Everyone was against our marriage. It was a chorus of "You're both too young," and "How are you going to support yourselves?" There were also candid parental chats about how much anguish, sorrow and regret I would suffer. In hindsight everything they said turned out to be true. But I was stubborn and, most of all, desperately in love.
I first met Millicent in day care. She was three. I had just turned four. We immediately gravitated to each other and began playing together to the exclusion of all others. The following year I went to kindergarten while Millie remained at the Little Hands and Hearts Day Care. We were devastated at not being together. I was depressed, rarely took part in activities and was tested for a learning disorder. Finally I could stand it no longer. I proposed marriage and she accepted. We thought it was a way to enjoy each other's company all the time. It was the happiest day of my young life.
Our parents thought the idea was ridiculous and forbade us seeing or calling each other. There were threats, punishments, endless time outs and, worst of all, no TV. Rather than knuckle under to their oppression, we eloped. For five weeks we roamed the streets, slept in parks and alleys, living by our wits to evade capture. We survived by looking cute. We pretended we were brother and sister rather than husband and wife. I would put Millie into a supermarket cart and wheel her over to the deli department. Cuteness got us slices of American cheese, baloney and day-old bakery samples. We told them we were shopping for our mother. Joining the Cookie Club was a life saver and eating McDonald's table scraps was another survival mechanism.
We were caught eventually. The news services made a big deal of it. Our parents stated publicly for the cameras that they were so happy we were safe; it didn't matter how much we had worried them. I steadfastly held to the idea that we were married and wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Begrudgingly a compromise was worked out wherein we would alternate weeks staying at one or the other's family home and in the same room. Call it a permanent sleepover if you will.
I returned to school that fall as a first grader, and Millie was finally, as a kindergartener, in the same building. At recess we spent quality time together, and I was allowed to accompany my wife on her field trips. With a stable home life and a loving companion, I flourished academically for the next few years. Times were hard economically. I had the requisite paper route. We sold lemonade door to door during the summer, the cuteness factor coming into play again. Our Christmas tree that year was rather barren but not without love. I wrote and illustrated some poems for her. I found some used board games, Chutes and Ladders plus Hungry Hungry Hippo at a yard sale, which I knew would delight her. She, in turn, had gone to the library and checked out books she thought I might like. She spent hours wrapping them up just so I'd have something to open on Christmas. We both cried three weeks later when they had to go back.
Our school housed grades kindergarten through eight, grouped and segregated in various buildings according to class level. By third grade I was at the top of my class. I would easily progress to fourth, but that would entail a different schedule in another building in the vast complex, further distancing me from my soul mate. Millie and I talked about me taking a dive so that I would be demoted, and we could be at the same level for the rest of our academic careers. Counselors were onto me and warned ahead of time that such a thing would not happen.
So, unhappily, I soon went off for the rigors of the fourth grade while Millie was trapped in the underclassmen's building. Unlike our last separation, I coped by throwing myself into academics. I was a whiz at the Singapore math and found solace participating in the extra-curricular Destination Imagination competition the school sponsored. Mr. Standish was a tower of strength for me. Aside from fostering my interest in literature and writing, he recognized the issues I had to deal with on the playground from the other kids. I spent many lunches and recesses in his room talking about books, baseball and other subjects which kept my mind off what the schoolyard bullies had planned for me.
We're all acquainted with the pressures of fifth grade, but I knew that I would have a great year because Millie would be in the fourth, and we'd be together again in the same building. Academically I foresaw no challenges. Math and computers were my strong suits, but I loved reading for school projects and personal enjoyment. That summer I found Millie's dad's old Hardy Boys series in the attic and went through as many as two a day. I tried to interest her in Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series, but she was content to bask in the glow of my retelling what I had read. The fantasy writer Robert Salvatore was another favorite as were the many classics of R. L. Stevenson and his ilk.
When September rolled around, Millie and I looked resplendent in our new school clothes. I was proud that I had saved enough from my allowance, yard work and paper route money to buy her the outfit she really wanted. She looked beautiful in it. Nothing can compare with the joy and satisfaction of a husband providing for his family and their sincere appreciation of this effort.
