Sympathy for Liz
by Lia Lobello
When I was three, my mom went to visit a psychic and brought me along. After he was done reading her, he read me too. One of his predictions was that I’d be married “late in life.”
A few years later, when I was around eight, my mom told me this story. Looking back, I wondered why my mom would have told me this information, as it seems a little mature for an eight-year-old. Except she likes to recall a story around the same time, in which I came out of my bedroom clutching a Reader’s Digest to my chest and announcing I was pro-choice. To this day, she believes she’s the only mother to rip reading material out of her child’s hands and order her to go outside and play.
In any case, the way my still-developing child brain heard it, “late in life” was remembered in a slant rhyme, and became “eight times.” My mom and I wouldn’t speak again about this conversation for nearly 16 years.
For an eight-year-old, thinking you’re going to be married eight times is a terrible burden to bear. Even more so when your mom is avid reader of Star magazine during the 1980s and ’90s. Because Elizabeth Taylor was on the cover for like a straight decade. Always being put on blast for rolling through one marriage after another, right on up until No. 8 (Larry Fortensky, if you need a reminder).
I despaired for Liz, because I felt her mocking would eventually become my own. “I’m just like you,” I whispered to innumerable magazine covers. And I was furious at the editors who so callously skewered her love life week after week after week. “It could happen to anyone!” I thought, staring at the cruel words.
“Good people can probably fall in love a lot!” I thought, even though I had not yet loved. Or gone through puberty.
The years went by.
When I entered high school, and started developing crushes, I couldn’t throw myself into them with my friends’ wild, all-encompassing abandon, although I tried. I liked boys, but I didn’t dare dream of marrying any. “WHAT’S THE POINT?” my brain screamed to itself. “YOU’LL HAVE EIGHT TRIES TO GET IT RIGHT!” So while I passed notes, developed schemes to have actual conversations (the most advanced of which involved several weeks of planning to return a forgotten pen and failed upon execution), and yearned from afar like only a teenage girl can, I never actually wrapped my head around the concept of “the one.” For me, there were always “the eight.”
College followed a similar pattern. I made out in bars. I went on several fun first dates, but couldn’t muster up the energy or feelings for a second. I left a lot of boys in the dust, and they me. And that suited me just fine. Heartbreak and I were going to have to get along. We had a long, strange road to travel together.
I should note here that while I knew that marrying eight times wasn’t something I could be forced into doing, I really did believe that his prediction was likely accurate based on how often my mom told me how great this psychic was. She often cited one story in particular, which always stood out for me. In the 1970s, one of my aunts left her thesis — which was also her entire life’s work — in a briefcase somewhere in Cambridge. Despite combing the city for days and days, she simply couldn’t find it. In desperation, she called the psychic who mentioned that he saw the briefcase safe and sound “among flowers.” My aunt suddenly remembered she had stopped into a florist (keeping in mind that if you can manage to lose your entire life’s work, you can also manage to forget you went to the florist). She ran there, and sure enough, the florist had the briefcase behind the counter. Believe it or not, this story was all the verification I needed that this man clearly knew his stuff and had plotted out my future before I had a chance to imagine it myself. There would be no manifesting destiny for this girl.
Skip ahead to my senior year of college. I started dating one of my best friends from home. Jason was nice, but we were very different at our cores and fought a lot. After graduation, I moved back to South Florida and was deeply unhappy. My job sucked. I was living at home and answering questions about my whereabouts again. And worst of all, Jason wanted me to convert to Judaism because he said we had no future if I didn’t. Though I didn’t want to convert, it made sense to me that I should try because I knew that my first marriage had to end in disaster so I could get going with husband No. 2. However, finally starting down the path to my eight marriages caused me a lot of angst.
It boiled over one day while I was driving in the car with my mom. “I’m miserable!” I yelled to her. “I don’t want to be Jewish! I hate my job! I’m going to get married to Jason and what’s worse, I’m going to have to un-convert eventually so I can go ahead and get married seven more times!”
To my horror, she laughed at me. “What are you talking about?” she asked, looking at me like I was insane.
“WHAT YOU THINK I’M TALKING ABOUT? MY EIGHT MARRIAGES!” I continued to scream. “YOU KNOW! WHAT YOUR PSYCHIC FRIEND TOLD US!”
She took a few beats to try to remember what the hell I was talking about. Then, to my increasing fury, she laughed again. “That’s not what he said, Lia. He said late in life. That you’d be married late. in. life.” She turned back to concentrating on the road as if she hadn’t just shattered everything I’d ever believed in.
Even now, it’s hard to find words to describe the shock I felt in that moment. It was the equivalent of someone telling you the sky you always thought was blue is actually orange and oh, also? You’re a huge idiot. My mind simply couldn’t comprehend. “But Liz Taylor…” I sputtered and went silent. Then, again, “I’m not going to be married eight times?”
“I don’t think so, Lia,” she replied. I made a noise that sounded a lot like harumph. I sat on this information for six months and then moved to New York City alone on an August weekend in 2003. Jason and I held on for exactly one year and two in-person visits before we gave up.
Fast forward almost eight years and three weeks to August 2012. In our very favorite bar, surrounded by the people I love and tacos from San Loco, a wonderful, funny, kind man surprised the living shit out of me asked me to be his wife. I ugly cried for a solid minute surrounded by 20-plus people eagerly awaiting an answer. I said yes.
But now, two months later, as the dust of the surprise settles and the enormity of our commitment becomes clear, a thought gnaws at me.
“Late in life,” the psychic had said in 1983. Does 32 count as late in life? I feel the question is relative. Would 32 have seemed late in life, to a man, back then?
When I think of late in life, I don’t think 32. I think more like 87. I picture headlines in USA Today. “A first-time bride at 87!” it might shout, with an adorable photo of me and my new, 88-year-old husband, taken for all of America to coo at over morning coffee and forget by lunch.
Who ever gets anything right the first time? Isn’t it easier to think you’ll have eight tries for perfection? I’m a master at overthinking trivial things. This engagement? It’s damn near killing me.
I still haven’t shaken the feeling, ingrained over the most impressionable and formative years, that I actually will have eight husbands. I look at my fiance as he sleeps. “Are you my Richard Burton … or my Larry Fortensky?” I think. His face remains placid and perfect, blissfully unaware that he’s lying next to an insane person, awake at 2:30 in the morning, comparing her life to Liz Taylor’s, all thanks to a mistake she made when she was eight years old.
Previously: A Moment “With” Kristen Schaal.
Lia LoBello works in public relations and marketing by day, but spends her nights crafting, cooking, and watching real-crime television. She blogs about her projects and recipes at Pretty|Delicious. She lives in Astoria and Tweets at @lialobello. If you know of any good shows about murder, revenge, or psychic children, please let her know immediately.
Image via Flickr/gammaman