August 24, 2015

All Things Being Equal, Part Three
by Bernie Pilarski (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

Honesty is the best policy, the old saying goes. But the best -- for who?

~~~

"The intimate community of life and love which constitute the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage."

-- Vatican II. Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World -- Gaudium et Spes. 7 Dec. 1965.

"Aiden, eat your vegetables."

"Why?"

"They have shit in them that keeps your teeth from falling out of your head when you're thirty."

"But they suck."

"Everything sucks at your age. Just do it."

Fourteen-year-olds eat like pigs. I suppose I did when I was that age, but then I rarely if ever ate at the table. Most of the time I took whatever food I had back to my room and ate there watching television. I ate stuff out of the refrigerator mostly, since I made it a point not to be around at dinner time. I didn't want to have to sit there and listen to my parents talk about stuff, and I got the impression that they really didn't want to have to deal with me. Aiden's mother, however, insists that we eat together, even when she's not around, like today when she is at work. Jess says that sharing meals together keeps the family close. I agree. She says that's important. I disagree, but we do it anyway or else she gets really pissy.

"I'll gag if I have to eat these," Aiden says.

"Listen, I'm going to go to the bathroom, and when I get back, I don't want to see any vegetables left on your plate, or you will be grounded for a week." I get up and walk out of the room. I don't have to go, but I have to admit the vegetables are terrible. I hope that Aiden is resourceful enough to make the vegetables disappear. I listen at the bathroom door for sounds of the garbage disposal being run, and give it a minute or two more before I return to the kitchen.

There are no vegetables on Aiden's plate.

"I'm going to my room," he says.

"Fine."

Jess would have never done that. She probably would have sat there forever waiting for Aiden to actually eat the vegetables, no doubt lecturing him about balanced diets and the like, but I figure it's just a lot easier to go to the bathroom. It's like Jess's insistence that we get married because she wants to go to Communion at church -- if she had never told the priest that we weren't married, he'd have never known, and she could have gone up there with everybody else, and no one would be the wiser. Instead, she tells him, he says she has to be married first, and now he wants to talk to me.

About what? If Jess wants to get married, I guess that's okay with me. All things being equal, a ceremony of some kind doesn't seem to make much difference. We are either going to stay together, or we're not. Who knows? All I'm saying is that if Jess and I decide to get married, why does he want to talk to me? If we decide to buy plates at Macy's, Macy's doesn't call me first before selling them to her, do they?

"So, did you call Fr. Juan for an appointment?" Jess says to me the minute she walks in the door. No "Hi, how are you?" No "How was your day?"

"No."

"Do you want me to call for you?"

"My day was fine, thanks. How was yours?"

"I'm sorry," she says and comes over and gives me a kiss. "I guess I'm getting a little excited. I thought maybe given our age and everything, I wouldn't get so caught up in it, but I feel like a kid again. I think I spent two hours on the phone with Rosa today. She wants to have this big party with all the office gang there and tons of food. She knows a caterer who does vegan and ..."

"I thought we said it was going to be just us. Nothing big."

"We did," Jess says and kisses me again. She smiles at me. "I'm just excited. I told Rosa that we didn't even set a date yet. She'll calm down."

"Why does the priest want to talk to me?"

"The usual, I guess: name, date of birth." She pauses. "Maybe gender? Hell, Mike, I don't know. We're getting married. I'm sure there's stuff he needs to know before we show up at the church."

"I'll call tomorrow. But just us, Jess. I don't want Rosa cooking up a big deal."

She nods. "I'm just happy, Mike. Don't let's spoil this by arguing over details, okay?"

I resist the urge to point out that I was happy with the way things were. It was the Church that seemed intent on arguing over the details, but don't let's.

"Every person experiences evil around and within themselves. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation."

