“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose." Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee." Written by Kris Kristoferson, et al
Fifty-one years ago this month, on a Saturday in Fort Gordon, outside Augusta, Georgia, I was in an inconceivable state of disarray.
And here I was, far out on Tobacco Road, looking for my matron of honor. She and her husband were emergency fill-ins for the original couple who were supposed to stand up for us. At almost exactly the last minute, a noncommissioned officer instructor in Bud’s unit had been called to duty, leaving us with nobody to witness our vows.
It was the last day of his advanced training to be military policemen. Our wedding day. While the men were getting their certificates and awards, I was to drive out into the unfamiliar countryside to the house where Virgil and Marianne had rented a room, pick up Marianne, and bring us two women back to the army chapel where we’d meet the men when their ceremonies were completed.
Against all odds, I found the house, isolated and empty. It sat dark and brooding, oppressed under a veritable forest of live oaks heavily draped with Spanish moss. I knocked on every door I could find. No answer. I peeped in every window I could reach. Nobody.
The hot, humid Georgia day had come on strong and in earnest. No air moved under the oaks. I was still on mild Ohio summer time and I was wilting more with every minute. I could hardly breathe in the heavy humidity and heat. Not to mention I’d skipped breakfast.
Finally I gave up and drove disconsolately back to town. I didn’t know what else to do. What was going to happen? Would we be able to get married? My two-piece popcorn-crochet dress felt more and more like it would simply melt and slide into the puddle of sweat I was becoming. My little car had no air conditioning because who needed that in Ohio?
I had no idea what to do next except return to the post. Which I did. Where I found Marianne and Virgil with Bud, ready to have a wedding – but there was no bride-to-be and nobody knew where I was or seemed to remember the plan. Apparently it had changed overnight but nobody told me. They wanted to know what took me so long. Fortunately, the chaplain was in a hurry so I didn’t have time to tell them. Or tell them anything else, either, plenty of which I was thinking.
Well, we got things underway and Chaplain Cajetan Troy was all set to begin the short ritual to pronounce us man and wife. Suddenly, in the middle of it, before the final blessing, the soldier who’d promised to take pictures up and left because he had to go get paid. He left the camera in the pew. With no pictures on the film.
So, I barely made it to my own wedding, I was thoroughly confused as to why Marianne was there and not at the house, and I was physically depleted. I was still hungry, too. Maybe I was lucky there were no pictures. Maybe I should have paid more attention to these apparent impediments. Or maybe the fact that they were overcome is just as important to my life story.
Before we were married, the guesthouse assigned me to a room with a double bed. After our marriage we were assigned to a room with twin beds. Go figger. Less than a week after our wedding, my husband went off to Korea and the first thirteen months of our life together was spent apart. A not-so-good omen, I suppose.
Maybe all this disarray was a portent of the dissolution, a portent of the freedom of losing all that I held dear, a portent of the freedom of having nothing left to lose, that was to come at the statistically significant seven years. I suppose being together only three of those seven years had something to do with that. But how could I know how things would work out? How could I know?
But such freedom can be a wonderful thing once you get past the initial anguish. Without that forced freedom then, I wouldn’t be where I am now, with whom I am, and I’m glad I am. How could I know?