When Bram and I told our friends we were engaged, they all laughed. No one believed us. I guess that’s what happens when you break up at least once a year every year for 5 years. It’s ok. We knew we were for real. We decided we needed to get married as soon as possible so we could apply for family housing at UND. That would save us some money. But we were very poor. We had money saved for a Uhaul and a deposit on an apartment in Grand Forks, yet to be located.
We paid for a marriage license and went to Walmart to look for rings. We found one to fit me for $5, but the cheapest we could find to fit Bram was $85. We cashed in our penny jar, dug through all the cars and couches for change. Bram sold some of his gaming cards. We finally scrounged up enough money to buy Bram’s ring. We planned to go to the courthouse and get married, with only our families. But Karen had a fit. She said her oldest child and only son had to get married in a church.
We told her we could take the year to save and plan and have a church wedding next August. That didn’t make her happy–we’d already be married, so it wouldn’t be real. Bram asked if I’d object to getting married in the little chapel at their church. I agreed, as long as it wasn’t a big deal. I still just wanted our immediate families. Bram said we could invite our friends to stand up with us, and so it was decided.
I had already asked Tonia to be my maid of honor and she agreed. I asked Farrah and Kari and Monica to stand with me, and Bram’s sister Aili. Bram asked his best friend Jason to be his best man and Derek, Phil, Travis and Pat to stand with him. Tonia bought me a purple slip dress; purple was both Bram and my favorite color. Karen wanted me to wear a white dress; she even went out and bought me one. I told her I’d already been divorced twice and had 2 kids. I thought white was not called-for. Karen said it was Bram’s first wedding. I said he should wear white then. He told her he was wearing one of the vests I’d made for him.
Since we were moving to Grand Forks, we ended our lease on the last day of July and moved in with Karen and Conrad for the week before we went to Grand Forks. Once there, we were going to stay with Bram’s aunt until a place in family housing opened up for us at the university. Travis stopped by to tell Bram that if he really loved me and really wanted to marry me, to not let anyone try and talk him out of this. He said only Bram knew what was in Bram’s heart and he should do what his heart told him to do.
It was a nice thing to say to Bram, if a little strange. Then we heard that K was telling all her friends she was going to stop the wedding. She said when the officiant asked if anyone had objections, she was going to stand up and object. On what grounds, I don’t know. No one’s going to call off a wedding just because some random person doesn’t want it to occur. The purpose of an objection is to assess the legal eligibility of a union. It has nothing to do with anyone’s personal opinions about the couple marrying. Unless someone objects with a reason that holds legal merit, nothing will happen except a pause in the ceremony and an awkward moment. Besides, you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern wedding ceremony that uses the phrase.
Regardless, I called K and told her she was NOT invited to the wedding and I’d have her removed if she showed up.
The evening before we were to get married, K called Bram and insisted he go meet her for coffee. He told me he was going to go talk to her; see what she wanted and try to calm her down. He promised me he’d be back as soon as he could and he took me on his lap and rocked me. He said he loved me and he wanted to marry me and nothing could change that. While he was gone, Karen asked if I was worried. I wasn’t. I was incredibly serene. I told Karen I wasn’t at all worried; I knew Bram loved me and I trusted him.
Bram was gone less than 2 hours. As we had both suspected, K had tried to talk him out of marrying me. She told him I was using him. Which was actually quite funny. What was I using him for? It’s true that me and my kids were pretty darn poor. But I had furniture, dishes, a car. Bram had bookshelves. My kids didn’t need a dad. Had I been using him while I waited for him all these years? Maybe one day I’ll ask her, because I still don’t know.
Bram and I got married on Friday the 13th that August. Tonia was there standing with me. She brought AJ, Kelsie and Abbi. Sean was there with Joyce and Jerome. That was all; my family. Karen had invited all her siblings and their kids, as well as her father and Conrad’s siblings, over my objections. I told her it was supposed to be just our immediate families; the rest of the family could come to the ceremony next year.
She said it was her son’s wedding and she wanted her family to be there. I told her it was my wedding too and I also had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents who I wanted there. But there wasn’t time. She was being unfair. Karen was undeterred. This was a hint about what our relationship would be like from now on.
Joyce and Jerome held a reception for us in their garage. Is this a North Dakota thing? I’ve been to garage graduation parties, garage receptions, garage promotion parties…anyway. It was nice; we had a sheet cake to cut and some light food to eat. Plus: Trish was at the reception! I’m sure I told Trish and Sue I was getting married, but everything was happening so fast, I don’t remember doing so. But here Trish was, staying with Joyce so she could be at my wedding. I wish I could’ve had more time to visit with her. But things were moving fast.
