Picture this, our perfectly chaotic marriage begins.
We flew to San Diego for our honeymoon to take a road trip up the coast. We couldn’t decide on one location and agreed it best to just check off multiple locations on our travel wish list. It wasn’t until we got off the plane that it dawned on us that neither had solidified any other details in this plan. We had packed our bags, boarded a plane and landed in San Diego. Tada! Here we are, world. The happy newlyweds! There was not one hotel booked or car rented; not even dinner reservations for that evening awaited us. Nothing except a return plane ticket home in seven days from San Francisco. Stamp “Adult” on our foreheads because ready or not, we had just arrived.
A bit bamboozled that details weren’t magically completed for us once we spoke them aloud, and after one mild freak out, we headed to a kiosk with hotels listed on one side, and car rentals on the other. If you can imagine, it was before miniature computers donned every person’s pockets and purses. We split tasks — I was in charge of booking a room, he the car. Handily enough, there were two pay phones next to this incredibly convenient information board. Go Team. Five minutes later we reconvened. In my deck I held “some of the hotel phone numbers were no longer current” and “most others were out of our budget,” and he slapped down “couldn’t find a company that would rent a car to anyone under the age of 25.” Another mild freak out, and we continued on. In a stroke of newlywed luck, I finally got a working hotel phone number, booked a room under budget and he got a car booked with an extra fee for our fleeting young age. Boom. Let this honeymoon commence! We picked up the car and onward we went to merrily, merrily, merrily street. But first, a short stop to grab snacks. We had forgotten to eat.
Cut to, back in the car.
Husband: So where is the hotel?
Husband: You didn’t write down the address?
Husband: You’re kidding? Well, that’s ok. I’ll go inside and ask if I can use the phone to call the hotel for directions.
Husband: WHAT? You didn’t write down the number!! What is the name of the hotel??
Me: It was Wick something. I think Wickham. Yeah, that’s it. Wickham.
Inside the store we asked for directions to the Wickham. The gas station attendant looked confused. So, we asked for the phone book. Turns out, this hotel didn’t exist in San Diego. It ended up being a very quiet ride back to the airport to look for the name, address AND phone number of the hotel. Ladies and gents, the hotel ended up being the Pickwick. The Pickwick. Never in my life will I forget that name. The good news is that the pictures looked beautiful!
Later, in the Pickwick’s lobby, the receptionist explained that the hotel was under renovations. Well, that explained the dungeon feel to the garage. He apologized that the elevator was not working and told us we could take the back stairs up to our room. The higher we climbed, the smaller and danker the stairwell became. We reached our floor and saw that the doors didn’t quite extend to the floor, leaving a two inch gap so that you could hear every sound in each room we passed. The people behind door one were watching Friends and discussing their plans for the evening. The baby in the next room was quite upset. We were sure the woman in 405 was crying herself to sleep. In our room there were rust stains in the tub and our windows opened to a pigeon poop landing. We looked at each other and laughed at the absurdity of it all until we realized the phone cord had been cut and we were certainly standing in the opening scene of a horror movie. After we insisted on a room change that had street access in case we needed to scream for help, we were back on track.
We lounged on beaches and snagged free tickets to Jimmy Kimmel Live in L.A. We stayed in a sketchy hotel that night on Hollywood Boulevard where the receptionist at the front desk whispered, “We never say the room number out loud,” as he slid us a piece of paper under a bullet proof glass. We drove cliff highways overlooking the Pacific Coast and finally made it to San Francisco, but after being honked at a million times and feeling crushed by the buildings, I realized The City was potently overwhelming to my inexperienced soul. I bee-lined it over the Bay Bridge and adamantly insisted we stay in Berkeley for the remainder of our trip. Because, no matter what I was supposed to be or believe, there still lived inside me the girl hanging upside down in the tree who knew anything was possible, and I was still certain that fairies lived in the Jacaranda trees lining the streets sprinkling glitter dust on my soul. We took hikes in the redwoods and I requested that we go soak in a hot tub at this place called Hot Tubs, of all things. I thought it weird that you could rent a hot tub, odd that it was by the hour and stranger still, that they were housed in individual private rooms. I didn’t realize it was a place frequented by sex workers until I heard our neighbors loudly spanking one another in pleasure. We walked through parks and spoke our dreams into the trees. The same trees we would find ourselves living amongst eight years later.
Most of our trips went this way. Hell, most of our relationship went this way, in the same wacky, roll with the punches, blissfully whimsical, uniquely bizarre and highly entertaining fashion. Whatever came our way, we would handle it. We were unstoppable. I know we both believed that.
We were twenty-three years old and expected to have children and live the best Christian lives that we could. Just like Billy Ray, my husband was the son of a preacher man, a role that carries heavy scrutiny. He thought he needed to be a leader, and I thought I needed a savior. But he had also been precocious and a natural experimenter, and I was thirsty for change. The combination made him a bewitching theologian and me a dreamer-believer, and we were entranced. He absorbed books on religion and philosophy and I watched and learned.
Not long after the dust had settled from our honeymoon trip, we quietly began our spiritual search for a belief that encompassed our idealistic dreams of inclusive doctrine but hid it from our families. They wouldn’t be accepting of our search. We often discussed religion for hours with the barista at our regular coffeehouse, missing church all together. Yet when he was preaching, I played the preacher’s wife. And when he was an artist, I was his muse. He painted me, photographed me, dressed me and aesthetically refined me. Just ask me about angles and their lines of beauty. I can tell you about them and know the shapes I can become.
You know those times where you get in your car to drive home from work after a long week, and somewhere along the way you zone out only to realize when you pull into the driveway that you can’t remember a thing about the drive? How in the world did I get here? One year in, with our symbiosis thickly woven and solidified, I remember blinking hard and realizing the sign on the light post we just passed read “Guadalupe Blvd” and the only sound was my husband sobbing.
“I have to tell you something,” he says.
“I’ve been sleeping with other people…” he says.
“with men. “
His voice crescendoed on, “But I love you and want to be with you.”
And then the booming silence that rattled my eardrums. I knew the next few moments and the words that would come out of my mouth were critical to our future. But I couldn’t remember how we got to Guadalupe Boulevard, or why we were there, and I wondered, at which point did I zone out? Remember your role, darling, remember your role. Can you handle this? We were unstoppable, after all. I know we both believed that. We would believe many things, it turns out. Each as equally as the last, and each with our whole heart. I swallowed the lump in my throat, reached out and said, “Let’s figure this out together then.”
Zen mode on my life game of bejeweled, where there is no win or lose or “level up,” had just ended.