After two weeks of waking up and immediately thinking about how soon I could see her, the routine had taken root in my mind, I suppose. I had about a week at home after they left, before having to go back out on the road myself, and for two or three mornings, I'd wake up - partially (I'm NOT a morning person), and begin walking toward the living room to find her, only to fully awaken once there and realize she was there no longer.
The day after they left, I finally had a chance to sit down and have a "Thoughts?" meeting with my family. I knew, beyond any doubt, that my family supported me and would fully treat any woman I married as a daughter of their own, but still, I wanted their opinions - without polish - about my ex and her family. They had some concerns. They loved my ex, and they felt it was obvious that she loved me, and that's what most mattered to them. Their concerns were with whatever emotional baggage she may bring into the marriage, having noticed the plethora of insecurities in her family, and being wary of her father, even if they'd been welcoming of him while he visited. They were optimistic that the two of us loved each other enough that, provided we kept the focus of our relationship on our faith in Christ, we'd be able to cross whatever obstacles we encountered. The one, primary concern they expressed about my ex was, "She draws her strength from you. Will she be strong when you're not around?" They also mentioned noticing that her father didn't really like that dynamic. My ex had once said to my mom, "Lew does so much for me. He does everything for me. What can I do for him? What's my ministry to him?" My mom probably looked at her with a "What the...?" bubble all her own, and said, "Just love him." She had waaaaaay too many false ideas about the "duty" or "duties" of a wife, totally missing the important part - the "love him" part. That was all I was concerned about. The rest would be figured out as we came to it. They mentioned a couple more things, but overall, emerged from the visit with cautious optimism, being VERY happy for me that I'd found someone to love who would genuinely love me in return (my focus had always been on my career, and later, my ministry), and more than willing to do their part to make everything go smoothly. They're awesome. Without question.
But...then, I dropped the bomb on them about the little "Don't do anything to her you wouldn't do to me" meeting in the dining room the day before. Uh oh. My dad (as gentle of a soul as walks this earth) quietly stewed over it, but my mom, said, "He said WHAT? In OUR HOME? And that snake waited until none of us were around, too!...I'd have drug his sorry rear-end out by his ear!" Whatever goodwill had accumulated during their visit toward my ex's parents, particularly the patriarse, was all flushed down the toilet with his one, senseless, completely unnecessary, stupid meeting. Then, I told my folks, "Oh, but the fun wasn't over yet....", and I told them all about the government manipulating the weather. My dad, bless his heart, just started laughing, and my mom just said, "He's a nutjob." Regardless, for my sake, and for hers, my folks assured me they'd still do their best to "get along". I appreciated it.
She and I talked on the phone several times that day, and I asked her if she'd still get grief about any particular phone schedule (remember, we'd had to call every-other-day before the engagement). She assured me that now that we were engaged her dad would be staying out of things, so, we could call as much as we wanted. I was honest with her that I had my doubts about her dad staying out of "us" based on his meeting with us the previous morning, so she needed to let me know if pressure began to be applied. Most of this didn't faze her at the time. She was soooo giddily happy. I was too, I just didn't want to lose sight of the larger picture. Regardless, we spent several hours a day on the phone over the next several days. We spent a good bit of that time discussing a date for our ceremony. I was adamant that she have the outdoor ceremony she'd always wanted. Looking at both of our schedules, late October was looking like the best shot (and even that was cutting it close with Northern California weather), and she and I settled on October 25th. I'd take a week off, and the following week was a limited week (only two days on the road), so that would give me time to travel out there, help in whatever preparations I needed to, give us 3 or four days to honeymoon in wine country, and another few days to drive back east with all her stuff in tow. She'd take a couple of weeks off for the marriage, honeymoon, and to come back and somewhat settle her stuff in, then, after a few weeks together, I'd fly her to MN to meet her family for a month-long Christmas show engagement they had, I'd do the 10-12 day Christmas tour with the artist I played for, and upon finishing our tour, I'd drive up to MN and spend the last few days of their show's duration with her, before driving back with her and some more of her stuff. Our plan was in place...and provided the Norcal weather would cooperate, we were set. She just needed to present it to her family - where I knew it would meet with resistance from the patriarse.
My bandmates were all extremely happy for me, even teasing me on stage that week, saying, "This guy here has always been so focused on his music that he'd always said 'If a woman isn't within walking distance, I'm not interested' (and I HAD always said that), and he just got engaged to a woman who lives 3000 miles away from him." Yeah, I was eating all kinds of crow. The bandmate who ran the artist's website asked me for a couple of photos and the youtube link so he could put a blurb on the webpage. This began the nightly slaps on the back from total strangers who'd watch it saying, "Congratulations Lewis! That's awesome! She's beautiful!" That was great...while things were celebratory...before becoming one of the more difficult things to handle once everything had gone to hell in a handbasket.
