by Kathryn Madrid Hipke

Recently someone DARED to criticize me for being an incurable romantic, in that I’ve been married more than once…okay, 3 times. (So far). This person threw it up to me as if it were a character flaw.  “You are an immediate gratification person,” this person accused, pointing her shriveled and unadorned ring finger, spilling her gin drink onto her Saharan crotch.

Actually, I am an immediate gratification person. I’ve said it many times and if she hadn’t heard it from me in the first place, she’d be calling me something she could come up with on her own, without my help, like ‘a-hole’ or ‘sloucher’.

These would not begin to illustrate how I happen to be so prone to wedlock, though, and that does seem to be her main complaint with me these days.

Truthfully, immediate gratification has little to do with my multiple spousings. It does have to do with almost everything else about me though, including why I’m writing this.

Needless to say, she’ll never be MY MAID OF HONOR again.

Still, I think I should say a few words on marriage since I am:

a) Really good at it

b) Periodically having to defend myself against the criticism of narrow-minded puritans.

c) A recently ordained minister, so that I can marry myself from now on, as well as my friends, and strangers, even dead ones…like the Mormons… for the most immediate gratification of all.

When I was a kid, eleven, actually, my family moved from Los Angeles, California to a very small town in Northern Idaho. Needless to say, this was a profound change for all of us, but everyone was very happy. We were a happy family.  My mother was a 3rd generation Californian. My father was born and raised in LA, an only child of immigrant hillbillies, both of whom moved to Idaho with us.  My grandparents were not immigrants in the classic sense…more of the Organisms Found in a New Habitat sense.  From the hills of the Appalachians to Los Angeles, really, during the Depression.  My grandmother, in particular, spoke in a dialect so peppered with weirdness, that it was years before she was understood by “normal folk”…but at least she knew how to order a beer! The UNIVERSAL language of drink.

My grandparents’ families were generations of hillbillies, and before that, like most hillbillies…Scotland

My grandfather was ecstatic to be retired and living in paradise.

He loved fishing and the outdoors, so Northern Idaho with its abundance of lakes and rivers was a dream come true.  Sadly for him and his dreams, he was married to an out of control drunk 3 times his size and she preferred the indoor environment.

Goldie, six feet of solid angles and sinewy muscle, enjoyed Darvon(tm) and huffing cooking spray as an appetizer to her violent drinking sprees.

She made pies and crocheted garish slippers on her days off.

Though they both smelled funny, my grandparents’ relationship seemed normal enough to a 12-year-old me.

Every year, they had their picture taken together.  They had cheap dentures and smiled like clever dogs.  In those old photos her eyes look too shiny; his, wary.

My grandfather spent his days of glorious retirement pushing my “fragile” grandmother in a wheelchair all over Coeur d’Alene, looking for a doctor who would prescribe her something that went well with wine or cleaning solvents.  He spent his nights peeling her crazed dancing naked bulk off of bar tables or patrons.  She went from shawled and feeble to naked and whirling right around sundown. She had an aluminum walker that she wielded like a weapon.

She baked an award-winning pie crust.

I think he had actually been fishing twice when, barely a year into living in Idaho, my grandfather was diagnosed as having ‘End Stage Heart Failure.’  He was 72.

My grandmother was doing her annual rehab, so my grandpa lived with us for his remaining few weeks, too weak to fish, though you could see the lake from almost any window in the house.

My brother and I fished constantly, though I have always hated fishing. We brought Grandpa strings of trout and blue gill, perch and …whatever.

He was a man with an odd sense of humor. He enjoyed scaring us with horrible stories and dark gestures. “I’ve got your thumb,” he’d say, holding some bloody looking thing in his palm.  It seemed likely that he had somebody’s thumb, even now.

“We’re going to die!” he’d scream, driving us over the train tracks barely in time.

During those final days, he sat in a recliner, too weak and tired to threaten or scare anyone in the traditional way.  He still took out his teeth and threw them at us, but it was half-hearted.

We knew he was dying.

I overheard him tell my mother one day, “I don’t have many regrets, but I wish I would have left that crazy woman years ago…”

I was 12.  For whatever reason that made a big impression on me.  Not the idea that being saddled with a crazy hillbilly alcoholic could cut your enjoyment in life down to a few sad days, which you’d relive to a pathetic degree in the end; not that marrying the wrong person could ultimately translate into being your biggest last regret.  I pared it down to the horrible reality of Marriage, in general, and, specifically, the literal context of Until Death Do You Part.

Day after day, into year after year of watching the same person turn into a ham-scented human doilie who didn’t share your interests but made sure you endured theirs.

One’s life being molded into what someone else has chosen.

He died and Goldie barely noticed.

I love the beginning of any relationship.  The passion, the interest, the fun.  I do not care for the creamy comfortable center, and the aftertaste of bitter hostility I cannot stand.  The Ron and Lisa syndrome as I’ve come to call it: You are in a grocery store and you see a couple: He is androgynous: white, skinny, or fat legs peaking out beneath ironed chino shorts. A shirt clearly purchased with emasculation in mind. She is almost always overweight and irritated. She wears a sweatshirt with a Disney character on it, perhaps. Or something from The Gap that’s just not right, would look better on a toddler.

One of them puts something into the shopping basket and you hear,

“YOU don’t need those!”

…and the reply, in equally nasty tones, “I want them!”

“Put them back.”

And a power struggle ensues over a bag of Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips or some Fudgesicles.  They make a mini-scene over a snack food.  They hate each other, but it won’t occur to either of them to divorce until one of them inevitably ends up being caught furtively humping the neighbor or co-worker.  If ever. Maybe one of them will be lucky to enjoy a few years after the other unhappy limb dies ahead of him/her.

At least my grandparents had whiskey and barbiturates, the dream of fishing… At least they were interesting.

My first marriage was to an abusive alcoholic. It lasted less than a year, really.

My second marriage was to a man I still count, fifteen years later, as one of my best friends.  We got to the point where we were barely civil to one another and I moved out.  Divorced, we spend quality time together and are kind to one another.

My last marriage was to a man who was only home for half the year.  We were more like good roommates.  I enjoyed missing him.  When he quit his traveling job, we divorced.  I didn’t recycle faithfully enough, and he hated all my animals.

This was a year ago.

I’m single now and I doubt I will marry again. Each time I’m alone I value my space more. I see fewer benefits to trying to adapt or make someone else adapt to the luxury of personal eccentricities.  But, who knows? Maybe.

I marry for love.

I divorce for what’s left.

Katy lives on a small farm in Wilder, Idaho with her soul mate “Pat,” an aging border collie who doesn’t care what she does with the number 7 plastics.