At five, I wasn’t overly timid or feminine for that matter. In fact, I got into trouble early that fall for bossing the boys (Jesse included), and making them build a house of red cardboard blocks for me. I stood in the middle as they erected the house around me, pointing to where they should add blocks so as to make the walls higher, and create windows. It felt good, even then, to be in charge. Eventually the boys got fed up, and mutinied, complaining to the teacher, Miss Northrup, who gently explained to me that I couldn’t tell everyone else what to do, that the boys might not want to spend their free-play period building a house to my specifications. I may have been a domineering kindergartener, but I was also a romantic. I am pretty sure I already knew what swooning was. When Jesse proposed, I said yes.
I don’t really remember the time between our engagement and our wedding. It may have been a few hours, a few days, or the whole summer. The next thing I recall, after Jesse’s proposal, I was on the second floor of his house, wearing some kind of bridal gown- it must have been a tiny gown- perhaps one of Mab’s lacy slips, come to think of it. Jesse’s father, home for the weekend, was sitting downstairs in their living room, lounging happily in an armchair, perhaps with his own martini, and a cigar, waiting to watch his son get married. My older sister Kathy was my attendant, and Jesse’s four sisters were upstairs with us as well, helping us prepare.
I think I was excited and happy. I loved my ring. But maybe I didn’t feel comfortable in the gown. Or maybe I was overcome by the same nerves that often swamp a bride just before she walks down the aisle, or in this instance, the stairs. Because suddenly, I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to get married then. I didn’t want to be Jesse’s wife.
My sister and I stood on one side of the landing (in front of the bedroom where the bride had dressed) facing the four sisters who were standing on the other side of the landing (Jesse was in the room behind them, peering at me over his sisters’ head) and I said to them, “I can’t go through with it.” Could I already have been a novel reader? Or did I simply have the ear and imagination of a pulp fiction writer, even at age five? At any rate, that is what I said to the four sisters, and to my fiancé, lingering behind them. “I can’t go through with it”. I think I may have been sniffling a little bit. The sisters were appalled and distressed. “You have to now. Daddy will be so disappointed. He’s been away, working so hard all week, and he was looking forward to this. You said you would. We’re having the wedding. Just walk down the stairs. Go ahead. You said you would.”
At this point my sister Kathy, 3 ½ years older, stepped in. She was taller than I, and dark haired, like Jesse. The way I recall it, she stepped right up by my side, maybe even in front of me, and said to them in a firm voice, “She doesn’t have to get married if she doesn’t want to”. I know it’s unlikely, but it seems to me she held her arms akimbo as she said this. But she was only eight, so did she really do that with her arms?
I didn’t marry him. Oddly though, I don’t recall anything about what happened after my sister’s adamant defense of my change of heart. It must not have been as terrible a breach as Jesse’s sisters had warned. My next memory of Jesse was from a few days later, when we were taking a bath together at my house. He insisted he could poop in a cup. And then he did poop, just to prove to me he could, thrusting the cup towards me triumphantly saying, “See, I told you I could do it.” How my sister and her best friend Leslie came to know about the cup with the little floating balls of Jesse’s poop, I do not know. But Kathy and Leslie made my mother, who insisted that all things could be cleansed with a quick dash of water and a wipe of the finger, throw the cup away.