The first half of that year was packed with so many changes that we all simply existed in them. It was not a time of reflection or personal growth. We were attempting to define how this new family would exist in the world. People who become parents to a child beyond a certain age have not yet grown into patience and tolerance. I think much of that comes day by day and is reinforced by infant smiles, tummy naps, and the series of ‘firsts’ that are shared together; an insight that was absent from the backdrop of my future husband as Francis was now a sprouting first grader.
Additionally, our completely nontraditional courtship was practically nonexistent and was limited to the time we were able to squeeze away from my responsibility as a parent. I often felt pulled and overextended as I moved from boy to man – giving each of them more of myself than was frequently there. The concept of self-care was unknown to me and my energy poured into these two people I loved as if nothing else in the world had any importance. In the brief time we had been together, I had learned that the way to keep a happy man was to be available in the bedroom. It sounds like such a cliché but the amount of discord in our day to day lives appeared to correlate directly to the amount and quality of sex that occurred in our night to night lives. It wasn’t long before I discovered that for us, peace and contentment was dependent on sex.
The problematic piece here was my relatively limited scope of knowledge. I had no concept of what was ‘normal’ or about setting personal boundaries. I was again being taught but without the same level of respect that had once been afforded to me. I was oblivious. I allowed myself to be guided in part because I had an embedded value that a ‘wife should submit to her husband’ and while that was barely a whisper in my mind, the greater element was fear. As long as he was content and satisfied, my interpretation was that ‘I was enough’, that keeping him was a certainty.
He worked a lot of nights. He made house calls and often entertained clients in a neighboring city. We didn’t know people yet so babysitters were unavailable and I was typically home – waiting. On many evenings, I couldn’t wait up and so I went to bed, never knowing exactly how late he would return home. A few times it was in the wee morning hours and there was always a plausible explanation. Again, my naiveté was solidly entrenched. I trusted. The warning bells were inaudible.
Our wedding day began with rain and all I could think about was the old Irish superstition that posited hardship for marriages that started in the rain. There were a few minor hiccups just before the ceremony but quite quickly the doors opened and the wedding party began their stroll up the aisle. I was escorted by my best guy – Francis very stoically arched is elbow high enough for me to hold on and stepped in tandem with my abbreviated stride – making our way up to the alter. For the majority of the ceremony he stood with my brother and took it all in. Just after we were pronounced man and wife, we asked Francis to join us and presented him with a unity medallion. It was symbolic of the three of us joining together to become one family and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Francis also said, “I do”.
Hubby (what I will now call this man I married) and I went to Spain for the honeymoon and recuperated from the intense energy that the last several months had stolen from us. My new husband was energized about discovering Spain’s famous ‘nude beaches’ so I learned the only Spanish sentence I’ve ever known … donde esta playa para nudista? The concierge directed us and I was delighted to discover the Mediterranean coast in the buff. It was a time when I felt good about my body. I wasn’t skinny by any measure but I felt my features were proportionate and for the first time in my adult life I wasn’t obsessing about my size. That sense of comfort allowed me to relax and have fun in a bikini although for the most part, everywhere we went in Spain was at least topless if not simply nude. A tremendously large part of my comfort level was knowing that I didn’t know any of these people. I would never see them again and frankly, everyone was topless so boobs were everywhere – all shapes and sizes. I fit right in.
One afternoon as I was laying on my stomach sunbathing, my husband came over with another man to introduce me. I looked up into the face of a tall Italian looking man who promptly began talking to us in an explicit New York accent. He was an American living in Scarsdale and all I could think of is what if I saw him again?? I wouldn’t stand up as my bathing suit top was in my bag at the bottom of my lounger as was the only towel we had brought down from the room. That man sat there for more than an hour as the Spanish Rivera sun beat down and blistered my back. I was unable to communicate clearly how disappointed I had been that he was there so long- rendering me incapable of moving without exposing my nudity to him. “What’s the big deal?” says Hubby, “there were tits everywhere”. Somehow in my mind, the idea that another American would see me was inappropriate and unacceptable. I thought it was information that had been very clear. I believed that I had made my feelings about the entire ‘nude’ thing unmistakably transparent. There, on my honeymoon for the first time – inside the first year of our relationship – I felt abandoned. Why wasn’t he honoring the way I felt? This was personal and beyond that type of compromise one might typically require. It was about my body, about my comfort. I felt belittled and chastened because I was attempting to make my point – to stand my ground; to no avail. Eventually I conceded to the argument in an effort to save emotional energy and enjoy the rest of our honeymoon. I dismissed my concerns with the flick of a thought.
We went home and settled into married life. There was a metaphorical pea in my mattress every time I remembered the afternoon of the ‘stranger’ incident at the pool. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew something was off. I tried to talk about it with Hubby but he just didn’t see my grievance. I chatted with a friend or two and was unable to find any validation so I filed the mishap away into the file that I ultimately came to call ‘Leslyn’s faults’.
I turned 30.