My Journey to Jesus – Getting Married

by | Nov 6, 2022 |

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I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked why I ever dated Beth, and the truth is that of everything that happened in my first marriage, the original sin was mine. I was a heartbroken young man and truth be told, one of the primary things that attracted me to Beth was that she was absolutely crazy about me, and I was somewhat ambivalent toward her. I made what seemed like a rational choice at the time: it was better to be loved than to be in love, and I knew Beth could never hurt me the way Loretta had.

I actually told Beth, as it became evident she wanted a serious relationship, that I had absolutely nothing emotionally to offer her, and that if she got involved with me, she would get hurt. She said she would take her chances.

The age difference was a bit of a sin too – I was four years older than she was. That gave me more than a moment of hesitation, but Beth was aggressive and persistent. I actually had a dry spell in dating before I started dating her, and I found out later it was because she’d told every girl at Mcdonald’s (where we both worked) that if they dated me, she’d kick their ass.

I want to be clear, too, that Beth was an attractive girl. She was a little overweight, but also very pretty, and though she was four years younger than me, she was far more experienced than I was – enough so that her mother had her on birth control to prevent her from getting pregnant.

I might not have felt I would ever be in love with Beth, but I was attracted to her, and our relationship was very physical. Beth’s parents were totally on board as well, in spite of the age difference. I was treated like a son right out of the gate, and though Beth’s father might have been upset had he known that Beth and I were sexually active, Beth’s mother was permissive.

There was a place in Kalamazoo called Oasis Hot Tubs where you could rent a hot tub for an hour or two. It was one of Beth and my favorite places to hang out, and one time after we’d been together for maybe a year her father asked us why we never brought bathing suits. Before we could answer, her mother covered for us – she said they had suits there we could rent.

I also want to be clear that though I was not in love with Beth, I did love her. I suppose it was the sort of love one gets in an arranged marriage over time – and we had some very happy years together. 

Beth got picked on a little at school, and she really enjoyed bringing a Marine in his Dress Blues to prom. She even had me in one of her favorite Senior Photos, though ironically I was wearing a sweater I’d received as a birthday present from Julie while on leave after Boot Camp.

I’m not a psychologist so I can’t really diagnose Beth, but in retrospect I think she had an adult-onset borderline personality disorder. There were likely symptoms of this when we first got together, but I think it got worse and worse over the course of our marriage, and I think she got it under control over the years after our divorce.

For the first four years she was a Marine’s girlfriend, and as a reservist she was able to be a Marine’s girlfriend while also being very much a civilian – I was gone one weekend a month, and for two weeks in the summer. The rest of the time I was home.

I did not introduce her to my parents. After Loretta, I did not introduce any girlfriends to my parents. When I went away for my two weeks of training one summer, Beth brought blueberries and introduced herself to my parents behind my back. I could not deny that she was my girlfriend – I had a red Chevy S-10 pickup truck that I’d lent her while I was away and she drove it to deliver the blueberries.

I did not live with my parents for very long after my training time ended. I got a small one-bedroom apartment just off Drake Road.

Beth, her brother, and her father used to get into terrible shouting matches with one another. These fights were so bad that it was painful to be in the house when they occurred, and they seemed to come out of the blue with no rhyme or reason. I don’t think they even had real causes. Beth’s father was a very loving and generous man when he was in a good mood, but I always thought that his reward/punishment model was based more on his mood than on anything his children could control. When he was happy, it was generally a happy household, and when he was in a bad mood he took it out on his children.

I’d imagine this was probably true for his father as well, and I have no doubt that Beth’s issues came from being raised in such a household.

I should also add that Beth’s mother is Catholic, and that Beth’s father has in more recent years found God. As I understand it, God has helped him a great deal.

But Beth’s father could be difficult back in the day, and as such it did not take long after I got an apartment for Beth to show up on my doorstep with a suitcase in hand, telling me she could not (or more to the point would not) go home. I knew the environment she lived in so I had a great deal of sympathy for her. And just like that, we lived together.

