New neighbors moved into what had been Bodie and Andersol's house (we removed the gate between our yards before the house was ever shown), nice enough people but virtually faceless, commuters who got up in the middle of the night and went to bed at seven.
But I still had Mary LeMay. We talked and visited each other more, finding that we complemented each other very nicely. Mary was a city girl for whom Riverton was very rural, and so I was able to help her make and tend a little garden in her back yard, and charm her on early morning walks on levee roads by telling her what animals had made the tracks and what they might have been doing. In her turn she began to bring me out of my isolated world and re-socialized me into the life of our parish community. She was a natural organizer and made sure that I was included in but not overwhelmed by weeknight parish activities. Mondays when I got home from work we would usually go to the supermarket together, and talk about food and on what nights which of us would cook for the two of us. Sometimes we dined together, but not always. I began showing her how to use my computer, and though she was leery of the machine, she would on occasion ask if she could type a letter into an e-mail. John and I set up a time for instant messaging with her, and she was flustered by the magic of it -- and hooked! She apologized over and over about using my machine now and then; she was hardly a pest about it, unconvinced that I enjoyed seeing her delight. "I like this," she said. "I can think about what I want to say to him before he sees it. Do you know what I mean? We always read things into each other's tone of voice and argue. Now I can tell him whatever I want, and he can't talk over me, and I don't have to listen to him swear when I tell him what to do! Hee-hee-hee!" Dear God in heaven, how I wish my mother could have been more like Mary LeMay.
In spring, the young man's fancy turns to love, and so does the mind of the nosy but beloved old woman next door. Mary was in a chatty, generous mood, the kind that hopes for world peace and sunny skies and everyone to live happily ever after. "Sully, are you seeing any nice men yet?"
It was a warm day for the first week in March, and we were planting tomato plants in our gardens. "Why do you ask?" I said, digging the hole for the plant a bit deeper. "Did you bury some in here last fall?"
She screeched her witch-like laugh. "No, those I put up in jelly jars!"
Laughing, I answered her question. "No, Mary, I'm not dating."
We set the tomatoes into their planting holes so that only the topmost leaves would poke from the ground. Running water over the exposed roots, I said no more. We had pushed the loose soil around the stems by the time Mary broke the silence again. "Oh, Sully, it's been so many years since you were married to that awful man. Don't you think it's time to move on?"
I knew that she was hinting that John and I should be more than just the pals we'd become, but she had the grace, at least, not to say so outright, and I did appreciate that.
"Mary, what should I do," I said, not really asking for advice. "Date? Date who, and with what in mind? Nowadays most men want to jump in the sack more than they want someone to go to the movies with and discuss great literature. Or they're looking for wives. I'm not interested in the first and not available for the second."
"Can't you talk to the priest about an annulment? Fr. Del is very kind," she said wistfully.
"I have thought about it, believe me. I even talked to Fr. Delbert about whether I should be pursuing an annulment." I sat back on the grass at the edge of the garden. "He asked me if I entered into the marriage with full understanding of what marriage is about. Fidelity, openness to life, willingness to share my life? Mary, I did know that. Did Adam? He thought he did. I still believe that he really did love me. He just got bored. So do we now annul marriages because of a personality trait?" I rubbed my temples. Just thinking about this made my head ache. "But the really telling question was this: If Adam appeared on my doorstep tomorrow, contrite and changed and willing to work things out, would I still want to reconcile with him?"
Mary frowned, not looking at me.
"You can understand that one very well, I know. Because I know that if there was ever the slightest chance in the world that John's father could come knocking on your door again, you would give up everything to have him back, even after all these years. Your friend Mr. Albert, California, everything. That's why you haven't remarried, and that's why I haven't.
"Probably Adam was a mistake, but marrying him was more than just a choice, it was my heart's desire, and I get to live with the consequences. Doesn't mean I can't be good friends with a man, just not remarried," I added, knowing she was still trying to match-make me with her son.
She had nothing that she could say in rebuttal, and changed the subject.
I went through a similar, but more aggravating conversation with Bodie and Jesse and Andersol. More aggravating because they were tactless as avalanches, and being closer to me, had no trouble naming names. "Why, WHY are you still claiming to be just 'friends' with John LeMay?" Andersol moaned, theatrically.
"Because that's all that we are," I replied, keeping an even tone of voice. What a royal pain, to be the old maid Auntie, am I looking too shriveled-up?
"Bullshit," said my sister. "He vacations out here to visit his mother and say hi to us, but you're the one he wants to see. And I don't see you avoiding spending time with him, either."
"How could I avoid him when you're constantly throwing him at me?" I said. "What do I have to do, stop seeing you and the kids and Mary LeMay when John comes to California? Maybe I should take Claire up on her offer of her house in France when he's in town."
"You love how he always takes your side in any discussion," Bodie chuckled. "Admit it."
"Listen, I talked to this priest who's in one of the classes I'm taking," (Andersol and Bodie had both started taking classes toward degrees, living in a university town and not having to hustle for mortgage payments) "and he says that getting an annulment is no big deal. Especially when there's as big a creep involved as Adam."