Someone gave me and Bram tickets to a play in Minneapolis for our honeymoon. Derek said we could stay at his apartment in the Twin Cities. Conrad and Karen let us use their car to make the trip. I arranged for Nick and Monica to stay with Joyce and Jerome for the weekend, but at the last minute Monica asked if she could spend the night with her best friend. I said yes, and arranged for the best friend’s mom, C, to drop Monica at Joyce’s on Sunday, made sure everyone had everyone else’s number, and we were on our way.
C returned Monica late in the afternoon on Sunday. Monica had called Joyce earlier to let them know when she’d be back. Joyce and Tonia were waiting in the driveway when Monica and C pulled up. Tonia and Joyce attacked. They started screaming at C, accusing her of kidnapping Monica, keeping her longer than I’d intended, screeching like lunatics. They claimed they were worried about Monica and afraid something had happened.They were frightening, out of control, threatening all sorts of ridiculous things.
Finally Monica told C to just go. C said she wasn’t going to drive away and leave Monica here with these two hysterical women. Monica told her if she didn’t leave her there, Joyce and Tonia would call the cops. She promised C she’d call her if they didn’t calm down in 15 minutes. C left and Monica ran inside. Joyce and Tonia followed and trapped her in the back bedroom. Monica asked why they were acting like this but they just shouted over her and started screaming in her face. Monica tried her best to stay calm, but she was eleven years old and two adult women were losing their minds in front of her.
Monica shouted back at them, calling them liars because they knew where she was, they had the number to call, and the fact they were waiting in the driveway proved they knew when she’d be dropped off. Monica told them they were crazy, but they just kept shouting and screaming and threatening until Monica began to doubt herself. Maybe she HADN’T told them when she was coming back? NO. Now they were making HER crazy. Monica stood her ground. Tonia threatened to call me and Monica started crying. “Please, PLEASE call my mother! Call her now. Please!”
Then Joyce and Tonia said they wouldn’t call me and they wouldn’t let Monica call me either. Monica asked why they were doing this. She told them they were insane. They were unreasonable, out of control. They finally wound down and left the room, telling Monica to stay in there; she was still in trouble. Silence descended. Nick came into the house, unaware of the insane scene he’d just missed. When he walked past Monica’s door, she threw herself in his arms, crying so hard she couldn’t talk.
Nick got Monica calmed down and called me. I told Joyce that Monica was going back to C’s and to leave C alone. I asked Nick where he wanted to be. He opted to stay with AJ. I called C and asked her to go get Monica, who would be waiting in the driveway. I told Bram we needed to start home right now.
When we picked up Nick, Joyce and Tonia acted as if the whole thing had never happened. They said Monica just wanted to spend more time with her friend and there had been an argument. But it wasn’t just an argument. When Nick had called me, I could hear how shaken he was to find his sister in such a state. I could hear the tears in Monica’s voice. I’d been a victim of this type of ‘disagreement’ too many times to doubt what my daughter told me.
I think being happy is a sin in my family. It must be stopped at any cost. I always imagined Joyce winding Tonia up and aiming her at people.
Conrad and Karen gave us their used SUV as a wedding present. Tonia agreed to sell our other car. We couldn’t find anyone to keep Monica’s dog until we got our place in Grand Forks–he couldn’t stay with Bram’s Aunt. We tried finding someone willing to watch him for just a few months right up until the morning we left town. In desperation, I left Morgan in Joyce’s garage, hoping she loved Monica enough to take pity and keep her dog for a few months. She gave the dog to her next door neighbor before the week was out. I guess I can’t complain; Joyce said she didn’t want a dog. But it was sad. By the time we came to get Morgan, he and his new owner were very attached to each other so we didn’t take him away with us.
It took about a month to get housing in Grand Forks. Bram’s aunt was an angel. She had two high school aged sons living with her and her husband, as well as a son about Nick’s age. Aili was already living there, too. Then she took in Bram and his new family and housed and fed us for a month. It was very crowded, but she never made us feel anything less than welcome, wanted and loved.
Bram and I found we weren’t wild about being students at UND. I think we both expected to find the same close-knit, family-like theatre group that we’d both experienced in high school and with Campus Players. Instead, these students seemed to always be in competition with each other. The ‘techies’ and the actors were pitted against each other. As designers, Bram and I were both techies and when we expressed interest in acting, we weren’t encouraged. We went home to visit our friends every chance we got.
The first few times we went back to Minot, we went out with Tonia, but it wasn’t fun. She was drinking a lot, unhappy, angry about everything. You couldn’t talk to her; everything was a fight. We went for lunch, just me and her, and I had to drive her home and take the car because she had too many drinks over lunch. Joyce and Jerome weren’t concerned. Sean said there was no talking to her. He’d tried and she’d told him to mind his own business.