Not long after Beth moved in – just long enough for me to accept that she was permanent – I decided I wanted a dog. I’d grown up very close to my Aunt Lydia and Uncle Don and they’d always had a dachshund, and though my parents had never allowed us to have a dog growing up, I’d always adored dogs and the apartment allowed them. Beth grew up with a dog (also a dachshund) so it was easy to talk her into getting one. I looked in the classified ads and found puppies being sold for five bucks each in Galesburg, and we drove out to get one.

My experience has been that a dog chooses its owners more so than the owners choose a dog, and I knew which dog I wanted as soon as I saw the litter. They were mutts and one of them looked like he was wearing a mask. We named him ‘Bandit’ and took him home.

Beth was controlling and temperamental, so we fought often, and like her father, whatever the last things you would ever want to say to someone you loved, those were the first things she would say when angry. Beth had to know where I was at all times and would call wherever I was continuously to try to get me to come home. When I wasn’t home, I was usually with John and Tim in the basement of John’s father’s house, and though John’s father used to call us the ‘three musketeers,’ really John’s father was one of us, making us the four musketeers.

We were all computer guys who loved airplanes, but John’s dad only had a Tandy Color Computer 3 and there weren’t any good flight simulators available for it.

John and I had schemed some time earlier – while I was still living with my parents – on how to get his father to get an IBM compatible computer. I’d been hanging out with John late at night at Sweetwater’s Donut Mill (where Tim worked), and I’d recently gotten a couple of games for my brand new Tandy 386 SX 20 MHZ machine, called Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, and Battle of Britain. John’s dad’s favorite airplane was the Spitfire, and he could fly one in Battle of Britain.

I’d actually brought John over to my parents’ house late one night to show him the game. Unbeknownst to me, my father had had John as a student and the two of them did not get along. ‘F for the day,’ my dad would often tell him.

John and I tried to be quiet, but the video game made enough noise to wake my father up and he came out to investigate. “Wally – it’s late at night. You’ll have to tell your friend to go home,” my dad said.

John turned around to see his old teacher and was horrified. He actually screamed.

We brought my computer to John’s dad’s house shortly thereafter, and sure enough, as soon as John’s dad saw he could fly a Spitfire on a computer, he went out and bought a computer.

I also had my political awakening at Sweetwater’s Donut Mill. I’d discovered I was a Republican years earlier, but the first election I participated in was the Presidential Election of 1992, when I voted for H. Ross Perot.

One of Tim’s coworkers worked on Perot’s campaign and we generally talked politics at Sweetwater’s.

We spent countless hours drinking beer (or more accurately Mickey’s Malt Liquor) and playing flight simulators in John’s dad’s basement – with Beth calling regularly to find out where I was.

When Beth and I would fight, sometimes I’d tell her I was done with her and would leave. She’d take the dog (I think she thought I might leave for good if I could have the dog) and eventually I’d always return.

I broke up with her once with the intent of going out with a girl named Lori.

I did not know Lori was attracted to me until she’d worked at McDonald’s for a year or so, but then one day the store manager, Nancy, was giving away pictures of the crew she’d collected and Lori took a picture of me in the grill area. Beth saw her taking the picture and the two of them got into a fight over it.

At some point I broke up with Beth and intended to start dating Lori, but somehow Lori and my schedules did not coincide for the next week and in the meantime Beth was threatening to kill herself, and forcing me to go with her to see a counselor. After six days I was guilted back into the relationship and never got to go out with Lori. 

I got to know Lori well, talking in the break room and just generally working together, and I’ve always thought that had we gone out it would have been a very serious relationship. She was absolutely gorgeous, inside and out, and though I have no idea what happened to her, I hope she’s well.

I’m actually Facebook friends with most of the significant women from my past (some of whom are reading this blog), but I don’t think Lori is on Facebook.

And I, in the meantime, was back with Beth.

When people think of what a Reservist does, they generally lump them in with the National Guard, and the National Guard has a reputation for sitting around drinking beer all weekend, but my time in the Marine Reserves was nothing like that. We showed up at 4:00 PM Friday evening, and the attitude of the permanent personnel (active duty Marines assigned to reserve units) was that since they only had us for a short amount of time, we needed to train really hard when they had us. We typically worked until around 2 or 3 AM, slept until 6, and then started working again. Saturday was a LONG day, working from 6 AM to 2 or 3 the next morning, and then sleeping until 6 AM again, to work until 4:30 PM Sunday. Sunday afternoon, exhausted, we would be released to go home and effectively be civilians again for the rest of the month.

