Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine–but not fast enough
‘Twas many years ago that a good friend asked whether her brother might stay at our house after retiring from the military. He needed a place to stay while he tried to find work in the DC area. So The Little Woman (who would rip my tongue out and beat me with it if she heard me call her that) and I said sure! Why not? We had the room.
So Ned (The name has been changed for my own safety.) moved in with us. He brought cigarettes and beer. Lots of both.
While I detest cigarette smoke in the house, we had no objection to beer, but it never lasted long enough to be an issue. Ned was just a brief delay in its rush from the bottle to the sea…and he was pretty good about smoking with his face out the window, so there’s that.
Beer and cigarettes aside, Ned was an interesting character in his own right. A divorced father, he rarely mentioned his ex-wife but went on and on–and maybe one more on–about a woman he knew in the service. She was, according to his frequent and regular tirades, a floozy and an idiot for the ages, who was fun while they were in the military but now she continued to stay in touch, which he protested routinely and often. Besides, the b**** owed him money.
Patty* (*not “Patty”) usually wrote to him—on paper if you can imagine, this was a long time ago—but occasionally she telephoned long distance (Do you remember, “Better hurry because this is costing you money”?) from overseas where she was still serving.
Her calls usually resulting in Ned practicing two-fisted beer delivery until he “better turn in.”
From time to time his children came to the house, apparently on vacation from visiting guests at The Shining’s Overlook Lodge, but what they lacked in normalcy they made up for with being the spoiled spawn of a father trying to compensate for having been deployed without them for much of their early life.
One small example: He could not understand why I objected to younger child sledding down the carpeted stairs on a flat cardboard, landing against a bookshelf on the landing. So the house shook and a few books toppled over once in a while, loosen up.
Oh, the celebration–quiet and discreet—when they returned to their dam’s lair.
I knew that the situation was temporary, although after the first six or seven months I began to wonder what the real definition of “temporary” housing might be for a career military guy. Then I recalled with something approaching horror that the World War II “temporary” buildings on the Washington Mall had remained in service for decades after, and that I had been housed briefly in the World War II “temporary barracks” at Fort Holabird—in 1970. And I began a-sweating.
One day, Ned bearded me in the kitchen. Ironically enough, I was clean-shaven at the time (See “More than a close shave, it’s a blood sport”)
“You mind if I ask you something stupid?” he asked.
Mission accomplished, I thought, but I said, “Of course not,” through the fixed grimace of my effort at a smile.
“Is it okay if I get married in your house?”
“But you’re not dating anybody!” my mouth said before my brain had a chance to get diplomatic.
“Well,” he said with a grin for which we had a specific term in the military, but we will begin with a couple of the same letters and settle for sheepish, “It’s Patty.” (Not “Patty.”)
I immediately said, “!”
Maybe there weren’t any words, but I’m pretty sure I saw him see the way my left eyebrow twitched.
When I had recovered, I added, “I thought she was still deployed.”
“She is, but she’s getting out and I told her she could stay here….if that’s okay.”
I said, ”?” This time more emphatically, but as I still was unable to verbalize my bewilderment he couldn’t hear it well.
“But I thought she was a deadbeat slag….”
(Diplomacy still on a break.)
“I know, I know. But we talked and now I want to get married.”
Uh, sure,” I continued. “I guess.”
What questions should I have asked?
What does that entail?
What are my responsibilities?
How many people will there be?
Where will the reception be?
Maybe even, When will it be?
But what I did ask was….well, I didn’t ask anything. I walked off in silence, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It wasn’t happening. The wedding was, I guess, but the sense of it just wasn’t coming together. When I told TLW (I can refer to her as The Little Woman because she moved on to terrorize another—more exciting–man until death….) her reaction was somewhat better:
“Are you crazy?”
Followed by, “Is he crazy?”
“Are all of you crazy?”
“When will it be?”
“Who is taking care of arrangements?”
“Where’s the reception?”
And all the other questions I hadn’t asked along with a few that never would have occurred to me.
Well, answering the last question first, they planned for the blessed event to take place in about two weeks, just long enough to invite people and for Patty to return to the States.
Another question answered was that the wedding itself was going to be at a military chapel; the reception was going to be at our house.
I learned both of those answers the day before The Day.
There would be only a handful of guests and Ned was calling to redirect them to the church and to invite them all to the house immediately afterwards.
When I asked questions, Ned told me not to worry about it (Which always worries me) and that it would all be fine.
After the wedding Ned announced that everybody should come back to the house. And they did. He brought a case of beer.
Only a case of beer.
