My Personal Storm
By Joanne R. Alloway
It was two days before our wedding. Although there were still many loose ends to tie up, I was happy and excited. Until the day my future father-in-law arrived for the wedding, I thought my life was pretty good. I was an attractive advertising professional earning a great income for an up and coming company. I was in love with my fiancé, John, a tall, dark, intense blue-collar guy. After two years of dating, we decided to marry. My friends, whatever their reasons, had reservations about him. They insisted I was a “catch,” but he was a “chameleon”. I didn’t like their label for him; it was cold and showed they did not trust him. I figured they didn’t know him as I did, so I dismissed their thoughts. Regardless of how they felt about John, they supported me in my decision to be married, they were happy for me. And then, before this very evening was over, like a bolt of lightning, my world began to crack and slowly storm out of control.
John’s father, who we affectionately called Pop, had to be picked up at the airport that night and I knew John should’ve been the one to pick him up, not me. But it didn’t happen that way. Pop was a gentle, happy guy; but John believed that after his mother’s death, Pop moved from New York to California to hide his late life homosexual tendencies. John only assumed this because Pop had a roommate, Steve. Together they went to Gay and Lesbian Parades and told everyone how much they enjoyed going. But Pop argued that it was too expensive to live in California, on his fixed income so sharing expenses with Steve helped and provided some much needed company. Although John and his father really never got along; I liked Pop; he was quiet company, he liked all types of music and was helpful around the house. Sometimes he would tell stories about his youth, which I found fascinating.
When I finally found Pop at the airport gate, he automatically asked, “Didn’t Johnnie come?” John’s childhood nickname had always been Johnnie. Registering Pop’s disappointment, I hugged him and explained, “He’s been busy at work today.” “He’s always too busy for me,” Pop groaned truthfully. Driving home we talked pleasantly about people we knew and things in California. He shared little stories about Steve and the charity work they did weekly for the AIDS clinic in his area. I thought it was wonderful for them to help others out this way, but we both knew not to talk about it in front of John, as he would disapprove.
Pop described some of John’s childhood antics before shattering my comfort zone with, “I know Johnnie has a bad temper – he gets it from his mother; oh, could she yell,” he said rolling his eyes. “Does Johnnie ever scream at you?” “He has,” I answered awkwardly; I felt this was personal to our relationship, yet somehow I needed to hear where this was leading. At a traffic light, Pop burst out with, “Does John hit you, too?” I looked over at him and he was starring, searching my face, waiting for my answer. I was angry at the question. “Oh, no, he would never do that!” I snapped back, looking back at the road, furious at my sudden doubts, and shocked at Pop’s implication. Then in a defensive voice, or to show that there was a reason for this slur against his son, Pop said, “My wife hit me a lot. She hit me with frying pans, brooms, anything nearby.” He continued, “She had these really bad temper fits – I had to leave the house many times to escape injury.”
More lightning bolts combined with a gale-force winds were coming at me during this once peaceful car ride. My mind was whirling and spinning and my heart was racing. Wouldn’t I know John’s anger potential after two years? My hands gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles turning white, but I had to ask him, “Are you thinking John would hit me someday?” Pop took his time to answer, “I’m telling you this because he is so like his mother, he has even hit me several times. Once he broke my nose and gave me a black eye,” Pop said quietly. “But, if he hasn’t been physically abusive to you yet and you’ve been together over two years, hopefully he never will.” I noticed how labored my breathing had become. It was one of those times I could really say I needed a drink! To think my fiancé had beat and injured his own father – I was just appalled! What could make him that angry? I would definitely have to confront John – tonight. I was sure he would admit the truth about these occurrences to me. After all, we were being married in a few days. How could I not know he had these tendencies? I was now very nervous and even fearful about this side of John I never knew.
When we got home, John was cooking dinner. He was a good cook and was preparing something he knew his father enjoyed – pot roast. Upon seeing me, he could read the bewilderment on my face, and he instinctively knew a discussion had taken place between Pop and I that did not put him in good stead. John coolly greeted his father, not offering a hug or a kiss; he simply carried his bag and showed him to the guest room. “Dinner’s at seven.” I heard John say. “Why don’t you rest and unpack your bag until then.” Pop was silent. He shut the door and stayed in the room.
Messages from wedding guests and vendors were waiting for my attention. While taking care of these minor problems, I suddenly – from three rooms away, heard John’s accusatory, angry voice, “Don’t be telling her about my crappy childhood that you think was so great, or I will tell her that you’re definitely gay and have AIDS,” he snarled through gritted teeth at his father. “I know that’s why you work at that clinic, so you and your gay roommate can get free medicine!” During this inhospitable tirade, Pop remained absolutely silent, dutifully obedient. I guessed that he didn’t trust John not to hit him if he crossed him in conversation. My nerves were jagged just hearing John talk to his own father in such an ugly tone of voice. But I decided to simply emerge from my office smiling, pretending not to have heard anything. Inside my heart was breaking in many ways. I wondered if this was the quiet before the storm. Was there more for me to deal with besides these phone messages? Like my basic instincts that were screaming how wrong this all is?
We had a somewhat peaceful dinner; no ugly remarks, but our conversations were stilted. Pop enjoyed the pot roast and praised John’s cooking skills; which was the most enjoyable part of the meal. I made some coffee, but after dinner John decided to return to work for an hour or so.
