After a marriage fraught with difficulties, Steve Jaeger finds the wedding of his ex-wife to be a day of joy.
My first marriage didn’t last too long. Less than five years. To say that my ex-wife and I had problems would be a colossal understatement. We both worked in restaurants and lived the life, the constant cycle of work, party and sleep. It became apparent pretty quickly that I could control myself and that she couldn’t. Our life became a cycle of work, party, fight, sleep. When she became pregnant I thought that maybe having a baby would calm her down. Wrong again, Dr. Phil. All through the pregnancy I had to restrain her, sometimes physically from drinking and using drugs. Once I had to yank her head away from a line of cocaine at a party. I didn’t know who to be more pissed off at, her or the imbecile that offered it to her. After the baby came it just got worse and when the little boy was eight months old she was arrested for drunk in public and assaulting an officer. I left her in jail over night and packed my things.
Because of our son I was connected to her for the next eighteen years. Five years after we split up she got pregnant and married a guy who had even more problems than she did. She ended up having two children with him, going into rehab twice and being arrested for DUI four times including once on Christmas Day while she was on the way to meet me to pick up our son at one of our designated neutral sites. Her new husband meanwhile beat her, beat the children, including my son who wouldn’t tell me because he was afraid no one would be there to protect his mother if I took him away. It was a horrible situation that she exacerbated by continuing to drink and drug and get herself into trouble with the law.
She finally moved out on husband #2 and shipped my son to live with me and my family when he was sixteen and became too much for her to handle. A few years later her fifth DUI put her in jail for a few weeks and cost her her license. She had to find a place to live where she could walk to work. She got herself a job at a small cafe in a little town out close to the Shenandoah Valley. She became friendly with one of her co-workers who sang in the choir of the local baptist church, the black baptist church.
Two very important things here about my ex. She has an absolutely incredible singing voice which she would never use unless she was absolutely hammered. Sober, she was shy and insecure and you could barely hear her speak but once she got a few drinks in her she would hop up on stage with the band, whether they asked her or not and could bring the house down. The other thing is that she is from a very old Virginia family . One of those families that can trace it’s roots back to Jamestown and beyond. There’s an old joke that many people will say that they are part Indian and their great great grand mother was and Indian Princess but no one will claim to come from a plain old squaw who dug in the dirt. Well, my ex-wife can claim an Indian Princess, Pocahontas and I’ve seen the paperwork. She is also blood relations with Thomas Jefferson, Robert E Lee, Harry Byrd and just about every other import early American figure that came out of Virginia. I only bring this up because being from these high flying Blue Bloods her family still has some “peculiar” ideas about race. Another colossal understatement.
As she was living in this small town and had no car and nothing much to do my ex began going with her new friend to the church to hear the choir practice. She loved the Gospel music and before long she was singing along. The pastor of the church took an interest in her and learned her sad story and took her under his wing. He talked her into joining AA and then he invited her to join the church choir. While going to meetings she met a man that she had known years before and they began seeing each other and within a few months he was attending church with her, sitting in the pew with the congregation while she sang in the choir. When they decided to get married, naturally they wanted to have the ceremony in that church. The tricky part would be telling her mother.
I heard my wife speaking to her on the phone. It was always a strange feeling to listen to my wife and ex wife chat away but I heard my wife say, “Of course we’ll be there, what’s the name of the church?” I really wasn’t that thrilled of the prospect of driving more than an hour out into the wilds of Western Virginia to attend the wedding of my ex wife but my present wife laid down the law and told me that I had to be there at least as a show of support for my son. I said, “He’s twenty one years old, I don’t think he needs me to hold his hand.” My wife gave me a look and said, “Honey” and not in the sweet, nice way so I knew I was going to a wedding the next day.
Finding the town was the easy part after we got there we drove up and down side streets looking for the church. I saw a sign that said “Baptist Church” and we pulled up in front of an imposing brick building. I said to my wife who was driving, “I think this is the wrong church, look at all the white people!” I got the same look as yesterday and she rolled down the window and asked the people out front if they knew where the other baptist church was. The entire trip was almost worth the look these three people gave us. They looked like they had just stepped out of the Grand Old Opry in 1973. I can’t remember the last time I saw that much polyester in one place. One of the men had a pair of these incredible sideburns to compliment his carefully pompadoured hair and his yellow tinted aviator glasses. The woman also had BIG hair, the ozone suffered putting that ‘do together. They gave us the directions and I watched them stare at us in disbelief as we drove off.
We found the church. A small whitewashed building on a small lot situated right next to a titanic Episcopal church. The Baptist church had a small lot that was already full. The Episcopal church had a huge lot that was empty but had an emphatic sign that stated it was for Episcopalians only and violators would be towed. I told my wife I figured our car look Episcopalian and we pulled in. We entered the church and in the small foyer all the ladies of the choir were gathered in their blue and gold robes. My ex-wife standing out as the only blond white woman among the dark complexions. My ex cried out, “Oh my it’s my FIRST husband” and all the woman bust out in laughter. My wife and I wished her luck and we took our kids in and found a seat. A few minutes later an usher brought in an older woman with a man and sat her next to us. The woman had a tight lipped scowl on her face, she looked at me, nodded and turned to the front. Apparently my ex-mother-in-law did not recognize me. Her son leaned across her and shook my hand and then she smiled and said she was so sorry she hadn’t realized it was me, she was ”Just all out of sorts!”
A group of congregants in street clothes moved up to the front of the church, music began playing and they sang, “I’ll Fly Away”. They sat down, music started again and the choir began it’s march up the aisle. There was my former wife, daughter of the south, member of the social register and Colonial Dames, singing and swaying in an all black choir. It was like that scene from Forrest Gump. The reverend began to preach and soon he began to sing. My ex slipped behind a curtain and came out in her wedding dress and was married. By the end even my former mother in law was on her feet singing and clapping. It was about the coolest thing I have ever witnessed.
I have seen depictions of black church services in film and thought, this has to be exaggerated, but that service went on for two hours and I could have sat through another two. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last, she caught the dude cheating. But she stayed sober through the ordeal and still goes back to that church from time to time to sing in the choir.