May 21st, the night before my wedding, Charley went camping with some old friends from New Mexico. Already, over three months pregnant, I decided to stay in and work on our two-tier, berry and flower-covered chocolate cream cake.
Charley’s mom called and asked me to come over to her motel. It was pouring rain. Tracy and her husband David were sitting there with a bottle of red wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. Tracy is in her 50’s but still looks 35, with sparkling blue eyes and shiny blonde hair. She’s a painter and has the gentle buoyancy of a painter. She’s the kind of 50-something most women in their 50’s will avoid in order to feel better about their own Mary Kay- slathered wrinkles.
“It’s not going to be easy for you,” she confided. “I know you love each other and I love my son, but Charley is a child. And an alcoholic. I’ve been down this road with his dad… Are you sure you really want this?”
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to tell Tracy that she was being dramatic and this was obviously going to be an amazing marriage with no problems and that she needed to stop worrying. But I knew there would be just as many problems as there was love. I knew there were more, bigger fights coming and I couldn’t stop them and Charley’s promises and apologies couldn’t stop them. And yes I still wanted this.
I remembered a passage from my godmother’s book. My godmother was Claudia Black Ph.D., M.S.W. She was this curious, short haired Seattle woman with a very therapeutic voice that made it undeniable that she has a bestseller in the self-growth section of the bookstore. She had written a little green book- “It Will Never Happen To Me!”- on alcoholism and children of alcoholics. In her book she said, “nonalcoholic parents need to teach their children it is okay not to make alibis, or lie, in an attempt to cover up for the alcoholic parent’s behavior.” Charley hated it when I talked about him and us honestly, especially with his mom. This is MY family, not your family. You have no right. But now I was the nonalcoholic one, and the mom-to-be, and this was my family.
The rain subsided to a drizzle. Tracy and I took the dogs around the town square, under the antler arches and past the bookstore I worked at on the weekends.
“I talked to a psychic friend about you. I hope you don’t mind. It’s obvious you and Charley love each other but it’s going to be tough. She said it’s your karma.”
Back at the cabin, I sprawled out on the bed and David placed his hands just above my head, then my swelling belly and finally my legs and feet. A little Reiki and I was calm.
“Yes, I want this. I know it seems crazy and will be hard but I love him very much. We can work through it.”
David’s dad had been an alcoholic. David had a funny way of staring at you. It was compassionate but discomforting.
“My father was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Tracy said Charley’s dad, Chris, had been the same way. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Charley’s dad, who had studied literature and recited Lord Byron and used to write love letters to Tracy from London to Provence. Who now was married to a practical woman with reasonable advice about everyone.
The very moment Tracy and David arrived at our apartment- the morning before the wedding- Charley was angry about something (who can remember what?) and he punched me in the arm. I growled, “DON’T TOUCH ME” and ran into the bedroom and as I ran to the bedroom there were David and Tracy staring at us like you would stare at a boulder falling toward you from a cliff.
David gave me a hug. “Are you okay?”
Charley was in the other room screaming. “Yes I’m okay.” I felt scared as hell but mostly because I wanted to get married and this was not normal. And I was embarrassed.
David and Tracy immediately left. Tracy was mortified. They were planning to leave town and drive the 12 hours back to New Mexico when Charley called and apologized.
We met everyone at a diner for brunch. Everything was fine, everyone was fine, we loved each other very much and it looked a lot worse than it was, honestly. All was fine, fine, fine.
The morning of the wedding everyone met at the visitors center to drive out to the park in a long procession to a magical spot overlooking the Tetons. The spot was called the “Wedding Tree”, except it was two giant trees leaning toward each other with a view of the mountains in the middle, (one tree was arguably the more “wedding” of the trees).
Charley arrived from the camping trip with his eyes red and swollen, wearing his snowboarding jacket with his long hair falling wildly around the collar. His shoes were burnt from the campfire. He smelled like a campfire.
He looked at me in my dress holding a giant bouquet, sort of nodded and kept walking. He was walking through the parking lot, across the street, just going and going (what the fuck), around the block, hungover and stooping from the weight of his responsibilities.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he told my dad. My dad was wearing a suit and a colorful tie. He sort of chuckled.
“It’s your wedding; you’re not supposed to know what you’re doing,” he said. He didn’t look worried so I tried not to worry. But Charley looked like a homeless person.
We drove to the Wedding Tree. Charley put his hair back. He put on a black button-down shirt over his dirty blue jeans. He put visine in his red blue eyes.
Lady wore a tuxedo with a red bow tie on her furry back. Freyja wore glittery wings with the rings tied in the middle by her ears. Charley walked ahead down the trail, a little bottle of fireball in his pocket. My dad followed ten feet behind him. I walked ten feet behind my dad, clutching my white dress over my white boots, holding my bouquet in front of my belly.
Everyone gathered around- maybe 15 people total. As we said our vows Charley started to cry. He looked away in embarrassment. Then he looked at me and smiled. He was so happy.
“Claudia. I don’t know how you put up with me. I don’t deserve you. But I love you more than anything. You are the love of my life.”
“I don’t know how I do it either. But you are my best friend, Charley. You are the love of my life.”
That’s about what we said. There was definitely a “love of my life” in there. And then we kissed and the clouds broke and you could see the mountains. Ten minutes later, it snowed.
Alyssa drove in from western Idaho with a new boyfriend. Alyssa and Charley’s brother Tommy signed the wedding documents as witnesses. The boys all gathered in a circle and drank a beer. Charley was a husband. Congratulations, you crazy fool.
That was my wedding- four months ago.
It’s raining today in Salt Lake. Diana the RN is here for Reiki. She’s just returned from Zion National Park and looks undeniably revitalized. She starts with her fingers slightly touching my head, then lingers on my bubbling belly, down to my feet. I sleep for over an hour after, until Lauri, the RN with the multicolored Easter hair, comes in with the Procardia.
And then I do what I hate to do more than anything: return a call from my canceled internet service. They want their equipment back or else I’ll be subject to fines, yadda yadda.
“Hi this is Dakota…”
“Wait, what’s your name.”
Oh it’s a sign. This woman is a Dakota! I tell her my situation with the router and modem. They’re packed away and I can’t return them for at least another month if not longer. And I am in the hospital with some pregnancy issues but I am actually naming my little girl Dakota and she will be totally healthy and strong, especially with a name like that. … How was it growing up, Dakota?”
Dakota isn’t annoyed at all. She’s actually flattered. In class growing up, there’d been a little Sioux boy with her name, so she didn’t like it at first, and then there was the whole “north or south?” and the usual teasing, but for the most part she gets paid loads of compliments and she really loves the name now. Even her niece was named Dakota after her.
“Oh this makes me happy.” It’s definitely a sign. There’s no other name for my baby.
I want to call Charley but his cheap flipphone is out of minutes and he’s probably too busy being an asshat anyway.
But there is a number he’d called me from yesterday. My ID said it was from Espanola, NM. I call it and a voice that sounds like it belongs to a stoned kid marinating on a sofa (aka. a mousier Brad Pitt from “True Romance”) answers.
“Are you Adam? This is Charley’s wife.”
“Um, yeahhh. I’m at work right now but I’ll let him know you called.”
“So, he told me you’re staying at our house?”
“Oh…ok. Tell him I called THANKS BYE.”
Piece of shit.
“Accompanying a strong need to be in control is an extreme fear of being totally out of control, especially with feelings,” Claudia Black says in her little green book.
I am not in control. I need to let go.