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Devon O'Brien Headshot

Martha and Me

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My whole entire life I have spent only one day with Martha Stewart. It was a long time ago, June 23rd, 1984, yet it is a day I will never forget. We were at The Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York City.

I was wearing a gown that had belonged to my great-grandmother and a mesh veil with a ten-foot-long train. Martha was in jeans. It was my wedding day. Martha catered our wedding.

My mother planned our wedding. It was her idea to hire Martha. In the mid-80's in Westport, Connecticut -- my home town and, famously, Martha's adopted one -- Martha was already a star, rapidly rising and increasing in brightness. Later on, my mother regretted it. There was a misunderstanding. Things got litigious.

Martha said my mother said I would love to have our wedding in her upcoming book, “Weddings.” Martha thought Danny and I wouldn't mind at all being stalked at our wedding by her photographer. Martha assumed we would jump at the chance to have our private ceremony featured in a coffee table book: a publicity tool for Martha.

My mother had never agreed to it.

When we declined the opportunity, the privilege, Martha expressed surprise. “Devon's an actress,” Martha said. (I was then; ”Terms of Endearment” was my one, my only, really big movie.) “I thought she'd like the publicity,” she said. Through her lawyer, (her then husband, her one and only husband), Martha offered a deal: Buy the photographs or they will be destroyed.

Danny and I, and our families, had all been appalled when our wedding was invaded by an intruder: A persistent,

unknown and unwanted photographer. The photographer, a man, began shooting pictures of me and the rest of the wedding party as we stood on the steps of the cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue. He then preceded us inside the grand, golden doors. He walked along a nearby aisle as my father and I, arm in arm, advanced to the crossing and high altar. He shot Danny and I as we took communion.

And we were dismayed that our wedding now had a legal issue attached to it. Did we want to be in her book? Did we want to buy the pictures? Did we want them destroyed? We decided to have a look at them.

Danny and I, with our lawyer had a meeting with Martha's husband in his downtown publishing offices. It was a meeting at which not much was said. In the darkened room, he wordlessly operated a slide projector. Images of our wedding lay projected on the wall. I gasped. They were magnificent, yet they weren't ours. Martha had appropriated our day for her purposes - and that felt very wrong.

We bought them for a few thousand dollars. My mother made the stills into a video and set it to Pachabell's Canon in B flat, our wedding music. The video is in a filing cabinet in my closet.

In the years since, Martha's path and my own have never crossed again. Martha embraced becoming a mogul and icon while I embraced writing, motherhood and carpooling in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. Nor have I paid much attention to Martha -- though, Lord knows, she's a hard one to ignore. Who knew that Martha was omnivorous? Who could have foreseen omniMartha? I have never intentionally watched her show. Catching it while channel surfing and finding myself mesmerized by her husky voice, her zero-warmth smile and her hair -- the thick highlights, the hyperactive bangs -- doesn't count. I have never intentionally read her magazine. Flipping through it in the checkout line at the supermarket -- and, even stealthily jotting down a recipe - doesn't count, either. Regarding Martha and our experience of her, I have taken the high road. I have tried to remain neutral on the subject of Martha. I admit that, on occasion, we dined out on our legal entanglement with her. But, more times than not, while friends aspired to throw a party like Martha, paint an egg or plant a row like Martha, I kept my mouth shut.

When we heard that Martha was in trouble, Dan and I shook our heads and smiled. Actually, we relished it. The picture of Martha on her cell phone allegedly giving orders to dump stock while waiting on the tarmac as her friend's jet refueled - well, it just was too rich.

When she was indicted, (Summer '03), I was shocked. I tried to get my mind around the image of Martha in jail. Dan and I marveled at it. We noted its particular relevance to our own experience. To us, it simmered down to this: Martha got caught fudging the facts in her favor - only this time, Martha got caught Big Time.

The trial was entertaining, in a grim sort of way. I read the articles, and studied the charts in the papers. I followed the courtroom drama, who said she said what and when, the alleged agreements, alteration of documents, and issues of ink. To us, the trial also seemed stupid, sad, throwing a glaring light on the petty lives of the rich and famous. When Martha was convicted, neither of us celebrated.

And, by then, our own drama had made us neglectful even of Martha's. For years, we had vowed to one another we would not utter the word divorce. In our house, the “D” word was taboo -- like the name that begins with “V” in the Harry Potter books -- it was, The Word That Must Not Be Mentioned. It was on our minds, though. Or, I should say, often it was on mine.

I broached it with a lawyer.

“We want an amicable divorce.”

“There is no such thing,” he said.

Divorce had such negative connotations. It's such a ghastly, nasty prospect. We wanted a kinder, gentler experience: a procedure more respectful of ourselves and our years together and our two cherished children. We managed to keep true to this vow, in our fashion. We hired a mediator. We told friends that we were “un-marrying.”

My wedding dress is in a suitcase in the garage. I should get it out now because it would fit now. I am that thin again. In fact, now is the only time since my wedding day I am thin enough to fit in it.