But that first day of school was one of the most traumatic of my life. Millie and I were holding hands as we walked off the bus when they told us: she was to be retained in the third grade for another year. The proctor took her from me and led her away. She looked back. I leaped to her defense and, after a period of time, it was explained that Millie needed to be retained in order to cope with a learning disorder. They had wanted to keep this from us so we would have a happy summer. To this day I don't know if she really was that far behind or if the fix was in, and it was a clever adult plot to drive a wedge between us.
I refused to go to school. I would home-tutor Millie. Society did not understand our love. As much as they tried to separate us, it would never work. But then Mr. Standish came to the house and spoke to Millie and me. Many tears were shed, but it was finally agreed that I would enter the fifth grade and Millie would work very hard in third to bring her skill level up.
These next few passages are difficult for me to write. It is hard to admit, but as a husband I was a complete fraud and failure. Suffice it to say that, due to developmental issues, Millie and I, during this time span, were never sexually involved. Yes, we slept naked in each other's arms, bathed together with our many bath toys and cuddled watching TV, but at our young ages sex did not interest us. I was in love with Millie in the purest sense of the word. In the evenings we would color together, often kissing when we completed a page exquisitely and stayed within the lines. I held her hand as she watched Arthur videos, and she returned the companionship when I viewed Liberty's Kids.
When I was going through the throes of long division, she never let me give up. She was always encouraging me as a good wife should with, "You're so smart, you'll do well on the test, my little lambikins." It was true love, a guileless bond that we shared despite what our parents said, both to our faces and behind our backs.
What I never counted on was another girl entering the picture. My fifth grade year was winding down. Shannon McNulty, a very bright seventh-grader took an interest in me. She would be in the running to be class valedictorian at the end of next year when, as a graduating eighth-grader, she would head off to high school. It began friendly enough. I usually ate alone and rather hurriedly to eliminate being an entertainment target for the cafeteria philistines. When she came to my table I immediately thought it was a trick. Was she the setup person for a practical joke? Did she want to sign me up for a cleanup committee of some charity event?
We talked. At first about Harry Potter movie stuff which gravitated to Batman and Spiderman chat. She mentioned a few books she'd read, something about Anne Frank, and we discussed the fact that Nazis still existed and could be found at various sites on the web. Before I knew it lunch ended, and we went our separate ways to class.
She visited my cloistered table the next day, and the conversation never lagged. One topic led seamlessly into another. The only things that marred the interlude were a few passing students who uttered dirty remarks as to whether I might, as a married man, be able to cope with Shannon's maturing titties and any other emerging, secondary sexual characteristics.
I considered her my friend. She endured plenty of gossip and benignly shrugged it off, calling them all cretins. I could talk to her and, aside from Mr. Standish, she was a person I could confide in. I spoke of my love for Millie, giving voice to my concern that, despite special education tutors, she was still battling dyslexia and attention deficit issues for which medication was being prescribed. Shannon's family had a high-speed internet connection and she printed out info for me so I could better understand what my darling Millie was going through.
Shannon was rather tall, at least a foot over me and, though she was still rail thin, one could easily see that her body had begun developing. Her long brown hair accented her height and bounced when she walked. She played clarinet in the band. She lent me some CDs of 1940's era music, which she declared the heyday of her instrument. Once she gift-wrapped some Twizzlers as a joke because she had referred to the clarinet as a "licorice stick," and I had no clue what she was talking about.
That May Shannon was going to be thirteen. She had never had a birthday party because she was afraid of the embarrassment if none of the invitees showed up. Instead, she asked me to come over after school. We would make root beer floats, try our skill at video games, and she would play a clarinet composition she was working on. I rode the school bus to her home on Warren Avenue.
I was introduced to her mother as a "special friend." I detected displeasure on mom's face. Perhaps she had heard my name and knew of my situation. Or perhaps I was overly sensitive from years of being the center of town gossip.
We did all the things Shannon promised. I enjoyed the root beer floats, and we both agonized over getting ice cream headaches and immediately went to the computer to see what caused them. In her room she had a Homer Simpson video game involving many car crashes that was tons of fun and, when she could stop laughing long enough, she played her clarinet solo, which sounded wonderful to me. When she finished, she came over to where I was sitting on the bed and asked if I was ever going to wish her a happy birthday.
I said, "Happy birthday."
She said, "No, like this -" and, reaching down, gave me a long, deep kiss.
