1976 – Rose Colored Glasses
There are three things in life that scare the crap out of me. The first is heights. I am scared to death of heights. The second are those legs that sprout out of potatoes if you don’t eat them fast enough. And the third is public speaking.
I was sitting on a stool when she said it to me. It was the last day of my second semester design class, in my first year of college and it was my art instructor who said it. She was a thin and straight lipped thing. When she stopped to critique my assignment that morning I was suffering from a bad case of the jitters, after having stayed up all night with my best friend, who had once been a pot of strong, black coffee. My project proved to be a lot more work than I’d anticipated and my heart had not been in it. It was a fourteen by sixteen black poster board adhered with hundreds of narrow, hand cut, white strips, forming a spiral. It looked like a spinning top, as I’d planned, and it was making me nauseas.
My approaching wedding date surfaced during our conversation when she noticed the teensy diamond on my left hand and she immediately seemed to forget about my blood and sweat project that she was standing next to.
My fiancé had slipped the ring on my finger a few months prior, and my mother had been battling with reoccurring hives ever since.
Jason and I were going to head west after our wedding. We had employment lined up in Yellowstone National Park, at Old Faithful Inn and we would be leaving town in less than two weeks. I was filled with a sense of indescribable adventure. My ordinary life was about to change into the unknown and on top of it, I would not be back in the fall to take the mandatory speech class that had already kept me up at night.
I was surprised by her reaction, not about the moving spiral, that, I could have understood. It was her reaction about my future. She didn’t congratulate me or wish me luck. Instead she shook her mouse colored head of hair, scrunched up her forty something face, and uttered the words, “you are looking at the world through rose colored glasses.” Then she turned and walked away, leaving me bewildered and wondering how she felt about that spiral.
I’d never heard the saying, but I understood her cynicism. Rather than delving into self-pity, which I was an expert at or becoming angry with her, I imagined a young girl like myself sitting in a meadow of tiny yellow and white waving buds. She had chestnut hair that stopped in the middle of her back, a red flower behind her ear and was wearing round rose colored, John Lennon like, sun glasses.
My art teacher was right. I did look at the world through rose colored glasses. I preferred it that way. I still do.
1976 – The Wedding
A week later Father McCintyre was standing a foot away from me looking into my eyes with his aqua blue ones, laden with thick black lashes, the likes I’d never seen on a grown man before at such close proximity, making my knees weak as he gently spoke these words, “Will you take this man to be your husband?”
My heart was pounding loudly in my ears and it wasn’t because I was taking the most prevalent step of my life. It was that fear of public speaking that was lurking. I wasn’t sure if my mouth would cooperate. All eyes were aimed in our direction. Most of my family was sitting in the first few pews including my parents, both sets of grandparents, and my three brothers. The next couple of rows consisted of my God parents and my aunts and uncles and a few cousins. The other side of the church was overflowing with Jason’s relatives, mostly from his mother’s side. Our good friends were scattered about the place or standing next to Jason and me along with my two little sisters, Louisa and Tina, who were eighteen and seventeen. We were in front of the church, facing the congregation.
I was wearing a dress I’d found at the mall made of cream-colored gauze with a scooped neckline, trimmed with ropy lace. It had long puffy sleeves and it tied in the back of my waist and then flowed to my sandaled feet and coral painted nails. There was a crown of pastel flowers and daisies in my long and slightly curled hair and I held a basket of flowers that matched both the crown on my head and the rainbow of bridesmaid dresses standing in a row next to me.
Jason stood with his shoulders back and his head held high, at five feet ten inches, in a caramel-brown tuxedo accented with shiny dark stripes running down the sides of his pant legs. The flower in his lapel matched the bridal party. His head of coarse unruly coffee colored hair that stopped at his square jaw had been tamed by a brush for the occasion and his feet were temporarily crammed into a pair of shiny shoes.
The ceremony was taking place at the Catholic Church on campus. It was a stormy day in May and the year was 1976. A pot smoke-in had been scheduled on that same day at the foot of the stairs that led into the cathedral. My parents considered the rain a blessing when the rally turnout was merely three harmless guys wearing ponchos, unable to keep their joint lit.
