For my 30th birthday, Bram dumped me. For the third time. We started dating again after he changed his mind about being a philosophy major. We’d been together all summer, attending parties together, rehearsing together, eating together. He’d come over to the house and had dinner with us, everyone singing along to the “Jesus Christ, Superstar” soundtrack. But he’d become very close with his acting partner in the last show of the Summer Theatre season. Her name was Holly and she obviously had a crush on him. I wasn’t worried; he’d chosen me. Until we all went up to the lake.
Chris’s family owned a cabin up on Lake Metigoshe. His older brother had been in Summer Theatre before Chris entered college and he’d started a dark night tradition. A ‘Dark Night’ is a theatre’s day off. The show isn’t over; the theatre isn’t closed for the season, but the actors and crew are given a day off. Since none of the lights are shining on the stage, it is ‘dark.’ The final show of MSU’s summer theatre season ran for more days than the other shows. The final show would open on Wednesday, run through Sunday, take Monday off, and resume on Tuesday to run through Saturday, which would be our final closing night and strike of the season.
The Dark Night lake tradition was this: as soon as the show was over Sunday night, everyone in the company crammed into shared cars which were already packed with supplies: hot dogs, hamburgers, buns, chips of all kinds, marshmallows cases and cases of pop, coolers full of beer and liquor, breakfast foods, blankets, and pillows. We took enough food and drink to last several days and enough cigarettes to last a month. We all headed up to Chris’s family’s lake cabin, usually arriving around 1 am to stumble through the dark to the cabin and get to partying.
Every Dark Night, I was one of the last out of the amphitheater, making sure no one was left behind. Every Dark Night, Kevin would tell me to be careful and to take care of his kids. Every Dark Night, I promised him I would.
Most of the time we partied til dawn, slept til noon, woke up and ate, and then spent a nice afternoon and evening at the lake. There was a paddle boat and various rafts. Once, Chris rented a pontoon boat and we almost sank it by loading too many people on it. We were family; we hated to be separated. When evening came, we partied again, but Monday night parties were calmer, with more ‘deep conversations.’ We’d try to go to bed at a decent enough hour and when we woke up in the late morning/early afternoon, we’d start packing up to go home so we could shower and eat before the Tuesday night performance.
I never took Nick and Monica to Dark Night at the lake. Too many drunks in the dark; too many people for me to watch over; too many accidents waiting to happen. But Nick and Monica were unofficial company members. They spent a lot of time in my shop. Monica and Kevin’s daughter were the same age and they helped in the concessions booth and then ran the rootbeer float booth by themselves for several years. Monica and Cassie were cast as dancers in many of our shows, while Monica and Nick were cast as brother and sister in other shows. They helped usher and clean up the house and strike shows. They were my not so little theatre babies and they were better company members than some of the adults were.
There was a loft at the cabin that was covered with mattresses wall to wall. We’d all climb up there and sleep like a litter of pups, draped all over each other, sharing blankets and pillows and throwing things at our resident snorer, Derek. The second Dark Night Bram and I spent together at the cabin was going well for me until the second night. I was one of the first to turn in, but Bram joined me in the loft not too long after I’d settled in. He laid down next to me and pulled me over to him to spoon me, draping one arm over my waist and holding my hand. Just as we settled in, most of the rest of our company came up and found places to sleep all around us.
To keep anyone from being offended by anyone else’s feet, all our heads met in a line at the center of the loft, feet pointing toward the walls. Holly laid down with her head ‘above’ mine and Bram’s and talked with us a few minutes until quiet fell. I was ready to go to sleep, but Bram kept making these weird little fidgety movements every time I was ready to drop off. I rolled my eyes in irritation, not intending to say anything, but moving my face upward to give full expressive movement to my eyeroll. When I did, I saw that Bram’s other hand was stretched out over my head and Holly was playing with his fingers.
I flipped onto my back, looked Bram in the eye, and flung his hand off me. I turned my back on him and scooched away. I couldn’t go far; it was pretty crowded up there in the loft. A few seconds passed and then Bram reached for me with BOTH of his hands and we fell asleep with his arms around me, me holding both of his hands in mine. Holly stayed away from me the rest of the summer.