Tonia and Doug bought a new mobile home to put on their lot and replace the small one. This thing was the castle of mobile homes: four bedrooms, a living room and family room, a mudroom, three bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Tonia and Doug’s room had a walk-in closet big enough for Tonia to put a tanning bed in and still have room for their clothes. It was really beautiful. But I didn’t spend very much time there. Tonia made it too hard.
Back in Grand Forks, I was making my wedding dress and arguing with Monica over how high the slits in her dresses could be. She had dancer’s legs, it made me nervous when she showed them off. Nick turned 13 and disappeared into his room for a year. He wasn’t angry; just teenaged. He actually did come out and play with us; it was impossible to resist Bram when he wanted to play.
Nick and Monica would to try to push Bram over. They were my kids, small like me, while Bram was an average height man with extra weight on him. He’d plant his feet while they pushed at him, trying to knock him over. If he needed further bracing, he’d reach up and hold onto the top of a door, which none of the three of us could reach. Nick and Monica would call me to help, but even when I joined in, we couldn’t budge Bram.
Once, Nick was trying to push Bram over by himself. Nick was wearing pajama pants that were a good six inches too long. Hm, if only he’d known someone who could hem them. They paused in their tussling, facing each other, taking the measure of the other, planning tactics. Bram stepped forward and put his foot on the hem of Nick’s pants. Then he put his pointer finger in the center of Nick’s chest and pushed. Nick had nowhere to go but down. Then he couldn’t get back up because he was laughing so hard. Bram stood over him, shaking with repressed laughter. Then he reached out a hand and pulled Nick to his feet. Nick was laughing so hard he was crying.
One time I was in the kitchen making dinner and I could hear Bram and Monica teasing each other in the living room. I heard Bram tell Monica, “If you don’t stop that, I’m gonna give you a lickin’.” I laughed to myself, imagining Bram spanking anyone. Then I heard Monica screaming and calling to me. I ran into the living room, shocked, unbelieving. Was my gentle husband actually hitting my daughter? I arrived to find Bram had pinned Monica on the floor and was licking her forehead.
Monica and Bram also played a game where they changed the words to songs. The first person who couldn’t come up with a song or any altered lyrics for it would lose. There was a LOT of singing in our house, a lot of laughing and shouting with glee. We cooked together and ate together. We were a family together.
Unfortunately Bram’s diabetes wasn’t responding to treatment. He was still having the incidents of great abdominal pain that would last for days. He discovered laying in a warm bath made him feel better. But diabetics aren’t supposed to soak in water for long. Heat alters insulin absorption, and can cause a sudden plummet in blood sugar levels. Diabetics are also more prone to infection and prolonged soaking can open small cracks in the skin, allowing germs to enter. Diabetics don’t heal well either.
Bram would disappear and I’d realize he’d sneaked off and was soaking and I’d have to go nag him out of the tub. Once we were visiting Karen and Conrad, and Bram locked himself in the bathroom to soak because he was having another bout of abdominal pain. I stood outside the door knocking and threatening until he came out. Karen was upset with me–I didn’t allow Bram to bathe? I told her he could shower all he wanted, but diabetics can’t soak. I’m still bemused that she thought I preferred Bram dirty and smelly. That was also the week we found out Bram suffered from more than just diabetes; his cholesterol levels were through the roof and we needed to figure out how to control them.
New meds for Bram; new ways of cooking for our family.
Back home in Grand Forks, the four of us addressed, stamped, sealed, and sent out wedding invitations. Nora, Richie, and Nita hadn’t come to any of the weddings Tonia, Sean, and I’d had so far. Neither had Cheryl or Scott. I hadn’t been lying to Karen when I told her I wanted my extended family at my wedding to Bram. I called Joyce and asked for their addresses. Besides my wedding dress, I was making vests and cravats for all the men in the wedding to wear with their tuxes, and altering Monica’s bridesmaids dress- she was just as tiny as I had always been. Our little family also made the table decorations and everything else we could for the wedding. We still didn’t have much money, so we were trying to economize.
Aili and Derek were getting married that summer, too. Karen and Conrad were paying for Aili’s wedding, so they couldn’t help with ours. Karen had suggested we have a double wedding. I told her that didn’t seem very fair to Aili, who I thought deserved her own wedding. I said we could have separate weddings on the same day and share a reception. IF Aili was agreeable to it. If Aili wasn’t ok with it then I wouldn’t go along. I was right; Aili wanted her own wedding, and I don’t blame her. She and Derek got married in June.
