Story of my Life: Part the Second

Posted: April 22, 2008 in Drama, Headspace, Journal, Memory Lane

(Read part one here.)

Grandma and I attended a four-day Witness convention in the summer of 1990, along with our entire congregation and all of the congregations in New England. One of the elders of our Hall (Witness churches are called “Kingdom Halls”) drove us in my grandmother’s car, from Maine to Providence, Rhode Island. He scolded me for listening to Simon and Garfunkel on my walkman because Cecelia is, apparently, a woman of loose morals.  I should have known better than to have said anything, since my entire tape and record collection had been taken away from me and destroyed, the year before, by the woman who was conducting my bible studies. George Michael, Def Leppard, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack are of the devil, after all.

Anyway. I don’t want to turn this story of my first marriage into a free-for-all rant about the machinations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses… but like I said, it’s all so tied together that it’s hard to separate the two topics.

My ex and his family happened to be staying at the same hotel that Grandma and I were staying. I realized this fact when, with Grandma’s permission, I left her sleeping in the room and went down to the hotel pool to hang out with other Witnesses socializing there. My ex was there, chatting with a family friend. I joined a group of young people gathered at the opposite end of the pool. He watched me for a while, we exchanged smiles and nods a time or two, then he left his friend and came over to me. He asked me to sit with him on the lounge chairs for a while and talk. So I did. He asked permission from one of the Elders by the pool, then walked me up to my room later on. Everything was very proper and correct.

Throughout the convention (held in the Civic Center in Providence), during morning and afternoon breaks, and during lunch, we walked together or sat together and talked. We were not allowed to sit together during the sessions. Other people, especially the Elders, took notice of our interest in one another. We were reminded to stay in plain sight and behave according to the rules. On the last day of the convention, during the final break of the day, my ex expressed interest in pursuing a relationship with me. I agreed.

I had turned sixteen that week, he was closing in on twenty.

Things progressed rapidly from that point forward. I began to hang out at his house after school, and got to know his mother and sister very well. His mother would drive me back home in the evening, and we would frequently sit in the car for another hour, parked in my driveway, talking about life and relationships and anything else that came to mind. I think it was at that point that I realized how much I missed not having a mother. My grandmother was always wonderful to me and I could have gone to her with anything, but the generation and age gap were always obstacles in our understanding of one another.

My ex began to come over to my house for dinner, and sit and watch TV in the evenings with me and Grandma. We progressed – very, very secretly – to hand holding, then to embraces, then to kissing. We spent hours on the phone talking about everything that interested him – cars, sailing, science, computers. He got me listening to Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and Pink Floyd, in a grand gesture of rebellion against “the rules” surrounding what was appropriate to listen to.

It kills me, how sheltered we were.

Typical to teenage romance, we soon began to chafe against the rule that we had to be accompanied by a chaperonat all times. We wanted to go places and do things together, and his sister wasn’t always willing to schlep around with us. So he started to pick me up in his car after school, and we would go to the ocean or Freeport or Portland. His parents would think he was one place and Grandma would think I was another place, and it became surprisingly easy to sneak away.

Drama begins in the simplest of ways. The incendiary point came about when we were doing something we had permission from his father, an Elder, to do. My ex picked me up at my house, and we drove straight over to the home of another Witness couple, who were boarding my horse. We planned on riding together for the afternoon, and my ex was mounted on a horse borrowed from the neighboring stable. The Witness couple took exception to the fact that we had arrived alone together, that we were going to ride alone together (because our horses would SO behave and entertain themselves while we played Nookie In The Thicket), and that we were going to drive back home alone together.

They reported these facts to another Elder in the congregation, who brought the situation to the rest of the Board of Elders, who in turn took my ex’s father to task. In the end, after “testimony” from me, from Grandma, from my ex’s family, and from congregation members who had “observed” my ex’s and my “behavior”, they removed my ex’s father from being an Elder. He could not, quote, “Sufficiently control his son in the manner exemplifying the household of an Elder.” Now, for a family who thrived upon their standing in the congregation, it was a hugely devastating time. And it just made things harder on my ex and me – we were constantly being scrutinized, watched, analyzed, tested to make sure we were behaving like good little Witness children.

Which, well, we weren’t. We were behaving like normal teenagers, with all that implies. But we felt really guilty about it.  Honest.

When my ex proposed, I accepted. Our chance to get out from under the scrutiny of the entire congregation was a mere wedding away. My Grandmother and my ex’s family were thrilled when I presented them with my ring-adorned hand. My sister and my uncles… not so much thrill. I was, after all, a senior in high school and still six months away from my seventeenth birthday. But by then, because of everything we’d gone through, my ex and I had forged an “us against the world” attitude and we were determined to get married, come hell or high water.