The next few hours were a blur. Shannon was not shy about displaying her body. I was given an extensive tour of newly-ripened female areas. She had read what boys were to expect as their bodies matured and, in almost textbook fashion, demonstrated some of the things that adults do in bedrooms. She had discovered a vast array of websites devoted to sexual activity. We sat on the little cushioned piano bench she used as a desk chair and surfed some of these sites.
"See, that's how big some men can be, although I'm sure this guy is really an actor. Now watch where he puts it next. God, how can she stand him doing that?"
When she recognized my discomfort at some of the sites, we played a game of who could make the strangest design on their naked bottom by sitting in different places. I don't know what might have come next, but we heard a door slam downstairs and scrambled to get dressed and look innocent before her mother came up to invite me for supper.
I politely declined the meal, so late that afternoon Shannon and I sat in the back seat as her mother drove me back to Grove Street. She wanted to hold my hand. I refused because of Mrs. M.'s prying eyes in the rearview mirror. Instead I rested my hand on the seat, and Shannon placed hers close by, squeezing it gently before I got out and thanked them for a wonderful time.
When I got into the house, Millie came bounding up to me. She had cooked my favorite meal, macaroni and cheese. It really wasn't my favorite. She never drained those little elbow things very well so, when she sprinkled on the packet and mixed it in, it was more like soup. But I always appreciated any effort she made on my behalf and a bottle of ketchup always worked wonders.
As we ate she told me about her day. Most every element of it included the tag line of how much she wished I was there with her. She got out some pictures she was drawing, a portfolio if you will, for a project entitled "Things That Make Me Happy." There were only a half dozen pages so far but each one had representations of me and the word "love" was a ubiquitous presence, although she still made the "e" backwards.
That evening we settled into bed in our usual spooning position. She enjoyed watching Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network, sometimes with the sound very low until we dropped off to sleep. Millie rolled over to face me.
"I've been wanting to tell you this all day but saved it for now like dessert. Mrs. Stebbins told mommy she's pretty sure I'm smart enough now to be in the fourth grade next year so we will be a family once again." She kissed me, and then we rubbed noses, which was our own private gesture before she flipped back towards the TV's bluish glow. "Who do you like better, Daffy or Bugs? I like Bugs sometimes but other times I don't."
The following year Millie came to our side of the school. Though I was scheduled for the sixth grade, I was bumped up to seventh, largely due to high math scores. Shannon was in the eighth. Though it was very uncool for upperclassmen to even be seen talking to a lowly fourth grader, Shannon was very gracious to Millie. At times she came over to our table and chatted, complimenting her on the Sponge Bob Square Pants tee shirt and the sneakers that lit up when she walked. Shannon kept encouraging me to join the band. She said it was lots of work, but they had fun times too. And, at the end of the year, they had a big picnic at Squam Landing where the rides were free as was the waterslide.
I did not wish to be unkind to Shannon, but my guilt at being unfaithful to Millie was a constant companion; so much so that it caused me to withdraw from the world into a deep depression. Several times Shannon confronted me in the hall or at my locker.
"Have you been trying to avoid me? I mean, if you don't want to join the stupid band, just say so."
I didn't know how to answer her so I just shrugged.
"Well, if you want to tell me to piss off, that's okay. I'm a big girl. I can take it. And, just so you know, I overheard Miss Molnar tell my art teacher, Mr. Serfoss, how pathetic you and Millicent were, and how could any parents in their right minds allow this 'marriage thing' to go on. And one more thing, it's Egyptian week on the Discovery Channel in case you wanted to stop screwing your wife for a few minutes to actually learn something. Oh, I forgot. You're both too young to do much but have pillow fights and tickle each other until you pee!"
Two weeks later I joined the band. Since I had no training, I was put into the percussion section and told to watch Mr. Curley, who ironically was fully bald, for when to come in. Shannon ignored me for the first week of band class. Then, one afternoon, she walked by, clandestinely dropping an intricately folded note in my lap:
I am wicked sorry for what I said last time. (A crudely drawn unhappy face dripping with tears was inserted into the typed text.) I was mad at you, at me and at the world. I was also getting my period, not to use that as an excuse. I see the place you're in with your wife and know the marriage vows you took. I respect you for that. I just wanted to say that I think you are special and my last birthday was the best ever! I wouldn't mind being the other woman like with FDR, Einstein and Eisenhower to name a few, but, whatever, I want us to be friends because we will be together in high school for a long time. My mother bought me a packaged collection of Greta Garbo movies on DVD. She's a great actress and plays a sensitive ballerina in Grand Hotel which I've watch many times. Look her up on the school's computer if you have a chance.
