I WOKE up with my head on an unfamiliar pillow in a bungalow in the high desert of California, 140 miles from my dilapidated apartment in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles.
It was my wedding day. Not only was my head on a strange pillow, it also housed a terrible rhythmic pounding. My feet were sore from dancing on the wood floor of a bar the night before. A righteous hangover seemed ominous, but there was no time to contemplate this.
Ours would not be a traditional Mexican-American wedding; we couldn’t afford mariachis, for one. Yet I still needed to gather lilies, daisies and roses from the local grocery stores, shower, get into my orange mail-order dress, and put on my tiger’s-eye earrings before I went and got hitched.
There was another omen I decided to overlook. It was early March: I had chosen this day months before for its full moon, enchanted by the notion that it would also be a full lunar eclipse. I would be 33, an auspicious age to begin a new life. What I overlooked was that the date was in the middle of Mercury retrograde, supposedly the time of year when one should avoid signing contracts or making life-altering decisions because of the potent possibility of reversal. Hence, retrograde.
Regardless of superstition or omen, here were my friends, who had come from all points on the United States map, and there was my dress and my new brown cowboy boots. And there was my soon-to-be husband and his vintage tuxedo, waiting to marry me.
The night before the trek out to the Mojave Desert, I had a funny exchange with a friend from work, a lesbian in a long-term relationship.
Years earlier, when we were both new to the organization, she sat down in my office and we instantly began talking about our mothers. Soon we were eating Thai food and discussing films and plans with our partners, all of it creating a friendship of years. I appreciated many things about her, and she me, especially how we were total opposites. As the adage goes, opposites attract. My fiancé even knew that part of it, jokingly referring to her as my “boyfriend.”
That day before I embarked on my wedding trip, she and I kept missing each other. My phone rang as I barreled down the hill from work, car windows down, smoking my second cigarette of the day (because I had started smoking again in those months of gut-wrenching anxiety leading up to my wedding). I answered, one hand on the wheel, the wind blasting my face. There she was, my friend.
I had left her a message on a Post-it written in two different ink colors (even the pen seemed to be conspiring to keep us from having contact that day) saying I was sorry not to see her just as I was about to go out and become not-single. On the phone she referred to the note, the universe’s plan to keep us apart, in a way that sounded jokingly outraged. The delicious frisson of acknowledgment made me squirm in my seat.
I thought of this conversation that late winter morning of the wedding in the town of Joshua Tree. By summer of that year, I realized that in marrying I had made a mistake of tragic proportions.
A secret courtship with my friend at work began on the longest day of that year. There is no way around this: I cheated on my husband. I followed a longing that had been calling me all through adolescence, college and into adulthood.
Months before our wedding, when my fiancé had said, “I talked to my therapist, and she thinks we should discuss your sexual orientation,” I had responded brusquely: “Why? I’m in love with you.”
End of conversation. It was the beginning of something I thought of as the Compromise: the commitments one begins knitting together to start a married life with another, even if those commitments are a little frayed, of a different texture. The unspoken things began taking sips of oxygen out of the rooms we lived in, slowly, adeptly.
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