Love happens at all ages and the silliness and lightheartedness that comes with it are enjoyable to watch. My friend was no exception. She looked beautiful and confident, had the inner glow only love can give. She added lipstick to her morning routine, she went clothes shopping. She wore the ring I had given her for Christmas, and finally, she showed off the necklace she had bought for herself many Christmases ago.
When a friend or family member announces their engagement to be married, you cheer for them, you are happy for them, you wish them well. There is just no other way, even if the future spouse might seem wrong for them.
Who would know it better than me? I remember my friends reaction when I announced that I would marry an American, and follow him to his country. Not everybody was pleased with my choice -quite the opposite. There were lots of warnings about him and his character, even though nobody really knew him. Predictions were made, that THIS would not end well. 5000 miles away, my husband’s friends reacted just the same. We both were going to marry a FOREIGNER, which was nothing either country was happy with. Austria vs the USA -same feelings, same judgment, same antiquated rules seemed to apply. Today and almost forty years ago -some things will never change.
It hurt my feelings. At a time when I needed the support of my friends the most, they gave me advice instead of congratulations. I have never forgotten how it felt, had promised myself, and just knew, I would never do that to anybody.
What good does it do? Even if we are correct, what right do we have to speak up? We all have to find our own way in life. Most of us are stubborn enough to do the opposite of what we are told to do anyway. Sometimes we, the bystanders might see things the couple in love might choose not to notice because that’s just what it is. Love is not blind, this kind of blindness is a choice. We decide to overlook certain character flaws, mostly with the hope that our partner will change for us, out of love, of course. If I make him/her happy he/she will change. (Nope, they won’t, keep on dreaming.)
Kurt had left that morning, and in the evening the three of us were exhausted. The new year had started out busy. We spent 12-14 hours in the kitchen and could not keep up with the demand. New items were added to the menu. My friend’s Cajun Gumbo had to be cooked every day and genius me, in my infinite wisdom, I had insisted to make immediately Italian sausages as well.
Ben had stopped working in the kitchen, he was working on his old truck most of the time or had ‘errands’ to run. The day Kurt left, Ben came to the kitchen. We joked around for a bit. He had a delivery for my friend but told me he wouldn’t expect me to take it off his hands. I applauded him for his wisdom. We got along now.
“He is a worthless piece of shit” he informed me, which was precisely what I didn’t want to hear. I knew who he was talking about. Coming from Ben, who let’s face it, was a drug dealer and a young man rather on the lazy side, it surely meant something.
I didn’t ask for details or his opinion. I had my hands full fighting my own prejudgment already. I didn’t like Kurt but understood I had to learn to like him somehow for my friend’s sake.
Kurt would be gone for ten days, which gave me enough time to sort my thoughts. First, it was all about my friend, and the mistake she was going to make by marrying a guy she hardly knew, but soon my focus shifted back to us. We needed to move on.
I didn’t sleep well. My hamster in the wheel never stopped running, my brain did not stop thinking. I woke up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. I played different scenarios in my head, and within a few days, my feelings about Kurt changed completely.
I had been so worried that our friend would not want for us to leave, after all, wouldn’t it be like abandoning her and her kitchen, at a time when it had just started to make a profit? Our leaving would throw the smokehouse back into its early stages. Who would fulfill the orders? Who would make the sausages and all the other products? Who would be in the kitchen from morning to evening when my friend was at work? Who would run the smokehouse?
I wanted to talk to my friend alone, woman to woman, friend to best friend. There was so much to talk about. On Sunday, I asked my husband to stay in the kitchen for a while longer, which he gladly did. In the afternoon I urged my friend to stay sober, made a cup of tea for us, and we started talking.
I didn’t get a word in at first. She did all the chatting, about Kurt, about her own fears, and the Smokehouse. She talked about her future and our future. The kitchen and us, we seemed to be an item in her head. She mentioned how terrible Kurt had felt when our dogs had run away because of him. Yeah right!
“Maybe it’s time to get rid of the big dogs,” she said and while I had been prepared to discuss everything -I didn’t see this one coming. “You guys have the guestroom, we have my bedroom and we share the living room and the kitchen.”
Our dogs. The brindle pitbull mix, a rescue from the ACPCA. We had fallen in love with him at PetSmart during an adoption event in 2005. He had been a challenge at first but was now my boy, we had a very special bond. He was approximately five years old. Our Princess, the Weimaraner. I had threatened a guy at a puppy mill, and had finally taken her off his ‘hands’ after he agreed to give me a “German discount.” We actually paid money to rescue a dog. She was only three years old when we lost everything.
