The next couple of days were blissful. We ate our breakfast together overlooking Nassau, went through the devotional spiel (on Friday, it was a larger group thing, as they attended a small prayer and worship meeting some other passengers were having), then, we strolled around Nassau for a spell, visiting the Straw Market, seeing everything from salt and pepper shaker sets to voodoo paraphernalia. She bought a couple of little knick-knacks for some of her family (she didn't have a lot to spend - the girls were paid a whopping $10 a week for their singing - much more like an allowance than a salary), and we went through the daily routine, before once again ending up in "our spot" for a couple of hours before retiring to our cabins.
Some of you may be wondering "Had you kissed her yet?" No. Not yet. One of the physical interaction boundaries she had asked for was that we wait until after the engagement before we kissed. I didn't agree with it at all (heck, I'd have been fine with kissing her looooooong before the engagement), but I adhered to it, respecting her choice since she felt strongly about it. I'd decided that the first kiss would come when it came, and even though I was about to bust to kiss her, I wanted it to be a lasting memory for us both.
On Saturday morning, we disembarked in Miami, they dropped off the Bandaid at the airport (he'd been a good cabin-mate - even saving a passenger's life that week when they'd had a heart attack), then, we headed toward North Carolina. Roughly a 15 hour run awaited to reach Winston-Salem (about an hour east of my home) where they were scheduled to sing the next morning. She finished her shift driving around 11:00 or so that night (the girls and their mother all drove in two-hour shifts - the patriarse had no license, and to my knowledge (from a solid source) is ineligible to ever again have a license), was tired, and we prepared to bed down. They had me arranged on the fold down that normally served as the dining table, while she preferred to sleep on the floor below me. Yes, I was a gentleman and offered to trade. She prefers a harder surface (one more reason to love her - we'd have gotten along famously in buying a mattress). As we were standing there exchanging our "goodnights", her folks sleeping around the corner on the back bed, two of her sisters spread out on cushions on the floor just below us and on the sofa right next to us, and another sister doing her driving shift a few feet from us, our goodnights were pretty emotional and I whispered in her ear "May I kiss you?" She nodded her approval and said "Ummm hmmm". So, we kissed, and it was as sweet, and as winsome, and as beautiful as I could ever have wanted it to have been. I mean, it was dark, and everybody was supposed to be sleeping, and the sister in the driver's seat should've had eyes forward. We felt safe.
The next morning, they did their concert at a wonderful, predominantly black church in Winston-Salem. The guy on the organ rocked. Loved it. Very celebratory people there, VERY active in their music. Part of me had to laugh within myself at just how out of place my promised bride and her hyper-fundamentalist homeschooled family were in such an environment, but, again, if reality were a snake, it'd bite 'em every time it showed up. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. The people there received them warmly, LOVED their music (as I've said, my ex's family is phenomenally talented), fed us a great meal of baked spaghetti, and then, the RV turned westward toward my home, with only a couple of quick stops to make along the way.
One thing that DID happen that morning, though, that didn't give me the warm fuzzies was her father's introduction of her during their performance. He began to tell about our relationship and engagement by telling the people, "A few months ago, a young man approached me (as if I were a freakin' kid or something) and said, 'I'd like to get to know your daughter. How do I go about doing that?'...yadda, yadda, yadda, patriarchal-speak, yadda, yadda, yadda." The man TOTALLY misrepresented our first "talk" and any and everything that had been said, and gave it his own patriarchal twist. Part of me wanted to stand up and say, "You lying snake! None of this happened that way! Tell the freakin' truth without having to put your stupid fingerprints of fatherhood all over it!", while another part of me just said, "Let it slide...He DID generally stay out of the way this past week. Don't make waves." Regardless, it was foreboding. The folk at the church, though, very warmly celebrated our engagement with us.
One of the stops on the way to my home was at a Wal-Mart. As we all got ready to exit the vehicle and head our separate ways in the store, her father went into another of his usual spiels that got under my skin. He stopped them all before they could head out and said, "Now remember, you all represent Jesus Christ. Act in an according manner...yadda, yadda, patriarchal-speak, yadda." I'd seen him do this a couple of times in similar situations over the last couple of weeks. Made me sick. Throw a wet blanket of guilt over everybody before they can go and do something they might find enjoyable, why don't ya? Jackhole. I could tell the girls had heard this so often that it was just one of the motions they went through in acting as if they were listening to him intently.
We all went our separate ways, agreeing to meet back out at the RV in an hour (road weary soul that I am, I probably gave them all a free education on how to handle the schedules of road life - a watch is your friend), and she and I began to stroll around the store. I could tell something was bugging her, that she needed to say something, but was apprehensive. Soon, I discovered that a couple of sisters had witnessed our first kiss the night before, and one, who I'll refer to for the sake of the story as "Sally", had come down pretty hard on her earlier that day. I posted the exchange that followed a long while back, and I'll post it here again...
Her: Lew, some of my family saw us kiss last night.
Me: Is this a problem?
Her: Well, Sally really, really thinks we need to be careful. (translation: Sally said "You slut!")
Me: Careful how?
Her: I just think we need to be careful. It really bothered Sally.
Me: So now Sally gets a say in our relationship? She gets to set our boundaries?
