Joyce and Jerome had been married by a Justice of the Peace while Tonia, Sean, and I were living with Larry and Lynne. They got the Catholic Church to annul her marriage so they could get married in the church. This infuriated me. How could the church say the marriage was invalid or had never occurred when it had lasted fifteen years and produced three children? Were we illegitimate now? Nowadays I really don’t care if I’m ‘illegitimate’ or not, but I still cannot understand how the church annulled the marriage that produced me and my siblings.
Because of Tonia being bullied and Sean’s difficulties with reading and Jerome Michael getting in trouble at school for drawing bloody ducks in his depiction of hunting ducks with his half brothers, Joyce and Jerome decided to transfer all of their kids out of public schools and into the Catholic school in town. I guess we qualified as scholarship students since there were five kids and not enough money. I refused to transfer. I wasn’t Catholic and had no intention of becoming Catholic. I questioned how the Catholic school could give scholarships to illegitimate children (Jerome’s marriage had also been annulled). But most importantly I had finally settled into my new school and had friends and I was absolutely not going to lose my friends again. So everyone except me was enrolled in the Catholic school.
Sue had gotten me involved in the theatre club at school: the Playmakers. I was of course on the costume crew. They did 2 shows a year. I auditioned for the musical and got cast as the lead in “Heidi.” I was never sure if I was cast because I could act and/or sing or because I was so small. The director used to like to call me away from my costume work to show people how tiny I was. It didn’t matter. I loved being on stage. I loved being backstage. I loved being on the deck crew. I loved making costumes. I loved the camaraderie I found in the theatre department. I loved basically everything about the theatre.
Tonia and Ronnie had broken up and he and I became close again. He drove me crazy; he always has. I tell him he talks too much. He tells me I talk too much. I tell him I find his tabletop RPGs boring and yet love to watch him and his friends play. He tells me Star Wars is better than Star Trek, but speaks better Klingon than I do. We both tend to drone on about things that we like. He’s my oldest friend and I feel like he’s always been with me and always will be.
Trish, Sue, and I spent as much time together as we could. At first Sue was the only one with a car, but Jerome went to the car auction and bought a beat-up yellow AMC Hornet for me. I named it John Lemon and I had to sit on a pillow to drive. When we spent the night with each other, we mostly stayed at Sue’s because Trish lived on base and I didn’t want anyone at my house. Tonia and I were always fighting. Joyce was always yelling at Jerome Michael. Sean was always skipping school. I wasn’t babysitting anymore; that whole facade had dropped by the wayside. Whoever was home was home and whoever wasn’t, wasn’t.
All the kids in our house knew that Tonia was ascendant. Jerome had nicknamed her “Wheedle’ and she pretty much got her way no matter what. She got new clothes while Bonnie and I wore her hand-me-downs. At least she had good taste. I had a curfew of midnight and if I was even 2 minutes late, I was put on restriction for a week. Tonia came in late and she was excused because she was just a little late. I got a job, Tonia got an allowance. Joyce compared me and Bonnie to Tonia and we always came up short.
I used to say that god made me and said, “Not bad. But I can do better.” So he made Tonia: blond-haired, blue-eyed, curvy and with a killer smile. God thought, “Nice. Now let’s try a darker version.” And he made Bonnie: slim and athletic with chocolate eyes, a mischievous smile, and hair so dark it was almost blue. Joyce asked when Bonnie and I were going to grow boobs and started telling everyone Tonia gave us her old bras. She told us we could put lemon juice or peroxide in our hair and sit in the sun so our hair would turn blonde. She told Bonnie she could do the same thing on her face and lighten her freckles.
Joyce told everyone Tonia could steal anyone I dated just by winking at him, but Tonia loved me too much to actually do it, according to Joyce. It got so bad that if anyone I dated was more than passingly polite to Tonia, that was our last date. I became likewise jealous about my friends and refused to be friends with anyone who was friends with Tonia. We no longer got into trouble for talking in the dark at bedtime because we no longer talked.
My relationship with Sean was no better. If I expressed any concern about Sean skipping school, or smoking, or dropping out of band, Joyce would remind me I wasn’t Sean’s mother and it wasn’t my business. Never mind that I’d been acting as his mother literally for as long as I could remember. I decided it was safer for me to ignore him. Sean was getting into so much low-key trouble, he managed to lose his driver’s license before he was old enough to actually get it. Driving without a license, driving under the influence (without a license), exhibition driving (without a license). He continued to sneak out his window. The reason Joyce and Jerome bought me my car was so I could drive the kids to school and that became pretty much my only interaction with any of them. I stayed away as much as I could, at my job, at rehearsals, with Sue and Trish.
Sue was dating a boy and they got engaged our senior year. They were planning their wedding, which Sue was hoping would take place the summer after we graduated. But they broke up around Christmas. They had one last fling and Sue got pregnant. Since they’d already broken up, this boy wasn’t interested in sticking around. I immediately hated him and have hated him since. Sue took it amazingly well. I would never say that she wasn’t distressed or that she didn’t try to get him back or mourn him. She did. She just remained clear-headed about everything.
