SCENE: MY OFFICE
Colleague: “Why are you putting on makeup?”
Me: “My ex-husband is coming by to drop off some papers.”
Colleague: “Which one? The 17-year or the 17-day?”
Reno really is the biggest little city. I knew who he was, but I had never met him. He owned an edgy advertising agency and was as successful as he was reclusive. I managed an outdoor amphitheater venue and ran into him at arts meetings and social events. His work was legendary but I was most impressed because I knew that his brother managed Pearl Jam.
One day a friend told me he was interested in me. I had just come out of 17-year marriage yet I was intrigued. He never spoke to anyone, and he wanted to meet me. Me? I was a one woman public relations show.
I had been depressed about the recent end of my 17-year marriage, and I knew I was in no shape for another relationship, but I agreed to meet him for a drink at one of Reno’s chichi new bars after work. Just. One. Drink. turned into dinner and hours of talk. I have no idea how I restrained myself. I could have easily followed him home. Sexual electricity was running underneath us the entire evening. “Oh, you have two daughters?” I was losing myself in his eyes. “You were born here?” I wonder what is a reasonable time to wait before I can sleep with you. “Your brothers live in Seattle?” When am I going to see you again?
There were caution signs. There were signs as big as billboards.
But I chose to ignore them and sped right on by. I mean, we both had golden retrievers named Max. Was this not Kismet? I must admit–I was a bit heady that this isolated, artistic genius had singled me out and was wooing me like mad. After my devastating divorce, my ego screamed: more, please.
Recently I was talking with a friend who knew both of us well. “I thought you were a great couple,” she said, “But I could never figure out why you married him.” In hindsight, neither could I. We had six months of great sex and great dates–he took me to San Francisco, bought me jewelry at Tiffany, and took me to see The Three Tenors. The perfect boyfriend.
By this time, I had fallen hard for him. Let’s call him Mark. Well, because that’s his name. We had long ago exchanged the L word, and I was spending most nights with him. I had even met his parents. Six months had gone by in a mutual admiration frenzy. I was still waiting to meet Pearl Jam.
Over dinner one night, a marriage proposal happened in a practical pitch from hm that us being married would set a good example for his two teenaged daughters, and oh yes, did I want to move in with him? I had not yet stepped off the expressway of his courtship and was blindsided. I think I answered a mumbling maybe.
Then–boom, the honeymoon was over before the honeymoon.
Remember my friend who was so surprised that I married him? Her next comment was chastising me, “And the fact that he brought his kids along on your honeymoon was just plain weird.” So, yes, we did marry with me moving through the motions in a marine layer fog. Looking back, everything was so obviously textbook wrong.
But the biggest neon sign that should have stopped me will break your heart. It nearly broke mine. On the afternoon before the wedding, both dogs Max had broken out of the yard and were off running somewhere in the Reno hills. We formed small search parties. I was beyond upset and scared beyond reason.. Mark’s daughter Britt found them. My older retriever Max had slipped into a waterhole and was frantically dog pedaling because there was no way to climb out. Mark’s younger Max was at his side, barking for help. Britt pulled him out and he collapsed, but he was fine. I sobbed and cried for an hour. I should have known. Max did.
We did marry. Me in Vera Wang. The girls in a pout.
The four of us then left for a tour of New England fronting as a honeymoon. His daughters behaved horribly. They hated museums, historical sites, restaurants, book stores, and probably me. On the last day of this torture tour, I snuck away from the nasty pack at a Boston museum the girls had grudgingly agreed to visit. I ran down to the basement out of earshot and called my ex-husband. The 17 year one. “Oh my God,” I blubbered, “I’ve made the most horrible mistake. I just want to come home.” In spite of our contentious divorce, he talked me off the ledge, told me to just wait it out, and leave when we returned.
Now, if you think things could not get any worse. Don’t. My friend Nancy was feeding one of the girls’ fish for the couple of weeks while we were gone. We came home to a floating dead fish. In my mind, a metaphor for the marriage. A few minutes later I left and never came back. Without even meeting Pearl Jam.
The cautionary tale is this. If it looks too good, feels too good, seems too good–run far, far away. Fortunately, in this tale, there is practically nothing that cannot be fixed. In Reno you can get a divorce in 30 days.