The year was 1961. I had graduated from high school the previous summer, and this year I lost my virginity, got married, and became a mother. I was eighteen.
I have to tell you, the last few days I have been thinking about this next post. I've started and stopped several times, because going back into the past and thinking about this stuff brings up old demons that I am happy to exorcise -- but they tend to stick barbs of regret and shame into me. Last night I tossed and turned until I woke up Smart Guy, and we talked in the middle of the night. I told him I was going to call this one "Indifference" and write about my first marriage and how badly I treated him. After telling the story, he pointed out that I was anything but indifferent, but trapped into a path, a life, that gave me no options.
My son was conceived on February 1, 1961, under a full moon at a gravel pit, where we were parked in my parents' Austin Healy Sprite, a tiny little car, in Albany, Georgia. I know when it happened, because it was the only time it happened. Derald was a medic stationed at the nearby air base, and I thought he looked so handsome in his white uniform. I met him only days before; I don't know why I allowed him to "go all the way." I went home and took a bath in the middle of the night. I knew I was pregnant within a week. I know it sounds crazy but my breasts swelled and I just knew. While talking to him on the phone in another week, my mother overheard the conversation, about having to get married if I didn't come around next month.
She was livid. She grilled me about the phone call, about the circumstances of my possible pregnancy, and on March 1, 1961, exactly ONE MONTH after conception, I stood at the altar of my church with Derald, becoming his wife. It was a hurried affair and I remember very little about it. I wore a light blue silk suit; he wore his dress uniform. I don't remember saying "I do" but I do remember the sense of despair, because by this time I knew that I didn't even like my husband very much.
Within a few months, maybe even at the time we were married, he received orders to go to Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, where my father had been stationed twice before. Derald went on ahead to find us a place to live, while I stayed with my parents. I was hoping he wouldn't find a place soon so I could stay in Georgia. But I was constrained by the pregnancy, knowing that I would need to travel there before the eighth month, which is when I flew there. Stepping off the plane and seeing Derald's face, I knew how trapped I really was. I felt no love for him, although I knew he loved me. (He was a good man; I know that now.)
On November 10, 1961, our son Christopher Eric was born. I was instantly and completely in love. This little being became the focus of my existence, along with mountains of diapers (there was no such thing as disposables) and we managed to pass a year in relative calm. Derald was so proud of his family, his beautiful wife and healthy strapping son. We lived off base about a quarter mile from the ocean, and I would take Chris there, along with a hamper of baby stuff, and we would spend the day there. It was idyllic in many ways.
On December 1, 1961, I had my nineteenth birthday. Still a teenager, but now a wife and mother. That is the story of how I began married life. There is so much more to tell, but this is part of the reason I feel so much regret. We were only married for five years, but before he died of sudden cardiac death in the late 1980s, we became reconciled. Derald was only 51 when he died. Chris would die of the same thing many years later at the age of 40. They are gone but I am still here, trying to make sense of my life.
In late 1962, I left Puerto Rico to go to Flint, Michigan, where Derald lived before his military career, to meet his parents and live with them until he was discharged. I stayed with them, giving his mother Glen a stipend that Derald sent me each month. I think I was there in that house with them for close to a year. I had never seen such a level of poverty: even though they had a regular tract house, inside there was no furniture, no refrigerator, no stove, no hot water. Derald's father was a very strange man who gave his wife Glen two dollars a day to feed the family and never provided anything more than the house. Glen had two boys, Derald's younger brothers, so there we were: six people in that house in the dead of winter.
Glen watched Chris while I looked for work. I remember walking from place to place in a cheap coat and high heels, crying, with the tears freezing on my cheeks. I found a job at a place that gave out loans to people at high interest rates. But I had some tiny little escape from the sadness that was my life at the time, with the bright spot of my beautiful son.
Derald and I eventually had another son, but that is a story for another time. I am dragging out these old memories for two reasons: one, to get rid of them, and two, to understand who that young mother really was, and forgive her.