After camping out at Big Sur and a couple of other places along the coast, our friends decided to move on. Paul had just gotten a small inheritance from his grandmother who had recently died, so we had enough for a security deposit and rent on our own place. The first place we rented was a rather large one-bedroom apartment in an apartment complex. There was a pool table in the rec room, which was cool, but we had no furniture at all. We bought a mattress, and my parents bought us a television – a recurring theme later on. Then, we went dumpster diving and shopping at thrift stores to find some other items to get us by. Now that we were settled, or so we thought, it was time to plan our wedding. We asked the friends we’d camped with from back home to be our witnesses since they were still on the west coast, and they happily agreed. We found a ring at a pawn shop and a tails coat at a St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop. Paul insisted on buying me a new dress to get married in, so we went to a hippie clothing store for that. We found a non-denominational minister through Social Services. He’d been the prison preacher, was retiring soon and, at 85, was thrilled to be performing his first wedding ever. I’m not sure he realized at the time just what he was getting himself into. Because we had been living together for over a year, the state of California, under a special provision, waived the blood test and just issued the license immediately.
We planned to get married April 5th, 1975 on the beach in Santa Cruz, California. Paul picked the spot because it was where the San Lorenzo River met the Monterey Bay and the Monterey Bay met the Pacific Ocean. He was all about symbolism and finding meaning in everything. Also, because of symbolism, he wanted a sunrise wedding but realized that we couldn’t actually see the sunrise on the ocean at the west coast, and sunset had the wrong symbolism. He quickly decided that morning was still a good time, though not too early, because it would give us the whole rest of the day to celebrate. The reception was planned for our favorite nude beach, Bonnie Dune. Now that we’d both gotten over our modesty, we went to these nude beaches often. I decided to change my name and take Paul’s last name because of all the trauma I’d experienced when I lived at home. I had made the decision early on to someday change my name, and his was a good opportunity and a good name. Paul was pleased. Cavanaugh has now been my name much longer than my original one.
It was pouring rain when we woke up the morning of the wedding. Our commune friends, including Paul’s sister Sage, had arrived the night before and crashed in the living room. Needless to say, we’d all stayed up way too late partying and prepping food for the reception. We also had to regroup a bit since our original witnesses had traveled on to parts unknown and weren’t going to show up. So, we asked Sage and another friend to stand in for them. Paul wasn’t thrown by any of it, and certainly not by the rain. “Just have faith,” he said as he sat on the living room floor patching his wedding blue jeans. He also told that to the minister when he called to ask if we were cancelling or moving the ceremony.
We all piled into the cars in the rain, everyone shaking their heads with worry, but the rain stopped the minute we pulled up to the site. Reverend Whalen was amazed at Paul’s faith and kept mentioning it throughout the ceremony, though he was kind of incredulous when he realized that we had to get to our perfect wedding spot by walking through the amusement park. He made jokes about marrying us on the roller coaster, which I would have liked but, when we got to the gates, they were locked. The only other way to get to the site was to walk down the railroad tracks then slide down the wet sand dune. We had a person on each side of Reverend Whalen and his wife, holding on to their upper arms and sliding them right down. They both must have thought we were crazy but seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.
I remember very little about the actual wedding ceremony itself, just little bits and pieces. We had a friend playing Bach on her flute as the minister kind of droned on and on about God and family. I barely even heard him with the sound of my own thoughts so loud in my head. What was I thinking? I didn’t even believe in marriage and wasn’t religious. I was almost anti-religion. Why was I even here doing this? Once again, I was trying to please everyone else. I was 21 years old, five months pregnant and wondering who the hell I was and what was in store for me up ahead. My family had been horrified not only by the fact that I was pregnant, but that I didn’t plan to get married. My attitude at the time was, “Oh, well. Too bad.” They had threatened to disown me, which was fine with me. Paul however decided that our child needed grandparents and insisted on marrying me. So now what? I wish we had known enough to write our own vows. At least I insisted on taking out the obey part in the traditional vows. I wasn’t interested in obeying anyone anymore. Soon I would be a married woman with a new name. The new name at least was a plus. I sure wish I could have just taken the name without getting married, though. This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, wasn’t it? That’s what I was raised to believe. And, I did love Paul, but I also knew how hard he was to live with. We argued all the time. But my parents argued all the time and so did his. I remember thinking that probably every couple did that. I guess I thought I could change him, help him get over all of that early stuff that ripped him apart. Maybe he could help me get over my early stuff, too. We’d be raising a family together. Maybe we could be happy, if we didn’t kill each other first. As Reverend Whalen was wrapping it up and pronouncing us man and wife, I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what have I done?” The minister had consistently mispronounced Paul’s last name throughout all of the preparations. As he pronounced us married, he mispronounced it again despite all of our coaching. As soon as the ceremony ended, the clouds opened up and we drove back to our apartment in the pouring rain to have our reception at home. Some new friends lent us their stereo for the night for our “honeymoon.”
The next day, life went back to normal with Paul and I looking for work. We had the biggest fight of our lives that day as the reality of what we’d done finally hit us both. As we argued, a woman came up and asked if we would join their protest demanding better treatment of homecare workers. It not only brought us out of our distress but started us on the road to activism as we both joined the march, hand-in-hand with each other and shoulder-to-shoulder with the workers. We managed to stay together for a total of 20 years.
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