“Too thin,” my friends say.

They also say: “Hi, skinny.” “Skinny you.” “Are your clothes still falling off you?” “You are thin as a rail.” “Start eating.” “I didn't recognize you, you're so skinny.” “I didn't recognize you, you're skin and bones.” “Don't lose any more weight.”

I didn't mean to lose weight. I would lose my house, community and context, my children a third of the week and my extended family. Losing weight was just a dividend.

One friend saw me and said, “Oh, I know. You're on The Tragedy Diet.” My divorce is not a tragedy, but I have learned this: Even un-marrying is hell. I could not have gotten through it without my kids, my loved ones -- and Martha.

Last fall, when, desperate to have it over with, but powerless to make it happen, (mediator problems, attorney problems, accountant problems), I noticed a curious alignment between the length of Martha's upcoming prison sentence and the probable duration of the rest of my marriage. Since Martha was part of the beginning of our marriage, it seemed fitting to bring her in again at the end. I latched onto the parallel.

“If Martha can endure five months of days in prison,” I thought to myself, “Then I can make it through the last days of my marriage.”

On October 8th, when Martha surrendered herself to prison camp, “Camp Cupcake,” in Alderson, West Virginia, I took courage. Martha wanted to get “the nightmare” over with. Me, too. Martha wanted to get on with her life. Me, too. Martha had her eye on life after prison. Who would be free first, I wondered, Martha or I?

On my bad days I would think of her. How did Martha get through her day and endure the hardships of bad food, lines to use the blow dryer and the shower, low cotton-count linens and lockdown? She crocheted for her dogs, she invented yoga poses she could do in her cell, and foraged the prison grounds for greens. Martha was awesome. When life gave her lemons, Martha made a meringue. If she could, well then, I could, too. I felt solidarity with incarcerated Martha. When Martha left prison, on March 3, I was not yet free. I was disappointed -- no, I was despondent. There were disagreements, delays, sore feelings and sore throats. Everything seemed to stand between my freedom and me. I was in despair.

Yet, she still had house arrest! This cheered me up. It gave me a new mental deadline, and heartened me. Perhaps by August, I would be un-married.

There was, however, little consolation for me in her days of home confinement. Ensconced in upstate New York with her daughter, dogs, staff and livestock, Martha was busy with her projects: her on-line sessions with multitudinous e-fans, two TV shows to prepare, columns to write and a clothing line in mind. Martha's house arrest on her rural estate was a pretty privileged party compared to my daily set backs, exasperation with “the law's delay,” and an uncertain future. Envy entered our relationship. I tried to talk myself out of it. Yes, Martha enjoyed unimaginable luxury, but didn't she have worries of a magnitude to match? Martha's company had lost 54 million dollars -- and counting! Poor Martha! To save her company, Martha had to perfectly plot and execute her come back. Go Martha!

The disparities made me bitter. I learned the real hazard in identifying with the rich and famous. At some point they are, say, being celebrated as one of America's most Famous and Influential Americans, while you are home alone and crying into a can of tuna fish.

I was no different from the foolish girls in Virginia who, on the morning of October 8, 2004, cut class at the nearby beautician school and waited by the road for Martha. They were there, they said, to show Martha support and to offer their services. They would be happy to do her hair or make-up to cheer her up. The girls never laid eyes on Martha -- let alone a curling iron or a wand of mascara. Martha was already inside. An SUV had delivered her earlier, under the cover of darkness. Even in her moment of surrender, Martha was exclusive.

I had to face the truth. For Dan and I, our outrage had become a party trick and, now, I had prided myself on identifying with her. Martha's treatment of us was specious. Her stock-dump was greedy, illegal. Her subsequent machinations and manipulations were shady, unseemly, and also illegal. And here was something else I had to face: I had never spun sugar, marbleized an egg or monogrammed a tea cosy. The fact is, I have nothing in common with Martha Stewart. And I am no longer neutral on the subject of Martha Stewart. Martha is no martyr, she got what she deserved - justice, jail time.

By the way, I beat her to freedom. When Martha's freedom was delayed because she violated the terms of her house confinement, I was not surprised. Arrogance, defiance and fact fudging are her same old tricks. But now that she is free, I wonder what she did with her rubber and wire probation ankle bracelet. I wonder, did she get to keep it? And, if so, what did she do with it? Did she dip it in bronze, perhaps?

My wedding rings are in a box in my bureau. Those defining, confining, chafing, encircling rings. Now, sometimes, I find myself staring at the glinting diamonds on other women's hands, or at the unfamiliar blankness on my own ring finger.

What will I do with my freedom? I scanned the infinity of Martha websites for ideas. I could learn the art of stain removal or how to freeze my vodka, make a fleece hat or a strawberry pincushion. Faced with the void, I imagine what Martha say: Why not wallpaper it?

I think no. I have will never forget you, Martha. Nor our day at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I have learned a lot from my association with you. But, I like a void of my own, and I like it plain.