I worked at McDonald’s for a total of six and a half years, and as crazy as it sounds, I liked it. I liked it not just because I was really fast in the grill area, and not just because I dated women from McDonald’s (one girl named Kathy accused me of dating Beth just to finish my collection), but because I knew everyone and it felt like family.

I did not get along with everyone. Some of the managers could be real jerks. But I knew how to deal with jerks. Managers were graded largely based on waste, and when a manager was being a jerk I would wait until rush, and work slowly so that the manager would put me ‘on a system,’ which meant putting up food as fast as I could. I would then just barely keep up with demand (I did not want customers to suffer) until the rush started to slow down – and then, still on a system, I would crank out food as fast as I could, completely burying the manager just as the rush died.

Most of the managers learned not to be jerks to us grill people.

Scott (not the Scott who married Loretta) was a manager I generally got along with, but then one day when I called in sick, for whatever reason he told me if I did not come in to work I did not have a job anymore.

I was pretty upset when Scott told me that. I was a good employee who rarely called in sick, and I’d been working at McDonald’s – either this one or, briefly, one across town – for six and a half years. I told Scott that if that was the case I’d come in, but when I came in I carried all of my uniforms with me, handed them to Scott, and told him to go f himself.

I heard later that Nancy was furious with Scott, that Scott had said I’d be back, and that Nancy had said, “No he won’t.”  Nancy was right. I was 22 by this point, and McDonald’s had served its purpose. It was time to move on.

I really enjoyed my Marine Corps time. My Reserve unit, like McDonald’s, became like a family to me. Our Commanding Officer was Captain Black. The full-time Marines attached to our reserve unit were Staff Sergeant Dunbar and Top Cole (Master Gunnery Sergeant – a rank we called ‘Top’ for short). Captain Black’s wife, a beautiful red-head, was a Staff Sergeant in the unit. I remember Corporal Shepherd (‘Shep’), Lance Corporal (later Corporal) Yordy, PFC Redd – if I think about it long enough I’ll remember a bunch of names. It was 4th Bridge Company, just outside of Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Later a reserve unit in Chicago shut down, and the Marines stationed there ended up coming to us. 4th Bridge Company remained, but we also became the 6th Engineer Support Company, and I became a member of that unit, headed by Major Marmaleo.

We would, a couple of times a year, get liberty Saturday night, and since a lot of the guys were from Chicago (more than two hours away), I took a lot of Marines home with me. They’d bring their sleeping bags and crash at Beth and my apartment, and then in the morning we’d all head back to base (about a half hour away) and resume training.

We’d have Marines everywhere. They’d sleep shoulder to shoulder in the living room, one would sleep in the bathtub, they’d sleep in the kitchen – literally everywhere.

We’d of course have beer. Someone might even pick up whisky or tequila or some other stronger drink.

There was one guy whose name eludes me that peed his rack (bunk) one night during our two week summer training (where in the evening we always had a beer mess). He’d come out to our apartment too, and one morning his sleeping bag was soaking wet from pee. We all noticed it was wet, and the poor guy tried to blame my dog Bandit. In fairness, we noticed the pee partially because Bandit was sniffing it, but Bandit had not peed this guy’s sleeping bag – he’d done that himself, and everyone knew it.

Bandit got drunk on one of these Saturdays. Marines were everywhere and we were all drinking so drinks were everywhere. Bandit was a small dog, but with a lot of people sitting on the floor there were a lot of drinks he could get to, and when people were not paying attention to him or to their drinks, he was apparently drinking from people’s glasses. The poor dog got so drunk he started walking sideways and falling down. I felt terrible for the dog. I don’t know that I can say it was my fault, but he was my dog so it was entirely my responsibility. Bandit was a trooper and he learned his lesson. After that, if you tried to give Bandit beer, he’d take a couple of licks but that was it. He would not drink to excess.

We Marines were not as smart as Bandit. We drank to excess a lot.

We trained once within walking distance of an enlisted club on an  Army base, and by regulation if there was an enlisted club within a certain distance, the unit did not have to supply a beer mess, so in the evening we’d hike over to the club.

