In her slip and corset, my mother was not a pretty sight. Even in the corset she was shaped like a potato. It had real bones in it, or at least she said it did. To my thinking, any amount of hunger was preferable to needing such a thing. Unpacking her suitcase, she picked up a floral-print cotton nightgown that I thought only a very old lady or very little girl should wear. Watching from the bedroom doorway, I said, “Mark and I want to get married next month.”
“What about school?” Putting dirty clothes in one pile, clean ones in another, she didn’t look at me.
It was mid-August. School would be starting soon. “I don’t want to go back. It’s boring.”
“Your father wants you to wait until you’re sixteen.” She sniffed a blouse, then put it on the “to be washed” pile.
I studied the bedroom wallpaper; its pink roses on a green background had always looked old-fashioned to me. “If you don’t let me get married, I’ll run away again or get pregnant.” I’d said this so many times it was sort of a mantra. “I’m not bluffing.”
My mother turned to look at me. “You look awful with all that black stuff on your eyes. Mark may think you look pretty, but I don’t.”
“Will you sign for me?”
“I’m tired.” Her voice was sharp, more angry than tired.
Kennedy was president, and the civil rights movement was underway. For many people it was a time of hope, opportunity, and change, but Mark and I had the vision for our lives that one might have expected of teenage apprentices and servants before the advent of universal education. The first week of September 1962, we applied for a marriage license at the Oakland courthouse. When I told the clerk the year I was born, she thought I’d made a mistake. I said, “It’s not a mistake. I’m fourteen.”
She put on her glasses. With a get-your-hand-out-of-the-cookie-jar look, she explained, “California law requires an age of sixteen for both partners. You’ll have to see a judge to make a special request for your license.”
The next day my parents and I entered the judge’s wood-paneled chambers. I sat in a comfortable leather chair; the judge, stern and stocky, watched me from behind his desk. My dark blond hair, which reached past my shoulders, was ratted high on top. I wore a lavender sweater and a tight-fitting dress with little black flowers on a white background.
“Why do you want to get married?” he asked.
“Because I’m in love.”
“That’s quite admirable, but at your age it’s insufficient. There have to be other circumstances. Are there any?”
I knew exactly what the other circumstances had to be. I wished I could say, Yes! I’m pregnant! It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried, but I answered truthfully: “No.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you get married.”
“Can’t you make an exception? Isn’t it better to get married because you’re in love than because you’re pregnant?”
“I agree entirely, but it’s also best to wait. In California there’s a law that says it’s illegal to marry at your age. It’s a good law; it was made to protect people. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope someday you’ll marry for love—when you’re older.”
The idea of getting married made me feel liberated—free of childhood and adolescence, free of social conventions. The rules that society placed on others did not apply to me. In my own mind I was different, someone who could imagine alternatives to dull customs, and a force to be reckoned with. Of course, in reality, what I perceived as a great act of liberation was the opposite: a leap into adolescent marriage, a practice that had limited women’s options for thousands of years and that my culture had wisely outlawed and now found objectionable.
My father, who was taking time off from his job as a loan officer at Bank of America, looked relieved. As we left the courthouse, he urged me once more to wait until I was sixteen. He didn’t understand that to me, waiting until I was sixteen seemed no different from waiting forever. I wanted to get out of school now, I wanted to get away from my mother now, and I wanted to fulfill Mark’s and my love immediately by having his baby.
The following Friday, Mark and I drove to Nevada with my mother in the backseat. It was late afternoon as we came down the east side of the Sierra in my father’s blue-and-white ’55 Oldsmobile, and I could see the town of Minden in the distance, in the long shadows of the mountains. We were still far from Reno, where we planned to get a marriage license that afternoon and wed the following day. It was already so late I was afraid the marriage license bureau in Reno might be closed when we got there, so I said, “Let’s get our license in Minden.”
We gave our real ages to the gray-haired justice of the peace who both issued licenses and performed marriages. In Nevada, he told us, it was not only illegal to marry at my age but also at Mark’s: the Silver State required the woman to be at least sixteen, the man eighteen. Mark was seventeen. The justice advised us to come back when we were older.
