The Origins of Us
We were married before we met.
Called up to the front of the class
and joined by a theatre prof
for some dramatic example.
I had thought: a frat party girl.
She had thought: a grungy rebel.
Not even a whimsical pen
could draw us within the same frame.
Strangers, just randomly chosen
for a fleeting snapshot moment
then gone after the room emptied;
a residual memory.
But the Fates had only begun
to twist time lines, to divert paths,
to set up a scenario
that would tinker with our futures.
I saw her next at a concert,
her date in paisley bellbottoms.
She smiled at me, tilting her head,
and I thought: who was she really?
A later day, waiting till four
when the cellar's beer kegs would flow,
I walked downtown with a buddy
to push away thoughts of our thirst.
I saw her walking toward us.
After she passed, I stopped and turned,
said out loud: I have to meet her.
Like it really just had to be.
I followed her into a store,
walked up and said a simple "Hi."
She was looking for a present
for an (irrelevant) boyfriend.
My friend put on a crooked smirk,
but I kept on with my advance.
Standing at the men's shirts, I said:
Goin' for a beer; wanna come?
So we walked out toward the brews.
We remembered our play wedding
and did some laughter ice-breaking.
My friend still had his crooked grin.
Our regular gang sat waiting.
Meeting my "guest," more crooked smiles.
We raised glasses to my moustache
and toasted its one-year birthday.
After some pitchers and goofing,
we all took off for spaghetti,
starting an impromptu party.
And there, she and I found our spark.
Over new wine, old soul music,
and a Pollock jigsaw puzzle,
we talked quietly, easily.
She told me where we could next meet.
Her morning class was gathering
under a big leafy oak tree.
She had just about given up
when I finally wandered in.
The long-haired poli-sci teacher
could have been speaking Mandarin
for all the attention we paid.
We ourselves were the distraction.
From then the connection was fast.
Our bodies clutching together.
Our lives intertwining tighter,
unaware of the coming storm.
'69 in all its glory
marching, yelling to end the war
worrying 'bout being drafted,
rallying with Blacks and Women.
Hair gets longer, dresses shorter
hanging out with the other freaks
learning paranoia's sour taste
seeking out refuge wherever.
A rock festival in the woods
finding seclusion in the hills
a friend's house with a quiet porch
the glow of a joint in the dark.
Finding our own small apartment
scavenging for some furniture
looking for a job to feed us
all the while going to classes.
Eating bologna casseroles
listening to Crosby Stills Nash
a baby would be a good thing
living peacefully on the edge.
Then came our ride over the falls.
Her father suddenly appeared
with reasons for her to go home.
Answered cool but with pounding heart.
He left but was he really done?
We went on living like before
yet looking over our shoulders,
listening for the other shoe.
It dropped with a thud one morning.
A neighbor's warning: her Dad's here,
looks like they're coming to get her.
She left to hide and I waited.
Father, sister, brother arrive
with angry faces: Where is she?
Fear held down, I say: She's not here.
They take some of her stuff and leave.
Their parting words filled with menace:
They'll do whatever they need to.
They want all of her belongings.
They'll be getting the cops involved.
I go to the police station,
unload her things in a corner
tell them what might be happening.
Then we get out of town and wait.
At her cabin hideout, we talk,
won'dring what her father could do.
The lawyer we visit evades,
says something about kidnapping.
We figure we could take them on
but we worry about our friends.
They could be hurt by the fallout
so we decide she should go home.
I'll have my freedom very soon.
We'll meet up then and get married.
It's the best way to protect us
and have our baby without fear.
The next day we bought a ticket
and she got on the bus with tears.
I stood brimming with emotions
as my love left for the unknown.
At home she faced hostility.
I paced, paced, paced, got skinnier.
July got hotter and hotter.
And her father kept up his fight.
Tried to get me kicked out of school
Tried to get to my almost ex
Tried to get my parents to help
He tried but none of it would work.
Her father talked and talked to her.
Her mother kept her close to home.
My name was a curse repeated.
They tried but none of it would work.
We fretted 'bout what might come next
but thought we could handle the wait.
The fickle jester, though, just laughed
and threw a nasty joke my way.
The notice came on Saturday:
Report for duty in three days.
There must be some kind of mistake,
so for two days I faced darkness.
But they had sent the wrong letter;
Instead: Come for a physical.
Immediate relief, but still...
the abyss lurked 'round the corner.
A friend and I went for testing.
Two long-hairs in a crowd of straights.
After we were done, we waited;
Got out as threats grew uglier.