Walking John to his car in the garage, I had to confess that I knew about his treatment of his father, to knowing that he’d hit and hurt him. “I’m worried. I did not know this about you and I need assurance that you won’t ever hit me…it’s disgraceful that you hit…” Interrupting me, John positioned his face within an inch of mine, grabbed my shoulders, shook them and said, “If you are to be my wife, don’t believe that old man. I never hit him. He’s just a senile old guy with an ax to grind. If you don’t believe me, call off the wedding – do it now!” He pushed away from me, making me lose my balance and stormed away. He got into his car and the tires squealed and screeched down our quiet street. Once again, my mind was reeling, ice pellets filled my heart; who was this man I thought I loved? And who was lying to me, Pop or John?
At 9:00pm I finally sat down with Pop. I had cleared the kitchen and he had read the newspaper and unpacked his bag. He was tired from his flight and from the events of the day; he would be going to bed soon. I had lots to accomplish when he did, but my suddenly my heart was no longer in the mood for wedding preparations.
We made some small talk. I told him about some of John’s friends that would be at the wedding that he had known since they were small boys. At one point I harmlessly said, “John doesn’t have those nightmares anymore.” A vacant look came from Pop… I tried again, “You know those nightmares he got from being in the Viet Nam war…” This time a tired Pop bolted upright on the sofa, “War? Did Johnnie tell you he was in that war?” Now it was my turn to sit straight up. I said, “Yes, he hears battle noise – guns, bombings, and people screaming…” I was quickly cut off. “Please, Stop!” Pop barked, holding up his big hand. “Johnnie was never – never in any U.S. Military Service or any war. He’s deaf in one ear since birth. He got a 4F rating when he was 16 and tried to join after quitting high school.” I sat stunned, frozen in place. How much more was there for me to not know about the man I was supposed to marry in two days? When I could speak, I barely squeaked out, “What?” “I know about his hearing loss, but John said he was shot at several times and that’s why he cannot hear very well.” I looked at Pop; he was near tears. His face was red and he was wringing his hands. Finally he said, “I know you don’t want to believe me, I’m an old man and you’re young and you love John. But he has lied to you. I’m sorry.”
I was so dumbfounded by it all, I was grabbing at straws. I told Pop, “John showed me his discharge papers from the Army. They’re inside, I’ll go and get them.” On wooden legs I found them in an old dresser where I knew they were kept. But once again, lightning struck with another huge bolt and I couldn’t get out of this storm. My mind could not get around the fact that John had also told me he graduated from high school, with honors. But Pop had just said that at 16 he quit school and tried to join the Army. So were these latest allegations more lies from John or was Pop exaggerating?
“Here are John’s discharge papers,” I said, my hands shaking, wondering what on earth John would say if he knew we were investigating his untruths while he was at work. I handed them to Pop. Pop looked carefully at the papers. He held them up to the light, cleaned his glasses, looked again and motioned me to sit beside him on the sofa. Gently he pointed out to me that these discharge papers were not John’s, they were his! He had served in the Army and was honorably discharged after World War II. When examining them closely, you could see the dates had been retyped over white-out. You had to look carefully, but he was right; they were definitely tampered with. John and his father had the same name, only John was a Jr. I had never scrutinized the papers. He showed them to me the day we were cleaning out that old dresser. I barely glanced at them, having no reason to doubt his service to our country or his dates of service. But now, I could see the forgery for myself. Why would he need to do this? Why would anyone care if he served or not? I became frightened and confused. Pop looked away – apologetic for me, ashamed for his son and sorry to be the bearer of such horrible revelations.
I felt dizzy, my mind was still whirling, my heart was broken, I could not think too clearly. Still, I thought if John lied about the things uncovered today – being in the service, killing people in war, losing his hearing, graduating from high school, how many other lies would surface later? To deliberately forge his father’s Discharge Papers, hit and injure him and speak so rudely to him is a blatantly disrespectful act on John’s part. Could I marry someone I no longer trusted or respected? Could love overcome the importance of values and human decency? These thoughts were running through my head as I sat quietly with Pop.
Suddenly we heard the garage door go up and John’s car pull in. Pop stood, saying, “I cannot be here when John learns I’ve told you the truth. I’m actually afraid of him right now.” Nervously he went to bed, shutting and locking his door. John came in without a smile. He came over to me and saw me still holding the discharge papers. His fury was immediate – or was that guilt I read? I said nothing. I felt empty inside; all my anger could not melt the ice that had formed inside my heart and my soul. I began leaving the room, dropping the discharge papers on the sofa. No words were necessary.
In an instant, John threw a vase, an early wedding gift, in my direction, shattering it. The force of it knocked over a lamp table. Then he chased me as I ran down a hallway, locking myself into a bathroom. He began banging on the door, screaming at me, cursing and calling me names. I heard my voice, now so small and terrified announcing, “I won’t marry you; you’ve been deceitful to me on many counts. Dishonesty is a way of life for you. Furthermore, I’m afraid of your anger and your temper.” Since he could not hurt me from where I was, I added, “You need help, John, you seriously do. I’m calling off the wedding. We’re finished.”
The door pounding and the cursing eventually stopped. Gratefully he did not bother his father or pound on his door. I heard his car squeal away again. Leaving the bathroom, I said loudly, “its okay, Pop, John’s left, I’m calling off the wedding; but please don’t feel bad – it’s for the best. Thanks for everything, truly.” Pop didn’t answer me but his silence was his answer. I needed to be by myself to recover – much the way we do after a true storm.
I lost my dream of marriage that year, but perhaps that’s all it ever was – a dream. Once my personal thunder and lightning storm had passed, I realized that the truth meant more to me than a dream. I learned I am strong and can weather any storm, but I hope one like this never crosses my path again.