My ex broached the subject of the October 25th ceremony date with her family at one of their devotional/indoctrination session/group business meetings one morning that week. It didn't go over very well with the patriarse. She called me afterward and said, "Lew, maybe we need to wait until after the first of the year." I asked her, "Is that your idea or your dad's?" She confessed that it was her dad who was stressing the "first of the year", which, technically, would mean the middle of the next year. I told her, "No. Bad idea. This is about YOU. About US. You be adamant about what YOU want." She agreed, but she asked if I could think of some practical reasons that might help persuade her father. I didn't think we needed any practical reasons. The fact that she and I wanted October 25th was practical enough. Anyway, I told her, "Well, for starters, there's absolutely no sense in us wasting all the money it'll cost to go back and forth across the continent to see each other for several more months than we need to. That money can be better invested into our life together." She went into the next morning's meeting with that angle, and again he resisted, until "Sally", the sister I like the least, actually spoke up and said, "Look, if she wants an October wedding we're gonna have an October wedding." Good for Sally. At least once in her life she wasn't as manipulative as her father.
October 25th was a go.
On one morning, she visited a coffee shop near their home, and encountered the first "criticism", if you will, of our engagement. She didn't call me about it, but rather wrote me a long email describing it. This person, one of her "wise" friends (sheesh) had hit her with, "Are you sure you're doing the right thing? I mean, he lives so far away? Are you sure?" That doesn't sound like much to you or me, but for her, having encountered no real resistance about our engagement (apart from whatever her father might offer), and coming from the environment she did, it really knocked her off-balance. She wrote to me that Proverbs 3:5-6 came to her mind and comforted her. She said she knew that God approved of our marriage, and she'd trust in Him, because, if she looked at anything TOO critically, she could find fault with anything. I'm all for critical thinking, and had encouraged her to examine US critically. By the same token, if I were going to rely on my own rationalizations, and what might seem like the practical thing to do given the craziness of her family, I might've told her "Well, nice knowin' ya." At some point we just had to trust that WE were right and if our faith remained central to our relationship, we'd be ok. Proverbs 3:5-6 became the scripture she would quote whenever we'd encounter difficulty - which would eventually prove ironic.
The next several weeks went smoothly. I generally avoided the patriarse, only speaking to him briefly in the few instances I'd call their home and he'd answer. According to her, he'd go around at all of their concerts bragging about the man who was going to marry his daughter, calling me "perfect" and "an answer to our prayers", telling people who I was and who I played for, et cetera. Yep. Yep.
In early March, one of their devotion/indoctrination session/group business meetings became contentious. A couple of the girls wanted to quit singing. There had been contentions about whether or not they'd continue singing for going on two years at this point. Every 3 or 4 months, they'd have some kind of blow-up, the patriarse would accuse whichever of the girls of being rebellious, and he'd manipulate them into continuing. My ex wanted to sing, and was willing to continue even if others quit. She'd always been "the perfect daughter" (that phrase always made me cringe - felt manipulative). Her older sister wanted to be a singer, but didn't enjoy working with her father. She'd nearly quit about a month before me and my ex got together, and to manipulate her, the patriarse rented a loft apartment (on the same property as the home they rented) so she could have some "independence" when home. "Sally" moved into the apartment with her. Sally had NEVER wanted to go out and sing. She wanted to be a wife and mother - even though there were no guys in view at the time - love the man she married and spit out a quiverfull. The youngest could take singing or leave it. She didn't like all the traveling, though.
It was Sally and the youngest desiring things to end in this instance. Their father kept repeating to them that they had to "honor their commitments", that they were being rebellious, yadda, yadda, patriarchal-speak, yadda. Remember, singing, and making it big, was HIS dream. Not theirs. He did his best to hold them all hostage to his OWN desires and dream. Eventually, the youngest conceded and agreed to finish out the year. The meeting adjourned with Sally still holding out.
My ex called me and discussed all of this with me. When she told me about Sally, I knew what was gonna happen. I told her, "He needs to leave Sally alone. If he's unwilling to go on with whomever is willing to go on with him, then he's acting like a 5 year old. He needs to just go on with those of you willing to keep singing and leave her alone." While we were on the phone, he'd been meeting with Sally, giving her all of the "honor your commitments" patriarchal-speak, and had manipulated/guilted her into continuing. What an asshat. But, even better, he'd stood outside my ex's door and eavesdropped on the last several minutes of our conversation, bursting in on her when he heard her say "goodbye" and giving her the business for "discussing family matters with Lewis". She actually let him have a little bit of business back. I'd been telling her since the proposal, "The two of us are 'the family' now", and she told her dad, "I'll discuss whatever I want with the man I'm engaged to!" When she called and told me about THAT, hmmmm, I got a little hot. She asked me to please be patient and let this blow over. I agreed to. But, out of curiosity, I had to ask her, "Your dad keeps going on and on about you guys needing to 'honor your commitments' as far as singing...Just how many 'commitments' do you guys have? Have you seen the schedule?" She told me that, other than the series of Christmas shows in December, the rest of the schedule was pretty bare. Oh boy. I was seething. The guy was such a manipulative jerk of an ass. Guilting them into "honoring commitments" that had only been made, to date, in his personal "vision" for the rest of the year. But, I loved her, and was determined to hold it together for a while longer if I could.
In the next piece...the wheels come off.