he feels that we are moving too fast. “Unless you’re pregnant, I cannot consent to marry you. During the war we married couples quickly because there was usually a situation at hand, but as you say, you are not in that delicate condition, and therefore I cannot marry you.”
“That’s ridiculous, Father,” I say as Jack sits silently by my side.
“What is?” the old priest glares at me.
“Your refusal to marry us because I’m not pregnant. We’re both practicing Catholics. We’re adults. You cannot refuse to marry us.”
“This meeting is over,” the reverend stands abruptly and storms from his office leaving Jack and I sitting together dumb-founded. Jack’s brow is furrowed and I know that he is angry with me for questioning the priest’s authority. Sitting in the car together, still parked in the church lot, J- continues to steep in silence, his brow perpetually rutted. “I can’t believe you spoke to a priest like that,” Jack says at last.
“He’s not God, Jack,” I reply. “I can disagree with him.” He says nothing in response, and for the first time since he and I met I feel fear at the thought of losing him not because I love him deeply, but because I am afraid of being alone again, and perhaps forever. “I’m sorry,” I finally say. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. I was just shocked and hurt at his response. I’m also exhausted with work and planning the wedding.” I start to cry and Jack reaches for my hand.
“It’s okay,” he says. “We’ll go to your priest in London. We’ll get married in London.” I am relieved that he isn’t going to leave me, and thankful that he still wishes to marry me. I was afraid in that moment that he would leave me, having seen me for the bitch I was just as Cissy had always surmised. I am grateful that he doesn’t want to leave me.
My parish priest in London, Ontario consents to perform our New Year’s Eve wedding ceremony, and we begin to plan to be married in the city in which I’d grown-up. The city I have worked so hard to leave behind. I cannot afford a wedding gown so look for a white suit instead, which proves impossible to find in December of 1988. I want At Last My Love Has Come Along to be our first song, but cannot remember the artist and fail to find a recording of it before the wedding. “How about I just get married in black and we can play the Hollies Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress?” I said to Jack, only partially joking.
“No, babe. I don’t want you marrying me wearing black,” Jack says.
“How about I wear jeans and our first song can be AC/DC’s Highway to Hell?”
I know that I don’t love Jack as I need to if we are to be married, but I keep pushing that truth from my consciousness as I tell myself that Jack will be good for me. One week before my wedding, as I walk with my soon-to-be-spouse, I see my high school boyfriend in a shopping center in our hometown, and my heart somersaults in my chest. It is Christmas Eve 1988. Sé, who still resides in Ottawa, Ontario at that time, is in the shopping mall in my south London neighbourhood far from his parents’ west London locale. He looks at me fleetingly before his eyes rest on tall, dark and handsome Jack. Sé looks pained at the sight of me with another man but neither he nor I acknowledge one another. Rather we walk past each other as if we are strangers.
After Christmas Eve midnight Mass, Jack gives me a present of preppy Club Monaco clothes that are not my style, but rather more that of my best friend, Lina. I am more jeans and t-shirt rocker chic. I feel that he wants to change me or is ashamed of me. He certainly doesn’t seem to know me. Before I go to bed that night, I throw my one-carat engagement ring across my bedroom. I am thinking about Sé. Seeing Sé awakens feelings in me that I thought were long dead. Jack doesn’t make my heart race the way Sé did. I am not proud to be Jack’s girl the way I had been buoyed to be Sé’s.
My mother comes into my bedroom and sees my engagement ring on the floor. “Wha’s this then? Is it all aff?” she asks me.
“No,” I walk to the ring, pick it up and slide it back on my finger.
“Ye’ll ne’er find another wan like that, hen. He’s wan in a million,” she cautions me. “Love’s no like this,” she moves her open hand up and down in a roller-coaster motion. “It’s mere like this,” she flat-lines her fat hand.
Her words confuse me. I’d always thought that she loved my father passionately. They cuddled together on the couch as they watched television, held hands whenever they walked together, and he never left for his shift at the Ford plant without kissing my mother good-bye on the lips as she said to him, “Bye, doll.” Now I wonder what she settled for in her own life. With regards to me and Jack, what she means is that I will never find anyone else to marry me so I should take my chance while it is offered. “God help the man that gets you, lassie,” my mother repeatedly says to me throughout my life. My mother does not speak blessings over her children. It would be nice to have a mother who says that I was one in a million and tells me he is lucky to get me. It would be grand to have a mother or father ask me if I am happy or if he is what I want, but my parents aren’t concerned with that. They just want me out of their hair. They want to unload the burden that I am onto another. Jack is the unsuspecting fool they have been praying for to take me away and release them from any further obligation to me.
