This is the first segment of the serialized chapter "Starter Marriage" from my new memoir, Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others.
Starter Marraige, Part 1
1965. One of my least evolved relationships was with Saul, my first husband. His dimpled cheeks and large, almost bulging eyes gave him a perky Jiminy Cricket look. He also looked like Frank Sinatra, though Saul wore glasses with pink-hued, transparent frames. His mother claimed his I.Q. was at the genius level. My mother thought he was nice.
On our first date, four days before I entered the University of Pennsylvania, Saul and I made out in an overgrown meadow where I contracted poison ivy so severe that blisters as big as balloons erupted on my knees and elbows. "Where did you pick this up, Susie?" my mother asked in a tone suggesting I had acquired it voluntarily, the way she "picked up" my father's shirts at the laundry.
Although I considered myself an adept liar, my voice shot up uncommonly high. "How should I
know?" I fixed my eyes on the spool of gauze she was unraveling. Having to bear up under my mother's glare and also resemble a mummy for my first day of college was a fair exchange for that breathless romp in the cool evening grass.
Saul, a senior pre-med student, lived a two-hour drive from my dorm in West Philadelphia. Autumn weekends I huddled beside him over textbooks at a bridge table in his parents' backyard, in the same Philadelphia suburb where my parents lived, studying with the intensity of a Talmudic scholar; had he been a Hell's Angel, I would have clung to his midriff from the rear of a Harley.
After a dozen reruns of the same week, I began to weary of the monthly anniversary celebrations of our first date and the perfunctory "I love you" that punctuated the end of every phone call. Like too many lumps of cookie dough crowded onto a baking sheet in a hot oven, our core ingredients were fusing into a single mass. I seduced myself into believing it was amusing to shuttle with him from one coffee house to another, mutely sipping ginger ale while Oscar Brand or some other pale guitarist I'd never heard of led the audience in folksy sing-alongs. At the clap-along parts, my palms would meet on the off beats. As hard as I tried to tailor myself to this new life, it didn't quite fit, the same way my mother's dresses, safety-pinned at the waist, never hung just so over my narrow hips.
My true impulses nipped at the borders of my consciousness. I wanted to sizzle with passion, scream at someone and with someone, scare myself to death drag racing or skydiving, quit college. I had to swat away memories that buzzed in my head, like flies on a window, of frenzied fighting and lusty make-up sessions only months earlier with Luke of the slender Wranglers and keen eye for the girls.
Even a smidge of the quarreling and making up I'd had with bad-boy Luke would have helped to quiet my adrenaline cravings. Sharing tender whispers with Saul in his madras shirt and khakis, his dimpled grin and parallel teeth that twinkled like bathroom tile made me feel like a fraud. Although the whole thing didn't feel right, it didn't feel altogether wrong. I did not give much thought to what attracted me to Saul, just as I had never given much thought to anything other than having fun and attracting boys.
Saul was different from other boyfriends I'd had, husband material (not that I was at all, in the least, not even a dot, looking for one), and therein lay the rumblings of a problem.
Read an excerpt from another chapter, "Beijing Baby," of Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others.