About a week after Summer Theatre ended, I was supposed to pick up Bram so we could go for coffee. He left a note in my car saying he was gonna spend the evening with his high school friend John. So I called Farrah and we went for coffee. I was both unsurprised and very pissed when I walked into Perkins to see Bram and Holly sitting together at a table for two. I told Farrah I’d be right back. She said I should sit down and I said I would; just give me one minute. I went over to Bram and Holly’s table and dropped the note between them. I said, “Hi!. Wow, your friend John has REALLY changed since the last time I saw him.” Then I went and gathered Farrah and we went to the truck stop for our coffee.
The next day Bram told me it was completely innocent; he’d just wanted to say goodbye to Holly since she was going out of state for college. I asked, “If it was completely innocent, why the lying note? Why not just say you wanted to say goodbye to Holly?” He said he didn’t think I’d let him.
“Let you? You didn’t think I’d LET you? Bram, I bend over backwards because of your age, trying NOT to boss you around or act like I know better because I’m older. I don’t control you–I couldn’t if I tried. The only person I know who is more stubborn than you is Monica. I can barely control her, and she’s my little girl. I have no hope of controlling you.” I told him I’d been in a marriage with a man who cheated and lied and I was never going to do that again.
He seized on the word ‘marriage’ and told me he didn’t want to get married. Guess what? Neither did I. I felt two marriages was enough for one lifetime. But I wouldn’t put up with being lied to. He said maybe he was too young for this and I said maybe he was. He said he didn’t want to do this any more. “For real? You’re breaking up with me?”
“I’m breaking up with you.”
This time it didn’t take a whole semester before we were back together. It was about a month and it wasn’t a concrete decision. We just fell back into our old habits, our usual behaviors with each other. Only this time, he started spending the night at my house, spending time with the kids. He took them shopping for my Christmas present. We went to movies together like a family. He took the three of us over to his parent’s house for dinner, finally admitting to Karen and Conrad that he was dating me. We started going to their family’s Monday Night Pizza meals.
We took time apart, too; we weren’t in each other’s pockets 24/7. He had a job, I had my kids. We had our lives together and our lives apart. Sometimes a week or so would pass when the only time we spent together was in class or rehearsal. I went out with Tonia without Bram at least once a week. We’d been growing apart and I felt Tonia was going through a down time again. I spent time with Farrah and Janet, with my family. So I don’t know if everyone around us knew we were always together, but I did. As he’d pointed out when he broke up with me after the Holly incident: Bram was young. He was too young to be in a serious tied-down relationship with a woman with two kids.
So we’d been together through most of the school year, though the holidays, through Summer Theatre Season 30, through another dark night. Then he’d gone camping for a week with his friends, came back the day before my birthday and dumped me.
This time I was pissed. Every August like clockwork Bram dumped me. I was in the Black Box/Costume Shop a week after he dumped me, the week before school started, prepping the shop for the school year. Bram came out of Conrad’s office and saw me. He came into the Black Box to try to talk to me. I was seriously pissed; I didn’t want to talk to him. I thanked him for my birthday present and told him I was done talking to him. I wasn’t just his summertime fling. I had feelings and I loved him and he had no right to keep hurting me.
I kept moving away from him because I was. So. Angry. Wound too tight. Bram told me he wasn’t just using me and he really did like me a lot but he wasn’t ready to be a father. What. The. Fuck. I said I’d never asked him to be a father. Nick and Monica had a father and that one was QUITE enough, thank you. Bram said he just felt he was too young to get married and have kids.
“Jesus. FUCKING. Christ. Bram! I never said anything about marriage either. You are TOO YOUNG to be married. Believe me; I married young and it sucked. I’ve also been married twice and frankly I’m not interested. But I let my kids get to know you! You spent most of the summer with Nick and Monica. They love you! You KNEW I had kids before we started any of this years ago. You broke up with me on my 30th birthday after letting my kids love you, after making all sorts of stupid assumptions about our relationship, after breaking up with me every. Fucking. August. Since we’ve known each other! This is bullshit. This is YOUR bullshit, and I AM DONE! Go the fuck away.”
He stepped toward me, with his arms out like he was going to hug me, saying, “I’m sorry…” And I slapped his face. I don’t know who was more shocked. My hands were over my mouth. I was horrified at what I’d done. Bram nodded. He said ok. He left. I went home and cried. Nick asked what was wrong and I told him Bram had broken up with me. Nick said, “No more Bram.” And I agreed, “No more Bram.” I called Ruth and told her what I’d done and she told me, “No more Bram.” I agreed with her, too. No more Bram.
