Till Death Do Us

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Till Death Do Us by Deb Margolin  

10:25 a.m.

Truth or dare, Jess! You said I wouldn’t, but I did! I can’t believe it either. My ears are popping, Jess, like being in a fighter plane again, en route to hostile territory. I’m almost to Las Vegas to marry some millionaire — yeah, right! I hope I can remember that beauty pageant wave, where you turn your hand from side to side and smile as if you’re hiding hemorrhoids. The guy sitting next to me is some kind of football player with some kind of big pro team — that’s supposed to impress me a lot. He fell asleep finally, and I’m looking down at my legs and damn it, Jess, there’s a little tiny purple spider vein on my left leg that looks like a river seen from an airplane. Well you can’t see anything under a wedding gown, and as for the swimsuit bit, well, I’ve hopefully got

things to distract him. I just hope he doesn’t notice that my family name sounds like an African
state and my Christian name sounds like a sedative. Who wants to marry a millionaire anyway?

1:15 p.m.

Jess, they’re handling this whole thing like a beauty pageant. You know I’ve been there, done that,
but this is something else. I just got taken into a room with three lawyers. They started making small talk with me and they were all looking suntanned and had gold chains and diamond pinkie rings
and they stayed so close together it made me wonder: Have there ever been Siamese triplets? Finally one of them broke away from the crowd, sat down next to me and began explaining my legal rights and obligations. Marriage is just a process of incorporation, he says, it’s like starting a small business. He’s explaining these papers to me, but I feel his hand on my knee. The other two guys limped out together on three legs and I was left alone there with him. I don’t know what the hell he said. I was so distracted by his hand. It seemed like the cleverest, clearest prenuptial agreement a girl could sign, and his voice and the movement of his hand were perfectly synchronized, so I signed everything. I’ve never seen so many papers in my life. I had to sign fifty-one different documents, getting closer and closer to Apocalypse. The little Post-It notes where I had to sign were supposed to say: Read Before Signing, but actually said Read Before Singing, and I just barely did that, Jess, this is all so weird and exciting.

3:39 p.m.

Did you ever read Gone With the Wind, or see the movie? Remember that big room where all the girls lay — uncorseted, being fanned by slaves, having their hair brushed — to take a nap between the luncheon and the dinner? All those breasts, the smell of women’s bodies, the layers of smell: the sweet smells of perfumes and creams and gels, and underneath that, the neutral smell of hair and nails and other cutaneous things, and underneath that, the deep woman smells, the smells of skin and snatch — such leisure, such desperation, like in a Degas painting. In the Air Force, Jess, we’d undress. I’ve been looked at by and in crowds of women, but the military makes all that

so crisp and unnoticeable. I mean, I walked into that room, and all these girls were in there getting themselves up and down, Jess. It was this big shabby room, and all these women half-dressed, half-naked, being pinned and groomed.


I was the oldest person in the room; at thirty-four, the granny of the gang. One of them was the
most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She couldn’t have been but twenty or so, with long gold hair and a body that music came out of. I stared at her, I could smell her. When she turned around slowly, put her arms around one of the other contestants and drew the woman down on top of her, it felt to me as if I were making it up, seeing it in a fantasy. There were all these TV execs finding excuses to come in there and talk to this or that one of us, and the women who were doing make-up kept pretending to shoo them out, but there were men everywhere. My breasts fell out of the bone corset they brought me to wear under my wedding gown, and right when they fell out, three men ran into the room on urgent technical business, and they just stood there fucking me with their eyes. After my corset was pinned and my hair was brushed, some man came in with a piece of paper and asked me if I’d ever had an abortion.

4:30 p.m.

Okay, do I look like a complete idiot? They reminded us who the President is, what the difference is between the Senate and the House of Representatives, they told us we were going to be asked about previous boyfriends and our attitudes about money and marriage. They asked us to think about what we’d do to make a man happy and keep him that way. They don’t even do this at the pageants. The men looked at us with longing and sarcasm, the way the cops look at whores they’ve just rounded up and booked. There were a few girls there who seemed like they actually wanted to marry the guy. One had an old piece of blanket from when she was a little girl, to put in her garter for something old, and she had something new, something borrowed. I asked her: Where’s something blue? And she smiled at me. There’s another girl here saying, If he chooses me I’ll take the ring, bolt out the back and hop a red-eye. It’s like the Air Force, everyone there for different reasons, some want the college benefits, some want to meet a guy, some just want to learn to fly, damn it, fly the big one. Air Force: biggest fucking beauty pageant there is — say the right thing, fuck the right men, stay in shape, keep your outfit pressed and you can bring it all home if you live long enough. I just want to get it over with now and hit the casino so bad. Reminds me of the Emergency Room.

