Married at Fourteen
A True Story
Lucille Lang Day
Lucille was what we called a "heller." She raised hell when she was a kid, then was married at fourteen, had baby at fifteen, got divorced at sixteen, got remarried (to the same guy) at seventeen, separated at eighteen. That's a pretty full mess of pottage.
And her journey is messy, chaotic ... and pretty funny. In junior high she draws pictures of tombstones "bearing the names of my teachers." One of the boys in school calls her a "whore," so she slugs him in the puss. The principal tells her that she invites those comments "by wearing your hair too long and your skirt too short." She says "bullshit" and gets suspended.
She falls in love with Mark (who will become her first --- and second --- husband) and when they have sex, he says, "You're not a virgin," and she lies: "I was raped." He says, "Did you call the police?" and she says, "No, I was afraid." Then she says, "Lying made my face flush, but I knew Mark couldn't see in the dark."
When they get married in Reno, she fourteen, he seventeen, she compares the two of them to Anthony and Cleopatra, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps the latter would be the most suitable, for Mark reveals himself as quite the boozer and, on occasion, even blackens her eye.
Shortly after the wedding, she tells her mother than "someday I wanted to write about getting married at fourteen, to let the world know that teen love is lasting and real." She is a believer in togetherness. For instance, she wants to go with Mark when he drinks beer in the mornings but he says no. "Mark, the boy chauvinist, said my place was in the home."
After Mark there comes an array of young men who may turn blurry in the reader's mind: there are Rocky and Marty and Bill and Ken and Bob (who calls her "Grace Dingleberry;" which she doesn't seem to mind although she may not know what the word meant to us back in the 50s.) She also gets drunk and does drugs and has sex and gets nervous twitches.
One of the doctors from the hospital she visits for her twitches invites her out but he is four inches shorter than her and she doesn't like short men. "God had given me a normal-sized woman's body attached to the legs and neck of a giraffe," she reveals.
She decides she is going nuts, and decides that is her mother's fault (Mom, rather strange herself, figures prominently in Married at Fourteen.) Lucille recalls the first time she went out to dinner with the kids across the street there in Piedmont: she was five years old, and "they made fun of me for chewing with my mouth open and couldn't stop giggling when I sniffed a piece of bread."
Mrs. Mickens said, "Don't make fun of Lucille. She just hasn't been taught her manners. All animals chew with their mouths open and smell their food. Haven't you ever watched a dog eat?" Thanks Mom [she thinks] for dressing me like a doll and letting me eat like a dog.
Two-thirds of the way through the book Lucille falls in love with Gabe, a Famous Writer. He's fifty-three years old, she's twenty-five or so. She trails after him for about fifty pages, but he isn't interested in marriage or in love. At this point, Marriage at Fourteen starts to droop like a three-day-old party balloon. She gives up on Gabe, and the book turns into an extended exegesis on her family: grandparents, mother, father, aunts and uncles, getting married, growing up, having babies, having problems.
They aren't very interesting; at least, Lucille doesn't make them interesting, so the reader is forced to dawdle through page after page of boring lives of boring people doing boring things. No black eyes or drunken parties with Hell's Angels or teacher's names on tombstones. In fact, the book at this point has gone to pot, and not in the fun sense of the word.
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Lucille is at her best when she is, if you will pardon the Biblical expression, "kicking against the pricks." Her tedious and slovenly husband Ben makes her want to scream (makes the reader want to scream, too) as does, ultimately, Gabe who is walking a delicate line: he's not about to give up on his passionate weekends with one who is, after all, young and very, very lovely. But he's not interested in getting hitched again either.
When she finally takes up with sweet Richard we cheer, not because she is getting it at last, but because, at last, we are getting very close to the final pages of the book. A clever editor would have boiled down the last 100 - 150 pages to a dozen or so, and we could have left Lucille with a cheer rather than a raspberry.
Still, Married does have its moments. Her brief flirtations with madness and suicide are nicely written, if you are into madness and suicide. Her trip on mescaline is good zonked-out writing: "The needles were various shades of green, lighter at the tips of branches. Sunlight played on them, forming flittery designs and erupting in little showers of light, as thought each branch were tipped with a sparkler. The trunks rippled like multicolored water --- red, purple, brown, blue, green. Knots on the trunks turned into roses that bloomed as I watched."
We reached the buffalo herd just beyond Spreckles Lake. They were stunning horned and bearded creatures with elegant brown-orange coats on their backs and darker fur on their bellies. As I watched, their coats changed to red and yellow, and they grew to the size of dinosaurs, then shrunk to the size of cows.
If she had only taken a few more trips on mescaline as she was blowing it with Gabe or getting to know Richard, she might have saved these last pages. But, alas, no. She's been brainwashed by school, reports that she would not do mescaline anymore because "You couldn't get any work done." What has happened to our little heller? American education has stolen her away from us forever. More's the pity.--- Lolita Lark