All the way from Minden to Reno, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to get married after all. My mother kept saying she was sure we would be able to: all we had to do was lie about our ages. I didn’t know what had changed her mind, but she was on my side now. Maybe she wanted to get rid of me. I couldn’t stand to be around her for very long, and I thought the feeling was mutual. It made her nervous just to look at me. Then again, maybe she knew how important this was to me and just wanted to make me happy. My dad still didn’t think my getting married was a great idea, but it was two against one, and he was going along with the plan—anything for his girls.
My mother had never been able to distinguish between real dangers and false ones. She hadn’t let me take swimming lessons as a child because she was afraid I’d drown. Now she seemed as oblivious as I was to the likely consequences of dropping out of school after eighth grade and getting married. The truth was she’d dropped out herself after tenth, although she always told people she was a high school graduate. My father, I think, saw the danger, but his childlike optimism enabled him to deny it. He was a happy-go-lucky sort who’d risk everything at the poker table because he truly believed he was going to win. My parents were as naïve as I was, and indulgent on top of it.
In Reno we were joined by my father, my Aunt Ethel, and Mark’s parents and stepparents. I needn’t have worried about the marriage license bureau closing before we got there, because the wedding industry in Reno was second only to gambling, and marriage licenses were issued twenty-four hours a day.
About ten other couples were in line ahead of us. I felt light-headed and my heart was tap dancing. When we reached the front, I said I was sixteen and Mark said he was eighteen. Both of our mothers were present to confirm this, and our license was issued as quickly as everyone else’s. I think now that Mark’s mother lied for us because she thought my parents were more affluent than they were (we lived in Piedmont, a town known for its mansions), and that our marriage would give him a financial advantage.
The next morning Mark’s father and stepmother took him to rent a suit and get a haircut. I would have been happy to have him stand at the altar in Levis, and I liked his long, greasy brown hair just the way it was, but I didn’t say anything. Mark’s mother, Ellen, who said I would have bad luck if I didn’t wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue, loaned me an antique cameo brooch to take care of the old and borrowed. I was wearing new white shoes and a pale blue brocade Chinese dress. Ellen also gave me a pink corsage. I didn’t think either the brooch or the corsage looked good on my dress but wore them anyhow. I was in a rare mood for indulging the adults.
On September 8, three months before my fifteenth birthday and the week before I should have started ninth grade, the sky was a luminous blue as Mark and I entered the First Methodist Church in Reno. Our mothers asked the organist to play “I Love You Truly.” I’d have picked “Love Me Tender,” but I wanted our mothers to be happy. Standing at the altar, I found it hard not to giggle. Mark looked so skinny in his rented navy blue suit! When I knelt, I thought my tight-fitting dress would rip, but it held. I stood again, and Mark put the ring on my finger. I knew that many people would call me a fool, but I was incredibly happy. I thought ours was a unique and wondrous passion. Antony and Cleopatra, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, step aside! Mark was the prince and I was his princess, and our wedding would fulfill the promise of our extraordinary love.
Afterward we all went to Lake Tahoe for steak dinners at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel. Other than me, the women at the table came in matched pairs: Ellen and Judy, Mark’s mother and stepmother, were redheads with sarcastic senses of humor and the worldliness of women who worked outside the home; my mom and Aunt Ethel, badgering the waiter with endless complaints, were identical twins, just over five feet tall, who wore shortened size 14 dresses over their corsets and told and retold the joke about the woman who pulled a sugar cube from her brassiere, then asked her guests if they’d also like cream. Mark’s stepfather, Pete, a large man with a square jaw, ordered drink after drink and stood up to toast Mark and me each time a new one arrived. Mark’s dad and mine, masticating their steaks, said they felt lucky. At first I thought they were referring to Mark’s and my marriage, but as the conversation continued, I realized they were talking about blackjack.
We had a four-day honeymoon at Mark’s dad and Judy’s house in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, while the adults stayed at Tahoe to play keno, blackjack, and the slot machines. For dinner the first night, I served leftover macaroni and cheese I found in a Corning Ware casserole dish in the refrigerator. I left it in the oven too long and it burned on the bottom. I didn’t know how to get the black stuff off the dish, so I washed and dried it, then put it back in the cupboard with the last of the charred macaroni still stuck to the bottom.