You can imagine a bunch of Marines in one corner of an Army enlisted club, with the rest of the club filled with Army soldiers. We were rowdy and when it started getting close to time to leave we began singing the Marine Corps Hymn. Some of the Army guys took offense, and inevitably a fight broke out.

There is a rule in the Marine Corps that if one Marine gets into a fight, every Marine gets into a fight. As such, Marines don’t really get into any trouble when there is a fight. The MPs showed up and arrested everyone, but our CO came to pick us up and we went back to our bivouac site. The next morning the CO asked who started the fight and we blamed the Army guys. Had one of us started the fight, that person would have gotten in trouble, but since none of us did, nobody got in any trouble – we had all done what Marines are expected to do and fought as a group. I learned later that in the Army you could get in a LOT of trouble if the MPs arrested you.

Most summers we trained on a military base somewhere, but one summer we made soccer fields on some landfill somewhere in Indiana. We could not dig on the landfill, so we had to dig adjacent to it and raise the ground on the landfill until each field was perfectly level. One field had to be raised six feet. I was our best Scraper operator so usually I was on the Scraper (a piece of equipment that had a bowl it would fill with dirt, and would then push the dirt out elsewhere), but one day I was on the compactor, compacting a dirt road. 

Major Marmaleo drove out of the training area one morning and saw me on the compactor (I remembered not to salute – Marines don’t salute officers in the field lest some enemy start shooting them). Some time later a corpsman (Navy medic – Marines use Navy medics) saw me and made me put on suntan lotion. In the afternoon Major Marmeleo came back, and when he drove past me he stopped. “Marine,” he called to me, “Come here.”

I got off the compactor and ran over to him.

“Where is Garneau? I thought Garneau was on the Rago,” he said. ‘Rago’ was a company that specialized in making compactors, so sometimes compactors were called ‘Ragos’.

Marine uniforms back in the day did not have names on them. We were expected to know each other well enough not to need name tags.

“I am Garneau, sir,” I replied.

Major Marmeleo started to laugh. The corpsman had made me use so much suntan lotion that all the dust the dirt road had kicked up during the day had stuck to me. I looked like what we called a ‘Dark Green Marine,’ which is what we called African American Marines (all Marines were the same color – green) and he had not recognized me.

My nickname for the rest of that rotation was ‘Rago Man’.

Marines generally wore High and Tight haircuts, which is essentially bald on the sides of the head, and maybe a half inch high on the side of the head. I looked stupid in a High and Tight, so I kept my hair as long as regulations would allow – zero to three, evenly graduated (shaved around the ears and three inches on top, graduated between the two lengths such that there were no hard lines). My normal nickname in the Marine Corps reflected my long hair. When I was not called ‘Garneau,’ I was either called ‘Specoli,’ (I must have looked like a young Sean Penn), or ‘Surfer Dude’. On more than one occasion an NCO measured my hair, threatening to shave me bald if he could find a strand that was out of regulation (more than three inches long).

My reputation in the Marine Corps reflected my hair. I was considered a bit of an outsider or a bit aloof. Most Marines looked fondly at the prospect of war and the prospect to kill that came with war. I did not. I would say that if I was in a position where my duty forced me to kill, I would do so without reservation, but that I hoped never to have to kill anyone. I spent eight years in the military and never had to kill anyone. I have always considered myself lucky in that regard.

Really I think other Marines felt the same way, but we were expected to be ‘gung ho,’ so it was verboten to say you did not want to kill. Our mission was to kill everyone and let God sort them out.

Corporal Yordy came up to me after I’d been in the unit for a year or so and pulled me aside. He’d been promoted to Corporal a couple of months earlier so now he was a non-commissioned officer.

“Garneau,” he said, “we seem to have a problem. We expected Redd to get promoted to Corporal, but he did not make the list. You did.”

I was shocked. I did not expect to get promoted to Corporal. Yordy was apparently also shocked as I was not considered leadership material.

“I need to know,” Yordy continued, “that you are capable of being a non-commissioned officer. You might actually have to lead people. Do you think you can do that if you need to?”

I told him I’d do whatever my duty required and that seemed to satisfy him – not that it mattered. I was on the list and was getting promoted no matter what Yordy thought.