I graduated high school in June of 1991. A month before my seventeenth birthday, and a year early, since I combined my Junior and Senior years.

Because I was so young, upon our marriage my ex actually had to be given legal guardianship of me until I turned eighteen. THAT was an interesting Family Meeting with my grandmother, sister and uncles, and a fun trip to Town Hall, letmetellyouwhat.

On August 17, 1991, my ex and I were married. Next to the pool at the Ramada Inn in Portland, Maine. I had been seventeen for less than a month, and my ex was not yet twenty-one. My sister was dressed shabbily and was entirely inebriated before the ceremony started. My uncle was grim and taciturn. My grandmother was beaming, my ex’s family was joyful. Though he was no longer an Elder, my ex’s father was ordained by the state to perform marriages, and so he conducted the ceremony. We held the reception in one of the Ramada’s banquet rooms. We danced “our” dance to “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin. A fellow Witness manned a keyboard and provided real, quality entertainment. The Electric Slide may or may not have been performed.

We were so ridiculously young.

Finally free of the stricture that had been surrounding us for the past year, my ex and I had a fun honeymoon. We drove leisurely down the East coast, stopping wherever sounded interesting. He taught me how to drive a stick-shift along the way (I had my learner’s permit at the time, but wouldn’t get my license until about six months later). We spent a week in Daytona Beach and learned how to sail. We went to Epcot Center. When we returned from our honeymoon, we settled into living in the in-law apartment adjacent to my Grandmother’s house. He was a shift manager at Burger King, and a month after we were married I, too, worked at good ol’ BK-USA. As a crew member. With my new husband as my boss. We worked the closing shift every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and every other Thursday. We visited his parents frequently, went to meetings at the Kingdom Hall dutifully, and things went along pretty smoothly.

For a while.

To be continued…

  1. Taoist Biker says:

    Wow. This whole thing is SO developing in a movie vein, and I’m busily yelling at the screen. (And okay, I have to say, it would probably be a Lifetime movie.)

    (And you’re officially creeping me out – I graduated in June of ’91, a year early, because I skipped a grade in elementary school.)

  2. Jen says:

    i’m rather intrested to hear how you ended up in AZ!!!!!

  3. Jayne says:

    I believe I may have told you in the past that I really think you should give it a go writing a book. If the standard advice is to ‘write about what you know’ then you have the material right here. This is completely fascinating and I really don’t mean that to sound flippant in any way because so much about your story is desperately sad. I’m also learning a lot about this religion from what you write and I don’t like the sound of it at all. They appear to be stuck in some kind of unhealthy time warp.

  4. Jean says:

    I have a question – did your Grandma buy into the whole JW thing? Was she really into it? What about your mom and dad?

  5. Laura says:

    TB – insert Twilight Music here, huh? Who do you suppose I should have play me in the Lifetime movie?

    Jen – you were supposed to be paying attention in Staff, missy!

    Jayne – “A Woman’s Guide to Avoiding Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Has a nice ring to it! And again, I hate to say that my experiences are consistant with every JW congregation throughout the world, but… well, let’s just say they’re not for me and leave it at that.

    Jean – That’s a good question. My grandmother’s next oldest sister (they were the two youngest in a family of 9 siblings, and the last ones surviving since the late 80’s) convinced her to become a Witness shortly after my mother died. AGain, they tend to SWOOP in where there is a family experiencing a crisis. She did devote a lot of energy toward studying and meetings and going door to door. It was actually good for her, to keep her active and mentally agile in her old age. And the congregation, for the most part, was good to her. It was when she strayed from what they told her to do that they started treating her poorly. I’ll write about that in this series of entries. And, had my mother been alive, she would have had a FIT over my grandmother or me becoming Witnesses. My father has been out of the picture since I was three, so there was no input from there.

  6. […] Posts Story of my Life: Part the ThirdAnd now for something completely different.Story of my Life: Part the SecondStory of my Life: Part the FirstBest OfPhotographyYou go, girl!AboutPhotoshop Tutorial – Diffuse and […]

  7. […] Posts Story of my Life: Part the ThirdAnd now for something completely different.Story of my Life: Part the SecondStory of my Life: Part the FirstBest OfPhotographyYou go, girl!AboutPhotoshop Tutorial – Diffuse and […]

  8. […] readers, if you’d like to read the whole sordid tale, here’s part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, and epilogue. Keep in mind I was still […]

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