The first time I met my ex-husband I was 17 years old. I had a boyfriend that I was in love with, not real love mind you, but that stupid high school love that causes you to live your life in great ups and downs based on the presence of a note in your locker or a kiss in the hall in front of his friends. I was wearing a red dress. Short. With boxer shorts underneath, just in case, black combat boots, and a tiny cardigan sweater. I had long hair, down my back, hugely inflated with an ill-advised but required-by-the-times spiral perm. He worked at a dry cleaning place with my best friend. I would sit on the counter near the phone at my job at Baskin Robbins, or sometimes stretch the spiral cord all the way across the freezers to get someone a scoop of ice cream and try to ignore the way they would look down my pink polo shirt, and she would squeal “OHMYGOD, I totally just dropped a box of safety pins and HE. BENT. OVER. He’s so hot. You have to meet him.”
So I did. I swaggered into the shop in my red dress and my big hair and my combat boots and she had not lied, he was very, very hot. Hot in that way that a boy never is again after he passes out of the magic Young Man Period. Death metal t-shirt, dyed black hair, combat boots, a tattoo (in high school!), and oh man, shoulders and arms that looked like they could get him through a whole lot of naked push-ups. He blinked, and said something like “Damn. Wow.” And I, in my usual eloquent way, said something like “Uh huh. Oh. My.”
There was still the problem of the boyfriend. So, Ex and I became friends. Great friends. Friends who talked about everything, including all my sad love issues and the fact that his dad beat him up in order to take his paycheck. He was the hero of an alcoholic family. I had the best family in the world. He’d never had a birthday party. I gave him one.
Fast-forward one year. Boyfriend decides to follow me to college despite my ongoing insistence that it is not at a good idea. He leaves three or four days before me, and on the eve of my departure, Ex and I get together to hang out and say goodbye. We watched Beavis and Butthead on MTV. We decided to go for a walk. We leaned against his 1979 Dodge Dart and he hugged me and I felt a tear slide down his face into my hair and he mumbled something and when I asked what he said “I love you. Don’t go. I love you so much.” I still had to go, but I broke up with my boyfriend the day I got to campus, and came home at least once a month to visit my love, my soulmate, the man I was meant to be with.
Dating was great. I came home after the first year away at college and lived at home until I found a place, and Ex moved in with a roommate who happened to live in my parent’s neighborhood. I would sneak out of the house at night, quietly placing the window screen on the ground next to the window, always making sure the alarm pad on my window was “accidentally” broken so my parents couldn't set the alarm at night, and he would meet me out front and we would walk all over the neighborhood late at night and lay on the golf course staring at the stars and talking about how great our life would be, and our future kids, and how totally in love we were...in a way no one else on the whole planet had ever experienced, of course.
He joined the military. The day before he left he gave me a ring and asked me to marry him and I cried and said yes. At basic training he would call when he could. I wrote twice a day, every morning and every night. He wrote four times in six weeks. But he was busy, so I understood. My best friend and I begged my parents to let us road trip to Texas to see his graduation, and when they agreed I packed and repacked and unpacked and shopped in order to find just the right thing to wear when we finally saw each other. I wore the red dress. He didn’t notice. His parents came too, they hated each other. They hated me. I was a “rich bitch” trying to steal him away from his roots in a south Florida trailer park, a single-wide with eleven kids, four chickens, a pit bull chained to a tire filled with cement, and more roaches than I had ever seen outside of a third world country. I told him how proud I was that he had escaped his destiny. He seemed distant.
Six months later, the next time I saw him was the night before our wedding. He breezed into town and we promptly had a fight because I wouldn’t “let” him have a bachelor party. We hadn’t seen each other in months. We made up. He had a hickey on his neck the morning of the wedding and I spent more time on covering it up for fear of what my parents would think than doing my own makeup. His dad was a toothless illiterate, his brother came to the wedding with a black eye from the bar beating he got the night before, and his stepmother looked like an out-of-work crackwhore on a bad day. The wedding was otherwise uneventful. The trip out West, two days by car, was hellish. My mom cried so hard when we drove away that she collapsed into my dad’s arms and broke my heart. I was sick the whole way and he told me he thought he’d made a mistake. Two weeks after we moved into our first new apartment as man and wife, when I asked why he seemed uninterested in sex, he told me that having sex with me was like “fucking a corpse” and that I was driving him crazy with my constant nagging. He worked nights and I would lie awake in our horrible apartment, the one I thought would be so romantic to be poor together in, and sob into my pillow silently, listening to gunshots and screams from just outside my four walls. Every morning he would come home, sullen and angry, staring me down with accusing eyes. Every morning I would go to work at my minimum wage temp job, pouring Visine in all the way there, hoping no one would ask me how the “honeymoon” was. The honeymoon was over. It had been since the day he went away.