To Kill an Ego
This was my first live storytelling experience at The Moth. The theme was divorce. Hilarity, insecurity, and awkwardness ensue.
When I was a little girl growing up in Kentucky, I always imagined that I would meet the man of my dreams and get married by the time I was the ripe old age of 22. Ahh, the naivete of youth.
By the time high school rolled around, I’d met the man I was going to marry: Jake Ryan, from Sixteen Candles. It didn’t work out.
After a breakup with my college boyfriend, I made myself a promise: I would never EVER, under any circumstances, get divorced. Divorce was for quitters.
That promise was a big deal to me. Because divorce isn’t just part of my family tree; my family is a veritable divorce orchard.
My grandmother married the same man — my grandfather — five different times. They got married so many times that after the third marriage, they had to tie the knot in Indiana because in the state of Kentucky, you couldn’t legally marry the same person more than three times. My grandmother also had one starter marriage before my grandfather, so she was married a total of six times.
My mother’s name was Wanda and she got married twice, the first time to my dad, which didn’t last, and the second time to my stepfather, which did.
My dad’s second marriage was, believe it or not, to another woman named Wanda — points for consistency, Dad — and she was a real-life, speak-in-tongues, snake-handling Pentecostal. It didn’t work out. He remarried again and eventually divorced again.
All told, including my stepfather’s previous marriage, there were 13 marriages and 10 divorces in my family — and that’s just counting all my parents and the maternal side of my family.
It was that history that informed a somewhat terrifying and incredibly illuminating experience at a bar in San Francisco not long after I — wait for it — got divorced. Yep, it happened.
We’ll start with the terrifying part: a man talked to me. I know that shouldn’t be scary but I had oversimplified things in my post-divorce mind. My addled, post-divorce brain could only understand a perceived shortcut: Conversation led to failure, so back the truck up, sir, and please stop talking to me. Not interested.
What if I got married and then got divorced again? What if I did it five times, like my grandmother, or what if I did it SIX times and beat her divorce record?
I was worried that divorce was in my DNA.
It’s worth noting that the man who talked to me in the bar that night was not a shade under 75. Since I was 32 at the time, I quickly deduced that the 40-plus years between us would not lead to a love connection. I DID decide that he would be a nice safe choice to practice my conversation and flirting skills on as I re-entered the dating world.
And what he said to me — the gateway to terror if you will —was this: anyone ever tell you you look like a celebrity?
Now, there’s really no way you can win when you answer this question. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
But now that I was living in a world where I was basically flirting with my grandfather as practice, I decided to go ALL IN. I smiled. I flipped my hair. And then I threw out a list of celebrities that I knew I looked absolutely nothing like.
Angelina Jolie? I asked, smiling coyly.
Audrey Hepburn? Katherine Hepburn? (Just thought I’d try some people from his era.)
Was it really that funny and far-fetched, old man?
I paused and noticed that he looked frustrated. “It’ll come to me, he said, shaking his head. You look like someone, but right now, I’m not sure who you are.”
Oh, man. Isn’t it humbling when random people in bars nail your life problems?
He wasn’t sure who I was. And neither was I. Because this was NOT the life I’d predicted for myself. Not the one I’d mapped out. Nowhere close to what I’d signed up for. I was raised The Southern Way: Life included a husband, 2.5 children, a house, a dog, and some sort of transportation big enough to hold everyone.
Now that my life included none of that — with no promise of it in sight — who was I?
I knew that I should probably just walk away, but I couldn’t, because, as pathetic as it sounds, I really wanted to know how other people saw me. I needed to hear what this elderly barfly thought of me.
And right about then, it came to him.
“I’ve got it!” he screamed, slamming his hand to the bar in excitement.
I leaned forward, anxious to hear what celebrity I looked like.
“Gregory Peck! You look exactly like Gregory Peck!”
Definitely not where I thought this was going.
“Gregory Peck?” I screamed at him.
“GREGORY PECK? As in Atticus Finch Gregory Peck?”
He could tell I was not at all happy about the comparison he’d made and he tried to defend it.
“Gregory Peck has such a good, honest face and so do you. Who wouldn’t want to look like Gregory Peck?”
I mean, he had a point. Who could deny the stopping power of a face who’d fought against racism and named his daughter Scout, even if only in fiction?
I seethed for a few minutes (or a few years, depending on which of my friends tells the story). But eventually I let it go because he’d reminded me of something. Something that both my mom and my grandmother had drilled into my head from as early as I could remember: being a good and honest person is everything. Of course, being a good and honest person that looks like Julia Roberts would be even better, but okay.
I liked the way he saw me. Honest and good … I could work with that in this new post-divorce life.
And that was the day that a septuagenarian and Gregory Peck helped me get my groove back.