Joyce was unwell. When she was thirteen, Nita had a little boy, the son she hoped would finally snap Jesse out of his episodes. They named him Scott, and for a short while, his arrival really did seem to make Jesse better. Joyce was completely in love with her baby brother. He was so tiny, so perfect. He was like a living doll. Joyce wanted one of her own. She also wanted a house of her own. She didn’t like sharing Jesse with the baby. She didn’t like the new tension in the house since the baby arrived.
Jesse’s episodes had started to occur less often since Joyce had turned ten. Life had settled into a routine the family could live with and the routine helped Jesse feel safe and kept him calm. The baby disrupted all that. No one could sleep; the baby cried at night. Jesse’s insomnia returned. Meals were late. Jesse couldn’t help with the baby. The diapers were something he could not bear and holding the little one made Jesse nervous. He loved his son, and was proud to have a son. But he was incapable of taking care of him or even helping to take care of him.
Nita was trying to keep the house spotlessly clean and cook perfect food while caring for a baby. Joyce couldn’t be relied on to help, she’d been spoiled and doted on for too long. When meals were late or the house wasn’t cleaned to Jesse’s standards, he got upset. And then Nita got upset and little Scott got upset, then Nita got more upset and Jesse got more upset. It was an unending cycle.
Once Joyce and Larry started going steady, she spent as much time with him as she could. They spent a lot of time at Nora and Richie’s because the atmosphere was far less tense over there. As Larry, Joyce, and Cheryl entered their teens and Scott was born, the two families spent less and less time together. Nora found she didn’t care much for teenaged Joyce. She told Richie that something was off with the girl. Nora thought Joyce looked and acted too old for her age, and didn’t seem to care about other people’s feelings. Richie agreed that Joyce was spoiled and self-centered, but he told Nora she was still just a kid with plenty of time to grow out of it.
Larry decided to follow his father into the military, but he joined the Air Force instead of the Army. When Larry told Nora he wanted to enlist, she was against the idea. She wanted her children near her and she felt Larry was too young to make that kind of decision at 16. He told her he was going to marry Joyce and needed to make a living. Nora was dismayed. She’d stopped joking that her oldest was going to marry Nita’s oldest years ago. The truth was, Nora didn’t like Joyce.
Nora tried to tell her son there was plenty of time before he should start looking to settle down. Larry reminded her that she herself was married at seventeen. Nora reminded him his father was 28, and besides, Joyce wasn’t 16; she’d just turned 15. But Larry’s mind was made up. He enlisted as soon as he could and left for Basic the week he graduated form high school, promising Joyce he’d be back to marry her as soon as she turned 16.
Before he left, the couple had sex for the first time. Joyce believed you have to marry the person you have sex with so she believed this was a guarantee he’d come back for her. Basic lasted about 6 weeks and Larry never called Joyce. He used the few phone calls he got to call Richie and Nora. He wrote Joyce, but mostly only short notes.
Joyce began to have episodes of her own and the longer she went without seeing Larry, the worse they got. She HAD to marry him: they’d had sex! Who else would marry her now? Why didn’t he call? Why didn’t he write real letters to her? Joyce would have crying jags, followed by rages where she’d tear apart her room. Or she’d have manic episodes followed by crashing into a sleep that would last for days. Nita was beside herself. It was like she was living with 3 babies. She wished she could sleep for days. She was half-tempted to ship her daughter off to Larry and let him deal with her.
When Larry came home for Christmas, he gave Joyce an engagement ring. She would be 16 in April; they’d only have to wait a few months until they could get married. He was stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, which wasn’t as far away as Lackland where basic training had been, so he could come visit more often. They started to talk about wedding plans. But when Larry left, Joyce started spiraling again. She begged Nita to sign for her so she could marry Larry NOW. Nita tried to explain the law said Joyce had to be sixteen, even with parental approval. Joyce said she’d get pregnant and Nita would have to let them get married. Nita said she wished Joyce wouldn’t get pregnant: it wouldn’t change the law and Larry would be a horrible father.
Nita told Joyce that Larry was weak and she deserved a better husband. Joyce countered that weak men couldn’t survive in the military. Nita told her daughter if it was true love, it would wait. Joyce tried to kill herself. She didn’t get far–Nita had lived with Jesse long enough to recognize the signs of imminent meltdown. She put her daughter in the hospital, where Joyce turned 16.
Joyce convinced Jesse she would keep trying to kill herself if she wasn’t allowed to marry Larry. Jesse called Larry and told him to come home as soon as he could. When Larry arrived, Jesse checked Joyce out of the hospital, took the young couple down to city hall, and signed for them to get married. Joyce was 16 years and one month old. Nora and Richie were not in attendance.
Joyce became aware again a short time after the newlyweds arrived in Missouri. She later said she remembered being in Nita’s pink bathroom, contemplating the pills she could use to kill herself. And then she woke up, married. She never recovered the memories of getting married, of traveling to Missouri, of being in the hospital. In her mind, one minute she was in her mother’s bathroom and the next, she woke up in a strange bed with Larry beside her.
It did not bode well for the marriage.