Once again into the fray. "Andersol, Bodie, Jesse, listen to what I am saying for one minute and stop trying to play cupid. It's muddling your heads. It's not about Adam, it's about me, and what testimony I would have to bring."
"Say what you have to and to hell with it."
"Right. Okay. How much money would someone have to offer you, Bodie, for you to deny that you ever loved your sister, and to say cruel things about her.?"
"Not much at all. You got a five spot on you, Sul?" He wasn't taking my responses seriously, and shouted "OW!" as Andersol kicked him in the shin. "God damn it, now I'll pay someone to listen to me say mean things about her!"
"Seriously, come on, what if Jesse had refused to marry you until you cut Andersol out of your life, and wanted you to say that Andersol had tricked you into living together all those years?"
"Well, she wouldn't have."
"If she did! What then?"
"But if she did, she wouldn't have been someone I wanted to marry."
"Yeah! Do you not get this? Adam may have been a pig, and maybe he still is, but I can't lie and say that I didn't love him and want to stay with him. And yes, nowadays I am much happier that he isn't in my life, but I can't lie about him any more than you can lie about each other. It would still be A Lie."
"It's still dumb," said Andersol, and then they were all quiet. Shut them all up, I did.
There were rocks in my soul that were foundations of my very being, stones that could not be casually picked up and tossed out the window. Keeping faith with my religion, my family -- these things were important to me because I had a deep feeling that I hadn't done them well in the past. I prayed and praised and reveled in God's world and shared His joy in creation while I was a child; but hormones addled my brain as an adolescent and young adult and I attended Mass if I remembered or was forced into it or had a sudden rush of guilt at ditching God for the sake of pleasure and sensual gratification. After I met Adam, I settled down and began to think about what God had to do with my life, and was relieved that God seemed to have been faithfully loving me even when I strayed away. Adam's infidelity only heightened that realization: his waywardness hurt me in my soul. I wanted him to be faithful to me not because of rules or that I could threaten him into it, but out of his love, because I loved him, and knew that our love together could be something more beautiful, more profound than what love we might have separately. I was willing to be forgiving, hoping that he would find faithfulness to me again. "Until death parts us," we said at our wedding. I meant it. I'd planned on it before the wedding, intended to vow it. They weren't just words to me, they were a fundamental change in direction. Nor did I have the excuse that I was just a dopey kid when I said them, and didn't know what I was getting into. I vowed that I would be his wife until one of us died, forsaking all others. So what if he couldn't handle that? How was that supposed to change my vow? Was I supposed to be like a kid before Christmas, trying to be good until one of the brothers or sisters pulls her hair? You weren't good, so now I don't have to be nice, either?
I was also the Godmother for all my nieces and nephews. Their religious background was partly my responsibility. I was honored to be asked to fill that position, and took it seriously. I was there with them almost every Sunday of their lives, taking them to Mass with me if they were at my house, joining them and their father if I was at their house. I'd pretty much deserted Dad and Jesse so that I could stay out of my mother's clutches as soon as I could, and stayed away from the house every possible moment, thinking only of my own escape. Looking back, I wished I had had the courage to keep Jesse company, to forge a stronger, closer relationship with my father. The relationship I had with Jesse's kids was not going to fall by the wayside if I could help it. I'd been there for them since their birth; backing away from the responsibility now was not an option for me. I wanted to be a constant in their lives, not an incident.
While my friends laughed and teased and called me to let the past be past and do what I would just for fun, echoes of inconstancy rattled around the edges of my soul as I walked or dined or slept: Where were you all morning? I could have finished this painting if I didn't have to entertain Jesse and do the chores you were supposed to do! What were you thinking, throwing away an important career to become an accountant? Why in the name of God would you want to tie yourself to some bar-hopping truck driver? I had failed to live up to my mother's expectations of me. I had not been able to hold steady to what she believed to be best for me, best for our family. Steeped in guilt for my inadequacy, I had nevertheless done what I thought I had to in order to survive with my dreams and sanity intact. Even while I was feeling shamefaced at my desertion of my mother's plans, I held an anger simmering in my heart, a purpose of my own that said, "I'll still follow the road I've chosen."
Sully, what are you doing in that stuffy little office, a billing clerk for a bunch of shyster lawyers? You could be running free and partying with us! Where's your head, girl, here's your chance for a hot romance! Why in the name of God are you so hung up on some stupid words in a stupid ceremony with the stupidest guy on the North American Continent?
I didn't want to live up to the expectations of my sister and my friends, any more than I wanted to be bent to my mother's schemes. I had set my own course, resolute. On that course, I felt whole and grounded, like a stone structure with good mortar and deep foundations. To leave my faithfulness behind, I would have to become tattered and wind-blown, with no clear mandate, no guiding principle. I would become anybody's raggedy banner, tumbling anywhere in an uncertain wind.
No. I refused. I would keep faith with my words and my family, as long as I could draw breath.