On a Thursday afternoon one dusty July, we drove over to the next county and quietly married. The Justice of the Peace asked us to “Hurry it up” so he could go fishing. We wouldn’t have even had rings, but our friend Sheryl, who came with us as a witness and for moral support, made up stop at “Gil’s Got It,” the souvenir store in downtown Livingston, Montana. You know the sort of place– “Indian Tomahawks” and flocked horses, Jackalopes and moccasins. There we bought matching copper bands. I think they were $5.97 each.
After the ceremony, we wandered down the street to the bar of the Grand Hotel and had a whiskey to celebrate.
We’d done this marriage thing on the sly. Though my betrothed was three years divorced (and we’d only known each other six months) and even though his former wife had walked out on him, she’d adopted a classic dog-in-the-manger attitude. She didn’t want him, but she damn sure didn’t want anyone else to have him either. We’d hardly started dating when E. started getting letters from the attorney of the ex-wife, with more demands, and more stipulations and restrictions and declarations regarding their two adopted daughters, ages 5 and 7.
The girls lived with their mother Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon, and came to their father Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening. When it came down to brass tacks in court, they were counting minutes because if the girls were with their father even a smidgen over 50 percent, that changed the child support structure. Their mother would put them in daycare to avoid that. (As for us we wanted them full-time, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) Suggestion had been made that it was “immoral” for the children to be in the company of their father’s new girlfriend. (The only girlfriend since the divorce, I might add.) We were engaged and planning a wedding for the following March, but the intense hostility made us decide to hurry it up a bit.
When my brand new husband went into work the Saturday morning after our secret wedding, he found the Montana Rail Link lunch room festooned with white crepe paper streamers and tissue paper wedding bells. On every bulletin board was thumb-tacked an enlarged copy of the announcement that appeared, unbeknownst to us, in the tiny Big Timber newspaper. Who knew they sent a reporter down to the courthouse each week to retrieve all records of births, deaths, marriages and divorces? Of course, an engineer lived in Big Timber and he couldn’t wait to tell the guys. Railroaders enjoy gossip more than hair-stylists do.
We couldn’t have known how it would turn out. I was 30 when we married, my husband was 48. People that age carry with them the baggage of life experience. For me it was a first (and ridiculous) marriage, several ill-fitting boyfriends and too many dark hours alone. The New Year’s Eve before I met E. I spent drunk and sobbing on the telephone to old friends in far-flung places. For Elmer it was a previous marriage to a passive-aggressive librarian that lasted 19 years and 5 months until she announced she was taking their daughters (then one and three) and moving out. It took her another 6 months for her to get her stuff together and leave. It’s testimony to the kind of man he is that he didn’t just throw her out.
There was no way to really know whether the stress of the custody battle his ex-wife waged would make us more solid or tear us apart. I didn’t know how it would be to be artist married to non-artist (a damn sight better than the other way as it turns out). How could we know how much we’d make each other laugh? I didn’t know that someone could love me enough to put up with (and sometimes celebrate) my not-insignificant shenanigans. I found out what an abiding comfort it is to love without fear.
We did get married again the following March, with a velvet dress and gold rings, a jazz band and a horse and carriage. The copper bands entwined in the ribbons of my bouquet, the Lutheran church bursting at the seams with family and friends– but this wedding, the one in the Sweetgrass County courtroom is the one that is regarded as the legal date of our marriage, and today that marriage is twenty years old.
We didn’t really have time to think it through. I sometimes wonder if we’d had more time to contemplate if we would have changed our minds, and what a mistake that would have been. But we didn’t think about it, we jumped in with both feet, and sometimes that plunge felt like a long, long drop. But together, we stuck the landing.
Target number 54. Steps today (all day in the car) 1348. For breakfast: yogurt with granola, banana. Lunch: chicken salad sandwich, iced coffee. Snack: French cruller (quiet, I was celebrating) Dinner: green salad, baked potato, stewed tomatoes, 8 oz filet mignon, breadstick. Tonight- a 7-up to settle my tum.