Father McCintyre was still waiting for my answer.
I remember thinking, ‘what in the hell am I doing here? Maybe I should marry you Father McCintyre. There should be a law against a priest as good looking as you are.’ But instead I looked over at Jason’s unsuspecting glittering green eyes and I heard myself say, “I do.”
It was just a few days later that Jason and I drove off in our red pint-sized convertible with a black ragtop. The same car had caused a snafu in Jason’s family. His father thought it was an irrational, juvenile, ridiculous, outlandish, and just a plain freaking stupid, asinine purchase. He’d blown a fuse when Jason brought it home from the used car lot. I loved that TR-6.
The tiny trunk was stuffed on departure day with stacks of jeans, t-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, sleeping bags, a gas camp stove with a pot and pan set and a cute little percolator coffee pot. There was a set of matching blue and white speckled metal cups, a pup tent, and lastly a Betty Crocker Cook Book that we’d received as a wedding gift. The car was made for two but there was still room for Belle, Jason’s, and now mine as well, Irish setter, to stretch out width wise in the space behind us.
I was exhilarated as we drove west listening to The Eagles over and over and over and over.
“Millie,” Jason said as we were cruising along just inside the Minnesota border. “That tape keeps going around. Put in some Led Zeplin or something would ya?”
I pushed in the eject button but the tape didn’t pop out, so I pushed it in again.
“It’s not working.”
“Let me try it,” he said pressing the same button and nothing happened.
“Here,” I said after digging a pen out of the glove compartment. “I’ll pry it open.”
“Don’t force it Mill.”
I stuck the tip along the side and realized as I peered into the gap that if I was successful in opening the player, the tape and the player would both be destroyed.
“It’s no use. I think we’re screwed.”
“Let me see it.”
Jason pried it as far as he could without popping it wide open and ruining the lot as he steered with one hand on the wheel and one eye on the road.
“It’s really jammed in there. Shit.”
The radio hadn’t worked since day one. We looked longingly at our pile of music including Queen, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple and Yes.
I pushed the play button and the Eagles began singing again. It was just like the song on their recording, ‘You can check in but you can never leave.’
We stayed in a cut-rate motel somewhere in South Dakota that evening. When Jason fell asleep, I hung on to Belle. It was the first time I understood that we were really leaving home. Up until that moment everything had been an adventure and it had been about the wedding and then heading to the mountains, so we could become ski bums, just as we’d dreamed. Jason’s mother Olympia was full of knowledge and advice. She’d warned us we’d be homesick. I didn’t believe her. But I desperately wanted to go home, back to my house and back to my life and it was only the first night. I wanted to be curled up in my bed in my own bedroom, the one that had taken sixteen years to acquire, away from the crowded one I’d shared with Louisa and Tina. I wanted to pull my covers up to my neck and stare at the walls I’d painted a shade of purple that had set my mom in a tizz, where I’d have been surrounded by all the stuffed animals Jason had won for me at so many midways, throwing darts at balloons or tennis balls at milk cans. That prize red bull would have been facing the wall so that his devil like eyes wouldn’t stare at me and give me the creeps as I tried to fall asleep. In that lonely motel in South Dakota I tried to picture my dirty clothes scattered on my bedroom floor, my easel in front of the closet and my skis propped in the corner. I was suddenly filled with a void I’d never known. I got it. I’d grown up and I’d left home and there was no turning back. I felt like I was free falling and there was no bottom. I hugged Belle more tightly and she twisted to get away from me. I finally fell asleep to the eerie glow of the T.V. broadcasting static and listening to soft snores coming from Jason next to me and from Belle on the floor.
The next morning I woke to sunlight streaming through dust covered mini blinds, making lines on the wall next to me. The blackness that I’d felt the night before had disappeared with dawn and I don‘t believe I’ve ever had a feeling that compared, until the day my Dad died, thirty some years later.
Jason, Belle and I jumped into the little red car and continued zigzagging our way west. We camped along the way enjoying new scenery, while cooking over fire pits and hiking along river banks. We looked over the Grand Canyon at one point. Well, Jason looked over the Grand Canyon. I didn’t look over the Grand Canyon. My number one fear is heights.