-- Catechism of the Catholic Church

Usually after we have sex, I am the one who falls asleep first. Almost immediately, as a matter of fact. I just kind of roll over and I'm out. Tonight, however, Jess is snoring quietly with her head on my chest while I stare at the ceiling, unable to relax. I don't want to have to talk with this priest. It's just something about my make-up -- I don't want people passing judgment on what I do. I don't even like going to the doctor. There's always that question about how much do I drink, or have I taken any kind of drugs in the past six months. I don't think I drink too much, except maybe occasionally, and I don't want on my records someplace that I smoke a little weed on occasions. Information like that can be misinterpreted.

I had sex with a girl in high school who said she thought she had herpes. She didn't know, actually. I think she told me as some kind of sick joke. When I went to the doctor, I got all kinds of lectures and crap from him, and all I wanted was a pill or something. Turns out the girl didn't have herpes, and if I had just waited a bit before going to the doctor, I could have avoided a lot of grief. I have the same bad feeling about going to see this priest. What's he going to want to know?

"Honey?" Jess stirs and moves a little closer. "You all right?"

"Yeah."

"Can't sleep?"

"No. Just thinking."

"About what?"

"Work."

"Oh."

She rolls over and then pushes back into me. We spoon, and I feel her warmth as I press against her. I like her being here.

"Is this guy going to ask me how many women I've slept with?"

"What guy?"

"The priest."

"I don't think he cares about how many women you've slept with."

"Is he going to ask if I've ever been married?"

She turns her head to try to look at me. "Have you?"

"Not really."

Jess rolls over and gets up on her elbow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means not really."

"No, there's only two possible answers to that question: yes or no. Not really is not really an answer."

"Maybe we should wait until morning."

"Nuh-uh."

"There was a girl I knew. We were both eighteen. We went to Reno for a weekend, and she told me she was pregnant. We did one of the wedding chapel things."

Jess rolls quickly off the bed, grabbing the sheet and wrapping it around herself.

"Her family was really rich, and they were none too happy about it, so when she lost the baby a couple weeks later, they threw me out of their house and told me never to come back. I didn't."

"That's it? You marry this girl and then just leave?"

"It was Reno. We were stoned. And besides, they threw me out."

"Didn't you at least try to talk to her?"

"She could do the math. Her Daddy was rich. I had nothing. She chose the money. I don't blame her."

"Where is she now?"

"Don't know. That was almost twenty years ago. We didn't keep in touch."

"So you're probably still married?"

"I assumed her old man took care of things."

I don't always understand why it happens, but I can tell when I've crossed a line with Jess. I can already tell that she's thinking that I purposely concealed the whole marriage thing from her and that's the same as lying to her. I know how she thinks, but it's no big deal really. It's like that thing with Nicole at work. Yeah, I went out with her a couple of times, and yeah, I told Nicole that I wasn't married, but I didn't mean anything by it, but Jess was really bent about it, and it took months before things got back to normal between us.

I was a kid. You can't really call what I did a marriage. We spent maybe six weeks living in her Daddy's pool house, then boom, I'm out in the street and they move to Europe. That's my whole point about this wedding plan -- there aren't any magic words that lead to happily ever after. There was a piece of paper back then, signed by the Elvis impersonator who presided at the wedding, but really, there was nothing. Jess and I have an apartment, two cars, bank accounts, we have a life. I never mentioned it to Jess because it wasn't important. It was twenty years ago. It didn't matter.

"What was her name?"

"Who?

"The girl. Your ... wife."

"Heather."

"Heather what?"

"Jess, I ..."

"Heather what?"

"MacDonald. Heather MacDonald." All I can see is grief coming from this conversation.

Jess moves to her dresser and opens one of the drawers. She drops the sheet, keeping her back to me and one arm across her breasts, and then pulls out a pair of panties and a tank top from the drawer. I watch her while she puts them on. She closes the drawer and opens another. She pulls out a sheet and a blanket, walks over to the bed and tosses them on top of one of the pillows.

"Get out of my bed."

"Jess, don't ..."

"I haven't always been proud of the choices I've made, but one thing I have never done is sleep with another woman's man."

See? There's a point where you can be too honest. Like I said, I don't want people judging what I do. Jess should have never said anything to that priest.

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Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.



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