Never As Good As the First Time

Mari Walker

St. Martin's Griffin

Chapter 1

Getting divorced is never easy. Even if the person that you’re divorcing is someone that you’ve grown to despise. Being in church doesn’t protect you from it. Even being married to a minister doesn’t protect you from it. Even if everyone in your whole church is praying for you, it’s still hard going through a divorce. Because in reality, no matter how many people are there for you—your church, friends, family—when you go home at night, you’re still alone.

I had two older brothers, one older sister, and two younger sisters, but ever since our dad passed away of liver failure a few years back, we had become more like people who happened to share the same blood than a family. Dad had been the one who kept our family grounded and had been the one to organize the family gatherings. And he wouldn’t ask us if we were going to participate, he would just tell each of us that he was cooking out or whatever and we were expected to come and bring a dish. Dad’s cookouts had always been such fun that we all hated for them to end. Mom would be slammin’ in the kitchen, cooking her special macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, greens, baked beans, and potato salad. Our neighbors would wander over and ask what time the fun was going to start, once they got a whiff of Mom’s cooking and Dad’s barbecue. Especially once they got a whiff of Mom’s homemade pecan pie and peach cobbler.

Most of the time, Mom would just follow Dad’s lead. She was like a lot of Southern women of her generation, raised to love, honor, and obey their husbands without question. At least, that was my mom’s idea of being a perfect wife, which is why Mom was so lost when Dad died. She no longer had anyone to follow. She wasn’t equipped to take over and hold the family together once Dad was gone. Mom kind of went into a shell and retreated to the four walls of her home, rarely venturing out on her own. And even if the rest of us managed to get a cookout or something organized, Mom almost never came.

“Now, y’all know I don’t feel like bein’ bothered with all that noise and stuff,” she would say. “Just bring me a plate by when y’all get done. That’ll be fine.”

So with no family cookouts or any other real family gatherings to hold us together, we began drifting apart. Not that we didn’t still love one another, we did. We just got so busy doing too many of our own individual things and not enough family things until we had become almost strangers as time went on.

Sitting in church Sunday night (on Sundays, we usually had at least two services, a morning and a night service), thinking about family problems instead of listening to the pastor’s voice speaking the word of God to my soul, naturally led me to thoughts about the problems between me and my soon-to-be ex-husband, Ian. I wondered what had brought us to the brink of divorce. To be totally honest, I was also wondering why in the world I had ended up marrying Ian in the first place. He wasn’t exactly the type of man I had pictured myself going out with, much less walking down the aisle with. So what had happened?

He wasn’t at church with me, although if we had still been together he would’ve been. We had been separated for months now. I hadn’t been happy in my marriage for quite a while. The bad times had far outstretched the good until it got to the place that bad was just about all I could remember.

Ian had been driving this old beat-up maroon-colored ’72 GTO when we had first started dating. The passenger side door was bashed so far in, I didn’t see how in the world anyone could ride in the car with him. From the looks of it, I thought he would have to be riding around with the Jaws of Life in the backseat to get that door opened. He was always telling people that he was going to go to the junkyard and get another door and put it on himself, but he never did. I remembered thinking that I needed to wear jeans or something when we went out, just in case I had to climb over the driver’s seat to get in. Wearing a dress and climbing wouldn’t be cute.

When Ian parked and stepped out onto the sidewalk, I rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw the way he was dressed. Just watching him made me ask myself again what in the world had made me say that I would go out with him. He had on these lime-green high-waisted pants that made his arms seem far too long for his short trunk and, because he was bowlegged, gave him the appearance of a monkey. So in my head, before our first date, I had nicknamed him “the orangutan.” I still called him that whenever I was mad at him.

My thoughts about Ian were suddenly interrupted when Mr. Wilson stood up to testify about how glad he was to be saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost, and how the Lord had kept him on his journey for most of his ninety-two years. I marveled, once again, at how spry he was at his age. The man still walked everywhere he went, even to church. We had all offered Mr. Wilson rides whenever we’d see him strolling around town, but he always turned us down.

“You know,” Mr. Wilson would say, “the good Lord done woke me up this morning in my right mind and started me on my way! I’m on my journey and can’t stop now! He gave me two legs to walk and feet to carry me through and I’m gon’ use them as long as God gimme strength!”

Mr. Wilson usually launched into his favorite song while testifying, as he did now.