I didn’t want to be seen naked, and neither did Mark. I was embarrassed by my small breasts. I don’t know what his problem was. If I wasn’t wearing a nightgown or blouse when we made love, I put a pillow over my chest to cover my breasts. Mark always made me close my eyes while he pulled his pants up or down. Even so, we had sex four or five times a day. I’d rather have spent some of this time walking on the Berkeley Pier, playing Scrabble, or shopping for things for our apartment, but I wanted to make Mark happy.
He invited our friend Steve and Steve’s friend Mike, one of my ex-boyfriends, to visit us. I wished we could have had our honeymoon far away from the Bay Area, because their arrival made it very unromantic. Each time Mark and I came out of the bedroom, Steve and Mike had dopey grins. It infuriated me, but I didn’t want to say anything that might spoil my honeymoon even more. After they left, with Mark’s invitation to return the next day, I said, “Why do you want them here? Are you bored with me?” Mark said, “I thought you’d want to see them. They’re your friends too.”
The next time I saw my mother, I told her that someday I wanted to write about getting married at fourteen, to let the world know that teen love is lasting and real. My mother, who’d been sitting on her bed, got up abruptly, saying, “Don’t talk that way! You don’t want to be a writer!”
I was surprised, because whenever I said anything remotely amusing, my father said I should write about it, but before I could ask her what was wrong with being a writer, her expression softened to a sly smile. “Did you like it?” she asked.
It took me a moment to figure out what “it” was, because she’d always refused to talk to me about sex. “Yes,” I finally answered. I was surprised she didn’t know we’d been doing it all summer.
“I never did. Your father jumped on me like a mad bear. I wouldn’t let him do it more than once a week.”
Wondering if this was why it took my parents eight years to conceive me, I decided not to tell her about Steve and Mike. If she thought sex was never any good, how could she understand when something spoiled it? I’d never seen my parents hug, hold hands, or kiss, which had always disappointed me, because most of my friends’ parents were physically affectionate. I didn’t want a marriage with minimal physical contact. I saw my mother as a sort of Victorian relic—a nervous, overweight housewife who hated sex—and wanted to be different from her in every way.
Mark’s and my apartment was a second-floor flat in a Victorian building on 24th Street near downtown Oakland. We furnished it with family discards that included a brown sofa, the upholstery of which had been shredded by dogs, and a pearlescent gray Formica table with matching vinyl chairs.
I knew how to dust and vacuum, but I’d never cleaned a stove or toilet. I noticed after a month or so that the range top was getting crusted over with dried and burned food and the toilet bowl had an ugly gray ring, but I didn’t think too much about it until Mark said, “Aren’t you ever going to clean the kitchen and bathroom?”
Every morning Steve, Mike, and any of Mark’s other friends who were cutting school came over for breakfast, after which I packed lunches—apples and ham or bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread—for anywhere from three to six boys. As I washed their coffee cups and cereal dishes, Mark and his buddies left to play poker, hang out at Casper’s Hot Dogs, or go motorcycling in the Oakland hills. I told Mark he should either look for a job or take me with him. Mark, the boy chauvinist, said my place was in the home.
We were living on $267 from a $500 insurance policy that would have matured when I turned eighteen, but that my father cashed in early to sustain us until Mark found a job. I resented spending this money to feed Mark’s friends, even if they were my friends too. Mark said I was selfish, but I worried about what would happen when the money ran out, and I wanted to make it last as long as possible.
One morning as Mark and his friends stood in the driveway below our kitchen window, preparing to leave, probably discussing where to go, my rage and disappointment began to surge. Heart drumming, I picked up the hammer I’d been using to hang pictures from the Blue Chip Redemption Center. I started to cry at the same time as I hurled it at Mark and his friends through the closed window. It narrowly missed Mike’s head; I was momentarily sorry it hadn’t killed anyone.
Mark came back into the flat. His blue eyes were cold and hard, and I knew he didn’t want to hear my side. “I thought I’d married a woman; I never thought I’d married such a baby,” he said.
“Your childishness evokes mine.” I stated with dignity.