6:00 p.m.

Jess, send a helicopter, these people are fucking nuts. They come tell me I have a private room to relax in before taping, so I go down the hall and this guy takes a key off his belt and unlocks this

door and it’s a broom closet! I look at his face and think: Aha! They’re taping this, they want to see if I can take a joke, a little “Candid Camera” gag . . . But he’s not laughing! He’s serious, standing there. I look back in the closet and there’s a bunch of rags, couple of industrial brooms, some Windex, some brushes, mops and a bottle of Mr. Clean. I’m standing there, not even dressed. Jess, I just lost it. Staring at Mr. Clean. This has happened to me before, Jess. That image of Mr. Clean on the bottle. He’s smiling, Jess, but he’s stern, punitive. He’s got that earring. He’s had that earring for forty years. He’s progressive. Maybe he’s bi. His muscles, Jess. He could lift me up and cradle me in one arm. He’s there to clean it up, he’s so powerful, he’s a Dominator, a Terminator, a Grease-cutter, I want to be his French maid, he’s got me cleaning his windows, sponging down his body. God, is this what it’s coming to? Maybe I’m the one who’s fucking crazy but it’s just this mixture of sexiness and antisepsis, desire and denial: This is what the whole Marry a Millionaire is all about, brutality mixed up with clean linens, and a clean white dress to fuck a stranger in while a thousand people watch you. We’re all a bunch of prostitutes and he can pick any one he wants, no charge. My cunt is on the house.

7:20 p.m.

I just had diarrhea and I can’t stop laughing. I feel like I’ve just smoked Sensimilla pot. This won’t do. I feel like I’m about to fly a mission, and I am. You gotta hand it to me, Jess.

12:40 a.m.

He picked me! Jesus fucking Christ, he picked me Jess! I can’t write too much, I’m in the bathroom, they think I’m peeing. It was so awful, so awful. I swished, I spoke, I smiled, I waved, I paraded, I put on my bathing suit, he narrowed it from fifty girls to ten to five and then one: me. He’s been watching me shake my ass for two hours and I never even saw him. Christ almighty. He’s a snarling mongrel in a tux. He’s got that twisted smile, you can tell he likes it rough, hates women, has bad breath. When I saw him striding toward me in slow motion, like the time I watched a dog get hit by a car, I felt like I was going to throw up. There was a high-pitched ringing in my ears, and everyone was clapping, and it sounded like rain. It took forever. Everyone’s going crazy, and I was just crying and crying. It was all so boring — isn’t that strange? His
big ugly smiling face came as close as it could get for me to still see it, then I lost visual contact with it and my eyes fell shut and he put his huge mouth on me and kissed me. He slipped me tongue, it was so vile, so sour. His mother was there in a hideous red silk dress like a Pekinese mutt rolled up in a bedcover. Oh shit, they’re knocking, I can’t even take a piss, I’m about to get my period, I have to go, there’s more pictures and then a plane or something and then a boat for two fucking weeks, oh my God. Does 911 work on a boat?

2:00 a.m.

I don’t know how many days it’s been, Jess. My life is like The Story of O. That’s my life. The seas are rough right now. I hate boats, that’s why I didn’t join the Navy.


After all the pictures and pompousness, we flew someplace. I was nauseous and I cried the whole way.

He fell asleep after trying to convince me to go to the airplane lavatory with him and lock the door. He said he always wanted to do that. I told him I already had, which was a lie, but I wanted to upset him. It had the opposite effect. He got hard and fell asleep. Strange and disgusting. He
slept with a hard-on the whole plane ride. I felt like I had sold the rights to my own body, like anyone who so much as looked at me had the right to have me.


