As I dig Dan's shallow grave, I realize that nothing belongs to me anymore. Even the shovel in my hands is stolen. My life, like my wedding dress, was another person's. I say was – not is – because those days were from another life. They were the property of another Marilyn, not the woman in a mud-covered dress burying her new husband.
Did I ever own any part of my life? I'm not sure, but I think it was always on loan. I lived in borrowed space in my parents' home; my eyes took their color from contacts, and my blond hair owed its color to cheap drugstore hair-dye. It used to seem all right, this constant borrowing of other peoples' ideas and even their lifestyles. My words were recycled thoughts of movie stars and teen idols. My sister dictated my style. She actually chose about half of my clothes.
Somewhere along the way I lost myself, and not in the typical, "I don't know who I am" phase teens go through. I would look in the mirror and wonder who was looking at me. I saw my mother's green eyes and blond hair – my sister's clothes and scowl. There was nothing of me in what I saw. I touched the mirror and the illusion broke, revealing only Marilyn (whoever that was).
The day that I met Dan was the first time anything felt real to me for more than a decade. He came into the store to buy some Echinacea-zinc tablets for a cold, and I knew when I saw him that he was real. He didn't wear clothes carefully made to look casual like most of the other customers who came in to Herbs-Plus for herbal supplements, and he didn't have super-human muscles and a tank-top like the weight lifters that came in for semi-legal supplements. He was just Dan; the jeans and old t-shirt were obviously a spur of the moment decision, as well as the scruffy hair. I wanted to run my hands through that hair the first time I saw it.
When we started dating I tried to borrow from him too, but he wouldn't let me. He always gently steered me back to myself. When I would ape his opinions he would laugh and say, "I already know what I think. What do you think about it?"
I discovered I didn't know what I thought about much. I knew what Britney thought about things, or my family, but I didn't know what Marilyn thought about anything. I began to learn.
I still borrowed from other peoples' lives, but I began to own a few things of my own, and I even found a few thoughts that were just mine. I bought a book that all of my friends disliked. That book was just mine. I decided that I didn't like the red curtains in the apartment, even though Dan thought they looked nice. I actually considered going to
college; that would have been mine in a way nothing else had ever been mine.
The day that I looked in the mirror and just saw Marilyn was one of the best days in my life. It was my hair and my eyes that were in there. I was wearing my own style, my own lipstick so my words could come out of my mouth.
If only he hadn't asked me to marry him, we could have been happy. I had forgotten what the borrowed life felt like. As soon as we announced the date though, the first thing my mom said was, "You'll have a big wedding, right? We'll have to see if Father Denson is available, and if we can use your Grandmother's wedding ring, and maybe even her dress. I kept it after she died. We'd have to take it up though, and lose the train. It should be more modern, like your Aunt Pam's dress."
She droned on as I felt myself slipping away, losing myself in other peoples' minds and wishes again. As the wedding approached I grew increasingly distant from myself. The mirror became uncomfortable again, and at my mom's insistence my hair went back to blond and my eyes to green. Never mind that the contacts itched, or that the blond dye damaged my hair.
I had liked having brown hair and eyes, but it wasn't my choice. Whenever I complained about other people taking over my wedding my father would remind me, "Weddings are for other people. When we were married your Grandmother wouldn't even let me pick my own tux. It was this hideous blue-green thing. Be glad your mother at least has a sense of style."
And that was it. I felt like I was the leftovers of other peoples' lives. But in the midst of it all Dan stayed real to me. He never borrowed anything from anyone else's life. He chose his own tux; it was traditional with a white carnation. He picked the car to rent for the honeymoon, and he continued living life on his own terms.
I was a little jealous of Dan, but his self-sufficiency made me feel safe. It was like somewhere in this shifting world there was a bit of stability named Dan. As long as he existed in his never-changing self I could face that other person in the mirror. Even my mom and sister couldn't truly get to me, because Dan was always there, making me laugh about their silly attempts to make me into their own image.
I was told the wedding was beautiful. I guess it was; I felt like I was barely there. It was someone else's wedding, with none of me in it at all. I was just a spectator. It didn't become my own day again until we shut the doors of the car and drove off, cans tinkling behind us.
"Well," Dan said. "I'm kind of glad that's over."
"Yeah, I can't wait to change out of this lacy horror."
"Do you want to stop by the house first? It'll just take a minute. I don't understand why you want to ride three hours in a wedding dress." Dan rarely understood much of what I did, but he didn't complain too much. He usually just waited for an explanation, and if none came he went about his own business and left me to myself.
"I just want to get away from all the people, Dan. They make it hard to breathe sometimes." I never could explain how all the people I borrowed from confused and exhausted me with their constant intrusions. Sometimes I thought that they didn't mean to intrude, but it didn't matter. The fact that they were in the same room made me take things from them – a gesture here, an opinion there. I never felt that I left a crowded room the same person as when I entered.
Everything was fine for the first hour. We talked about the future. Dan wanted a baby, but I wasn't sure. We laughed at private jokes and I began to feel more like myself the farther we got away from Dallas. Leaving my home behind was the truest meaning of freedom.
He stopped at a convenience store between towns for a break, and I watched him from the car. He was so secure in himself – so very Dan. He wasn't much to look at to most women. His hair was too red. He had too many freckles, and he was pudgy, but I loved that he was unique. I was watching him and thinking about the future when I saw the cashier write something on a piece of paper and slip it to him. He tucked it in his pocket and left the store, carrying sodas for both of us.
That was when I understood; Dan was borrowed too. I was just borrowing him until he lent himself out to another woman. I covered my panic as best I could, but he noticed something was wrong as soon as he got in the car.
"What's wrong, Marilyn? You look worried." He seemed as if he cared, but I knew better. He was just pretending until he could call the number the cashier had given him. Then she would borrow him for awhile.
"Nothing," I said, "I just have a headache. I'm going to rest for awhile."
I knew what I had to do. I waited until we came upon a small hardware store and said I needed a bathroom break.
The two employees gawked at a woman in a wedding dress stopping in a hardware store, but I evaded them enough to slip a small collapsible shovel in my purse. It's a good thing my sister always favored huge purses, because that's what I was carrying. Dan never suspected anything. It was a very small shovel, but it would do.
I bought the largest Maglite they had and hoped Dan wouldn't ask too many questions.
Of course he wanted to know why I bought a giant flashlight. "The cabin is out in the boonies, dear," I said. "What if something happens?"
"I guess that makes sense," he said, and didn't mention it again. I felt the weight of it in my hand before placing it in the backseat. It was heavy and solid and would work just fine. I made my move as he was getting the luggage out of the car. As the flashlight cracked his skull I realized that this experience was completely un-borrowed. I dragged him a few feet away from the car, and then I got the shovel and began to dig.
A gospel tract fell out of his pocket with the name of a church written in scrawling handwriting. The woman in the gas station had been trying to save him, but instead she got him killed. It didn't matter. I knew the truth now. If that woman hadn't borrowed him, another would have.
So now I'm digging with the borrowed shovel near the rented car, and it occurs to me how much of my life was borrowed for this moment. I am wearing my Grandmother's dress and ring, and showing my mother's hair and eyes. But one thing will never be borrowed. Dan is mine forever.