Almost Widowed

The happy couple is looking at each other
The happy couple is looking at each other

The first time I got married, it was 1971. I was in junior college and I hated it.
I didn't even apply to a four-year college because I didn't care. All of my friends were going to UC campuses and my parents had saved for me to go to college. My aunt and sister had gone to just wasn't in me.

I did not find school to be a learning experience, but rather a corral for the young. I'm young, why do homework? It wasn't until I was 33 and wanted to go to cooking school that I found passion for learning. Cooking kept me out of jail. While others needed socialization or philosophy or life learning, I only needed to know the secrets to a perfect bernaise. I'm simple in the head.

My mother invited 400 of her closest friends to my wedding, my father reserved his club, (a beautiful old mansion in my hometown) and mailed fancy, expensive ecru wedding invitations. The invitations also included stamped enclosure cards, steak or chicken entree options, and a piece of silky see-through paper that I never did know the purpose of. I promised my mother I would shave under my arms and maybe, maybe my legs. And yes, get a manicure.

I was a semi-hippie. I met Janis Joplin, knew Bill Graham, wore ugly sandals, but still loved luxuries. Marin County princesses die hard, even during the societal revolution.

We went to Saks Fifth Avenue in Union Square to shop for THE dress. Of course we did. My mother was raised poor and both of my sisters eloped. This wedding was her moment. Her parents killed her pet rooster during the depression, and served it. I think his name was Pepe. She needed beauty. Handmade lace, an ecru veil and a huge train were in order.

I did not care. I loved my mother, deeply. I understood her. Sometimes as tastefully as she could, she showed off. "There is no such thing as vulgar when it comes to the size of a diamond."

Fine. I would look like an ecru meringue for a day.

My groom was handsome. I loved him more than bacon. He was the college boyfriend, after my high school dream boyfriend left. Looking back, we were just too fucking young to get married. But we held love in buckets. Our life would be a beautiful dream. Our first home really was a dream. We ordered Harvest Gold appliances and matching shag carpet. It's almost impossible not to be jealous, even now.

The dream choked to death after seven years. We got divorced. It hurt. So much. The appliances were still under the premium warranty program.

I lived for more than a decade as a single woman. I built my own life. Then, a second marriage. New dreams. Husband number two and I will celebrate our shiny, silver anniversary next year. It has been what I wanted the first time. I just had to grow up to get there and respect it.

I have a sister who has always been my angel. Always. Pretty, sensitive and so very kind. She left the first message, "Neesey, call me. I don't want to leave this on your voicemail." (Remember, we are Italians, we like to build the drama. It's operatic, really.)

"Honey, Randy died." I had no idea who she was talking about. Then she said, "Randy, Randy Kline died." Crap. My first husband. He had a heart attack in his car, on the way to Oregon where he volunteered his time as a dentist on an Indian reservation. Crap. I have to look at the old dream.

I was fine all day. I did my work. I did my job. I ran my business. I pushed my life forward. At about four in the afternoon, I emailed my original bridesmaids and my dear friend that caught my wedding bouquet and said, "I'm almost widowed." Then I cried.

I felt weird and sad and my darling girlfriends sent me all the right messages. "Of course you're sad, you grew-up together.'' "He was your husband, how could you not be sad?" And unexpected kindness came from hometown people. The world did not seem so very big or my past so far away.

The nicest moment was when Randy's sister, Becky, responded to an email to tell me how lovely it was to hear from me and said that she often told her kids what I taught her. "Denise, my first sister-in-law, made this delicious chicken dish. She called it, Almost Chicken Divine."

Denise Vivaldo is the author of eight cookbooks, all available on Amazon.