Bette (TLW) and I looked at each other and I said that I couldn’t believe that nothing was laid on. TLW said that it wasn’t our shindig and it wasn’t our problem.
But it was my house and Mamma didn’t raise me that way, so I ran out and bought some spiral baked ham and some cheeses and potato salad and other such goodies as one might expect at an impromptu shotgun wedding, not that anyone was pregnant, but it felt like that let’s-get-‘er-done-before-the water-breaks feel to it. Then TLW and I we went out because I have a very low tolerance for embarrassment.
When we got home. The invited guests had left–probably for greener pastures and a better watering hole—and Ned and Patty were deep in their cups.
Oh, so deep.
Patty and I were in the bedroom quietly reviewing the tragicomic events if the day, when a knock on the door was quickly followed by the door opening to reveal one very drunken bride with smeared mascara and one false eyelash. She slurred that she had wondered where we had gotten off to.
More specifically—and pointedly—she wondered where I had gotten off to. Then she sat next to me–on the bed–and began what some of my less urbane friends might call a-rubbin’ on me and getting more than a little handsy. That was when I learned that Patty liked me, or, as she put it, REALLY liked me. That also was when Bette decided that she was immensely amused by the whole scenario: My skittering sideways on the bed with a bride still in her wedding outfit hitting on me hard and heavy and without any self-consciousness.
This also was about the time that the groom came to the door and asked if we had seen …Oh! There she is.
“Ned, You have to do something,” I said in a voice that cracked less than I thought it might. Bette leaned against the wall smirking, with her arms crossed in front of her.
“Do you mind?” Patty shrilled at her new hubby? “We are trying to have a moment alone.”
Ned raised his hands in surrender and backed off.
Seeing no relief. I apologized to the bride who was mauling me and said that I had go downstairs, and I bolted, leaving Bette and Ned to deal with the weeping bride while I went for a long walk wondering where it all had gone so wrong.
When I returned, the house was quiet except for someone who kept knocking on the wall of the guestroom, right around where the headboard was. I figured it was Ned trying to escape, but Bette just kept smirking.
The morning after, Bette and I were drinking coffee in the sun room and reminiscing about a honeymoon to remember. I was wearing a bathrobe, but no shirt. Bette was still smirking when Patty dragged into the room looking for the coffee pot.
She seemed to perk up when she saw me.
Now,. Let me say that I am not God’s gift to women, more like a little not-so-romantic prank. I am awkward as a dead fish about how to make advances or what to do if someone makes one on me. I have no clue about “sweet talk, and, other than this instance, I am typically oblivious to be hitting on. The perceptive gene seems to have skipped me. In short, I am as romantically gauche as one who is right-handed could possibly be. How I was ever naked (I also am shy about my body) with another entity in the room—unless gang showers in the barracks count—is either a miracle or a modern mystery.
And I blush. I blush at everything.
Even today, well into my dotage, I blush. I am the personification of a rosé, often bordering on a hearty red.
And Bette Is a smirker. I tease about her, but she was one of the strongest, most confident women I have known. This was the first time I had hoped for a glimmer of jealousy.
II wasn’t happening. Given subsequent events, I suspect that she didn’t believe someone was all that into me.
Yeah, that might have been a hint about how we would end up.
Patty started slinking toward me as I tried to disappear into my chair. Unfortunately, my chest looks—looked–like am auburn-colored shag carpet. (Now it looks more like raw sheep’s fleece, but c’est la vieillesse.) and apparently, Patty likes to run her hand through shag carpet, ’cause she were a-comin’ at me, with a steady eye and a firm gait.
She quickly sat on my knee, slipped a hand under my robe, and began rubbing my chest, murmuring things I couldn’t quite hear over blood rushing in my ears. And the whimpering, although I couldn’t see who was the source of that.
In the middle of all this unrequited hanking and panking, guess who decided to join us in the sun room.
Oh, yeah. The recently-married retired military guy, who stopped dead in his tracks when he entered the room to find his new bride in my lap, caressing my naked chest under my robe.
Bette was sipping coffee.
“Ned,” I said, hearing the panic in my voice. “”You’ve gotta do something!”
Ned shook his head as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Nope, when she gets like this there ain’t nuthin’ I can do.”
They knocked on the wall for a few more nights before looking for a new place to live. I found that work was requiring a lot more of my time and attention than usual, but, hey, we all have to sacrifice.
However, the next time someone asks me whether he might do something crazy in my house, I’m pretty sure I will have a different answer ready, or at least quite a few questions.
And somewhere, I know, Bette is sipping coffee and smirking—more wistfully now, I hope—at the way we used to be,
And, by the way, all these years later, Ned and Patty are still together, apparently living happily ever after.