At first Trish and I were the only ones who knew Sue was pregnant (besides the ex-boyfriend). Joyce tried to prevent me from going out in the weather to pick up Sue for an appointment one day and I told her that Sue was pregnant and I wasn’t leaving her on her own. That may have been the appointment where Sue’s pregnancy was medically confirmed. It was a long time ago; I’m unsure. Sue considered abortion; her parents wouldn’t sign off on it. (Side rant about who owns female bodies. Hint: it’s never the female.) I would’ve aborted in a heartbeat and I think I could’ve talked Joyce into signing for it, because one of the things Larry had said to me during that terrible phone call was that if we stayed with Joyce, both Tonia and I would be pregnant before we graduated. There was absolutely no way I would let him be right. EVER.
Once Sue was convinced she and the ex-boyfriend were not getting back together, she decided she was giving the baby up for adoption. Her parents told her she didn’t have to. She could live with them and they’d help her. But Sue felt she was too young to raise a child, especially as a single mother. She felt the best thing for the baby would be to give it to loving parents who wanted it. If Sue ever wavered in this belief, I never knew it. She was determined to give this child every chance she could. She went to childbirth and pregnancy classes, went to the doctor regularly, ate well. She did everything she was supposed to.
Trish and I drew close around Sue like she was a precious jewel and we protected her whether she needed it or not. We spent all the time we could with her. We made sure she knew we were there any time of the day or night to help her. Sue and Trish were my new family and we were apart as little as possible.
We went to a party one weekend. Trish brought a guy named Paul and then wandered off, talking to someone else. Sue was sitting on a couch feeling like she didn’t belong there and Paul was standing there looking uncomfortable because he didn’t know anyone. I looked at him and pointed to the couch and told him to sit down. Then I wandered off, too. Sue and Paul had an ‘intellectual’ conversation about green M&Ms. He asked her out before the night was over. Sue had some concerns. Should she tell him she was pregnant? She really, really liked this guy but didn’t want to scare him away. Should she even be considering dating until after this baby was taken care of? What would ex-boyfriend do if he found out she was dating? Did she really want to date an airman?
Sue asked Trish to tell Paul she was pregnant. Paul didn’t care. He didn’t even blink. He wanted to be with Sue and nothing could change his mind. He told her she couldn’t get more pregnant so in effect, the worst had already happened. He wanted to be with her; he wanted to take care of her. So now we were a little family of four.
One night when I was unable to be with them, (was I working? Rehearsing? On restriction again? Who knows?) Sue, Trish, and Paul went to a squadron party. That’s when Trish met Jack. He was one of Paul’s friends and coworkers. He took an immediate liking to Trish; she wasn’t as sold on him. She gave him the hardest time when he asked for a date and held him at arm’s length for a while before relenting and giving him a chance. They seemed to be a good match: both very smart with sharp senses of humor. And so we became five.
Paul and Jack moved out of the dorms and into houses in a little town right off base. They didn’t live in the same house because there were 4 of them who wanted out of the dorms but they couldn’t find a 4 bedroom house in Ruthville. So they rented houses next door to each other. The friendship with Jack’s roommate soon soured and they began calling him Spike. I asked Paul why they gave him a cool nickname if they didn’t like him. Paul told me they named him Spike because he was so irritating you wanted to drive him into the ground.
Paul’s roommate had been married but the marriage had fallen apart the year before. He and Paul became close because Paul couldn’t bear to see a guy hurting and made sure Rocky was never on his own. Sue and Paul decided to set me up on a blind date with Rocky. Sue said she knew I’d like him: he was smart, hysterically funny, and very good looking. She was right on all three counts. Rocky was intelligent and read almost as much as I did. He was into science fiction like I was. He was funny, both with his stories and how he acted them out. He seemed to see the ridiculous side of everything and that really appealed to me. And not only was his face very handsome, but he was a bodybuilder, shaped like Superman. We wasted no time latching onto one another.
Now we were six.
Sue, Trish and I graduated together that year. Sue was around 7 months pregnant. We girls spent most of the summer out in Ruthville with Paul, Jack and Rocky. Sue, Trish, and I got jobs in town; Trish planned on attending the University of North Dakota, 5 hours away. Sue and Paul were talking about getting married in the future. She wasn’t looking at attending college until she was no longer pregnant. I never ever considered college a goal. I had no goals. College was never considered financially probable in our family. Joyce did suggest since I was ‘so smart,’ I should join the Air Force and let the government pay for my college. I considered that for about a week until I remembered I was anti-gun and anti-war. I just drifted.
The summer after graduation, when we weren’t out in Ruthville, the six of us were driving to the lake, going to parties, hanging out at the park. We were always together. Rocky and I found an apartment downtown and moved in together. I was happy. My best friends and I were dating best friends. The future spread out before us, as golden as the North Dakota prairie.