On September 30 my parents held a reception for us at Leona Lodge, a hall in a wooded area near the Warren Freeway, which they’d rented from the Oakland Park Department for five dollars. I wore a white party dress with a sequined bodice and full skirt; Mark wore his own new sports coat, a gift from my father. There were no flowers, no musicians, no napkins printed with our names. The caterers brought open-face tuna and egg salad sandwiches; the champagne was served in little paper cups. The table with the food was against one wall in a huge room, otherwise empty, except for metal folding chairs along the other three walls. Our thirty or so guests sat in the chairs and ate their sandwiches. I opened the presents: eleven towel sets and an ashtray. My mother had told everyone we needed towels to ensure that I wouldn’t take any more of hers. This affair was supposed to last from one o’clock until five but was cut short at about three, when Mark got sick to his stomach and had to leave.
In October my parents took Mark and me to visit my father’s cousin Deedee in Watsonville, a town inland between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Cousin Deedee, an austere-looking but kind-hearted woman with a tight gray bun, offered Mark and me the room of honor—her own bedroom—in her modest home. While we made love, deep in the center of Deedee’s mattress, Mark asked, “Do you want a baby?” I said yes, and for the first time, he didn’t withdraw.
The next morning I ate Deedee’s waffles and scrambled eggs with great gusto: I no longer had to keep my weight at 114, because I knew I was pregnant. I thought I was going to single-handedly show the world that teen marriage and pregnancy were okay. Mark and I were the living proof that teen love was real, and soon we would be the best parents imaginable.
Within two weeks my breasts were a little fuller and slightly tender, and I needed more sleep than usual. Sometimes I felt a little queasy, but the queasiness went away as long as I kept nibbling crackers, cookies, or potato chips. I kept telling Mark that I was pregnant, but he wasn’t sure whether to believe me.
A counselor from Oakland Technical High came by to try to talk me into going back to school, but I thought I already knew everything I needed to know about the things one learns in school: I could read, I could write, I could do math. She might as well have asked a zebra to shed its stripes. One of the great draws of getting married had been to get out of going to school. I told her thanks, but I wasn’t interested.
Still I didn’t have much to do during the long hours when most kids were at school. Sometimes I read paperback books from a little drugstore near our apartment. One, called Children Who Kill, gave a Freudian interpretation of each murder: the murder weapon always symbolized a penis. I was annoyed by these interpretations, especially when the killer was a girl.
If I didn’t feel like reading after my housework was done, I went shoplifting, usually at Capwell’s department store, which was just a few blocks away. One rainy day I put a gray wool skirt into my big black purse, brought it home, and took a good look at it. It wasn’t a pretty skirt, and I didn’t need a skirt. I realized that I had gained nothing by taking it. My thinking continued to the next logical step: I’d had things to lose by taking it. Although my probation officer hadn’t been in touch with me for more than a year, technically I was still on probation for running away, and by shoplifting I was violating probation. If I was caught, I might be sent to the California Youth Authority, and my baby might be taken away. (I hadn’t had a pregnancy test yet, but I was certain that I was pregnant.) Would I rather have my freedom and my baby or an ugly gray skirt? I was not yet certain that shoplifting was morally or ethically wrong but, regardless, convinced myself that it wasn’t worth doing.
Mark often went to the motorcycle hill climbs with Steve, Mike, and other friends, and he always came back with a big hug for me. Poison oak is abundant in the Oakland hills, and a few days after one of his outings, I broke out in a blistery rash over about thirty percent of my body. Mark got it too, but not as bad. We took antihistamine tablets and went through calamine lotion by the quart. As soon as we recovered, Mark went back to the hill climbs and gave me poison oak again. My enthusiasm for hugging him plummeted.
In November he started looking for a job in earnest. I’d missed my period, which helped convince him that I really was pregnant and he’d soon have a child to support. He was hired by a construction company, and we moved twenty miles inland to a massive pink stucco apartment complex in Concord to be closer to his job. By now I knew how to clean stoves and toilets, cook hamburger 101 exciting ways, and set mousetraps. The most remarkable thing about our second apartment was that it had more mice than the first. We lived near a field and shared our living space with field mice. There were so many that mousetraps did not suffice, and we had to use poison. Dirty dishes had to be washed immediately, I discovered, unless I wanted to deal with a sink full of mouse droppings. These mice were not at all stealthy or timid. They believed in safety in numbers: when I opened a kitchen cupboard, they leapt out like a team of tiny football players.