Your friend 4ever,
I didn't know how to respond. My conscience told me the best thing to do would be to rip the note up and head home for a meal of Hot Pockets. Millie was now allowed to use the microwave. There was a two-for-one coupon for Hot Pockets as well as the inducement of a free tee shirt (Crispy Cheesy on the front and Fast and Easy on the back) if ten proofs of purchase were sent in. We were on a Hot Pockets diet until that goal was attained.
But I didn't go home. Instead I had the school bus drop me off downtown at the public library. Grand Hotel was checked out, but they did have Ninotchka, which the librarian said was an acceptable PG comedy for me to take out. I got it home and attempted to munch on a sausage-and-cheese pocket (god bless Millie-it was scalding on the outside, still frozen in the middle) as I watched it.
I wanted a quotable line from the film to put in my return note. I filled up three sheets of yellow pad and drove Millie out of the room with my constant pausing and restarting of the film. That night I wrote the following:
There is an old Russian saying: The cat with cream on his whiskers had better find good excuses.
Your friend always,
I had no idea what it meant, but I thought it would fit whatever scenario she wanted. I folded it and stomped it with a hundred staples to ensure privacy. Then I went up to the bedroom. Millie was playing school teacher and had her Barbie doll collection and American Girl dolls obediently lined up on the bed, encouraging them to learn the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" song with its many choruses and refrains.
That is the quick background to this narrative. It is now late-May some years later. Much has gone on. Shannon, at seventeen-soon-to-be-eighteen, has just graduated. I am fifteen and will finish up my junior year. Millicent is finally done with the eighth grade and is anxious to be in the "big" school with me. She and I have been husband and wife, in the "adult" sense of the word, for the last two years. She desperately wants to be a mommy. School is very difficult for her, but she keeps trying. Her parents think she is too immature to know what having a baby means. I agree and have assured them that I am taking precautions to prevent anything like that from happening.
You should also know that, since the infamous note way back in seventh grade, Shannon and I have, much to my shame, had many stolen moments together. Sitting on my marriage bed right now is a gym bag filled with a week's worth of clothes. Shannon has told her parents that she will be taking her car tomorrow to stay with many of her graduating class at Beach Week in New Hampshire. My lie to Millie is that I will be at a Destination Imagination camp. We will drive up to Hampton Beach but, in reality, she has rented a cabin for just the two of us to spend time alone. Shannon will be going to Brown University in the fall. She is putting pressure on me to go with her, perhaps taking courses at a Rhode Island community college to fulfill my high school's requirements. When I am alone with Millie, I am still besotted by her. I feel the same as I did way back in day care when I watched her trying to put a picture puzzle together and being so appreciative when I offered to help.
The time I spend with Shannon is also very precious to me. Our sexual congress has an animalistic passion to it. She thinks it's because we are being immoral and the fear of discovery heightens the adrenal flow. We presently read passages from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged after we do it which seems, in part, to be a motif to our surreptitious pleasure.
However, when I am alone like I am now, I am at my lowest. I am scum. I am a pleasure seeker, another Marquis de Sade or Henry Miller. My depression is palpable. Breathing is labored. I become immobile. Then panic sets in. It's as if the room was on fire but I can't crawl to safety. I need to be rescued. It doesn't matter which one saves me, Millie or Shannon. Once I am in one or the other's arms, I am momentarily safe. Their caresses calm me. I can breathe again. I curse the day I ever learned about Greta Garbo though, and as I watch her performance in Anna Karenina, I sense that Anna is the only kindred soul on the face of the earth that knows how much I am suffering. Tolstoy knew something when it came to heartache and anguish. Shannon thinks I should write an updated, Americanized male version of his masterpiece. Andy Karen is her working title. I hate it, yet can't think of anything better. That's my pathetic story so far.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, D.E. Fredd. All rights reserved.