In the midst of my zeal to blog about the latest edition of the presidential campaign fear factor, not to mention recent happenings on the job search and teaching fronts, I almost completely forgot about a major milestone yesterday. Tuesday, October 14 marked thirty years since my mother married my ex-stepfather Maurice at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York. Thirty years! My wife had the nerve to suggest that I remind my mother of the forever dreaded event.
It wasn’t dreaded thirty years ago, at least for her. It was probably the happiest day of my mother’s adult life. That’s not to say that my mother was happy or joyous or in ecstasy or anything along those lines. But she was smiling, content, seemed at peace, ready for the next phase of her life. She attributed my sadness to jealousy. She thought that I thought that Maurice was cutting me off from her. In a way she was right. I was worried alright. About this guy who constantly acted like he was my father when there was my real father to turn to, inebriated or not. In the eighteen months between the time we all moved into 616 East Lincoln and the wedding day, he had assigned us chores like picking up his clothes from the cleaners and buying his cigarettes. His form of discipline for me and my older brother Darren consisted of having us stand in corners with one leg in the air and balancing books with our arms. Or what he called “whuppins.” I hadn’t been won over, and neither had Darren.
That didn’t matter in the long run. What did matter was the fact that less than three months after Jimme had finally signed off on the divorce, my mother had married the guy she had an affair was as the first marriage was circling the toilet bowl. It’s not the smartest thing to do in your love life, as many a pop psychologist has noted over the years. I’d learn later on how my mother’s friends had warned her about Maurice. His attempt to cut a womanizing swath across Mount Vernon Hospital in the nearly two years before their affair. His constant boasting about his alleged higher intellect and his penchant for unrealistic ways to make lots of “ducats,” his favorite word for money. Maurice himself came from a failed first marriage — reportedly his fault because of his joblessness, penis, and temper.
Still, on Saturday, October 14, 1978, at approximately 3:08 pm, I played the role of ring bearer and handed my mother and Maurice the rings that they would exchange to begin their nearly eleven years of disastrous marriage. They were relatively happy and more or less in love at that moment. Not knowing that they were both making the mistake of their lives.
Darren and I didn’t know all we needed to know either. That a screwed-up and possibly bipolar womanizer with serious identity issues should’ve never married a woman on the rebound from a marriage to a hostile alcoholic. That a father of at least one child who refused to pay child support for his own daughter shouldn’t become involved with a woman who tired of children after they turned two because “that’s when they learn to talk back.” That two people in search of their spiritual center shouldn’t involve their children or stepchildren in their personal quest for God. That a man who acted as if God didn’t exist shouldn’t marry a woman who called her first husband everything but a child of God, even when she herself had become a child of God.
Maybe I’m being a bit tough on my mother and stepfather. After all, it was thirty years ago. But given their respective failed marriages, and having been married for eight and a half years myself, I don’t think I would’ve jumped back into that kind of relationship so quickly, and with two kids in the mix.
Still, it was a good day. I had what would be my last professional haircut until I left for Pittsburgh that morning. We had a monster reception that my mother borrowed $3,000 to throw at the late Jeannette Martin’s house on Mount Vernon’s South Side. My mother and stepfather went on a short two-day honeymoon while we stayed with our babysitter Ida (and one of Jimme’s drinking buddies). As an eight-year-old, there was a part of me that the honeymoon atmosphere that broke out between the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire playing on the dance floor would last forever.
Forever barely lasted seven Saturdays after the wedding. Because my stepfather had pissed me off with another one of his rules, and because I knew that my guardians had already started to argue about money, I ran away from home. I packed two days’ worth of clothing and walked out with the plan that I would get to New Rochelle, find a boat, stowaway and eventually get to Europe or France. I was found three-and-a-half hours later by the Pelham Manor Police, received the belt-whipping of my life (at least until Maurice began beating me up in the summer of ’82), and was on lockdown in our bedroom for six weeks.
It was during those six weeks of no TV and no going outside that I decided to punish my mother and stepfather by ignoring them with books. I cracked open the “A” volume of the ’78 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia and began reading. And reading. And reading. Pretty soon I didn’t miss TV. I didn’t have lots of friends, so going out to play became less and less of a hardship. I noticed that my grades and test scores started going up. So I kept reading. I became a straight A student indirectly because my mother remarried and my dreaded stepfather drove me to books. Talk about irony!