Excerpts from The Marriage Escape

Excerpts from The Marriage Escape

There was a time when I would happily travel hundreds of miles for a moment of experience, but almost invariably it was something done alone. I have certainly encountered the unimaginable, at first with a good healthy apprehension but eventually with a sense of adventure and curiosity. After years of exploration and adventure there’s no disputing that an insatiable wanderlust resulted in the opening of many doors and opportunities for me. It was September 1999, I had turned 30 earlier that year, and I took what would be the last spontaneous adventure for me as a new chapter of my life was about to unfold.

That was the year I had decided to move to Seattle after a few years going to school and working with a couple theater groups as a music director. A northward pull I had first heard when I was a teenager was getting stronger and telling me it was time to continue the journey I had started several years earlier. Without anything to tie me down I quit my job, gave notice to my roommates, and put a few things into storage that I would come back for once I established myself in Emerald City. I remember vividly that I left September 9th on a ride with Marty, one of my roommates who needed to escape a broken heart. I bought him tickets to a 3-day festival at the Gorge and we were on our way to some carefree times away from the redwoods.Weird vacation, right?

After the festival we went to the city where Marty stashed his car in a Seattle parking garage. We ferried over to the San Juan Islands for some rogue camping – visited Shaw, and Lopez, and made it over to Orcas Island just as the sun was setting that day. By the time we got to a place to camp it was just dark. No light to go by, we spot camped in what appeared to be someone’s yard, which was discovered when we got up in the early morning and rushed out before it got light. Right good adventure! After a day of hiking inland we made it to Doe Bay Resort and and spent a night there in one of the absolute grooviest hike and bike camps in the world. The plan was to visit Friday Harbor on San Juan the next day to look over a 40′ craftsman twin mast boat for sale; asking price $5000. It was a casual trip over on an inter-island ferry, which made living in the San Juan’s suddenly very appealing. I got to inspect that boat with him and it was most definitely a very fine boat. We hung out a while on board looking things over and both decided this was an obvious divorce sale, cash out for the husband. Golden opportunity? Yes! Unimaginably so! Had I the cash I would have bought it right then and there despite my nascent sailing skill.

That’s a take it and RUN situation that we still laugh about to this day. Marty was ready to trade his Mercedes for it, and who cares about the ride home. I’m pretty sure I even encouraged it, but no go. Cash only. The spectacle of a radically failed marriage was ripe for exploitation and we were a few bucks short, and to me it’s a weird irony that I cannot yet articulate. Someday I’ll be able to explain why this whole scenario makes me laugh because of the deep cut of how close this hits to home for me.

A few months before I went on this adventure the woman who would become my wife came into the picture. We were neighbors on J Street in Arcata with about a block of houses between us, and were not entirely unfamiliar as we had both noticed each other passing on the street. Elizabeth was living in a large house that had been split into apartments, and Marty was renting shop space in the detached garage behind that house. All the people who lived in that house were friends and kindly, so in July of 1999 the residents of the house threw a small party and ask if I could come over that night. The housemates had conspired to get me and Elizabeth together with a friendly soirée, as we had both been apparently asking about each other to our mutual friends. It was a memorable night that was in conflict with my intended plans to move on with my life to bigger things.

I was thinking of Elizabeth more frequently whilst traveling, and those thoughts were becoming frequent enough to be insurmountable. She was on my mind while on the road to Doe Bay where there is a small art shop called Studio 420; a small ornate shack with a collection of handmade jewelry/art and a money box to pay. I spotted a small decorated pouch that I thought would make a nice gift for her so I picked it up, paid and kept it with me for the rest of my trip. I don’t necessarily know exactly when I decided to cancel my move to Seattle, but I suspect it was that day.

Marty and I made it back to Seattle and parted ways while he needed to sort out and mend a very hurt and broken heart. I felt bad for him, but I also knew him well enough to see that he needed to go hide and heal on his own for a while. So I went around Seattle on what could best be described as vagabond sightseeing, visited some old friends and made some new ones. While I was still looking into what opportunity I could stumble into there the allure had begun to wear off. The vacation from the redwoods gave me chance to see what good fortune I had already found in my life. Marty resurfaced a few days after his sojourn and offered me a ride back sooner than I had been planning to return. The trip back to Humboldt ended with me back in the house I had been living in not as Marty’s roommate, but as a guest.

A few weeks later Elizabeth and I moved in together.

A lifetime of adventure and three kids later we are celebrating our 20th anniversary next month with a few days at Doe Bay. Marty is currently living on San Juan Island, on a sailboat… (what fantastic irony) and has been planning to come out and visit for a day or so with his longtime partner. It’s a big celebration for us, albeit private. The kids are being left alone for the few days we will be out and we’re confident they’ll get on just fine. We’ve both been reflecting a lot on our own origins over our years together, tempering knowledge with wisdom as we go along in life neither of us can get past the examples in our own parents as serial marriage experts (married 3x or more). Being married 20 years is something neither of us ever really imagined, but we have notable expeirence with the unimaginable in both good and bad times.

Elizabeth lost her mother to a drunk driver when she was just 11 years old, and with her father already out of the picture she was left with a step-father who was not at all invested in the well-being of her or the siblings left behind. Growing up without parental supervision in the 70s and 80s was probably a lot more accepted than it is today, but she was living without always knowing where her next meal may come from. I cannot imagine that for an eleven your old girl, and yet she survived and is here today.