But we still had to live with one another. Theatre departments live in each other’s pockets. There was no escaping each other. So we were civil and then we were nice. And then we were friends again. And then we were flirting. But one of us always had the sense to walk away from the flirting. There were some tense moments. I remember during a discussion in a Contemporary Drama when Bram was insisting to the class that he knew what love was and I blurted, “no, you don’t.” and the class ooh’ed and laughed.
I remember being irritated that every time some other guy showed interest in me, Bram literally, physically got in between us. I told him he needed to cut the “I don’t want you but no one else can have you” crap. It wasn’t cute. And he was no longer a child. He told me he was interested in dating someone and I asked him to tell me who it was so I could wish her luck and be there to pick her up when he treated her like he did me.
Every year, Campus Players had held a haunted house on the Hartnett Hall stage as a fundraiser. I was the CP president for the 3rd year in a row–first one to do that, thank you very much–and I tried to talk us out of doing the haunted house this year. I thought we were stretched too thin. I was voted down. The day of the haunted house, I woke up with laryngitis. I went to school anyway, to help set up the haunted house. I took the kids to the dome for Trick or Treating with Tonia and her kids. Tonia took them home with her so I could go back across the street to the haunted house. I was dead on my feet. I felt like hell. But I felt I had to be there because I was the leader of the organization.
By the end of the night, it hurt to take a deep breath, my voice was gone, I had a headache, fever and chills. I knew I couldn’t drive home and I asked Bram to take me. I took a walk-through of the stage to make sure all the lights were off and everything was unplugged. Bram said he’d take me home as soon as he did a walk-through. He’d designed the set, so he knew where secret danger places might be. While I was shivering and waiting for Bram, Brad came and told me he’d just done his stage manager’s walk through and was going home. Bram gathered me up and dropped me at home. As he left, he told Ryan to call my sister. Ryan called Tonia and told her I was sick and she should come see if I was ok.
By the time Tonia and Joyce arrived, I was lying fully clothed under a pile of blankets in my bed, crying. They took me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with mycoplasma pneumonia: Walking Pneumonia. They took me home and put me to bed with antibiotics on board. Before dawn I started getting phone calls. Something terrible had happened. After we had all locked up the stage and left, the stage had caught fire. I was groggy with illness and cold meds; I felt like I was having a series of bad dreams. Ryan said he was going to the theatre and asked if I wanted a ride. I did.
Behind Hartnett Hall, I found Kevin, Conrad, the fire department, and most of Campus Players. Everyone looked as terrible as I felt. Bram had been inside with the fire department to tell them where everything had been. The fire doors had malfunctioned, so the scene shop and the props loft were a loss. The stage was burned through to the floor below. The Grand Drape had been pulled for the haunted house and it prevented the fire from spreading into the house and throughout the rest of the building. The smoke damage was extensive on all floors. The costume shop and all the offices weren’t burned, but everything reeked of smoke.
There was nothing to be done. Campus Players–our family–was homeless. I had Ryan drop me at Tonia’s and she put me to bed in AJ’s room. I slept the rest of the weekend. The rest of the semester was almost dreamlike. Without a home, without our Black Box to hang out in, Campus Players didn’t know where we belonged. We only saw each other during classes and for a quick smoke after. We couldn’t produce any plays in the theatre for the next semester; we couldn’t do anything at all in the building right now.
To make it all more surreal, I’d had to sell my house. It needed repairs I couldn’t afford to make. The week before the haunted house and fire, Ryan and I and the kids had been packing everything up to move into town. Ryan moved us into the new house in town with the help of some of the Campus Players while I was trying not to die in AJ’s bed. So not only did we not have a home while we were at school, the party house–everyone’s other-other home, was gone. I had to drive the kids out to school and back every day so they didn’t have to change schools. The next semester, Nick transferred to a junior high school in town. Monica moved in with Joyce and Jerome so she wouldn’t have to transfer and I wouldn’t have to drive so much.
I barely saw Bram the rest of that semester. I barely saw anyone. We were bereft, separated, sad, and guilty. The fire department determined that a light had fallen on the stage and set fire to the paint on the set. We just didn’t see how it could’ve happened. Three separate people did walk-throughs before we closed up for the night, to make sure everything was turned off. It was inexplicable.
