I married my high school sweetheart. Married at 20, divorced at 21. I haven't mentioned this much on Stank, not because it's a shameful secret but because over time, it's become one of my less significant relationships. As high school sweethearts should be, I reckon.
Nicole was indeed a sweetheart. A wonderful, loving, caring, funny, endlessly patient girlfriend who had to explain things like cuddling and trust to someone who'd never previously imagined them. I still have incredibly fond, grateful memories of the girl I married. Of my wife, not so much.
People ask me what possessed me to get married so young, and my answer is as unsatisfying to them as it was costly to us: I dunno. It seemed like the thing to do. Surely my mother dying had something to do with it, and her mother trying to prevent us from seeing one another certainly ratcheted up the need. (Kids, here's a pro tip: if your mothers factor into your top two reasons for getting married, you're too bloody young.)
In the months leading up to the wedding, months dominated by planning that wedding, Nicole made new friends. Close friends. I thought nothing of it. We were in college. Of course she made new friends.
The weirdness commenced on the honeymoon. (Another pro tip: if you can only afford a state park lodge for your honeymoon, you're too bloody young.) She was being weird in bed. After three years of eminently predictable sexual behavior, she was doing and requesting weird things. And not good weird. Weird weird. She was barking orders like a traffic cop. A tame example: she asked me to trim my fingernails. Mind you, there was no problem she was fixing. (Indeed, it is not possible to trim my fingernails any more.) She just cheerfully thought it was a good idea. It was an odd but surmountable request, in and of itself, but throw in a couple dozen more such oddities, and the "weird" feeling grew. Where's my girlfriend? I want to make fun of my wife with her.
Soon nature called. I found myself sitting on toilet, looking at a paperback book she'd left behind. The Act of Marriage, a Christian guide to sex. Wincing, I gingerly opened it. I gasped. I turned its pages with increasing urgency. On them, I found the entire history of my Week of Weird. This was her playbook, her incredibly dull playbook, and I'd been unwittingly running its plays.
"Ask him to trim his fingernails," the authors intone. I slammed the book shut and stared at the floor tile.
All these years later, I remember every detail of that bathroom. Adrenaline and heightened senses will do that to you. I sat there a long time. I feared that I didn't know my new bride as well as I had a week earlier.
The worry was well-founded, as the new friends were all rollicking fundamentalists. That is not me. I thought I'd married a normal Episcopalian, in her normal Episcopalian church with its wine and cheese parties, but within days I was being dragged off to a rollicking charismatic church with arm waving and tongue-speaking. After one interminable sermon about how man's law is God's law (premise: "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's"), she told me to drive slower. Speeding is violating God's law, and since all sin is equal to the Lord, my driving 45 in a 35 was morally equivalent to murder.
What. The. Fuck.
At the time, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for protesting an evil regime. I carefully asked my wife if he was going to hell for this. That, she could not say for certain, but he was certainly sinning before God by breaking Pretoria's law.
"Soooo...Nelson Mandela is as bad as Stalin or Hitler?"
"Get the fuck out of my car," I said in my imagination later that night when, unable to sleep, I polished the story to a fine sheen.
She believed it with her whole heart. That preacher had warped her inside of an hour. Around the time she asked me to pray for us in the ice cream aisle, I knew it was over. I gave up at 7 weeks. I seethed with anger, as only a trapped almost-teenaged boy can. I shoved her away, into the waiting arms of cultists, a mistake that weighs on me to this day. She moved out at 9 months, ironically at the urging of fundamentalists. I was bad for her, you see. Soon we were standing before the judge.
"And you both agree to the terms of this dissolution?" he asked.
"Yes," we chimed.
"Are there any kids?"
"No," we answered.
He looked at Nicole. "Are you pregnant?"
She paused. I turned to face her.
• • •
The phrase "time stood still" is overused. I know this because in that moment before the judge, I witnessed time standing still, and it's nothing like what you people are talking about. His question hung before me like bullets in the Matrix.
• • •
The answer was eventually an unconvincing "No," and the gavel fell.
I saw Nicole only once more after that, five years later. It was a stiflingly hot and humid day, and I'd been playing basketball. Maddie and I were going out to dinner, so I'd hopped in the shower. I was crisp and clean as I dashed into the building Nicole and her mother were exiting, miserable and matted in sweat. We nodded to one another and moved on, and for the rest of the evening I delighted that I'd been wearing a hat that concealed how much hair I'd lost.
An ugly win is still a win.