I know that I do not want a wedding but Jack wants to give his friends a party since he has danced at each of their weddings. I want to elope to Scotland and be married by a Catholic priest in a candlelit medieval church on New Year’s Eve without anyone in attendance but the groom. Nonetheless, we do have a wedding and Lina and Marina, my two best friends from grade school, are my bridesmaids. I think of asking my two sisters, Cissy and Lil, to be my bridesmaids as a conciliatory gesture, but I cannot bring myself to do it. I often wish that I did ask my sisters to stand with me at my wedding, but I didn’t.
I purchase purple dresses for Lina and Marina from an exclusive ladies boutique, rather than have them wear gaudy bridesmaid’s dresses that they will never have occasion to wear again. Instead of floral bouquets they each carry a gold lantern with a white candle that we light before they walk down the aisle ahead of me. The service, which is at five o’clock, is supposed to be a candlelight ceremony, but as I stand in the church foyer I can see that the lights are fully turned up and, disappointed, I ask my father to have the priest turn down the lights before I walk down the aisle, but he refuses. My dad cannot be assertive and ask anything from anyone. As I try unsuccessfully to get the attention of the priest from the church foyer, I notice that Jack catches a glimpse of me before I begin my bridal walk down the aisle, and feel that this is bad luck. As Jack’s organ-playing sister squeaks out in her shrill voice the entrance hymn I’ve selected, Ave Maria, I tell my father that I don’t want to go through with it.
“Oh! You’re going!” he says.
The church is decorated exactly as it always is for Christmas. Pine boughs with scarlet, velvet ribbons drape each wooden pew carved from the strongest oak. White twinkle lights wrapped inside more pine boughs swath the sizable perimeter of the church. The altar, carpeted in light green, is adorned with plush, red poinsettias, and a decorated Christmas tree that stands twelve-feet tall. White candles glow all around. The church smells of fresh pine, musk incense and melted candlewax. I walk down the sharp decline of the ramp aisle weeping and shaking in my wedding shoes. I can actually feel my feet quaking inside my satin stilettos. Jack says later that he will always remember that I cried when I walked towards him as he stood before the altar awaiting me. I don’t emit bliss as a bride should.
I am the worst bride in the history of brides. I had stopped drinking alcohol in my life before I started university, but during my New Year’s Eve wedding I drink too much too quickly and soon find myself intoxicated. At my reception I ask the bartender for another water. “Sweetie,” he smiles. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but this is the first water you’ve asked for all night.” My happy groom flits between our fifty-six guests carrying a dainty basket and handing out the pieces of wedding cake wrapped in white paper doilies with our married names emblazoned on them: Angela and Jack Kunst. I smoke cigars and do the limbo with the African-American guests from Chicago at the Caribbean-themed wedding reception next door to ours before Lina, my maid of honour, comes to fetch me back to my own party. Jack and I stay with our guests until the wee hours and then I passed out in the hotel bridal suite without fulfilling my wifely conjugal duties.
“Just tell everyone it was the best sex of your life, babe,” Jack jokes the following morning.
Since he and I had already slept together before the wedding night, sex that night would not have been the sacred gift to one another that it is meant to be between a husband and wife after a Catholic marriage. That truth is not lost on me then. I feel that I have disappointed myself, Jack and God in not waiting to have sex before Jack and I marry.
Before checking out the following morning, we find that we owe five thousand dollars for the bar bill. Liquor is payable at cost plus half for our New Year’s Eve wedding, and Jack’s brothers and friends have ordered cases of imported beer and bottles of champagne to be sent to their rooms at five in the morning. Fifty-six people drink our bank account. On the first morning of our lives together as husband and wife we have exactly one nickel in our joint bank account after we pay our nuptial bar tab. Jack tells me that he has booked a room in Stratford, Ontario as a surprise for me. He has to be back at work on January 3rd so we only have two days to honeymoon. Worried about our life savings of five cents, I am not thrilled that he has booked a room for us though I keep mum in order not to spoil his surprise. From the road I call my mother from a pay phone to thank her for everything.
“I always thought you’d marry someone mere rugged,” she says to me. “Jack’s no very strong.” I married him in large part to win her approval and still it is withheld. “He’s no strong enough fer you, lassie.”
Our room in Stratford is quaint apart from the lime green shag carpet on the sitting-room floor and the stairs that lead to the loft bedroom. It has cathedral ceilings with exposed wooden beams and a king-size bed that overlooks the downstairs where the television is.
“Please stop crunching potato chips,” I call down to Jack from the loft bedroom as I nurse my hangover and he eats chips while watching football beneath me. He immediately stops crunching.
The room is situated above an English pub called Bentley’s. For the two nights that we stay there, I sleep off my hangover and Jack goes to the pub to play darts and make friends with the locals. I am avoiding Jack during that stint at Bentley’s. I am hiding in our honeymoon bed alone. I treat my loving, gentle husband the way my mother has always treated my father and the rest of us. She kept us at arm’s length. We had to be perfect in order for her to love us but we always fell short. I treat Jack in all the ways I swore I never would treat any man. I am my mother’s daughter right enough.