“I shell fall asleep one day fa-rom this earth, I shell pass away and be redeemed, I shell reach the golden sand. I shell see His bless-ed face! God who had kept me by His grace! When I wake uup in glory by and byyyyyyyy! I’ll awake—wake, wake uuuuuuuuuup in glo-ory and by faith I shell sing a redemptions stooooory. . . .” He sang with his eyes closed, keeping his hands prayerfully clasped in front of his chest (only peeking out every now and then to see if the congregation was loving his song as much as he was).

And then Mr. Wilson caught the Spirit as he usually did before he finished his testimony, and began to sprint around the sanctuary, as though the years couldn’t hold him back. I couldn’t help but raise my hand and wave it in his direction and yell, “Go ’head, Mr. Wilson!” as he tore around the sanctuary like a miniature whirlwind. I had a big smile on my face as I watched Mr. Wilson, and prayed that the strength in his heart would be equal to that of his legs. But then suddenly, without really meaning to, my thoughts turned back to Ian.

Even when I had first seen Ian in church, I could see that he wasn’t my type at all. I had never had a romantic thought in my head about him. He was married, for one thing, and too short, for another. He was only about five seven but would tell everyone he was five nine, as if saying it would make him miraculously grow the extra inches.

Ian had deep dimples in both cheeks, the kind that showed even when he was just talking. He could sing like Peabo Bryson and played the lead guitar. Ian was also a minister, but I remember thinking that when he preached, there was something off about it, somehow it was not quite spiritual. I thought this even more after I heard him preach the sermon about “The Little Drummer Boy” one Sunday morning. He had the nerve to say that story was in the Bible (lucky for him he didn’t try to name which book, chapter, and verse it was in!). I still had to stifle the laughter that welled up inside me just thinking back to that day.

“Ohhhhhhh yaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwl!” Ian had begun. “Dmp! Don’t ya’lllllll dmp! see that little bitty boy! Dmp!(clap!) Oh Lawd, ha’ mmerrrrrrrcayyyyy! Don’tcha see that child walkin’ unh! He walkin’ up to the manger! Unh dmp! He walkin’ with that drum in his handsah! Dmp!(clap!) He walkin’ upta the child. Mary’s baby-ump! the Lamb of God! Ump! Slaaaaaaain ah! Dmp! (clap!) I said slaaaaaaaaaain! Dmp! GREAT God from a Burnin’ World! Don’tchaya’ll see that Little Drummah Boy! Ohhhhhoh Lawday! He marchin’ right on up to that manger! Yes, he is! And he begin to play. He played for you! And don’t ya’ll know he played for me . . .”

And on and on he had gone, lying in the name of the Lord. I had to get up and leave the sanctuary because I was about to laugh in the man’s face!

I knew that day, minister or not, that the man couldn’t possibly be reading the Holy Scriptures and not know that “The Little Drummer Boy” story was nowhere between those pages! I didn’t really care for him as a person or as a minister after that.

After a while though, he and his wife got divorced and Pastor Greathouse made it known that she thought Ian and I would make a good match.

“Samai, honey,” she had told me soon after Ian’s divorce, “a good Christian man is hard to find. Ian is a good man, and you know you have a child to take care of. Ian is a hard worker, too. You might want to take a good look at him!”

I trusted my pastor’s judgment. Maybe I should take her advice? I had thought to myself. I was young, so what did I know about these things? A woman of God couldn’t be wrong about one of her “sheep” could she? I convinced myself to take another look at Ian. If the pastor thought he was a good guy, maybe I was missing something.

I don’t remember how we started talking, but Ian had asked me out one Sunday after church. Maybe our pastor had put a bug in his ear, too.

“Hey, I was wondering,” he began gazing into my eyes most sincerely, “I was wondering if you want to go to the movies or something with me sometime.”

Despite the pastor’s recommendation, with Ian standing in front of me, I still wasn’t really attracted to him. I didn’t like that I wouldn’t be able to wear heels if I went out with him. It would make me taller, and I didn’t like being taller than my date.

“Now, you shouldn’t have to study that question all like that. I didn’t ask you to marry me or anything, now did I? And I ain’t speakin’ Chinese. All I asked you was would you go out with me sometime,” he said, grinning hard so that his dimples made two deep holes in his cheeks. Those dimples were cute!

I smiled back at him but I wasn’t quite ready to commit, although my pastor’s words still rang in my ears. I didn’t know why I was hesitating; it wasn’t like men were lined up, beating down my door to take me out, or anything. So what right did I have to be being so choosy?

“Well, we’ll see. There’s nothing wrong with friends going to a movie,” I said.