The shepherd-chow mix. A guy at 7/11 had tried to sell all the puppies, had threatened he would throw them in the field when it started raining. We took the puppy -a little dog sicker than any puppy ever should be. I went to the Veterinarian so often, we became friends and invited each into our homes on special occasions. Our dog had been with us for seven years. Still young, but too old to find a new home.
“We are not getting rid of our big dogs,” I heard myself say and looked her straight in the eye. “That’s not an option,” I added. “Our dogs are the only thing we have left and you know it.”
Case closed! There was no more to say. I felt relieved. I had said what I felt deep inside. We would leave with our dogs -one way or another. No questions asked!
I was stunned by my outburst and by my feelings. How could I jeopardize our well-being? What had gotten into me?
To this day I cannot explain it. Bravery? Craziness? Despair? Pride? A mix of all I suppose.
I am not sure but I felt life had pushed me into a corner and it was time to fight back. If you don’t fight for what you love, nobody will fight for you.
Before she could say anything I continued to talk. I had more to say, some things were weighing heavy on me and I needed to get them off my chest. I don’t recall it word for word, but I remember the look on her face when I said what I needed to say.
“I am very happy for you, and I wish you and Kurt all the happiness in the world.” That’s how I began my speech. I told her that I didn’t know Kurt and that nobody would ever be good enough for her in our eyes anyway. Once again I mentioned that she was family to us, not just a friend.
Then I dropped the bomb. PRENUP -Prenuptial agreement.
Her eyes got big like saucers, and I continued. “You have assets, he doesn’t have a pot to piss in. He is as poor as we are, what doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, it just means you should protect what you worked so hard for, and at your 10th anniversary when you guys are still happy and in love, set the prenup on fire and share with him everything you have -and everything he has. Prenup or wait a year before you get married.”
I mentioned her retirement and her dream, the sausage kitchen. My friend owned land and a mobile home which had gained in value, with all the additions she had made. Her 401K, the pension from her first husband, the sausage kitchen, and all the equipment, not to mention the inventory. I listed it all.
That was the day when I put it all out there.
“We need to leave by the end of March as long as we can drive our truck,” so you and Kurt can have the privacy a couple in love needs. “You need to get to know each other, we would be only in your way.” All of it was so true, all of it was so risky to speak out loud.
Somehow, in my mind, Kurt was part of the answer to our problem. We wouldn’t abandon her but instead, give the newlyweds the space they needed. We would give them the privacy to run around butt-naked if they chose to do so. The freedom to make love in every room, because let’s face it, that’s just what you do -no matter how old you are. Kurt became our accomplice without ever knowing, he had no idea how much he played into our hands. I didn’t like him (we didn’t like him) and soon we would find out, he didn’t like us either.
And finally, the toughest thing I had to ask for, “We need money to leave and it would be nice if you and I could make a plan how we accomplish that.”
I offered to prepare her taxes. All the good stuff, the expenses, the quarterly sales tax, the deductions, and her income tax. This way she would not have to pay the accountant. “We need around $2000 by the end of March to be able to start all over new, perhaps you could start paying us a little bit. We will continue to work in the kitchen through Mardi Grass, Super Bowl up to Easter, to make sure you get your money back.”
“Or one of us gets a job -any job- and the other continues to work in the kitchen.”
My friend had heard enough. She got up, got two shot glasses and two wine glasses. “You gave me lots to think about.”
It was official, I had lost all my marbles. I had found the courage or craziness to make demands in a situation when you normally don’t request a thing.
Later on, I told my husband about our conversation, and while he didn’t say much, I could see the fear in his eyes. I felt the same way. I had started something, there was no turning back.
Monday morning, before we left the house, my husband called his brother. I will never forget the conversation.
“Hey, there is a chance we might have to leave. Can we all stay with you guys for a while?
“I have to talk to Nancy,” and an hour later he called back. “Nancy doesn’t want another woman in her kitchen,” he informed us, perhaps the dumbest excuse they could have come up with. Why can’t people be honest with each other? The brothers never had much contact with each other, so it didn’t come as a surprise.
When my husband hung up the phone I started shaking and had to sit down. I had brought us into a terrible situation. We would lose our dogs.
“We are not giving up our dogs,” my husband declared, and while I had known he felt the same way, I had needed to hear him say it. What would the evening bring? What would my friend decide?