I was sure I was forgetting something, but for the life of me could not figure out what it was. This was one of those mornings where thoughts did not come easily. Even making coffee required a mental checklist: pour water, grind beans, add paper filter, dump ground beans into paper filter, and ... uh ... one more thing ... turn it on!
Hoping to jog my memory, I started looking around my apartment, trying to figure out what lapse of caution was nagging me so. The living room was spotless and without a bit of clutter. The bookshelves, CD rack, and DVD cabinet were purged of all controversial titles. The liquor cabinet held only wine (which I knew was permissible). The humidor, tarot cards, questionable articles of clothing, and sex toys were all safely stowed away in seven large brown boxes a friend was keeping in his attic for me.
Impressing Connie's parents was vital. She could only lie to them as far as denying we were intimate, a skill she apparently picked up in her teen years. However she could not pretend I was anyone her parents would approve of her marrying, so everything depended on not seeming overly objectionable to them..
Arthur and Elisa Wagner were not people to trifle with. A retired brigadier general in the United States Army, Arthur Wagner relished the memory of his military career. Immediately after retiring from the service, he entered the seminary and was now Reverend Wagner. But despite being a man of the cloth, if angered, he could still break a man in two.
The former Elisa Wilcox was born into New England family whose ancestors came to Boston during the great Puritan migration of the 1640s. She could easily buy every house on my street with a stroke of her pen. But to her, money was a strategic thing, only used either to invest or to destroy a rival.
Connie tried to be the rebel. She spent much of her teenage years and her twenties resisting her parents' influence. Anything they opposed, she would investigate and often experience for herself. From this, she got an interesting assortment of friends: artists, peace and human rights activists, college professors, and people of various sexual tastes. (Her ex-girlfriend still hates me, but I was not the one having a new crisis every week.)
Connie and I met in an occult bookstore where I was working. She was interested in getting a new deck of tarot cards; "the Devil's cards," as her parents would put it, or "hippie bullshit" as her girlfriend did (repeatedly as I showed Connie a few of the decks). She already had the most popular decks, so I suggested a recently published one that I had found impressive. She looked them over, thanked me, and bought the deck.
We started bumping into one another a few more times after that. One evening, I was at a coffee shop when I noticed her and her girlfriend arguing. The other woman stormed out and Connie was left alone in tears. I walked over and just nodded. She shook her head and began a long exposition detailing the previous two years of her life. Her candor at describing their most intimate moments made me uncomfortable much of the time, and a little bit aroused the rest.
Soon we were "an item," then "involved," and now engaged. There was no "popping the question," we both were considering the possibility, and one afternoon we talked it over and decided it was a good idea.
There was one problem. A few days after we decided to get married, she took me out to a large, empty house in the country. "Twenty five rooms," she said, "One hundred and fifty acres, and all mine if my parents agree to us marrying."
Her grandmother had apparently been troubled by a woman nearly thirty years old who still, to her, acted like a teenager. So she revised her will, leaving Connie the house under the conditions that she marry, and that her parents approve of the wedding.
Most of Connie's childhood memories were centered on that moody Victorian structure. She remembered spending hours in the vast attic, going through boxes filled with books, clothing, and housewares, most of which were usable, but unused for the better part of a century.
This was a far cry from her parents' spartan, uncluttered suburban house, where even the attic was organized. General Wagner ran his household as if his children were soldiers under his command. Breakfast was 6 am, bedrooms were inspected by 7, and curfew was 9 pm.
Reverend Wagner ran things as if Connie was the ring-master of a flock of sinners. Every time Connie did something he found morally offensive, he would tape a small construction paper crucifix on the outside of her bedroom door, saying "Another cross for me to bear." By the time Connie turned 18, her door showed very little of its original white paint; dozens of blue, green, red, and yellow crosses took up all the space.
Of course, searching for one thing will invariably cause you to find something else. And I was relieved when turning over the sofa cushion revealed a ceramic pipe. After stowing the piece of paraphernalia inside a worn sweatshirt, and stowing that at the bottom of the laundry hamper, I continued my search, growing increasingly frustrated.
My search was interrupted by a knock on the door. Why, I wondered, are priests and soldiers morning people? My stomach felt queasy as I turned the knob. At 68, Reverend Wagner was still an intimidating figure. He seemed to be looking down at me both literally and figuratively. His wife still had a patrician bearing, her expression showing the attitude of "sneer first, and ask questions later."
Suddenly I realized what I had forgotten. But it was too late. The bedroom door opened, and Connie came stumbling out, naked. "Did I hear knocking?" she asked, yet to fully wake up.
-- Dan Mulhollen
Originally appeared 2009-03-09