Excerpt from Chapter 12, "No Longer a Ward of the State," from "Point of Comfort," by Judith A. Lawrence," a Memoir in two parts, published January, 2023..
"The last weekend of June, Johnny and I drove to Maryland. We applied for our marriage license and were told we would be able to pick it up in two weeks. We hoped to be married in the same Methodist church as Ben and Elaine.
On a Friday night Johnny pulled up in front of the house in his clunker of a car. I stole down the stairs with my beat up suitcase full of my personal things with a few clothes stuffed in. It would be all I had if Violet would not allow me to retrieve other things when I returned.
Placing my suitcase in the trunk of the car, I ran back inside to position my sealed long letter to Violet on the kitchen counter. I placed it next to the electric coffee pot, the first thing she reached for in the morning.
I wrote how much I cared for them both, including Paul and Mark, their two boys. I thanked her and said how much I appreciated all she had done in letting me live there with my sister. I wrote of things we had laughed and talked about and how much I hoped she would continue to be a part of my life. I told her how much I longed for my own home. I wrote that I was marrying a man who had promised to love and care for me for life. I said I was very happy and that I hoped she would be happy for me too. At the end for some reason I said goodbye. I suppose I instinctively knew she would not forgive me.
I ran out and jumped into the passenger seat of the car turning to hug Ben and Elaine in the back seat. Glancing out the car window I saw Violet’s bedroom lamp turn on just as we drove off.
Just out of the city and onto the highway toward Baltimore, storm clouds began to gather. Flashes of lightening filled the sky and thunder was heard from the distance. At some point the rain came down in buckets. The windshield wipers could not keep up with the drenching rain. Johnny slowed down to ten miles per hour and vainly searched for a place to stop and wait out the storm. As we drove we were gradually unable to see exit signs or even a side strip of dirt to park on.
I began reciting Hail Mary’s in my head and wondered if this was a sign. That thought was no sooner in my head when the road misted over with dense fog. It was so thick that we could only see a few inches in front of us and nothing behind us. We were confronted with the danger of ploughing through cars ahead or being hit from behind.
Johnny inched ahead and suddenly stopped. He stepped out and ran back soaked to his skin. He put the car into gear and slowly inched backward. We had somehow gone off-road, and were on a precipice of a hill with no idea how deep the drop was.
Elaine began to cry and I was still fervently praying Hail Mary’s. Part of me wanted to turn back. My Italian upbringing full of superstitions had a firm grip on me. This has to be a bad omen was all I could think. I promised the Blessed Mother I would go to confession and attend church faithfully each Sunday if we would be spared.
Ben held Elaine tightly and Johnny began muttering to himself in Hungarian.
We stayed in the car hovering together for over two hours, each expecting the worst and trying to reassure each other.
The fog lifted in the early morning light and we saw there was only one other car parked a little way up the road on the other side. We all got out on shaky legs and peered down the cliff we had almost driven over. It veered straight down about a hundred feet to a road below only protected by rusted wire fencing.
A ride normally taking no more than two and a half hours took us six hours to complete. We arrived exhausted in Baltimore by nine o’clock in the morning.
After stopping at a diner for breakfast we drove around for an hour trying to find the Methodist church. The church was locked so we went to the front door of the home attached to the church and rang the doorbell. A pleasant looking minister appeared followed with his smiling wife.
I didn’t know anything about the Methodist religion or service except for Ben and Elaine’s assurance they would marry us. Ben handed the pastor twenty dollars and asked if he remembered him. He didn’t.
After entering the information from our marriage license on his document we all signed our names and proceeded to the church. The pastor performed a brief ceremony along with his wife playing the organ. In twenty minutes we were married with Ben and Elaine as our witnesses. The sun was beaming through every window of the tiny church. I witnessed the entire ceremony through a sheet of blinding white light, floated down the aisle, and out through the front door exit. I was eighteen and Johnny was twenty.
On the drive back Johnny seemed taciturn for a man who just got married. He was no longer holding my hand and barely responding to me. I spotted an ice cream truck on the way and asked if we could stop and get a cone. He snapped that we didn’t have the money; that we needed to shop for food before going to our apartment.
Ben and Elaine tried to keep up the conversation on the way home but the mood was altered. Ben was a few years older than Elaine. They were obviously in love and planning on buying a house.
A couple hours later we dropped off Ben and Elaine at their apartment. They lived above a rolling steel-doored garage which was the main entrance to a second floor apartment through a stairway. From the outside you would never know it was an apartment. On the inside it was much like the industrial New York apartments in demand years later, minimally furnished.
Johnny drove directly to a bar in North Philadelphia. He wanted to let his brother know we were married. Abdon was playing pool when we entered. It was the first time we met. He seemed both amused and surprised speaking English to me far better than Johnny. He bought us both a mug of beer to wish us luck and kissed his new sister-in-law on the cheek. The brothers spoke Hungarian for a few minutes. We finished our beer and said goodbye to Abdon.
We then drove to Violet and Joe’s. As I suspected she might be; she was cold and unforgiving. She told me she threw the letter in the trashcan and asked me for my house key. Her last remark was "You made your bed, now lie in it."
Johnny drove us toward our apartment in Germantown. I turned in my seat to gaze toward him as he drove and saw another side of him. The gallantry was absent. There was a look of a complete stranger on his face as if he had a doppelganger. I felt a sudden chill."