It’s a common theme in our conversations about the unimaginable, or the unfathomable. In the wake of my father’s passing on Christmas Eve 2016 we had need to settle his estate with my brother, who I am keeping distance for both of our well-being and had not spoken with him since 2004. Both Elizabeth and I asked for help communicating with him from my mother as there was some theft and embezzling happening and my own kids were at risk of being victims of theft from either him or my fathers caretaker. Dad left a will stating that his estate were to be split equally between us, and with my brother named the executor it was time for action as he is known to take what he wants without regard for what is right or legal. The response we got qualified as the unimaginable with my mother hanging up on us repeatedly, and then a butt-dial back to Elizabeth where she got an earful of my mother’s current husband advocating against Elizabeth in a very demeaning way and mother agreeing. This was followed by a text message to my wife that read:

+1 9092663608

The unfathomable insult to the injury of my father’s passing demonstrated to Elizabeth the intolerable cruelty with which this woman raised my brother and I. It is not the first time, but it would definitely be the last. It is understood that without care she delegated her own duty as a parent to whatever man occupies her life. It was another red line to put her husband in charge of yet another matter that required her attention and engagement. What we heard coming from her husband in that moment rang just as loud as the time he shouted at me “I wish your brother was dead” in a moment of anger after he had our mother press charges against my brother for theft. What was said here hurt Elizabeth in a big way so while the bridges were burning, and since phone calls were met with a pick up and click I shot back with the following.

Melodie Ray Stout Smith Conolly

The best part is her husband’s response that followed (below); the profound stupidity on display is augmented by his being unaware that we heard what he was saying to my mother about what we considered a very serious matter that had nothing at all to do with him. His advocacy has poisoned her to the point of open betrayal not only to me, but Elizabeth, Blake, Caleb, and Daphne. Calling me names and using the memory of my father, a man who loathed him, is about all he could muster. I still do not understand why he even thinks he should be part of the conversation here. He’s a drunken lout, sure… but beyond that insecurity is the only obvious reason I can conceive. 

The thing about her third husband is he’s visibly insecure and plays it to a position of dominance. The affair that ended my mother’s second marriage resulted with her home wrecker boyfriend moving into our home on a string of deceptions when I was about 16 years old. Not long after was about the time I learned that my mother was a screaming nymphomaniac with the open door fuckfest happening across the hall from my own bedroom, and enthusiastic dirty talk messages via answering machine. The gold course affair was what we came to call it, where all the deception that came from their relationship at the start amounted to my brother and I leaving them to be. Heartbreaking as it was, he and I both agreed back in the late 1990s that this was the greatest love of all that we could offer our mother. WE could leave it at that and be at pease, and I think for the most part we are still in agreement on that to this day. Despite the sentiment I still could not necessarily let go, and what my brother and I had agreed upon came with a price that came clear in the hardest demonstration of the need for that agreement when I asked quite plainly why can she not love her own children and the response was a cry “what about my happiness!?” That statement hurt bad. So bad that I shouted, hit a hole in the bedroom door, and at that point her husband who had been hiding out chased me with violent intent and out of their lives.

After Dad passed away I started putting the pieces together through pictures, stories from Dad about how he grew up, seeing the circumstances of how his own father passed away when he was just 11 and was bound to help care for his family instead of following his own dreams of university education. Through that lens I could see how my mother was the de-facto babysitter for much of her life, and eventually it was understood that both of my parents had used their marriage to escape their families in a race to start their own. For what amounts to little more than selfish reasons my father soured on the idea of marriage, and within five years that marriage ended. I was born shortly after; because, breakup sex. During this turn of events it was also understood that my role in life was motherly love on condition that I save her first marriage, and without that success I was useless to a 23 year old mother who was now single with a pair of boys. No words of love have ever been spoken from her to me, save for the one time she screamed it at me when my older brother was being charged with theft at the behest of her so-called “man”.

Regarding the matter of my father’s estate; it was settled when we put it into probate, and found that indeed my father’s care provider had been embezzling from his accounts and belongings. The legal counsel we hired was very aggressive and suggested we press charges of elder abuse on financial grounds. Given that this person is also caring for my Uncle Ted there is some motivation to let it go based on what response I got from my Arizona cousins. I have plans to visit that area sometime in Spring 2023. Still, my brother did get away with about $32k form dad’s bank account that we chalked up to loss (Nice new turbo bug you got there, Jimmy). The account Dad setup for the kids was secured and reinvested, but not without first great and needless neglect from a parent who broods in a lifelong resentment over her failed first marriage. It is the classic example of the race from high school to family. Our kids have been witness to their grandmother’s callous behavior and are sad if not annoyed at the spectacle she has become. They are part of the conversation in most all things in our family, and understand the reasons we are protecting them from such bad examples of humanity.

As we talk through these things, Elizabeth and I continually find ourselves baffled in disbelief as the astonishingly poor example of what not to do as a parent. We were married 21 September 2002, and it was an opportunity to give my mother a second chance to be part of our lives together. Elizabeth deserved to have a motherly influence and it was right to give my mother a chance with the family we had been planning together. She has not lost one, but two mothers and I am to blame for that second loss. It is my mission to make our lives better together with kindness and love, and it inspires gratitude… most of all that we have always stood together.

So going to celebrate a 20th anniversary with my wife and the mother of my children is an achievement beyond anything I could have imagined. It is simply unimaginable, and yet here it is! …and joyfully so.

The multiplexed moral of the rambling story here is to learn from the mistakes of others; starting a family is a joy, but invest in yourself with higher education, live a life of your own for a while, be comfortable alone in the wild. There is no greater purpose than to live for another being that you bring into the world, but most of all don’t use marriage as an escape.