Mark’s friend Chet, who was really proud of the Blue Angle tattoo on his arm until I pointed out the misspelling, and Chet’s new wife, a slow-speaking woman with bleached blond hair, came to stay with us. As the four of us sat at the gray Formica table in the kitchen, Chet told us how he liked to rip his wife’s pants off when he wanted sex. His tone was jovial, but it still sounded like rape to me.
“I think a man and woman should have sex only when both of them feel like it,” I said, then turned to Mark. “What do you think?”
I expected him to agree with me, but he said, “I agree with Chet. A woman should always be ready for her husband.”
I felt hurt and disgusted. The next time Mark and I made love, I remembered what he’d said and couldn’t get turned on.
On December 5, my fifteenth birthday, Mark got sick at work and was taken to the hospital. While he underwent an emergency appendectomy, I got the result of my pregnancy test: positive. I told him in the recovery room as soon as he woke up. We were both jubilant.
Because Mark couldn’t work the rest of December, we didn’t have money for our January rent, so we moved in with my parents after Christmas. I was glad to be home. I wouldn’t have to worry about the rent anymore, and I wouldn’t have to deal with mice. I was happy as I arranged my stuffed animals on the headboard of Mark’s and my bed in my old room.
The next day I went next door to see my mom’s friend Phyllis. I’d always admired her because she was slender, had dazzling red hair, wore purplish lipstick, and smoked. I’d recently quit smoking because cigarettes started tasting peculiar and unpleasant. I also cut down on salt and stopped drinking alcohol. My obstetrician hadn’t told me to do these things. I just thought they would be wise. We talked in the basement while Phyllis did her laundry. “Your mother told me all her problems would be over when you got married,” she said, “but I told her that her problems were just beginning. I said, ‘Evelyn, she’ll be back home before you know it, and you won’t have just one teenager to worry about: you’ll have two teenagers and a baby.’”
“I’m going to take care of my baby myself,” I said.
Mark didn’t go back to work at the construction company: he said they couldn’t hold the job for him. When he was well, he started looking for another job, but I found one first. I sold Beauty Counselor Cosmetics and did much better than I had selling Avon products a few years earlier with my mother. “Yes,” I told my customers, “these creams really will smooth out wrinkles.” “Yes,” I said, “I use them myself.”
I saved my earnings to buy baby clothes and a crib with a matching chest of drawers. The most expensive baby furniture at Storkland, the crib and chest were white enamel with inlaid pink and blue pearlescent tiles. I also bought a bassinet with a lacy skirt, which I decorated with pink and blue satin bows. Mark said, “We’re ready for the princess.”
In my fourth or fifth month, Mark and I visited the Arthurs—my ex-boyfriend Bill, his wife Nan, and Bill’s parents. I was sitting on the sofa, chatting about my pregnancy with Bill’s mother, when Mark suddenly jabbed me and said, “You’ve got what it takes to get into the movies: seventy-five cents.” Mortified, I tried to ignore him, but he baited me again: “When God passed out looks, you thought He said cooks—and said you didn’t want any.” I gave him a hard stare, hoping to shut him up, but he said, “Your eyes are like pools: cesspools.”
“You’re the man of my dreams: they’re all nightmares,” I said. At that moment, I meant it. What had been a fun game on the phone a year earlier was now a colossal embarrassment. What kind of man would the Arthurs think I’d married? I wanted to gag him. Instead I tried to act nonchalant as he hurled the insults my way.
On the way home I said, “I’m really mad at you. Can’t you act like a loving husband when we’re visiting friends?”
“I was just having fun,” he said. “I didn’t know you couldn’t take a joke.”
In the sixth month Mark and I visited his mother. The three of us sat at the bar between her kitchen and dining room. After a few drinks she started nagging Mark that he needed a haircut.
“I don’t think he needs a haircut,” I said.
“Don’t interfere when I’m talking to my son!”
“He’s my husband, and I can say what I want.”
