Love & Sex

Before You Were Born: “You got twenty minutes! Get out while you can!”

Pin it

Stories from our parents' youth: How my mom married a jerk.

My mother married a man nine years her senior. He was a goofy dresser, came from an abusive family, and had serious emotional and anger issues. How does a shy, funny, quirky girl from Staten Island, New York end up marrying a jerk? To find out, I asked her.

I know very little about the woman you were before you met my father. You turned twenty that year — your father had passed away just four years earlier — and you decided not to continue with community college. Beyond the basic details, who was this woman that I have never met? What was she like?
Rather shy. Which doesn't seem like I am, but I still am. If I'm in a new situation or I don't know anybody, I tend to just… I'm shy. I don't say anything. But being an only child, I had to amuse myself.

And then one day, you decided you needed a new car, right?
This one weekend, your grandmother was taking the car, and I said, because I was just in the mood, "Well, can you rent me a car?" We went around and she found a Volvo — I loved that car at that time. And your father worked there. And he took one look at me and said, "This one's mine!"

You weren't looking at him like, who's this tall, dark, and handsome guy?
Well, he wasn't handsome. I remember he used to wear print pants and print shirts. He was not a good dresser. He had a thin moustache, red hair, very tall, very thin. He was much older than me. To me, he was "Mr. Garner." He wasn't dating material.

Did he at least wait until you bought the car before he asked you out?
He called me a couple of times after that, just to make sure that everything was okay. I think the first date was, he invited me to some customer-appreciation thing at the dealership. He called me and asked me to come.

Do you remember that first date with him?
Um… I remember the first time he came over. He came over, and all of the sudden my dog Arthur tried humping his leg. And he looked at me, and he gave this look that said, "I don't like this dog." And I said, "Love me, love my dog." So, he wound up spending the night.

And that's when it went from a couple of dates into a real relationship?
I don't even think it went to a couple of dates. The first "date" date, he took me to this one place in the Village, and that's where I was first introduced to eating salad. In my house, you were lucky if you got oil and vinegar. Here I could actually have Thousand Island dressing, which was a brand new thing for me. And Russian dressing, and French — this whole new world. For that, I am very grateful. He taught me you could have a salad and it could be a big deal.

You tried to bring him into your circle of friends, but they didn't like him.
Any time you bring someone into the fold there's cautiousness. And he was not cool, by any means. And he was old. But, I was enamored because, here was this older man who thinks the world of me.

Why is he on crutches in your wedding pictures?
We were leaving the house, three days before the wedding, and your father being as crass as he was, went to grab ahold of my chest. He missed my chest, he missed the railing, and landed on the sidewalk. And I looked at him and started laughing, because that's just the way I am.

You got married in 1973, but when did he propose to you?
We had taken a trip to go and see his brother. And he said, "How would you feel about getting married?" I said, "You've got to be kidding." The only reason I would get married was so that I could have the same last name as my children.

That's interesting. You didn't picture getting married, but you pictured having children.
Even if I never got married, I wanted children. If I could have planned it, I would have had four boys, two of them twins. The only thing I ever wanted to do when I was younger was breastfeed a baby.

You wanted four children, but I was a surprise, born three years after you were married. And then, five years later, my sister surprised everyone as well. Did you change your mind about the four kids? How did that go away?
I was pregnant with you, and I wound up with preeclampsia. And I never looked anything up about it. I didn't know anything about it. When you were about three or four years old, I finally looked it up, and I was like, holy crap! This was really serious. Mom and baby can die! Then when I was having a second baby, getting to the end, once again, I had preeclampsia. At that point, because I had preeclampsia two times out of two, I decided, "No, this is it. I'm not taking my chances."

About a year later, we moved to Pennsylvania. For the first time in his life, my father got something that really worked. DJing weddings was the first thing that he did really well.
Part of it was that people didn't really know him here in Pennsylvania. He could start fresh. Back in New York, he had a reputation, and also being one of ten kids, there was… everybody knew him. When I got married, I was getting out of the limousine, and his sister yelled over, "You got twenty minutes! Get out while you can!"

What did he have a reputation for?
Being a smartass. He did have a criminal record. We didn't really talk about it. But everyone thought that I married down and he married up. He did not come from the best of families.

I can remember being about ten years old, and knowing that your relationship wasn't all that it should have been.
It wasn't. You become part of the environment. And his whole life sucked, really. All your father ever wanted was to make his mom happy. And she wouldn't give him the time of day. So how are you, as a young boy, supposed to learn how to treat women with those role models?

Your father said something to me one time, and I looked at him and said, "Don't you ever talk to me like that again." And he said, "Well, my father talked to my mother like that." I said, "You are not your father, and I am not your mother." My father never talked to my mother like that.

What was the first indication that he may not have been like your father?
Well… This may be more information than you want to know, but there was a time when I was pregnant and I came home from work. I came up the stairs, and I happened to see your father on the couch with somebody. And I turned around and quietly walked back downstairs. I didn't say anything. But, because I took my vows so seriously, I put up with an awful lot. There were times I allowed him to do things that were denigrating to me.

Did you do that for yourself, or for me and my sister?
Um… I thought I would never be able to get anybody else. Up until then I had dated very few people — one here, one there.

Had you had any other significant relationships, or were they all just a-couple-dates sort of thing?
Most of were a couple dates. I had a couple intimate relationships, but they weren't really dates…

It was the '60s, after all.
It was the '60s.

In the summer of 1989, my father was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer.
We went to the hospital at five in the morning. They did a chest x-ray, and an IV. The doctor told me that he had cancer in the lungs. I said, "Okay." And he said, "And, he's got it in his liver." And I said, "Okay." "And, he's got it in his spine." I said, "Okay then, I will let him know." And the doctor said, "Really?" I said, "Yes. I will talk to him." And he was like, "Thank you so much!"

We had a very good relationship, at that point. I was changing his morphine, and he told me, at one point, he wanted to thank me for doing this for him. Because nobody else would.

I don't really remember you giving my sister or me much relationship or dating advice. But if we have kids of our own, what would you want to say to your grandchildren about dating?
I'm definitely not an expert on it. You've probably had more dating experience than I've had. But they need to find someone who is equal. "You are no better than me, you are no worse than me. The only difference is, you're a guy, and I'm a girl."

Want to interview your parents about their relationship? Email