The following story, Why Not? We Used To Be Married, was taken from the TruLOVE collection book, Bedroom Roulette. You can purchase Bedroom Roulette Here
Many stories in True Love and True Romance from the early 1970s are about young women going through wild times, getting into trouble, and resolving to straighten our their lives at the end of the story. Here’s a story about what might happen after that. Angie’s got a safe, stable marriage now, but then her first husband—the one she married straight out of high school, and divorced less than a year later, when she got tired of living on the wrong side of the tracks—is back in town, and he promises he’s ready to clean up his act, too.
The morning I found out that Keith Ryan was back began just like any other morning—or rather, like most of the mornings I’d known since I’d married Jim Kessler. I woke up, opened my eyes, and knew it must be nearly seven, because I could smell coffee perking. Jim was an early riser; he didn’t get up until eight on weekends, and he seemed to think getting up at that hour was kind of naughty.
My husband—my “new husband,” my mother called him—was thirty-three, ten years older than myself. Jim wasn’t really too old for me because at this point in my life, I needed an older, mature man . . . at least that’s what I told myself. Jim was organized, cautious, kind—a good, solid man who worked hard, paid his taxes and was faithful to his wife.
I put my hands over my head and stretched. I’d turned out to be what I used to laugh at, what Keith and I used to laugh at—a housewife, living in the suburbs, a churchgoer. Yes, I was now a member of a group of married people, all older than myself, who played cards at each other’s houses on Saturday night.
Keith, my first husband, and I hadn’t referred to that kind of life, that kind of person as being square, because we thought the word “square” was too square. Earth People, we called them.
We used to lie in bed, there in our shabby apartment over on Rohan Street, and we’d watch the Earth People going to the Church Of Holiness, there across the street. Sometimes, we would have a hangover from too much beer-drinking at Sam’s Attic, the place where we liked to go with our equally kookie friends, and sometimes, I would have a headache from joint-smoking.
Marijuana was a big part of our life together. Both Keith and I had begun smoking it as seniors in high school, and when we eloped, the summer after graduation, our life really didn’t change much. We had been lovers before; we had been users of grass and once in a while, acid. We had loved to speed around on Keith’s motorcycle, me on the sissy seat in back, and we had loved camping out, sleeping under the stars, cooking over an open fire. We did those things before we got married—my mother knew I was involved in a sexual affair but she really didn’t care. And we continued to do them after we were married.
Only something went wrong. We began drinking a little too much and we got kicked out of our kookie pad because the local sheriff raided us and we were both put on probation because they had found a whole group of us kids sitting around high on grass. All of a sudden, the whole scene—the motorcycle, the dirty, crummy apartment with the cushions on the floor, the dusty stack of records, the way-out magazines Keith subscribed to because he liked to feel he was a rebel felt wrong.
More and more, I began to feel less and less satisfied. I began going over to my mom’s to wash my hair, because the sink in our bathroom always had roaches crawling up and down the drainpipe. My mother, remarried after years of being divorced and alone, began to worry a little. She and her new husband didn’t really want me around all the time.
When I was going with Keith, when I was married to him, I was no problem to my mother. Now, all of a sudden I tried to burden her with my new thoughts and feelings about Keith, about my marriage to him, and about being a hippie. Maybe Keith and I didn’t have shoulder-length hair or anything, but all the same, we were a couple of hippies at heart.
People in town resented the area where we lived, and after having been married to Keith for less than a year. I began to resent it too. We began to fight—I stayed off pot and acid and stopped drinking beer because I hated the way I felt physically when I used those things.
Keith didn’t understand what was happening, and when he finally realized I wanted to divorce him, he stayed drunk for nearly a month, shut up in that filthy apartment, the rent due, no job, until finally, they took away his motorcycle. He left town right after the divorce, and I went to live my my mother and stepfather. When I met Jim. I’d married him as quickly as he was willing.
Jim was an Earth Person: he had a good job and he drove a new car, not a cycle. He also shaved and bathed each morning, and he didn’t drink or smoke. He’d been married once before, very briefly. The girl had been killed on their honeymoon.
Now, smelling the coffee, I got out of bed and smoothed down my short hair. I was supposed to go over to Richmond today, to shop for drapery material. I’d been married to Jim for two years by now, and during that time I’d learned to sew. In fact, I’d made curtains for most of our little house and for my mother’s house too. Now, my mom seemed like a kind of middle-aged kook to me, with her efforts to keep looking young, the hard-drinking crowd she and her husband ran around with, and their interest in things like skydiving and boating. But then, maybe I was just getting to be Ultra Earth People, like Jim was.
He was eating his breakfast, reading the paper, sitting there in “his” chair at our dinette table, and the sun slanted in the window in precisely the same pattern it did every morning.
“Hi,” he said, and he went back to his paper. “Don’t forget to water the grass while I’m gone, Angie.”
Gone. I’d forgotten. This was the morning Jim was leaving for Camp Malcomb, down near Anderson, for his annual two weeks tour of duty in the Army Reserves. I hadn’t actually forgotten, because I’d spent all week getting his shirts and things ready, it was just that I’d forgotten this morning, because I was sleepy, probably.
“I feel guilty.” I said, kissing him lightly on the top of his head, where his hair thinned a little. “I should have gotten up to cook for you.”
“I like to cook.” he said. He’d finished his coffee. “I’ll miss fixing your breakfast for you on Sundays.”
That was a little ritual of ours, Jim’s bringing me a tray on Sunday’s. It had been his idea, and it had been such a switch from the hung-over Sunday mornings I’d spent with Keith, that I’d gladly gone along with it.
Jim left for camp at nine and I quickly straightened up the house and got dressed to go to town and get the curtain material. I had plenty to keep me busy during the next two weeks. My new draperies, lunches with some of my neighbors, my work at church in the Young Adults’ Sunday School class. We were planning a big picnic in two months, up at the town’s park, and I was on the food committee. My mother made fun of that—the fact that I was so active in church work while she was trying so hard to be a kind of aging swinger. But I didn’t really care. I was happy with Jim.
Still, for some reason, I was kind of glad to see him leave for camp.