The next month I was Corporal Garneau and ran the gauntlet to earn my blood stripes.

‘Blood Stripes’ is what Marine NCOs call the red line that runs down the side of their Dress Blue trousers. Only non-commissioned officers get the blood stripe, and so when you get promoted to Corporal, all of the non-commissioned officers in the unit line up in two lines that you walk between. Each of the NCOs knees you in the leg as hard as they can, and then at the end of the line you get pinned with your new rank.

The Marines have tons of traditions, some of which are based on one’s Military Occupational Speciality (MOS). As Heavy Equipment Operators, we were engineers, so whenever a new Marine entered our unit we put them through the Engineer Test.

The Engineer Test was a lot of fun. New Marines were brought in one at a time (if there was more than one) and given an axe. The Marine would sit down with the axe and we’d place a quarter on a piece of wood in front of him. We’d let the Marine line up against that quarter until he was pretty sure he could hit it blindfolded. Then we’d take the Marine’s cover (hat) off and blindfold him. He’d lift the axe to try and cut the quarter, but just before he brought the axe down we’d throw his cover on top of the quarter.

I never saw a Marine cut the quarter, but I saw a lot of cut covers.

A Marine cutting his cover was a bigger thing than it sounds like. Marines take a good deal of pride in their appearance, so the uniform is always crisp. We took a great deal of time molding and starching our covers to make them sharp, and if something happens to your cover you have to start all over again, from scratch.

When I took the Engineer Test I kind of guessed what the deal was and intentionally missed, but most Marines cut their cover pretty badly and had to wear it like that for the rest of the day.

We had two major parties a year. One was the Marine Corps Birthday, and the other was Mess Night.

Beth absolutely loved the Marine Corps Birthday. I’d wear my dress blues and she’d dress accordingly. We’d go hang out with all the other Marines and their wives or girlfriends. As Marines, we’d of course drink excessively (Beth did not drink – she was my driver).

These were good years for Beth and I. She loved going to the Marine Corps Birthday and I loved taking her. She was a very pretty girl and I felt like I was showing her off. Beth, for her part, absolutely adored being with a Marine.

Sergeant Havirillo would go around, table to table, looking for someone to head butt. He was the biggest Marine in the units (4th Bridge Company and the 6th Engineer Support Company – we were technically two units but we acted as one) and would look for anyone willing to head butt him.

Nobody wanted to head butt Sergeant Havirillo. He must have been close to seven feet tall and as big as an oak tree. I’d learned, growing up, to hate being intimidated, and for whatever reason the prospect of head butting Sergeant Havirillo appealed to me. The first year, nobody paid attention to Sergeant Havirillo asking people to head butt him as nobody was willing to do so, but suddenly I head butted him.

Actually I just stood there and took the blow. But I took it and was unaffected by it when the expectation was that Sergeant Havirillo would knock me unconscious.

Sergeant Havirillo was impressed and we became pretty good friends, but the higher-ups immediately closed the head butting, and each year after that Sergeant Havirillo and I would have to head-butt early in the evening before the higher-ups declared head butting to be off limits.

Nobody was more horrified about the head butting than Beth, who was right there watching the whole thing. But I think in all honesty she was also turned on by it.

Mess Night was another big party, but one that only involved Marines. It was a scripted and somewhat elaborate event full of pomp, tradition, food, and alcohol, the traditions dating back to the knights of the Middle Ages. Mess night was to celebrate being warriors, and to remind ourselves to be true to the warrior code of chivalry and honor.

Chivalry may no longer be in vogue, but I will be chivalrous for the rest of my life.

Beth’s best friend was Stephanie. Stephanie was engaged to an abusive fiance and would sometimes stay with us, intending to leave him. Steph (as we called her) eventually did leave him but it took years, and in the meantime she learned to hang out with us on the one or two days a year that I’d have a bunch of Marines over. There was one Marine in particular she was fond of, though to my knowledge she never dated any of them. Our home was simply a safe place for her. If her fiance came over to try and talk to her, I’d tell him to leave.

Stephanie and Beth were thick as thieves. They worked together at nursing homes and were essentially inseparable. 