Her: (taken aback and somewhat enlightened, having never considered it that way) Well, no, that's not what I want. What should I do?
Me: Sally needs to grow up, mind her own business, and leave you, and us, alone. If she keeps bugging you about it, send her to talk to me. Your family isn't gonna make me feel guilty about anything we're doing, and I don't like them pouring guilt on you.
Makes me want to light myself on fire just thinking about it. As I said in the old post where I initially posted that exchange, to this day, Sally is my LEAST favorite among her sisters. She has more of the manipulative snake tendencies of their father and grandfather than the rest. Tough break for me, Sally is the sister my ex was closest to, being only slightly older than Sally. Total Kool-aid drinker, with a TON of her own personal, pretty serious baggage, which I'll do her a favor and not go into here.
Following a couple of stops for fuel and tending to the RV, we headed toward my home.
To tell those of you who don't know me (that would obviously be most of you - at least 2 of the 3 who read here) a little about my homelife, I could be considered a SAHS - as long as that's nothing like the SAHD movement in your reasoning. To this day I live with my family. Not for religious reasons, not for personal deficiency reasons or reasons of irresponsibility, but for practical reasons. I've been a musician, professionally, for all but a year or so of my adult life. I started out as most do, doing road gigs, then, at age 23, I was fortunate to begin a career as a studio musician. Various touring stints have continued to be mixed into the equation with my studio session career, so, long story short, I've spent very little of my adult life at home - with the exception of the last couple of years, and with the exception of a health problem for a few months back in the early 90s. I don't work out of a session hub like Nashville or LA (for my southern readers, I'm talking about Los Angeles, not Lower Alabama), so doing studio work has been a lot like being on the road (just with much better pay). I work a region rather than a hub, a region that extended from Myrtle Beach into eastern TN, VA, and NC of course. Essentially, the mid-Atlantic region. While this has meant lots of driving, the advantage is that I only competed with maybe 3 or 4 other guys for the work in the entire region. In a hub like Nashville, I'd seldom have to drive for more than an hour to a session, but I'd be competing with a few hundred other guys (equally as skilled and usually even more skilled than I am). My nearest account was a 90 minute drive. Most were well in excess of two hours away. Myrtle Beach, for instance, is a 6 hour drive, and many of the rooms I worked in eastern NC were at least 4 hours away. Knoxville, to the west, was a 4 hour drive. IF I got to come home at night, it'd be for little more than to catch maybe an hour or two of sleep before getting up at 2-3AM to take a shower, chug coffee, do a bunch of driving before sitting at a piano or keyboard for 8-10 hours, and then doing it all over again. Most of the rooms that regional studio guys like me would work would try to help us out by either booking us for multiple days where we could just stay over, or by booking hotel rooms for us when things went late on one-off sessions.
Then, with the touring stints on top of it (particularly the last one from 2005-2008 - roughly two hundred concert dates a year all over the country and internationally), I'd get in off the road on a Monday morning, and sometimes have sessions booked for Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday if the band hadn't headed back out by then. Home became largely the place I stopped once a week to do laundry, even though I fiercely tried to be home as often as possible on Tuesday night - that's when the little study/prayer group would meet in my home. (this group was never larger than a handful of my immediate family and a few younger adults - it was never something advertised and it sort of dissolved on its own as the younger people took jobs in various locations and moved away from the area)
Back in my early 20s, my family and I had talked a bit about my future, and my parents had suggested that it would be senseless for me to "move out" and pay for a place of my own, considering that I was home no more than I was. It would be wasted money. They made it clear that I was welcome to remain in their home as long as I didn't someday become a hellion to live with and as long as I pitched in a bit financially. And here I remain to this day. Frankly, given the things that have transpired, and now having no desired "future" with a family of my own, I'll probably just stick around (unless circumstances ever dictate otherwise). Both of my folks are retired now, and have various health issues (nothing imminently life-threatening at this point), and I'd just as soon take care of them as they get older. My parents are the two best people alive on this planet, and as far as I'm concerned, 3rd place isn't even close. I've been blessed with a solid, emotionally and spiritually healthy family, a great brother, and wonderful extended family. Lord knows, they've all been life savers in the last couple of years, especially when all this crap reduced me to 148 bed-ridden pounds. I'd fight to the death for any one of them in a second. I regret the parts of their lives I've missed by being home so little.
I've nothing to prove to anyone by "being out on my own", and those of you who read here regularly probably have a grasp on the fact that I care very little what people think. I've been "out on my own" all of my adult life, I just never bought a place of my own. I've never fancied "coming home", for what little time I've actually had at home, to an empty home. My advice to young people who may be reading...If you have a healthy home-dynamic, and a healthy relationship with solid parents, it's silly to get in a rush to "get out on your own". It doesn't prove anything of substance about who you are, or who you'll become. Chip into the financial pot at home. Live responsibly as an adult. Love God. Love each other. You do those things, and that's not just a full day, but a full life - even though no guarantee of smooth sailing. When the time comes for you to move out, deal with it when it comes. Expediting it, though, doesn't make a great deal of practical sense if your situation is a healthy one.
In the next piece, my family and rural community "Meet the Fockers".