She took a swing at me, but Mark grabbed her arm. Then she jumped off the barstool. Mark was still holding her, but she kicked, screaming, “Let me at her!” I knew I should go to the car, but I didn’t want Ellen to think I was afraid of her, so I tried to hit her, but one of Mark’s brothers, Dean, dragged me away, while Ellen’s kicks fall a few inches short of my stomach and she screamed, “I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!”
Dean took me to the car. Mark came out a couple of minutes later with Ellen close behind, her auburn hair disheveled, her face contorted. Before we could drive away, she stuck her head in the window and hollered, “Don’t ever bring that tramp here again!”
“You’ll never see your grandchild, you rotten bitch!” I screamed. Mark rolled up the window to muffle her curses as we drove away. “She’s crazy,” I said.
“She’s just had one too many. She’ll be okay tomorrow.”
I thought about my own mother and her relentless nagging and spankings while I was growing up, and I realized I could have had it much worse. I knew that Mark’s stepfather was an alcoholic and that Mark had been kicked out of the house at fifteen for slugging him when he was drunk and beating up Ellen, but I never thought anyone in his family would ever challenge me to a fistfight. I felt a new kind of hurt and anger that included, but went beyond, my concern for the safety of my child. I was shocked that Mark didn’t think Ellen’s behavior was any big deal.
I told my friend Cindy my troubles while she gave her baby, Becky, a bottle in the living room of their apartment. Pacing in front of the sofa where Cindy was sitting, I said, “He gives me poison oak twice, he takes his sweet time to look for a job, he thinks I should drop my pants when he snaps his fingers, he just sits there insulting me when we visit friends, and now his mother tries to kick me in the stomach!”
Cindy, who was having problems in her own marriage, snuggled Becky closer and said, “We just have to face it, Lucy: men are no damn good—and the same is true of some women.”
I didn’t think Mark was no good, but I’d begun to suspect that ours was not the greatest love of all time.
Back when Mark and I were dating, we went to a movie called Lianna, Jungle Goddess. We were in the backseat at a drive-in and didn’t actually “see” the movie, but I remembered and liked the name. It wasn’t in my book of baby names, so I looked it up in the dictionary. I found it, but without the second “n”: “liana” and “liane” are variations of the name of a tropical vine. I told Mark I wanted to name a girl Liana Sherrine or Sherrina Liane. I got Sherrine from my mom’s friend Trudy, who’d named her grandniece Sherene (Trudy said she was inspired by “chérie”; I’d never asked how she spelled Sherene). Neither Mark nor my mother liked the name Sherrina, but we reached agreement on Liana Sherrine.
Boys’ names were more of a problem. When I said I wanted to name a boy Byron after the poet, both Mark and my mother flipped. Mark said everyone would tease him at school, it was a sissy name, and we might as well call him Sue.
I worried about names for a boy, read Dr. Spock from cover to cover, arranged and rearranged baby clothes in the pretty white enamel chest of drawers, and told my obstetrician, Dr. Maurice Howard, that if he had to make a choice between my life and the baby’s, I wanted him to save the baby. Dr. Howard assured me that I wouldn’t die in childbirth: he said he’d delivered hundreds of babies and hadn’t lost a mother yet. He was a dignified, white-haired man, a grandfatherly sort who regularly reminded me to take my vitamin pills and said, “Don’t worry about it,” whenever I brought up the subject of anesthesia.
I was not too wrapped up in my pregnancy to notice that the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and attention. While I waited for my baby, Life Magazine published several photo essays on the protests. Some of the pictures showed demonstrators being attacked by police dogs or sprayed with fire hoses. Even some conservative people were angry about it. I understood that the world was changing, and I hoped it would come out right.
My due date was July 21. On Monday, July 15, I saw Dr. Howard and again asked about anesthesia. He said, “I like to discuss anesthesia during the last appointment before the delivery.”
“This is my last appointment before the delivery.”
“First babies are generally late. I think you have another couple of weeks to go.”
Three days later I woke up with a contraction. I got up and ate breakfast, all the while having contractions about ten minutes apart. After breakfast, when the contractions were five minutes apart, I called Dr. Howard, who told me, “You’re in false labor. When I saw you a few days ago, you showed no sign of being ready to deliver.”