“Come here Millie. You’ve got to see this. This is incredible.”
“I can see it from here Jason.”
“No you can’t. You can’t look over it like this.”
“Jason, don’t. Get away from the edge,” I yelled. “You’re killing me. Did you get a picture yet?”
I could see that it was a very deep and large crack from where I stood next to the car. Belle and I kept our distance from that riven in the earth.
We ended up at Wall Drug South Dakota after seeing sign after sign after sign, advertising how wonderful it was. It was a must see, a chance of a lifetime. You can’t miss it.
“Well that was a piece of crap,” Jason said as we sped away.
“Living it up in the Hotel California,” over and over and over the Eagles sang.
Jason was the kind of guy everybody liked. He was cute, sincere, charismatic, and he never shut up. He loved me and I loved him and we knew we were destined for great things.
“Do you love me Millie?”
“I love you Jason.”
“Forever and ever?”
“Forever and ever.”
“Even after forever and ever?”
“Even after forever and ever.”
It was our fifth day of meandering around the country and I’d been marveling at the distant mountains for an hour from the passenger seat. At first I thought I was looking at clouds. I had a hard time believing what Jason was saying.
“Millie, they are too mountains. You’ll see. I’m telling you, those are not clouds. ”
As we got closer it was obvious that he was right, those clouds were definitely mountains.
A couple hours later we passed through an amazing valley, then a dusty little town and then we drove under a big arch made of stone that led us to a little brown hut where we paid a ranger a national park fee and then we were officially in Yellowstone NationalPark.
I was bursting with emotions as the river rushed along on our right side and, then on our left side. A moose had lines of cars at a standstill. We jumped out and marveled with the other tourists until he moseyed on off the road.
But the further we drove that day the darker that day became. Threatening clouds were drifting in from the west.
Our honeymoon was coming to a close and I felt panicked. I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to keep on driving, keep on moving, keep on camping, keep on singing about the Hotel California and keep on making love in that sleeping bag. My stomach did another flip as we slowed down and were about to check in to our new lives.
The trees were thick, dark and ominous. There were hundreds of wild butterflies in my gut. I petted Belle’s snout and she panted as the car coasted slowly along.
We glided past the Old Faithful Inn and then the Old Faithful dorms and then a big parking lot full of cars. I read a sign out loud. “NO DOGS ALLOWED.”
Belle looked at me.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jason said. “You always worry.”
“But how are we going to hide an Irish setter here?”
“We’ll take turns.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right we’ll be living in separate dorms. I want to live with you Jason, you, me and Belle.”
“This is just for a little while Millie. It’s just to get our foot in the door. We’ve already talked about it, remember? Calm down.”
I didn’t say anything and looked straight ahead.
“Look, do you want to drive back to that town we passed through and have some lunch? We don’t have to check in here until 4:00. It’s going to be okay Mill. Trust me.” He stroked Belle’s muzzle.
Well, I thought I was going to puke. I’d never lived anywhere in my life but home. Even the year I went to college I took the city bus to the university and then studied in the nearby café or on my own bedroom floor next to my dirty clothes with supper simmering on the stove and whoever’s turn it was, setting the dining room table right outside my door where all eight of us had eaten for all of my nineteen years. Now I was going to live in a dorm with a bunch of strange girls from all over the world in the middle of some deep dark woods that blocked any majestic mountain view that I could see, while a volcanic geyser shot off every hour because if it didn’t we would all blow sky high. I wasn’t supposed to mention that I was married or that I had a dog. Oh, and I fear new jobs. That is one of the three things that I‘m afraid of.
We barely spoke on the nearly fifty mile descent to that little town we‘d passed through. The map said it was called Gardiner, Montana. The Eagles sang on, ‘You can check in but you can never leave.’ Jason was pretending that everything was cool, but he had to know it wasn’t going to be easy to hide Belle and he also knew that when I started to sulk, I could be a real pain.
As we drove through the mountains toward Gardiner the clouds thinned to light wispy things.
