As Martha reflects on the early days of her life with Hal, she is transported back in time. Excerpted from Interior Designs.
We had met in college, although I did recall seeing him in the high school yearbook when I was a freshman. He’d been a senior then. And a football star. So, because I was hoping to be a cheerleader at some point, I was very interested.
But when I started college, that’s when I really met him…at a football game, of course. He’d looked so hunky back then, yet he had this teddy bear kind of charm that appealed to me. I liked muscular guys, but when that detail was combined with an approachable, huggable aspect, I was smitten. I guess he noticed me because, by then, I was a cheerleader. And after one of those games, we’d gone for drinks with a group. Luckily (or unluckily, if you looked at it in retrospect), I ended up sitting next to him.
I could almost hear the conversation still, which went something like this:
“Hey, I’ve been noticing you out there cheering us on,” he’d enthused.
I recall giving him my dimpled smile, tossing my blondish hair, and grinning. “Well, our cheers worked, didn’t they? You guys were awesome.”
We moved from this exchange to one in which we talked about our goals. He already knew he would go to law school, and I was majoring in design. I had big ideas about the future I could have, too.
After everyone else left, we were still talking. He’d learned all about my dreams and I’d heard about his. He only casually mentioned that his parents were farmers (Fresno was a big rural community, and we were attending California State University at Fresno); this seemed like a given. He looked like someone down to earth.
When he walked me to my car afterwards, I knew that he would ask me out. And he did.
We dated all through the rest of my college years, and when he entered law school, we got married. It seemed inevitable.
My parents had been thrilled. They had been so impressed with Hal from the very beginning, so they were determined to put on a fabulous fairytale wedding. And since my design ambitions were already expressing themselves, I helped put it all together. By then, I had an entry level job in a local design firm.
My parents sent us off to Europe for our honeymoon—one of their gifts to us. The other gift was rent-free living in their cute little guesthouse. Like a Tudor cottage, it adjoined their lovely home, but sat back at the end of a curving drive, surrounded by a picket fence covered with wisteria. A truly gorgeous dream love nest.
With such a beginning, how could we have gone wrong? I still asked myself this question now, all these years later.
I think that “oblivious” is a word that would describe me during my marriage.
Had I just expected happiness to unfold, and did I turn my attention away from any signs to the contrary? Yes, now that I think about it, there had been little clues. Hal seemed remote at times, which I had chalked up to his very grueling study schedule.
Busy at work myself, I couldn’t really tune into him like I should have done.
Nevertheless, I recall plenty of magical moments in those first three years. Living in the fairytale cottage which was a dream to keep up; planning little picnics on the weekends; driving up to Shaver Lake, where my parents had a cabin (they later gave this cabin to Hal and me); taking little jaunts to the coast (Pismo Beach was only a couple hours away); and even trips to LA to see plays.
When Hal graduated from law school and started preparing for the bar exam, I was over the moon. Soon the perfect life would be within our grasp.
Maybe that was the first sign of trouble…the fact that I always thought of our “perfect life” as just out of reach. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed the early years and the romance of new beginnings. But we were still struggling financially, even without having to pay rent.
Hal had passed the bar exam on the first try, and the very same week that we got the results, I discovered I was pregnant. I hadn’t planned it that way. In fact, to this day I think of it as a blessed contraceptive malfunction. For I adore Meadow, and we both doted on her once she arrived.
But I could still see the expression on Hal’s face when he heard the news. He’d tried to cover it up, but that first shadow crossing his face told me that, instead of seeing a blessed event, he had caught a glimpse of something that marred his perfect future.
Once he had joined a law firm and started bringing in paychecks, he seemed happy, though. Finally.
And I worked until the month before Meadow was born, banking my checks into our savings account. We were finally on our way, I reminded myself, even as a part of me felt that everything between us had shifted, just a bit.