“That’s right,” he agreed. “Friends do things together all the time. I can’t see a thang wrong with it.”

So when he came to pick me up for our date, I was amazed to discover that the passenger door opened quite easily. I ain’t gonna lie, I did buckle up my seatbelt extra tight because I wasn’t going to fly out of that car if a sharp turn made that raggedy door pop open!

Ian took me out to the usual dinner and a movie. It turned out that he was pretty funny and for some reason, he didn’t look so much like an orangutan after our date. I’m ashamed to admit that I almost found out what a good lover Ian was not long after. Somehow, being in church and Ian being a minister didn’t stop our hormones from almost getting the best of us. I guess the pastor hadn’t thought about that one when she made her thoughts known about what a good match we would make.

I started thinking now, as the women’s choir sang “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus,” about the final straw that had caused Ian and me to split. It was so stupid, really, compared to all of the stuff that I had taken off Ian over the years. That final thing really paled in comparison.

We had been looking for a new house. One of the reasons was that our family had grown to five members, me, him, our two sons, and my daughter, who I’d had while I was a young teen and unmarried. We were really six if you counted his daughter, Dasche, by his first wife. She didn’t live with us full-time, but she spent a lot of weekends and vacations with us.

My husband hadn’t wanted to go house-hunting with me. He said that he trusted my judgment and I knew what he liked, so anything I picked out would be fine. After weeks of searching, I’d found someone who could not only get us into the house that I chose, but who could get us into it for the same mortgage payment that we had now. That in itself was a miracle, because the house that I had chosen was a far cry from the small two-bedroom (three if you counted the attic that served as the boys’ room) ranch with the smallish yard that we had now. The house I had picked out had a yard double the size of the one we were in. It was a split-level stucco, which was still very popular, had a sunken living room, a huge kitchen, finished basement, had a private patio with a built-in barbecue grill, and the entire backyard was surrounded by a privacy fence. It was love at first sight for me. The only thing that bothered me slightly was the fact that all of our neighbors appeared to be white.

It’s not that I really cared. It only bothered me because my husband was from down South, and was a little old-fashioned in his thinking. I knew that it might be an issue for him. Sometimes white people made him more than a little uncomfortable, which I really couldn’t quite understand because Ian had some white friends. I had my fingers crossed that he would like the house so much that our neighbors wouldn’t matter. Besides, it did have that privacy fence.

I couldn’t wait for Ian to get home from work so that we could go see the house. We went on a weekday and none of our neighbors seemed to be out and about, which I thought worked out great for the moment. It would give him a chance to judge the house on its own merit and not because of who our neighbors happened to be.

“Oh yeah, babe! This is it! Look at this room here,” he said, cupping his hands against the window to block the sun’s glare and peering inside. From that vantage point there was a smaller room to the left of the living room.

“Look at this, baby!” He grabbed my arm and pulled me in front of him, again blocking the glare so that I could peek in.

“That room’s perfect for my music room, Samai. Yeah, this is it!” He grinned broadly showing his dimples, pulling me close and hugging me from behind.

I could tell Ian loved the house. He went on and on about how great it was and asking when the Realtor could let us in to see the inside. I told him I had seen the inside earlier and described it to him. He was still grinning from ear to ear when I finished.

“The agent said that he can’t come back out to show you the inside until Sunday,” I told him.

“That’s okay, baby. We can come over here right after Sunday morning service.” He winked at me and gave me another hug and a peck on the lips.

All the way home he talked about how much he loved the house and how he couldn’t wait to move in and how we needed to get boxes to start packing and on and on and on. . . .

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, it was a bright sunny day and all the neighbors were out in full force, mowing their lawns or lounging on lawn chairs, sipping lemonade or some other concoction from their iced glasses. I realized immediately that I had made a huge mistake choosing Sunday for Ian to see the inside of the house. He would never move into any neighborhood that had this many white people living so close. My hopes were quickly dashed that the house would ever truly be mine. As soon as he saw all our prospective neighbors, his whole attitude and demeanor changed.

“I don’t like it,” he said and I could tell he was upset.

“Why not?” I challenged him. “You seemed to like it well enough when you saw it a few days ago! You were the one wantin’ to go get boxes and start packin’ everything, remember?” I stared at him with my arms folded across my chest and waited for his reply.