For the only time in my life
I was glad I had kidney stones.
Completely drained, emotions raw,
the waiting crawled even slower.
Her waiting was filled with more stress.
Escalating hot arguments
Questionable pills to be palmed
Hiding signs of the babe to come.
The tension climbed higher, higher.
The threats became more dangerous.
Waiting became less possible.
Action became the only choice.
She tested the window for squeaks,
getting ready for the wee hours
for her escape into the night
with the little money she had.
She walked, avoiding the headlights,
found a phone booth, then called a cab.
At the station, she sat waiting,
turning aside all the lechers.
The southbound bus took her away
out of the Virginia night
into the Carolina morn
and the next stop on our journey.
A friend's kind parents took her in.
She called me, I gassed up the car,
and with two friends in on the plan,
headed down through the summer heat.
Three days until I would be loose
and we could make it official.
Lots of details to be planning:
license, checkups, blood tests, and rings.
We headed off to the town hall
for the license and a justice
but the unfriendly atmosphere
was not at all what we needed.
I finally found a kind soul,
a minister from a black church,
who said he wouldn't in the least
mind marrying two white hippies.
We got rings at a downtown store
then blood tests at the hospital.
But they would not do physicals.
I called the church: we would be late.
He said: Stay right there; I'll call back.
When he did, he gave an address
of a doctor friend who'd help us
and so we left to cross the tracks.
We were the only white folks there
in a waiting room almost full.
Our friends stayed; we went quickly back.
The other patients just nodded.
The stately doctor checked us out,
asked all the pertinent questions,
signed off on all the proper forms,
and, with a nice smile, wished us well.
When we finally found the church,
the reverend took us aside
and gave us his truest advice:
always, always trust each other.
So there, in that quiet sanctum
my love and I, shoulders touching,
with two friends and a gray kitten,
said the words to make us as one.
Outside, our friends rained rice on us,
took photos of the minister
and smiling, relieved newlyweds,
then drove us away, the deed done.
Back at our friend's house, our refuge,
we ate cake lent by a neighbor
as a little celebration.
Then we left, waving happily.
The closer we got to our town
the more we wondered what was next.
Would there be anyone waiting?
Were we well and truly safe now?
We took our friends to their cabin
and went to a nearby city
for a couple of days to rest
and avoid more possible threats.
It took a while to find a room
but we found a cheap, clean motel
— another little hideaway —
then went for a much-needed meal.
A chain restaurant was nearby,
still open but very quiet.
About halfway through our dinner
exhaustion really hit us hard.
I went up front to pay our bill
and as I was writing a check,
the clerk pointed to a small sign:
We Do Not Take Checks. Cash Only.
Having little cash, I just stared.
She looked at me, frowning, and said:
Sorry, management policy.
Can you get the money somewhere?
I told my new wife what happened
and thought: the clerk at the motel?
I left but they said she must stay.
"Don't worry, honey, he'll be back."
That motel clerk indeed came through
so I paid the restaurant bill
and left with my ransomed new bride
and a tale of one more close call.
We were almost too tired to sleep
so many recent thoughts running
so many recent scenes flashing
but the gods of slumber were kind.
The next morning came late but bright.
We used our last cash for pizza
and sodas and little crackers
and talked of the past and future.
I told her about my draft scare.
She told me of the detective
her father hired to check on us
and the bald lies in his report.
In that quiet, secluded room,
we talked of all we had been through
and all the things ahead of us.
There were questions upon questions.
Would my professors understand?
Would my student job still be there?
How much money did we have left?
Were we safe now from the bad things?
Finally, our courage pumped up,
and our exhaustion almost healed,
we drove back to our apartment
hoping to find a ray of peace.
All our freak friends welcomed us back.
Our make-shift furniture looked good.
Our coming baby checked out fine.
Our other concerns were answered.
Her parents had now given up
(at least that was the news we heard).
But we still jumped and our hearts raced
at every knock on our door.
I received my draft deferment.
My professors let me squeak by.
My boss said there was no problem.
We found we had just enough bread.
She sewed herself a new wardrobe
using a machine friends gave us.
Other friends gave us a used crib
that we painted a bright orange.
Our life together moved along
through classes and work and protests,
waiting for the baby to come
waiting for graduation day.
Other stresses and threats would come
as would laughter, music, and play
and love, there would always be love
threading its way through all of it.
Making it past those trying times,
the way we became together
made us what we would always be:
free spirits strengthened in the fire.
Harry W. Yeatts Jr.