Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Marrying the Boy Next Door

Racine, Fall 1967

Long before I met Bill, before my first date, when we were still living in Racine, Wisconsin, I married the boy next door.

This isn't him; he would have about my age, six or seven years old, in first grade.

His name was Doug.  I remember a crew cut, a bare smooth chest, and a broad smile.

We must have sat at pale wood desks at Hansche Elementary School, we must have played army men and cartoon kits, we must run in swimsuits to the beach -- but I  remember only three incidents.

1. We have spread a blanket over the kitchen table to make a fort, and safely sequestered, we are watching My Three Sons. I think it was the episode where Robbie Douglas (Don Grady, left) falls in love with a bullfighter, so February 16, 1967.

Suddenly I say, softly,  "Someday I'm going to marry Robbie Douglas."

Doug giggles.  "You can't marry Robbie Douglas!"

"I know that!  He's not real.  I mean I'm going to marry a boy that's cute and nice, like him."

"I'm cute and nice," Doug protests.  "And I got more muscles!" For proof, he flexes his arm.  I cup his small, hard bicep in my hand.  "You should marry me!"

"You have lots of muscles," I agree.  "I want to marry you."

2. Probably the next day, after school.  Mom is frying baloney for supper.  The round fake-wood table with the seam in the middle is set with plastic plates and glasses, and paper towels for napkins. There is a bottle of ketchup, a jar of Miracle Whip, and a jar of “dull pickles.”

We walk up to her hand in hand, and I say "Guess what?  Doug and me are getting married."
She doesn't respond.  With her back turned, I can't tell if she is happy or sad or mad.
“Did you hear me, Mom?”

Mom stiffens abruptly, and says in a strangely harsh tone, "Boys can't get married."
"I know that!  We got to wait until we're big."
"Like Robbie Douglas's Dad and Uncle Charlie," Doug adds.
On My Three Sons? They’re not married.” Mom is still distracted, still not looking. "You can only get married if you fall in love.”

“Well – me and Doug fell in love, so we can get married, ok?”
“Boys only fall in love with girls,” she said. “Now go wake up your Dad for supper.”

3. Not dissuaded, we decide to get married anyway.  We march down to the deserted February beach with three of our friends.  A big, grown-up third grader named Pam officiates.  She says "I now pronounce you man and husband," instead of "man and wife."   Someone throws rice on us, and we have a brief but exciting kiss.

 I don't remember anything about Doug after that.  Maybe he moved away.

My mother claims that she doesn't remember my marriage in the spring of 1967.  It was a trivial incident to her, childish nonsense.

Or maybe something more. She tried to hide it, but she was really upset.  Maybe the incident brought her first suspicions that boys could indeed fall in love.

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