Spring semester arrived. This would be the final year for me, Bram, Bob, Kelly, Christopher, Chris, Aili, Kari, and Janet. Ryan asked me to be his acting partner at KC/ACTF. Kevin had had to change this semester’s show because we didn’t have a stage. He decided to do a touring show of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I landed the biggest role of my career at Minot State: Puck, the instigator of all the mayhem. Farrah was the costume designer. We set up the costume shop in my basement. We were allowed back in Hartnett Hall for classes, but it didn’t have heat yet. Farrah asked if I’d be willing to cut my hair into a pixie cut for my role as Puck, so I went to Tonia the day of the first rehearsal and had her cut off my hair. Monica had come with me, so after the haircut, I took her back to Joyce’s, and Nick and I headed back into town to rehearsal.
Joyce and Tonia’s housing division was separated from the city itself by the bypass, a separated highway. I crossed the northbound lanes and stopped in the intersection before crossing the southbound lanes. Seeing nothing, I started across. We were hit in the front passenger door by a car doing about 60 southbound. I never saw it. To this day, I still don’t know what it looked like. We were hit hard enough that our car spun around and was hit again in the rear by the same car.
I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt–I’d been late to rehearsal and in a hurry. I flew across the car into Nick, throwing him up against the window, which he broke with his head. My spectacles went flying out the window. Remember the neighbor who helped Tonia get Mike up out of the driveway? He’d been right behind me when the accident happened. He came running up to the driver’s window–also broken–and asked if we were ok. I told him, “I don’t know; I can’t find my glasses.” He left.
Nick said to me, “Mom, I’m bleeding profusely.” He was, from a cut high up on his face near his eye. I pulled napkins out of the glove box and pressed them to the cut on Nick’s face. Mr. Neighbor came running up to Nick’s window, handed me my spectacles, and asked again, “Are you ok?” I told him Nick was bleeding and then the EMTs arrived.
They put a neck brace on Nick and cut him out of the car. I moved back to my seat and watched them load him into the ambulance and suddenly my right ankle exploded in pain. I burst into tears and Mr Neighbor yelled at the EMTs to come help me. I was loaded into an ambulance and off we went to the hospital.
I guess our ambulances had just pulled away when Tonia and Joyce pulled up to the scene. They recognized my car and Tonia freaked out. She started hyperventilating. Dan’s brother Karry was driving the tow truck pulling my car off the road and Joyce asked if he knew where we’d been taken. He told her it was just me and Nick and which hospital we’d gone to. Joyce got Monica and Jerome and they followed us to the hospital.
My ankle was x-rayed and pronounced unbroken. Nick was very upset about still being in the neck brace but we were still waiting to see if he was uninjured. Bram walked into our room. He said the hospital had called and Travis had dropped him off; his car wasn’t running. During our good year, I’d made Bram my emergency contact and forgot to change it after he dumped me. So he was with me when the nurse tried to put my sock back on my ‘unbroken’ foot and I nearly leapt to the ceiling, crying out in pain. I was taken back for more x-rays.
Bram was there to calm Nick when Jerome made him cry by teasing him about the neck brace and how he was going to have to wear it for the rest of his life. Bram was there to tell Tonia that even if my foot was broken, I was going to be fine and Nick was going to be fine. He was there to hold Nick’s hand when the brace finally came off. And he helped me determine when to be back for surgery to place a titanium screw in my shattered medial malleolus.
When we were finally released, I was placed in the front seat of Jerome’s car. Bram needed a ride so he got in the backseat, with Nick on his lap. Tonia sat beside him, and Joyce sat beside her with Monica on her lap. Joyce said we’d drop Bram at his house and then go to my house to get my clothes and school supplies; I was staying with her. I told her I didn’t want to stay with her; Nick needed to get to school, I preferred my own bed, etc. Joyce said I couldn’t get around with a broken ankle–my bed was upstairs. I told her I’d have Ryan pull my mattress down into the living room. Joyce said Ryan couldn’t possibly take care of me so I was staying at her house. I said I wanted to be at my own home and Joyce said I was being stubborn. Bram said, “Take her home. I will stay with her and take care of her and Nick. Let her be where she wants to be.”
I knew at that moment: I was going to marry Bram.