How Bondo wrecked my marriage ~

Well, okay, that’s not true. Seven posts into this blog, I have lied already. Bondo, a fine product used for auto body repair, did not wreck my marriage. Serious problems, most of them originating with me, did that. But Bondo played a prominent role, like a sinister musical motif that repeats again and again under the main melody.

Not long before our wedding, my future first husband (FH) and I received signs that we should rethink what we were about to do. These signs, constructed by our friends mainly of posterboard, all read the same thing: “Turn back!”

No, that’s ridiculous. FH and I received no literal signs, although I think I came close to getting one from my father. But signs in the figurative sense—those we got plenty of.

The most obvious one was that we had begun arguing long before the wedding date was set. But such a mundane sign, although the one we should truly have paid attention to, is far less fun to write about than the others.

Like this one: Two months before our wedding, FH spent his small pool of car-designated money on a vehicle that only one of us could drive: a used Triumph Spitfire. This noisy, bumpy ride delighted him and terrified me. I could not then drive a stickshift, and I wasn’t about to learn via the Spitfire. So I was upset and distressed at his choice.

My distress reached new heights when I received a call, only two or three days after this purchase, telling me that FH would be in the hospital overnight due to a wrenched back. He had taken the Spitfire out for a little spin on icy back roads near his home and had wrecked the car.

At that point, lights should have appeared in the sky spelling out a message: “This boy-man is not ready to get married. He needs his freedom.” The fact that I recognized FH’s irresponsibility but chose to overlook it should have produced additional lights in the sky saying: “This girl-woman is too stupid to get married. She needs independence.” Sadly, none of our friends or relatives reported seeing such messages.

Another sign was that my mother, instead of suggesting that we abandon ship, proposed that we move up our wedding date from May to January and hold the wedding at my parents’ small bungalow in Perryville, Mo. This odd suggestion was presumably motivated by the fact that my father was in the middle of a trial year teaching at a community college in Colorado, and he could be back for Christmas break. Much later I suspected that another motivation was to ensure the wedding would be small, very inexpensive, and a done deal before my father could grow more cantankerous about it.

FH and I blithely agreed to Mom’s suggestions, for reasons that now elude me, even though it meant we would be living apart for the first few months of our marriage—FH finishing his bachelor’s degree in Missouri, me finishing the first year of my master’s degree in Illinois.

As the wedding approached, signs fell fast and furious.

There was the impressive thwack, a cross between a thud and a bullwhip crack, made by the back of FH’s head as he hit the wall when he fainted post–blood test at the doctor’s office.

There was our music selection for the wedding, a Bach prelude (suggested by me) and the theme to “Midnight Cowboy” (suggested by FH). I readily approved the latter, a lovely piece of music, without considering the inauspicious nature of its wistful, mournful, high-lonely sound. This musical combination, possibly unique in the annals of weddingdom, undoubtedly mystified our guests.

But there were not many guests to mystify. The wedding was being held at least an hour’s drive away for everyone except my grandfather. More guests dropped out when our wedding day was ushered in by snowfall that soon became a blizzard. Everyone has heard old-wives’ tales about whether it is lucky or unlucky to get married on a rainy day, but I’ve never heard any such axioms concerning blizzards. I’d be forced to guess that they are highly inauspicious. So the gathering was family-only except for my best friend, T., who served as piano player. (This was payback, since she had browbeaten me into playing at her wedding two years earlier, an experience that had thrown me into paroxysms of anticipatory anxiety for weeks.)

Not long after the wedding, Bondo made its appearance as part of a heroic effort by FH and one of his brothers to repair the extensive body damage on the Spitfire. FH had not done a thorough job: he had wrecked the car but, unfortunately, had failed to total it. I soon grew to flinch whenever Bondo, which we bought in alarming quantities, was mentioned. It stole away at least half of our weekends, necessitating trips to FH’s mother’s house so that he and my brother-in-law could work on the car.

Eventually the car was more Bondo than metal. Numerous parts were needed for the car as well, a seemingly endless chain of them, including (if I recall correctly) a new top. This auto odyssey continued through the majority of our marriage, which lasted less than four years before we separated for good. Subconsciously I began to associate the Spitfire with our marriage: Neither would ever be in working order.

The Spitfire was FH’s property after the divorce, but I don’t remember what became of it. However it ended up—whether junked and scavenged for parts, left to rust in someone’s gravelly side yard, or cubed by one of those giant car-crusher things—I imagined it feebly calling out for more Bondo.

When FH left—and he had good reasons—I was devastated. My bitterness lasted for years. But he contacted me on rare occasion, like a dot of Bondo here and there maintaining a slender connection. Both of us made second marriages that ultimately failed. The rare conversations or e-mails continued. In due time, as technology advanced, we became Facebook friends. Now, I believe, we may be on better terms than we ever were during our marriage, though we seldom talk and only occasionally e-mail. As the great short-story writer Alice Munro has said, “Nothing changes really about love” (“Amundsen”). Of course, FH hasn’t yet read this post, and life can turn funny on a person. But we’ve talked about these things in various marriage post-mortems, and I have faith that he’ll see the humor in it.

He is happily married now. He is an excellent attorney, a superb poet, an accomplished photographer. As far as I know, he is good at everything he does, and he remains the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. Quite unbeknownst to him, he shaped my subsequent life pretty decisively. But more of that in my next post. Are you still with me?

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