I almost left Beth a second time, after leaving McDonald’s. I’d taken a job at Summit Polymers and was working very closely with a girl named Jennifer. At some point Jennifer’s car broke down and she started getting rides home from coworkers. Jennifer told me she did not want a ride from me as I had a girlfriend and the attraction between us was palpable enough that we were teased for it by our coworkers.

One night before her car was fixed, Jennifer did ask me for a ride home. On the way she asked if I could stop so she could buy some beer. When we got to her place she invited me up. I declined, but she said she had friends coming over so it was not a big deal if I came up.

She did have friends come over, but when her friends left I was last in line and she put her arm across the door, saying, “Not you.”

I wish I could say I was strong and did not cheat on Beth, but I stayed the night with Jennifer.

Beth worked nights, and early in the morning I decided to go home to break up with Beth and get my things. Jennifer felt there was plenty of time and did not want me to go. Jennifer figured getting my things could wait another day or two.

I did leave. I thought it was important to break up with Beth as soon as possible so that I could focus on my new life with Jennifer. Unfortunately, Beth had other plans, and though I told her I was leaving her for Jennifer, after kicking me in the balls Beth was adamant that I stay.

I don’t know why I stayed with Beth. I really did want to be with Jennifer, but then I’ve always had a hard time saying no to women and Beth was there whereas Jennifer was back at her apartment waiting for me. Had I done what Jennifer wanted I might be with Jennifer today. Jennifer was a wonderful person so I have every reason to believe I would have been happy with her.

Beth actually drug me over to Jennifer’s apartment so she could confront Jennifer. Jennifer, who was understandably angry, threw me under the bus, accusing me of rape.

Beth initially believed Jennifer, but I made Beth stop at the nearest police station where I asked the police to charge me. The police needed Jennifer to press charges. I gave them her phone number. I told them that I’d been accused and that I wanted the accusation made in a court of law. I don’t remember whether or not they called, but I was not charged.

I did, however, leave Summit Polymers.

I actually did not leave Summit Polymers over Jennifer though. I left shortly thereafter when I had a drill weekend (with the Marine Reserves) and my employer refused to let me go. I’d given my employer every single drill weekend I had for the entire year, all at the beginning of my employment with them, and they told me I had failed to give two week’s notice.

I protested. I’d given several months’ notice. My boss felt I should have reminded them. I even told my boss that firing me for going to drill was illegal (as it was). His response was that I’d be fired for failing to give proper notice and not for going to drill.

I went to drill and lost my job, and I can’t say leaving was a bad thing. It was awkward working with someone who had accused me of rape, and particularly when I still had very strong feelings for her. 

Jennifer probably thought I was upset about the accusation, but I was not. I’d told her I was leaving Beth for her and had then gone home and stayed with Beth. Jennifer shouldn’t have lied, but she had every right to be angry.

Beth had every right to be angry too.

After Summit Polymers, I got a job doing in-home window and door sales for a company called Burlingame. Burlingame was the regional distributor of the Omni Window.

Our apartment complex manager’s husband was the maintenance man and the manager was always drunk. I’m guessing her husband was as well. One day our dog was out front on his chain barking and I looked out to see the maintenance man pick him up by his neck as if to strangle him. I grabbed my rifle, opened the door, and pointed it at the maintenance man.

“Is that gun loaded?” he asked.

It was an old Mosin-Nagant, which was a bolt-action rifle from Soviet Russia.

“It’s loaded, a round a chambered, and it has no safety device. Put my dog down,” I replied.

The gun actually did have a safety, but it was a poor design. You had to pull the bolt back and turn it funny. I don’t think anyone with a Mosin-Nagant actually uses the safety.

The maintenance man put Bandit down, but the next day Beth and I had an eviction notice and ended up moving in to a room her father put together in his basement.

Selling windows and doors was fun. Closing on a sale brought a huge rush.

This was brutally hard work at first – closing was hard. As I gained confidence though I figured out that customers were not really buying windows so much as they were buying me. Customers probably would not have agreed to having a sales person come over unless they felt they kind of needed windows, but the actual decision on whether or not to buy had nothing to do with the windows, and everything to do with trust in the salesman.