Bram and I were in their wedding and Derek and Aili were in ours. I made all the bridesmaids dresses for Aili’s wedding. I was going to make Aili’s dress, but we couldn’t find fabric we liked. My own wedding dress was silver with a bodice to match the vests. I was still opposed to wearing white and I didn’t want a veil. Karen and I argued about the veil. I wouldn’t budge. Aili was wearing a veil; Karen would have to be satisfied with that. Farrah made me a delicate wire and ribbon tiara to wear.
Bram and I were to have our second wedding the weekend after summer theatre ended. Instead of staying with either of our families, we asked for rooms in the dorms. We lived on sandwiches for most of the summer, supplemented by Monday Night pizza with Bram’s family and Sunday dinners with mine.
Tonia found out I’d invited Nita to my wedding and she was furious. She wanted me to take back the invitation, to call Nita and tell her she couldn’t come. I refused; I told Tonia I wanted my grandparents there. Tonia wanted to know how I could invite Nita after what Nita had done to Tonia at Faith’s funeral. I still didn’t know what Nita had done so I asked, which only enraged Tonia more. She started shouting and crying, saying I obviously didn’t care about her if I couldn’t remember what Nita had done. She said if I loved her, I’d tell Nita not to come.
I started shouting back, telling her our grandparents hadn’t come to any of our weddings and I wanted to see them. We were screaming at each other, both of us crying, Bram came over and told me to say goodbye and hang up. So I did. He took me in his arms and asked if I was ok. He said he’d never seen me so angry. I told him what Tonia wanted and he asked what Nita had done. I couldn’t tell him; I didn’t know. I still don’t know, to this day.
We were now worried Tonia wouldn’t show up to the wedding. I had all the bridesmaids dresses, altering them. I called my friend Dani, who was Tonia’s size, and asked if she’d stand in if Tonia didn’t show. She agreed. Dani is such a good, sweet person. Bram and I decided to rearrange seating at the head table at the reception because we were worried that none of my bridesmaids could deal with an angry Tonia. But we were pretty sure Travis could: Travis got along with everybody, didn’t anger easily, and was a nice looking guy. We thought he could charm Tonia. So our head table seating was boy, girl, boy, girl, all the way from one end to another.
Kari ended up sitting next to Travis. They got married a year later and have been together ever since.
Tonia did show up. She glared all through our wedding pictures. She kept disappearing and after a while the photographer quit calling her over because she refused to smile. She came alone and left immediately after the ceremony. I don’t remember her speaking a word. I know we all tried to speak with her but she just looked through everyone. We had a good time at the reception without her anyway.
Bram and I had decided not to return to UND. We didn’t need an MA to be designers, we needed MFAs. We felt we were wasting our time and the unwelcoming atmosphere didn’t help. We’d applied to University of South Dakota and we’d both been accepted with internships and partial tuition paid. After our wedding was over, we were going to go back to Grand Forks to pick up our household goods. Then our friends Adam and Sara were going to drive down to Vermillion SD with us and help us move in.
The Sunday after our wedding, we went over to Joyce’s for a last Sunday dinner before we left for the year. But we didn’t get to eat. As soon as we sat down at the table, Tonia laid into me. She was still pissed that I’d invited Nita, even though Nita hadn’t come. Once again, no extended family came to my wedding. Jerome’s sisters and mother had shown up, but my blood relatives were a no-show. That didn’t matter to Tonia. The idea that I’d invited Nita after what Nita had done continued to infuriate her.
Tonia told me I’d betrayed her and Joyce, that I’d turned my back on the family. She said I would regret it. She said one day I would need my family and no one would show up. Because they were done with me. She said I should never hope to rely on any of them again. Sean started protesting; Amy started shouting that Tonia didn’t speak for her. I looked at Joyce. She didn’t say anything; she just sat there watching Tonia scream at me with a little quirk at the corner of her mouth. I looked at Jerome; he was looking down at his plate.
I murmured to Sean and Amy: “I hear you.” I called to Nick and Monica to get their things; we were leaving. I stood up. Bram stood up. Tonia sneered, “Are you running away, like the backstabber you are? Go ahead, run! Because this isn’t your family anymore! This is MY family! You don’t have a family!” She followed us out the door, still screaming and ranting. I made sure I was the last one out the door; if Tonia started hitting, I wanted to be sure she hit me and not Bram or the kids.
We piled into the car and I said, “Everyone lock their doors.” Bram started the car. Tonia was banging on the windows, still screaming, tears running down her face. Joyce was standing behind her, arms crossed, WATCHING. She didn’t try to stop Tonia from following us or attacking the car. She didn’t try to calm Tonia down. She didn’t try to mediate, or get me to stay, or deny anything Tonia was saying about me not being family anymore. She was just standing there, watching.
Bram asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I rode away with my family, leaving Tonia screaming and crying in the yard, Joyce watching her.
We left for South Dakota without seeing them again.