By noon the contractions were one minute apart. I called Dr. Howard again. He said, “Okay, go to the hospital, but I still think this is going to be a false alarm.”
A nurse in the maternity ward confirmed that my contractions were strong and regular and I’d started to dilate. Dr. Howard came to check me in mid-afternoon but said, “First babies are slow. I’ll come back tonight to see how you’re doing.”
“I think this baby will be here by then. It already hurts so much I feel like screaming.”
“Go ahead. You won’t be the first, the last, or the loudest—but it won’t make the baby come any faster.”
A nurse gave me an injection for the pain, but I sure couldn’t tell it was doing anything. I screamed with every contraction for a couple of hours. The way Dr. Howard talked, I thought I’d be in pain like this all night, but at 6:30 p.m., the nurse said I was ready to go to the delivery room. Dr. Howard was not at the hospital.
In the delivery room I cursed everyone I could possibly blame: Mark for getting me pregnant, my mother for failing to warn me about the pain, and Dr. Howard for postponing the anesthesia discussion. I still had no idea the birth was imminent.
With my first hard push my water bag splattered, and I let out a long, piercing shriek. The anesthesiologist, in his neat green smock, said, “Why don’t you shut up?”
“Fuck you!” I screamed.
“Breathe deep,” he said, clamping a gas mask over my face.
Ten minutes later, when I woke up, Dr. Howard was stitching me up. “You have a little girl,” he said, then told the nurse to show me the baby. I thought the anesthesiologist was a jerk for telling me to shut up, then knocking me out just before Liana was born. He could have quieted me just by saying how close I was to delivery.
“She’s lovely,” I said, looking at my wrinkly pink daughter. “I’d like a cheeseburger and milkshake now.” I had wakened ravenous into motherhood.
Dr. Howard laughed. “One cheeseburger and shake coming up. Your snack’ll be ready when you get downstairs.”
I waited almost an hour before asking what had become of my cheeseburger and milkshake. The recovery room nurse, who’d heard nothing about my snack, got me a tuna sandwich and a glass of milk. When I complained to Dr. Howard about it later, he said he’d thought I was kidding, that most women want simply to rest after having a baby.
Mark and I brought Liana Sherrine home at noontime on Sunday. She was a gorgeous baby with big eyes and a single blond curl on top of her perfect oval head. I’d dressed her in a white flannel outfit trimmed with yellow piping, and I carried her in a matching receiving blanket. Mark had to climb in a window, because my parents were at church and neither of us had remembered to bring a key.
Liana had screamed all the way home, so I nursed her as soon as Mark let us in. She fell asleep but woke again about three hours later. I fed her again, but this time she didn’t go back to sleep: she stayed awake until well into the evening. I’d read that new babies slept most of the time between feedings, and after mine had been awake for about five hours, I began to worry that she might be afflicted with some kind of waking sickness, so I called the pediatrician, who said that all babies are different and assured me that mine would sleep as much as she needed to.
That night I found it hard to sleep myself, not because Liana was fussy, but because I was so concerned about her. I woke every half hour or so and looked in the bassinet, which was next to Mark’s and my bed. Each time, reassured by the rhythm of her breathing, I snuggled against Mark, who didn’t even wake when I got up for feedings, and drifted briefly back to sleep.
A fanatical mother, I weighed Liana before and after each nursing to make sure she was getting enough milk. I wouldn’t leave her in anyone else’s care, not even my mother’s, and I changed not only her diapers but also her clothes and bassinet sheets several times a day. To keep her receiving blankets fluffy, I brushed them lovingly after each washing.
Having a baby had fulfilled my dreams. As I settled into the routine of feeding Liana, bathing her, and keeping her well attired, I had no fears or regrets. I was now an adult.
Whenever Mike and Steve came over, Mark kissed me and grabbed my breasts in front of them. I finally said, “You’re just showing off for them, and it disgusts me. If you don’t stop, I’ll never have sex with you again.” Mark stopped, but I was so turned off I didn’t feel much like having sex with him anyhow. Nevertheless, whenever he and his friends told me I should be a Playboy bunny or Playmate of the Month, I considered it a high compliment.
