By her 21st birthday, Jessica had completed two years of college, put 1,685 miles between herself and her family, got married, started work in a federal prison, got pregnant, and obtained an (illegal) abortion. That should have been enough adventure for any intelligent, well-raised young lady.
But Jess was just getting started.
Not that her seven years with Parker Grant came without sacrifices:
More than anything, I wanted this to be his plan, not mine. Such a proposal belonged to men and I was well aware I was violating time-honored courtship norms. But I had waited all my life for a man to take the initiative, make me feel loved. I longed for him to sweep me up in his arms, tell me he couldn’t live without me, and get down on one knee to reveal the diamond ring that symbolized his promise. Whisk me away to be his wife forever.
My failure as a woman meant I would never have that.
His response, after a period of quiet pondering, came in a soft, stern voice. “I won’t have a wife who smokes.”
A flush swept up my neck. How could he agree to get engaged and criticize me in the same breath? Was this an excuse for saying no?
I stuffed away hurt feelings, not seeing far enough ahead to recognize the harness he was slipping over me. At the time, I prided myself on my ability to be whatever anyone required me to be. But then, what choice did I have?
“Okay! No problem,” I chirped. “No more cigarettes.”
And its rewards:
At our southernmost destination, we checked into a resort nestled in the midst of tangled forest that curled down to the banks of the Pagsanhan River. In the resort’s sprawling dining room, open to jungle fringing the sides of its big vaulted roof, we sat around a huge fire pit to drink rice wine, feast on chicken adobo with rice, and exclaim over the custard of soft coconut they served for dessert.
A routine for the tourists included dancing the native “tiningaling.” First the demonstration: held close to the floor, two long bamboo poles were rhythmically clacked together and apart while trained dancers performed a series of jumps in and out of the poles. The tourists were expected to try their luck at this, and with the help of more rice wine, Parker and I managed to jump at the right time to avoid having our ankles whacked.
After the festivities and giddy on wine, we left the common hall and retired to our tiny room with its one window looking out into darkening emerald night.
I stood at the window. “How do people live out here, without telephones or television, without roads?”
“They probably have a lot of sex,” he muttered, coming up behind me and running his hands over my hips.
“You’re twisted.” I laughed as he pulled at my clothes.
“In all the right ways,” he laughed back.
We finished undressing each other and fell groaning into the bed.
“I love you, Parker,” I said later. My head rested on his chest, both of us sweaty from our bout of lovemaking.
“I love you, too, Jess.”
I meant it. I felt joyous in the experience of honest affection for him. I felt cared for, protected. Somehow things were right. We made love again, drawing out the embraces until the Filipino maid knocked with towels and halting instruction that the electricity and water shut off from ten p.m. until six a.m.
Looking back fifty years to tell her story, Jessica struggled with concerns about how to avoid hurting people who had been part of her journey. About how to avoid tarnishing her modern-day reputation and the lives of her grown children. More than once as editor and publisher of Jessica’s story, I (Liz Ashworth) questioned whether it would all be worth the effort.
Not many young women today appreciate the obstacles facing women of the late 1960s and early ’70s. So many things taken for granted in 2020 were mountains not yet climbed fifty years ago. And who among readers today want to delve into the torment of that era?
Jessica was driven to tell her story, and I’m glad I helped her. It was an emotional experience for both of us. No matter whether the book becomes a bestseller or even sells one copy, Jessica has satisfied herself that her story is told, that the love, despair, guilt, and frustrations she experienced are preserved as a testimony to life in those times. This is one woman’s story in the framework of her relationship with Parker Grant.
When I was nineteen, I longed to be a writer. Actually, I was a writer, winning awards in high school for poetry and essays. But what I slowly came to realize was, I had no life experience. So you could say that I started living my life in a way that gave me something to write about.
My memoir chronicles seven years of that fully-lived life. From age 18 to 25, I saw some of the world and a lot of adventure, what would later become poignant memories of a man and the times we shared. Now as the fire crackles in the stove and wind howls at the window, I can sit back in my comfortable chair and smile at the story I have written.
But it wasn’t just me writing it. I enlisted the help of my friend, Lizzie Ashworth, to put this story together and make it come to life. I can’t thank her enough!
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