It appears to have become, by default, 90’s week here at A Free Man. The thing is, that I don’t really like getting too deep into really personal things on this site. As Jamie correctly noted the other day, I present a persona on this site – one that I’m comfortable with people seeing, one that’s often a smudgy reflection of reality at best (as Dr. O’C is occasionally kind enough to point out). I don’t really like to throw things out on the internets that are too personal or too sensitive. But, I like to keep the customer satisfied and as this story seems to fit in this week of self-indulgent retrospection, without further prelude here is the story of my brief ‘marriage’.

Her name was Beth, not Elizabeth, Beth. I don’t remember where I met her, I’ve blocked most of it out over time. It was most likely one of the Capitol Hill coffee shops that I lurked around smoking and reading. We would have talked frantically and excitedly, the way that you do when you meet a common spirit in a world full of strangers. We would have talked about music, the common denominator for most of the people that had emigrated west to Seattle in the early nineties. She had fled the stifling Western suburbs of Chicago (Wayne and Garth country) to find out what was happening in  Seatown. She was tall, with auburn hair a tone so deep that it could only have come from a bottle. She was pale and carried the fierce features of her Germanic ancestors. She wasn’t classically beautiful, but carried herself with a straight backed arrogance that I found irresistibly attractive. She was a cat person and like her feline friends was fickle, cold and ultimately disloyal.

The dates sort of run together, but I’m pretty sure we first met in the late summer of 1993, a time that Seattle still held the promise of the life I was looking for.  Our courtship was intense and fast paced, once we determined our compatibility we went for it and it slipped out of control. We moved in together early in 1994, to a woody top floor apartment on the west side of Capitol Hill. The place had an absolutely stunning view of the city skyline and Elliot Bay to the west and on clear days, Mount Rainier to the south. We painted the place in dark, funky colors and papered the walls with show posters and photos. To all appearances it was a happy hipster home.

We both liked music and we both liked to get wild, beyond that there wasn’t much there. We were more partners in crime than lovers. We fed off of each others self-destructive impulses and haunted the clubs of Seattle all through that year. I only have a couple of fond memories, again likely through intentional amnesia, but I remember the fights. Beth fought like a cat as well, screeching and nasty and claws extended. She liked to throw things. I had been taught that you never hit a woman so I took a lot of blunt objects to the head. Thank god for narcotics – they numb the pain of a marble bookend to the temple.

I don’t know why we decided to get married. In hindsight, I think that it was because – despite my rebellious, bohemian lifestyle – I wanted the Blue Sky dream that my parents generation had. I wanted a house and a pretty wife and a couple of pretty kids. I had never had much success with women and I figured that I better take the opportunity that presented itself. So one day in the summer of ’94 I asked and she – and you’d have to ask her why – accepted.

The only time that I remember being happy with Beth was in the wedding preparations. She took to wedding planning like a cat to a bucket full of mice. She was going to design a wedding appropriate to our ‘alternative’ lifestyle. We didn’t have a ton of money and her parents were unwilling or incapable of paying for the wedding, so my parents offered to help us out. Beth spent my parents money with a kind of frightening verve, nothing but the finest for her wedding.

Despite offering to pony up for the bill,  my parents, particularly my Mom, were not exactly thrilled about the impending nuptials. My Mom told me that, at 22, I was too young to get married. I reminded her that she was married at 21. She tried, and failed, to convince me that she at 21 was far more prepared for marriage than I was at 22. In hindsight she was absolutely right, but at the time I didn’t hear her.

The day came, a rare cool and bright day in October. The wedding itself went off without a hitch and to Beth’s credit it was a beautiful day. We headed to Mexico for the honeymoon – Guadalajara and the Pacific coast. And for that week, I really thought it was going to work. For that week, lazing in the tropics, it seemed as if we had made the right decision. As we flew back into to Sea-Tac, into the gloomy Pacific Northwest autumn, I had high hopes for a life together.

And then a few months later it was over. She came in from work one day and told me she didn’t want to be married, had made a mistake. I was stunned. Surely it was far too soon to make that choice. Surely this was something that we could work out. Surely. But her mind was made up and she had already made arrangements to leave and after a couple of hours of angry tears she was gone.

But not really gone. Seattle at the time was more a collection of small towns than a city proper. We were forever running into each other at clubs and coffee shops and parties. We ran with the same crowd. I asked her to pay back my parents for the wedding – she wouldn’t. I asked her to return the wedding gifts that we received from friends and family – she wouldn’t. I found out that she had been sleeping with a ‘friend’ for quite some time and that affair may have been what helped her make up her mind to leave. Every time that I saw her for the next few months I got angrier and angrier and began to feel something that up until that point I had never experienced – hatred.

I hated her in a way that I had never hated a person before or since. I hated her for humiliating me, for tearing apart my fantasy life. I hated her for cuckolding me. I hated her for making me incapable of trusting women. I hated her for driving me to pursue notches on my bedpost for a decade to prove that I was a real man. I hated her for years and years. There are things still that I do not like because of her – the name Beth, marriage, The Posies, Chicago, Germans, cats.

But somewhere along the way, I started to get over it.  I started to move on. I forgave her (in absentia) and forgave myself. I learned how to trust women again and I began to put the whole episode behind me. These days I treat it as a dinner party anecdote (don’t you wish you could come to one of my dinner parties) or a cautionary tale to young lovebirds (I’m talking to you SSG). In a lot of ways now, I’m grateful to Beth. Life’s a tangled, fragile web and the decisions that you make – or those that are made for you – can change the path of your life in ways that you can’t predict at the time.  If she hadn’t left so soon, our disastrous marriage may have made both of us miserable even longer. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I almost certainly wouldn’t have these two people in my life. Beth did me a favor and for that, I owe her one.

One more thing, I love irony. Every now and again I Google past acquaintances that I’ve lost touch with to see what they’re up to these days. About a year ago, I Googled Beth and I’m almost certain that she’s a – wait for it – divorce attorney in her old home town of Chicago. I couldn’t make it up better than that.  I’m fairly certain she’d be pretty good at it.

This has been surprisingly difficult to write and thus, this is the last of these kind of posts for a while, folks. Back to Boy Z photos and minutiae for a while.


Two albums got me through this period: Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine” for the hate and Sugar’s “Copper Blue”  for the redemption. I rarely listen to the former any more, but the latter still comes up on my iPod now and again. Here is a track from each that sort of gives an idea of where I was at the time. Both are excellent albums and available from Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle.

Image credits:

Lazlo Moholy Nagy – “The Broken Marriage” (1925)


Capitol Hill

icon for podpress  Nine Inch Nails - "That's What I Get": Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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