I always found it strange my parents have been happily married for 36 years and waited 10 years to have me.
All my life, I thought my dad was my mom’s first and only husband, until I discovered that was not the case.
It turns out my dad is my mom’s second husband, and my whole life now feels like a lie. It’s like the moment in "The Sixth Sense" when you discover Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time.
Looking back, there were clues -- like when you date someone you know is probably cheating on you, but you tell yourself lies:
Oh, he’s not ignoring me, he just hasn’t had reception… for three days.
I always found it suspicious my high-maintenance mother didn’t have a big wedding, but I told myself she just didn’t feel like it.
My mom is a larger-than-life person, which is funny because she’s 5' 2". “Simple,” is not a word in her vocabulary. My fourth birthday probably had the budget of a small wedding.
There was a theme ("The Wizard of Oz") with a matching cake, invites and even a hired cast of miserable, sweaty actors to help me and my 40 closest friends and family reenact my favorite movie at the time.
I have no memory of this, of course, but there are pictures. Lots and lots of pictures my mom will rub in my face whenever I’m acting ungrateful.
But these lavish birthday parties were never about me: My mom loves being the center of attention.
So growing up, my birthdays were less about the day I was born and more about the day SHE gave birth to me, which is hard for me to accept since I’m an only child and I naturally also enjoy being the center of attention.
So I found it odd when I saw pictures of Mommy Dearest’s modest wedding to my father. She wore a cream-colored, knee-length dress with a matching blazer.
I should’ve known then. Cream is such a second wedding color.
When I asked my parents what their song was, my dad sent me a Youtube link to “popular love songs in the 70s” and encouraged me to “pick one.”
I was shocked my parents didn’t have a wedding song to signify their 36 years of marital bliss. I, on the other hand, have songs with guys I’ve dated for 36 days, whether they realize it or not.
The other clue my whole childhood was a lie was when I was 12 years old at my aunt’s house and my cousin blurted out, “Hey Aunt Julie we have your wedding dress in the garage!”
My mom (Julie, or “Jules” which I call her despite her requests not to) quickly responded that it was her cousin Marie-Elena’s.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was playing Super Mario and really couldn’t be bothered.
Until recently I found out it was her wedding dress.
She told me last time I was home, casually in the midst of conversation. She said the words “first marriage” without blinking, like someone would tell you there’s lettuce in your teeth.
When I questioned her, my mom finally decided now, with me at the crisp age of 27 (an age when many artists die), was the appropriate time to tell me the truth.
A truth named Eric… my could’ve-been father.
I found this funny considering the only ex of my mom’s I knew of was her first love, Sebastian. And finally I understood why I never had that "The Little Mermaid" birthday party I always wanted.
I knew my mom broke up her engagement with Sebastian after she discovered he was cheating on her and then went to go find herself.
Today in your 20s when you’re looking to discover yourself, you might do something drastic like audition for "The Bachelor," venture to Thailand and pose with a sedated tiger or get a tattoo that really speaks to you at the time only to regret it months later, like my John Mayer tat (but that’s another story).
My mom did the equivalent of that in the 60s: She applied to be a flight attendant.
I knew about my mom’s glory days as a flight attendant.
Anytime we went on a plane, saw a plane, or someone even simply mentioned any form of travel, my mom would boast about the time they chose her, a 5’2” woman from Brooklyn, over all the other leggy blondes from Texas.
And they cut her long, flowing hippie, jet-black hair into a Vidal Sassoon bob.
She deems herself some sort of pioneer for breaking American Airline’s beauty standards as their token short person with black hair.
But my mom never told me about Eric. The blonde hair, blue-eyed first class passenger she met on a red eye flight to Los Angeles.
She told me,
From money, but he worked in leather.
Which apparently was a socially acceptable career choice in the 60s? Unclear.
They dated for five weeks, and he asked her to marry him. They had the dream wedding I always imagined my mother having.
She wore a big white dress (as she was half a virgin), they got married at a church in Brooklyn (before it was cool) and had a reception at Tavern on the Green.
But no bridesmaids – why should my mom even pretend to share the spotlight? And they had a song: “Moon River” from "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" because my mom thinks she’s Holly Golightly.
The happy couple moved to an apartment in Brooklyn. Then my mom found out Eric was cheating on her.
Eric blamed the city; my sweet and trusting mom believed him and they agreed to start over in Cape Cod.
They moved to Cape Cod and Eric cheated on her again but somehow convinced my mother to take him back. She did. And then she walked in on him and… a couple.
You know what they say. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice with a threesome I wasn’t invited to? BYEEEEE Felicia.
So my mom got a giant U-Haul truck, filled it with all her things and drove from Cape Cod to Brooklyn. Years later, she met my dad and they lived happily ever after, blah blah.
So I guess this is why it took my mom 27 years to tell me about her first marriage -- because it wasn’t really a marriage, it was just a wedding.
Which now gets me thinking about marriage and weddings. There’s a difference. My parents have a marriage.
A long and loving trusted bond. They still crack each other up, go for longs walks on the beach and blast Sinatra as they whip up some recipe they read about in the New York Times.
Sure, it didn’t happen until later in their lives, but look how happy they are. Isn’t true love worth the wait?
Or maybe that’s something I tell myself as I lament over the fact that the last guy I was seeing blamed “not being in a good place” on why he couldn’t be my boyfriend. Apparently this "not good place" came with hickeys from some other person.
Guess I wasn’t high school enough. But then I think about those elaborate weddings, or how Kobe Bryant cheated on his wife, then just got her that insane ring and everything was fine!
Does money make a marriage or does love? And if you have to choose, which would you pick? Your dream wedding or your dream marriage?
I’ll take the madly in love after 36 years over the Vera Wang dress any day.
As for my lying mother: I'm looking forward to my 47th birthday when I find out I have a sibling.