The evening of my sixteenth birthday, Mark said he was going to the Standard station—where he’d recently taken a job—to work on his car. I thought he was really planning a surprise party for me, so I asked if I could go with him. I was playing along. He said, “Sure, but there won’t be much for you to do.” I dressed up in tight white pants and a purple-checked peasant blouse from Frederick’s of Hollywood. I even left Liana with my mother, because I expected that friends would meet us at the station and we’d go somewhere to celebrate. My surprise, however, was that I spent the whole evening sitting on a stool, watching Mark work on his ’56 Chevy, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
My feelings for Mark had been gradually changing, and the birthday surprise didn’t help. My marriage bore no resemblance to the fairy tale romance I’d hoped for. In my fantasies, Mark had been cast as my prince and savior, but in truth he was just an eighteen-year-old boy who’d been handed an impossible role. When we kissed now, I felt repulsed. It was mainly because I felt let down emotionally, but the fact that he never brushed his teeth was also on my mind. Mark knew my feelings had changed, although I’d never said, “I don’t love you anymore,” or even, “I’m disappointed.” I’d distanced myself from him, and he didn’t understand why. He wrote a poem for me with the refrain, “Where has my Lucy gone?” I was touched by the poem, but it didn’t rekindle my passion.
In January 1964, when Liana was six months old, Mark’s stepmother took me for a ride. We left Liana with my mother and, as usual, I felt anxious and guilty about it. Judy and I had a long talk. She said it would be better for Liana and me, as well as for Mark, if I let my mother take care of Liana more often. I think Mark had talked to Judy and Tom about my pulling away from him, and the three of them had concluded it was because I was too wrapped up in motherhood. Although this wasn’t the case, what Judy said made sense to me. She’d gone back to her job as a social worker when her baby, Jason, was two months old, and although at first it was hard for her to be away from him, she said she thought it was important for a woman to have a life of her own. I told her I didn’t want to be a housewife all my life like my mother, that I wanted my life to have some greater impact, and I thought I’d be a writer or an artist. It seemed in no way contradictory to me that I’d dropped out of school at fourteen. I thought I’d simply start writing or painting someday.
Liana had been sleeping through the night since she was only three weeks old, but she was wide awake and into everything the rest of the time. She’d started crawling at five months and had already figured out how to get out of her playpen: pile all toys in one corner, climb on top of toys, and dive headfirst onto floor. I really had to keep an eye on her. I wanted more help from Mark, and this was one more sore spot. Since I’d stopped nursing, he’d been willing to do an occasional feeding, but there was no way he’d change diapers or watch Liana for a whole afternoon or evening. He’d bounce her on his knee, toss her in the air, and call her “Princess,” but when she pooped or he felt like tinkering with his car, he always handed her back to me.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in March, Mark, Steve, and I drove to Mark’s grandmother’s house in the Chevy. Steve kept reaching from the backseat to mess up my hair, which I’d spent an hour arranging just so. It was ratted on top to a height of four or five inches. In the back I’d pinned several artificial flowers and a bow; from this bouquet my hair descended to my waist.
I told Steve to stop, but he persisted. I sat on the edge of my seat and said I was serious, but he said, “I’m doing you a favor. It looks better down!” (A few years later I’d agree with him.) When he reached for my hair again, I bopped his chin with my hairbrush, but he wasn’t fazed.
The battle continued after we got out of the car. Mark’s grandmother wasn’t at home, and as he fumbled for his key on the front porch, Steve kept trying to flatten my hair. Fighting back, I hit him on the shoulder with my umbrella, and Mark grabbed it from me. As we entered the house and went to the kitchen for Cokes, Steve was laughing but Mark was not. Mark had a wild look in his eyes. Before I could figure out what that meant, he drew back his fist and slugged me in the eye. I saw stars. Then everything went black and I fell on the floor in front of the refrigerator.
When I came to, the world was still black and I thought Mark had blinded me, but after a few minutes my vision returned. I said, “It was enough to grab the umbrella. You had no right to hit me.” He was no longer my husband, but an unfamiliar being with heavy breath and narrow eyes.
“You got what you deserved,” he said.
Afraid he might do it again, I didn’t argue. I went to the bathroom to examine my puffy red cheek and blackening eye, and I felt a hatred as pure and strong as any emotion I had ever known.