Wayne kissed me, slowly at first, then more passionately, more demanding. We ended up laying on the couch with him on top of me. I could feel a hard bulge against my thigh as ran his hands up and down my back and pulling me even closer. The dampness between my legs exploded into breathless convulsions.
I had not felt anything like that except for when I locked myself in the bathroom: alone. I was scared and embarrassed when it happened with Wayne. Still breathing hard, I pushed him away.
“We can’t do this.”
“Because we’re not married.” It was a lame excuse. I knew it at the time. But I was too embarrassed to talk about sex openly. I hoped that he couldn’t tell what had just happened to me.
“We could get married.” He said in all seriousness.
“No, no. We can’t get married. We barely know each other.”
“We could date.” He grinned.
“No. I can’t date you. I can’t marry you. You aren’t Mormon. I have to marry a member of the church.”
“I could… maybe… join the church.” He suggested somewhat doubtfully.
We had had a number of conversations about religion already, and I knew that Wayne was not likely to do more than just go through the motions of joining the church. I wanted a man who was completely converted, convinced of the truth, and strong enough to shoulder my doubts when they came up. And I did have doubts from time to time, but I pushed them aside and tried my best to do what the church taught anyway, which included not dating non-members.
Unfortunately, there were no single men in my hometown who belonged to the church.
Not long after the kiss, I decided to move to Salt Lake City, a place where single Mormon men would not be so hard to find. And not long after that I found myself the perfect Mormon husband. Brian was a returned missionary, just finishing up law school at BYU. He proposed a few months after we met and we were married in the temple in a sacred ceremony that our parents, none of whom were Mormon, could not attend.
I was pregnant before I knew it, even before Brian graduated from BYU. After graduation, he left me in Utah and moved back to Iowa with his parents. It seemed he was not ready to be a dad yet, and had been hoping that his wife would work until his school loans were all paid off. I wished he had thought of that before our honeymoon.
Meanwhile, Wayne had followed me to Utah, still the most faithful of friends. When Brian left, Wayne stepped in. He moved in with me and helped me keep the rent paid while I shared the food I was able to buy with $80/month of food stamps with him.
We slept in separate rooms and never touched each other. But it did not matter, a man and a woman living under the same roof in Utah were living in sin no matter what their sleeping arrangements. I got no help from the church while I was pregnant.
After the baby was born I managed to get a job that paid enough to pay the rent by myself and so helped Wayne find his own apartment, still trying to do the right thing in the eyes of a church that I had yet to discover had nothing to offer me.
When the bills overwhelmed me, and it didn’t take long for one little unexpected event to put me behind, my parents stepped in with an offer to help me move back to Oregon and live with them. It was out of character for my parents to offer help, but I grasped at the chance anyway.
They made up the master bedroom for me and my new baby, Kelly. It was large with it’s own bathroom, and made me feel welcome in a way I had not even when I was a child. The gesture made me believe they only wanted to help us.
It wasn’t long though before the price of that help came out. Each night when Kelly woke up crying, hungry or teething, they got up to lecture me about what a bad mother I was for letting my baby cry. Every time they yelled at me to “relax” I tensed up as if expecting a physical blow. And Kelly cried more and louder until they finally gave up on me and with sounds of disgust turned their back on me and went back to bed. It was only then, when they left the room I was able to get Kelly to go back to sleep.
When I got a job, my mother volunteered to watch Kelly while I worked. The second I got home there would be an interrogation, why was I so late? How could it take me fifteen minutes to drive only ten miles? Didn’t I love my baby? And again, what kind of mother was I?
The worst day though was one that my mother had some other errand to attend to. She asked a neighbor, a friend of hers, to watch Kelly. She made all the arrangements and told me to drop Kelly off before work.
“What do I need to take?” I had never left my baby with a babysitter and was not sure what she would need.
“Nothing. Charlene already has everything she needs.”
And so I packed a diaper bag with enough diapers and bottles for the day, just to make sure, and nothing else.
That evening when I got home the conversation took a turn for the worse. I was greeted at the door with a loud, “How could you be so stupid?”
“You didn’t take any extra clothes to Charlene’s this morning. Do you really think a baby can wear the same clothes all day?”
Well, I did actually. But obviously not in my mother’s world. And didn’t she say that I didn’t need to take anything?
“You said I didn’t need to take anything.” I offered, shrinking back like I was afraid of being hit.
“You should have known she needed extra clothes and some toys too. You obviously don’t know the first thing about taking care of a baby. Now you’ve embarrassed me in front of the neighbors.”
How long it went on like that I don’t remember. One lecture was very much like another those days.
What I do remember is ending up on the highway one night, dressed in dark clothing and contemplating each set of oncoming headlights as the solution to my misery.
I was afraid. I was afraid I’d be too slow, or that the car would see me at the last minute and swerve. I was afraid that I would only hurt myself and make my problems worse.
I was 26-years-old and a complete failure. I had failed to turn my college degree into a good-paying job. I had failed at not one, but two marriages. I was a lousy excuse for a mother. I was the child that even her own mother could not love. No one needed me. No one wanted me. Nothing I did made any difference. The harder I tried the worse things got.
I had already tried to kill myself, twice, no three times. Twice before they kicked me out of the Army, and then once more when I was in therapy afterwards. I took all the pills they gave me at once, passed out on the couch in my rat-infested apartment and saw some lights at the end of a long tunnel and heard a voice.
It said, “Are you sure?”
I felt loved completely and unconditionally. And I chose to live.
That might have been a mistake.
Coming home again was certainly a mistake. I had figured that out by now. They didn’t want me, they just wanted my baby. They had all the answers, and everything I did was wrong. My baby didn’t need me. I was a danger to my own daughter, such a sorry excuse for a mother.
I wanted to jump in front of one of those cars. But I didn’t. I recognized the “negative self-talk” that was running through my head and resolved to wait a day or two and see if things got better.
After a handful of therapists, I had figured out that much. They could not decide what was wrong with me. I might be chronically depressed, or manically depressed. One even said I had a borderline personality, which was my favorite diagnosis. I resolved to get a real full-fledged personality when I quit that one. Whatever my problem really was, I found that procrastination had at least one good use. It let me avoid following through on any of those suicidal thoughts.
After that night I set out with a purpose to find my own place where I could take care of my daughter without the shadow of my parents always looking over my shoulder and criticizing every move I made. My mother thought I was crazy to want to leave them like that. And worried I might really be crazy, I got a second opinion from yet another therapist who backed me up by saying it all made sense to him.
I found a mobile home a little way out of town and moved in. At first, everything seemed to get better. Kelly started sleeping through the night, and the extra sleep I was getting helped me start enjoying my job more. I was happier than I had been since before I met Brian, full of hope and plans for the future.
The week after I moved in, my mother told me that since I didn’t think I needed their help I better find some other daycare arrangements, she was not willing to watch Kelly for me anymore, not even if I paid her.
So I went around town and paid for the first week of a regular daycare. It was more than my new budget could manage, but there was state help available for single moms who worked. I applied and got a letter that said I was eligible and would start receiving checks soon.
I took the letter to the daycare the morning my next payment was due. The check had not arrived yet, but it was on it’s way. They would not take promises, not even on official stationary. And they would not let me leave my daughter there either. So I took her to work with me, and was fired on the spot.
The only person who had ever helped me without wanting something in return was Wayne. And so it was to him I turned when everything else failed.
I called him up, and after some brief small talk I asked, “Do you still want to marry me?”