Burlingame’s policy (which they eventually got shut down over) was that the sales person got a 12% commission on book price, and 50% of anything they charged beyond book price (paid at the end of the year). After I’d been there for a while and my sales numbers started to improve I stopped using the book and made prices up. I’d still look in the book so it looked like I was using it, but my technique was to guess the price and double it.

We had a sales meeting once per week where we had to ring a bell for every thousand dollars in sales we’d closed, and if you did not have any sales you had to go up to the bell and ‘stroke the rope’ without ringing the bell. The company also threw nice parties for the sales people.

After about three months, I was suddenly closing lots of sales and won what they called a ‘full house’ award for closing five sales in a week (I’d closed six). One family that week was planning to go out for pizza, so to close the deal I had to go out with them, eating pizza and drinking beer on their dime while they signed the paperwork. I also sold a bay window in a WWII era subdivision, where all the houses were exactly the same. It turns out I’d sold an identical bay window on the same street a couple of months earlier for a quarter the price, and the family I over-charged called the company to complain. My manager told the family whatever they wanted to hear about how the other family had gotten a great deal, and about how much trouble I was going to get into and whatever else, but he also told them they had to pay for the window, and when we had the sales meeting he told everyone both stories and we all thought it hilarious. All the manager cared about was that I rang the bell a whole bunch of times. And I got a good paycheck finally.

The next week I sold OK but not as well, and was told that some of my previous sales required someone to follow up on paperwork. The policy was that if someone else had to do something for the sale to go through, the other person (called the ‘rehash man’) got the commissions. I understood immediately that the rehash man was the only sales person who made real money and quit.

I also felt bad that I’d been ripping people off and it felt good leaving a company that encouraged that sort of thing.

I don’t remember exactly when Beth and I got engaged. I’d learned several girlfriends before Beth that engaged girls liked sex more frequently than unengaged girls, so while I would not actually propose to girls if they began to talk marriage I’d go along such that they might think we’re engaged. Beth called my bluff one day by showing up with a ring on her finger.

“What the hell is THAT?!?” I asked.

“It’s an engagement ring,” she replied.

“Who the hell are you engaged too?” I demanded. I was pretty upset – she had an engagement ring and I wasn’t the one who had given it to her.

“You, silly!” she replied.

It turns out she’d gotten sick of waiting and had taken a credit card out in my name to buy a set of wedding rings. She would later joke that I proposed, but before I did she proposed that I propose.

Having someone buy wedding rings in my name, without my knowledge – I probably should have left. I also probably should have left when I found out she’d sold about 60 of my CDs to a local record store. I did not leave, and then suddenly we lived in the basement of Beth’s parent’s house.

Beth’s parents were delighted we were getting married. Beth and her mother started planning. Her father decided the wedding would be in their backyard (they lived on three acres and had a very nice back yard). He’d cook the food.

In the meantime I was doing really well in my reserve unit. I was even a Platoon Sergeant (as a corporal) for a few months.

I’d also been going to school again, first back at Western, but then I decided to be a police officer so I enrolled into the Police Academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where I took a very good New Testament class as an elective (I was also taking classes at KVCC to save money while at Western – this class might not have been related to the Police Academy). The instructor was a Baptist Minister and was outstanding – I almost wanted to become a Baptist, the class was so good. I’d of course read the Bible by now, but this college class represented the first time I’d studied it, and I still to this day really love to study the Bible.

The Police Academy was broken into two sections. The second year was called ‘tracking,’ and you had one year after graduating to get a job as a police officer or you had to take the tracking part over again. I did the first year and then looked at the job market for police. Today it’s very easy to get a job as a cop – it was very difficult back then, and with affirmative action I didn’t really have much of a chance finding a job. I opted not to do the tracking part, and not to become a cop.

Beth’s mother wanted a Catholic wedding. Beth’s father thought I should go on active duty in the Marine Corps.

For the first item, I had to talk to a Catholic priest. The priest told me I’d have to be baptized. I asked why.

“Baptism washes away the original sin,” he told me.

“I’m already forgiven for my sin, including any sin I may have been born with,” I said.

Oh now, he told me. We are born with the sin of Adam and Eve, and only through baptism can this sin be cleansed. If I was not baptized I was not saved, and I could not have a Catholic wedding.