There was a blonde woman hitch-hiking along the dusty road, wearing a red bandana, a loose faded-blue dress and brown leather sandals that laced past her ankles. She was headed up the mountain as we were coming down.
The miniature town looked like an old western movie set as we approached it. A couple of streets were lined with walls of buildings and hitching posts. It was surrounded by a desert full of cacti with bright yellow flowers and dark-blue mountains tipped off with white caps. I later learned the big mountain that it faced was Electric Peak. In the forefront of the mountains there were light green rolling foothills dotted with black and green trees and grey boulders.
The hard and dusty ground in town was not much different from the road we set our feet on.
We filled Belle’s water bowl, leaving the windows open. “We’ll be right back,” we lied, “and we’ll bring you a treat.”
It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust as we stepped inside. A song by Pure Prairie League filled the room from speakers suspended by elk antlers and manila ropes. The grayed barn wood walls were scattered with paintings of mountain landscapes and big horn sheep.
Tables covered with green and white checkered cloths lined the walls and a fully loaded salad bar split the room in half.
The swinging doors with little round windows in the back of the room swung open and a Bruce Springsteen looking guy wearing tight jeans and cowboy boots walked out. “Y’all sit wherever you like,” he called out, with an accent I learned to be Texan.
We slid into the chairs at the table closest to the door and opened the menus.
My stomach was making all kinds of noises.
“Relax,” Jason said. “Everything will be fine.” He flashed me one of his famous smiles.
“But how are we going to sneak Belle into a dorm? How and when are we going to be together? What if we work opposite shifts? What if Belle has to poop?”
As much as I adored Jason’s positive outlook on life, his forever winning smile and all of his bullshit, I wasn’t convinced that he was going to pull this one off.
We ordered a BLT, a French Dip, fries to split and a couple of cokes from the guy in the cowboy boots.
Each time the door opened, sunlight streamed in, proving that the world was still out there.
The waiter stopped to ask how the sandwiches were.
“Real good,” answered Jason. “Hey, is your boss around?”
“You‘re looking at him,” the guy answered. “We just opened a month ago,” he continued, picking up the empty basket of fries with only the grease spots and a dab of ketchup left on the waxy paper.
“Do you need any help? My wife here is a waitress. She’s a really good one too,” Jason said pointing at me.
I shot a look back, noting it was the first time I heard Jason refer to me as his wife.
“I can cook too,” he went on without a care in the world that he was lying through his teeth.
I had not seen Jason prepare anything more than spaghetti from a jar and once in a blue moon a crazy concoction that he’d come up with due to the sudden onset of the munchies. Olympia was an excellent cook and that’s what he ate ninety nine point nine percent of the time, Olympia’s cooking.
“Well funny you should ask,” the guy drawled. “We’ve all been working around the clock and are dog tired. We’ve been talking about getting some help. How about four o’clock today? If you want to wait on tables, honey, the job’s all yours.” He wiped his hands on a towel that was tucked behind a silver eagle on his belt buckle.
“Oh, she does,” Jason answered for me. “She does.”
When the guy was out of earshot, I asked Jason what the hell he was doing. We were supposed to report to Old Faithful Inn at four o’clock.
“I thought you didn’t want to go there,” he taunted, folding his arms, tilting his head to the side and grinning.
“I don’t, but they’re expecting us.”
“They’ll never miss us.”
“You can’t cook, Jason.”
“How hard can it be to cook?” he smiled.
A sense of relief washed over me. We didn’t have to go back to that dark place in the mountains and hide our dog while we waited for a volcano to blow, but then again I had to report to work in three hours.
“We have no place to live,” I nagged.
“We’ll figure it out. Quit worrying.” His green eyes gleamed.
We clinked our empty Coke glasses together and walked back out to the sunshine. I gave Belle a piece of the French dip I’d wrapped in a napkin. “Amy what’cha gonna do? I think I’m.” The door stopped the song behind us in mid-sentence.
We drove through every street in Gardiner in a matter of minutes and found only one place with a For Rent sign, but no one answered the door.
We said hey to a guy with a long greasy-brown ponytail who was walking on the sidewalk and the next thing I remember we were in his claustrophobic living room smoking a joint.