We get on this boat. They break a bottle on the hull and all I can think of is Titanic. This was supposed to be my vacation, Jess. Thank God we had separate rooms. I went to mine immediately, locked the door, put the dresser in front of it, stripped naked, lay down and fell asleep for seventeen hours. Had a sex nightmare almost the whole time about him. Taking me every way he could. In the dream I was one of those dolls you buy and blow up, with its mouth permanently open, with its legs spread, ass wide. I was weightless and open, and he put his hand across my throat and held me down that way.


When I woke up it was in the middle of the next night and someone was trying to get in, for real, Jess, someone was working on the handle of the door. Out the porthole it was dark, but there was music coming from somewhere. It took me a long time to sort out what was real, there on the bed, naked in the dark, dreams of being entered, waking to someone trying to do what was being done in the dream. I panicked.


There’s this button in the cabin you can push if you want help. It was near the safe. I wrapped a sheet around me, stumbled to the button in the dark and pushed it. The next thing I know the door is broken open and an officer of the boat, in full uniform, is standing there above me.


Jess, I’m a thirty-four-year-old woman, and I’ve seen a lot of suffering. I think I have my two feet on the ground. I’m not a gold digger, I love life, I’m a risk-taker, chance seeker, and sometimes when you risk it all you lose most of it — and I did. Lost everything knowable and introduceable. I can’t be brought home by a man to meet his mother anymore. I can tell I’ve fallen; I’m a fallen woman. It sounds so trite, but there are those moments when you just fall. I was lying naked on the floor of a boat in the middle of night and nowhere, like a child, my tight skin and buoyant little terrors, and I just wanted Daddy, I wanted my Daddy, and he was there above me, waiting to change me, to protect me, to make my life alright, and I just opened. He looked startled, but I said




He picked me up off the floor, bending his knees and I think I said it again, Please, and he said Miss are you alright and I said


I will be


I pulled his head down and put my tongue in his mouth, his firm, surprised mouth, and it got warm really quick, and his body lost and gained strength in the same instant. When people treat you some way you suddenly are that way, and that’s what happened to me: I wanted this man, everything he had, his money, his sex, his life. This Man in a Uniform. I bit his upper lip, his neck. I tore his shirt, buttons flew off it. I was screaming. I was still being held like a baby, and I thought I heard applause again, and I needed to just drown it out, I was on fire for all of it, and I said


Please, just please


And he lay me tenderly on the bed but I didn’t want tenderness, I wanted revenge and punishment all
at once, and he could tell, finally, he could tell. He gave in, and he sunk his teeth into my neck, he hurt me once like that and the rest was not mine. He got his pants off, reached down and pulled

me apart, my whole body gaping, tortured me with his hands, tongue in my mouth, turned me over on my stomach, held my hands behind my back, I needed that. He got on top of me and entered me slowly. Tortured me with slowness, I couldn’t bear the slowness. He punished me that way, Please just Please, but it took forever, and I couldn’t wait forever, didn’t I already show that, on national TV, forever, the enormity of this, of him, the pain, not positioned right for entry, and feeling every piece of length. I swear Jess, that’s what it means to feel time going by, to see the movement
of the hour hand, agony, and finally I pushed myself back up on my forearms and looked over my shoulder but it wasn’t the one inside me I saw but Him, my husband, the one I was fucking out of my life, standing there in the open cabin doorway, staring, his hand on himself, and that’s really the first time we looked into each other’s eyes. I don’t remember anything else other than half the bed sheet in my mouth, my bruised wrists. Having been filled past my endurance by two strangers, one up my cunt, one up my conscience. Punished. Coming in front of two strangers.


We promised each other no judgement, Jess. We promised each other that. Think of how many times Scarlett O’Hara was married, and always for money, never for love. Who wants to marry a millionaire? Scarlett cut up the curtains and made them into a gown so she could visit Rhett in prison and seduce him; she wanted to save Tara and she never loved him until it was too late. Maybe someday I’ll write about this.

I’ll be off this boat in a few days. Don’t ever dare me again.

For more Deb Margolin, read:

Dateline: Fire Island
Two on One: Survivor
Till Death Do Us
Heaven Is a Cliche, So Is Cyberspace
Alfie and Joe
Handling the Curves: The Erotics of Type
I Am Monica Lewinsky
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