This was a big deal for me. Jesus was of course baptized, but the Bible is very clear that redemption comes from Jesus, and nothing else. To me, letting a priest ‘wash away my original sin’ is an act rejecting the power and glory of Christ. I wanted no part of that.

“If you are not baptized, then the Catholic Church will not even recognize your marriage. Don’t you want the Catholic Church to recognize your marriage?” he asked.

“Will the state of Michigan recognize my marriage if I am not baptized?” I asked.

We all knew the answer to that. The priest said, “Of course.”

My next response was final:  “Then why would I give a rat’s ass what the Catholic Church recognizes? I’m not even Catholic.”

I did not care whether it was a Catholic wedding or not, but not being baptized shot any chance for a Catholic wedding down.

I also decided I wanted to be married in my Marine Corps Dress Blues. This turned out to be a problem as I had not worn them since being promoted to Corporal and needed my new rank sewn on. Luckily my mother was very good with a sewing machine – and I told her the rank had to be on exactly right. It could not be off by even a fraction of an inch. It had to be exact.

Beth did not want to walk to traditional wedding music. She wanted to walk to ‘I Will Always Love You,” by Whitney Houston (written by Dolly Parton). I nixed that as though it was a beautiful song, it was about breaking up. We settled on “Wonderful Tonight,” by Eric Clapton.

I liked the idea of going full-time in the Marine Corps, but when I talked to a recruiter I was told that the Marine Corps did not let reservists on active duty. The best he could do was to give me a year of Recruiter Duty after which I’d go back to the reserves.

Tim was in the Army National Guard and was working with a recruiter to go on active duty in the Army. He gave his recruiter my name and talked me into talking to him. The Army was very happy to let me on active duty if I changed branches. As I looked into it further, I also found that if I served four years in the Army I would have the option of going back to the Marine Corps as a prior-service Army veteran. My Marine Corps contract called for four years in the Active Reserve, and then four more in the Inactive Reserve (where you don’t have to do anything but can be called up very easily in the event of war), and my initial four years were almost up, so it was time to either reenlist or go inactive and effectively be out of the service.

I joined the Army.

Everything came together very quickly after that. Beth’s mom worked with a nurse whose husband was a minister. He’d perform the ceremony for free. I got all my paperwork done to change branches and we timed the wedding to be two days before I had to fly out and report in.

On the day of the wedding, as I started getting dressed, I found that my mother had put my rank on in exactly the correct location, but she’d been focusing so hard on placement that she’d sewn the sleeves shut. I had to run over to my parent’s house to have that fixed. Beth was very happy she was marrying a Marine (even one about to go into the Army) so there was no backup plan for the uniform.

The wedding itself was interesting. Beth’s parents had an above-ground pool with a beautiful deck her father had built. We got married on the stairs, and to my surprise the minister was my old New Testament class professor. When it was time to say our vows I didn’t say anything. After two or three awkward seconds Beth elbowed me and I said, “I do.”  Everyone laughed but it wasn’t funny – I was thinking “Oh crap – this is a mistake.”

One of our friends wife (they are now long since divorced) had been trying to get me to sleep with her for some time and was hitting on me really heavily at the reception. Her and her husband had a weird marriage in which she cheated on him all the time and though he was not happy about it, he didn’t do anything about it either, and their youngest kid looked like his best friend. I tried as best I could to avoid her at the reception but the more she drank the more persistent she got. Luckily we had around 200 people over so she was not too terribly hard to avoid. That said, she cornered me a couple of times and it was pretty uncomfortable.

The next day Beth and I went to South Haven for a very short honeymoon, and then I flew out to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to become a Tracked Vehicle Crewman.

Wallace Garneau

Wallace Garneau is a two-service military veteran, with four years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and four years in the US Army. He has twenty-three years of experience in process improvement roles, having served as the E-Commerce Manager, IT Manager, and Director of Business Systems for a variety of medium to large manufacturing companies. Wallace holds a Bachelors of Science from the University of Phoenix, and an MBA in Lean Manufacturing from the University of Michigan. Wallace is currently finishing a Masters of Science in Lean Manufacturing, at Kettering University.

Wallace is a published poet and essayist, and recently finished his first book - The Way Forward: Lean Leadership and Systems Thinking for Large and Small Businesses.

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