“Well, I ain’t goin’ in! You can forget that!” He said with that stubborn, mean look of determination on his face that he always got when he had made up his mind about something. And when he got that look on his face, there was no use trying to change his mind about anything. My heart dropped to my shoes. The real estate agent was already there. He had pulled into the driveway, gotten out of his car, and was standing near the hood waiting for us to get out of our car and join him.

I pleaded with Ian to just come in and look at the house. “Ian, please, please don’t do this! The Realtor is here and he has already shown the place to me. Look, we’re already here, what harm can it do for you to just go inside and look around?”

He didn’t answer me, he just hardened his face, sucked his teeth and pinched his lips together and I knew in my heart that any further pleas would do no good. But I couldn’t stop myself.

“Looking doesn’t mean we have to take it, Ian. If you do this, the man will think we’re not serious about finding another house. He won’t want to work with us anymore,” I said, trying to appeal to the side of him that wanted a new house. I was feeling bad that the real estate agent had altered his schedule just to accommodate us and now this. But Ian stubbornly refused.

Too ashamed to face the Realtor alone and come up with an explanation for why my husband refused to look at the inside of the house, and why the agent had come out for virtually nothing, I told my husband to take us home.

We fought like cats and dogs all the way home. Ian was really angry, he was even cursing, and I was so furious, I was saying things that I had never dreamed of saying to him before.

“When we get to the house, why don’t you just leave? I don’t need this kind of crap! I’m sick of this! You said that you would like anything I picked out, remember?”

“Yeah, I don’t give a damn what I said! You should have had sense enough to know that I wouldn’t want to live around there. You knew I wouldn’t like it, that’s why you picked it!” he shouted back at me.

How ridiculous was that? “Why would I do something stupid like that? Why would I purposefully pick out a house that you wouldn’t want to live in, Ian? What an idiotic thing to say. I don’t want a new house, too? That’s just simple!” I was really angry by then. “I’ll tell you what? Why don’t you just get the hell out of the house and out of my life! Hunh? Why don’t you do that?”

Ian’s face turned dark and I could see the vein in his temple begin pulsating in and out as he frowned. “You want me to leave? You want me to leave? You got it, bitch!” He screamed back at me and I was shocked that he called me that name. I was stunned into silence after that but he kept shouting, letting bile spill from his minister’s lips.

“Every time I look around you startin’ shit, just like my moms used to do with Pops. All night, every night all I heard was her mouth belittling Pops, till he started believin’ all the bullshit she spit at him! And when she was done with him, her ass would start in on me. Always callin’ me stupid and good-for-nothin’! I can’t even remember that woman ever tellin’ either one of us she loved us! And you act just like her! You got the nerve to say you sick a’ me? I want to vomit every time I look at you! You look like somethin’ that’s been hawked up and spit on the ground, you stupid, scarred, scabby slut!”

First I’m a “bitch” now I’m a “slut”? And a “stupid, scarred, scabby” one at that? Hot tears of hurt and shame immediately filled my eyes and spilled over onto my cheeks. I couldn’t believe that he had even resorted to making references to the scars I had gotten from a car accident long ago. It wasn’t my fault that his mother had treated him so shamelessly and hurt him so badly that every time we had a disagreement about something, he would launch into a bitter tirade against her. The problem was, his mother wasn’t present during our fights, so he spewed his venom out on me. Who was this man sitting beside me driving this car? Was this the father of my two sons, stepfather to my daughter, a preacher, calling me these filthy names? I know I had said some things that weren’t right, but I didn’t deserve that.

“You can dry up them crocodile ass tears, too! ’Cause that shit don’t mean nothin’ to me, you hear? You the one started this shit so don’t try to put on that poor pitiful act now!”

The tears and the pain I felt from Ian’s hurtful names and the other things he was saying shut me down, and I couldn’t say another word. All I could do was keep on crying silent tears.

When we got home, he immediately threw some clothes and personal things into the trunk of the car. When he was breaking down his amp and packing up his electric guitar, I wasn’t so sure I wanted him to go, despite all the names he had called me. But he hopped in the car and roared off so fast, I didn’t have time to say anything.

Once Ian had left, the house felt odd and eerily quiet. My mother had taken the kids home after church and I had to go and pick them up. On the way to her house, I thought about all the terrible things Ian had said about his mother and me. I found myself imagining, once again, how life without Ian would be. I had been entertaining thoughts about becoming a single parent a lot lately. Thinking about how things were becoming more and more strained between us and the fights breaking out over the smallest things all the time, before I knew it, I had convinced myself that this separation was for the best.
Copyright © 2008 by Mari Walker. All rights reserved.