At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in June, former Killings columnist Rochelle Siemienowicz will discuss her debut book, Fallen: A Memoir About Sex, Religion and Marrying Too Young. Read an extract from this frank, compelling and beautifully written debut memoir, which describes Rochelle’s experiences as a young wife in an unfulfilling open marriage.
So we had our big white wedding. We did it reluctantly – not the marriage, but the ceremony – for our parents and for the people at church. We had all the trimmings: the three-tiered fruitcake entombed in waxen royal icing; the white satin dress edged in feathers that brought out an allergic rash on my chest; the hired vintage cars and the historic church with stainedglass windows – the church where Ellen G White herself had preached in 1892.
The relief of being married. We knew we were still children, and we delighted in that. Like kids whose parents haven’t come home yet, we spent our money on toys and sometimes went hungry, but there was always more at the end of the fortnight and we had each other, so that was enough.
We promised ourselves that we would never, ever create new children – for that would make us parents, a horrible idea.
‘The world is too full of babies,’ I’d said to our minister during a premarital counselling session. At uni I’d been reading about environmentalism and Zero Population Growth: there was no way I would add to the problems of a crowded world that could never feed everyone properly.
‘I just want to be a kid myself, forever,’ Isaac put in, obviously hoping this was controversial.
The minister looked at us dubiously across the table, where his wife had served decaf coffee and a plate of Anzac biscuits.
‘You can change your minds later,’ he said. ‘But as long as you both change your minds together, okay?’
Nobody else understood, but the two of us agreed it would be hideous to take up the roles of mother and father when we would always be so busily engaged in play with each other.
We would be that legendary couple who married young and never parted. We were the clever children, we thought, the ones with the key to the Garden of Eden. Because our love was real, we could bypass the angel with the flaming sword, sneak in and out, and take the fruit whenever we wanted or needed it. Our own special pact, built on pure belief, would protect us from the creeping bourgeois boredom we saw in other couples.
We imagined that they must yearn for what we had, longing for what they’d glimpsed in their own youthful romances. But ours would last. We had no doubt.
We envisaged our distant future and saw ourselves: a tall, thin old man, courtly and gentle, and a bird-boned lady, her hair in a bun and eyes still bright, walking hand in hand, and talking, always talking. Our passionate debates would drown out the creakings of decrepitude as we faded into the happy death of united souls. And when Jesus returned to earth to claim his own, we’d be drawn up from our graves into Heaven, made young again and reunited, and ‘the lamb would lay down with the lion’ – though we never spoke of it quite like that, because even then we knew it sounded ridiculous.
While we were still children together in those first couple of years after the wedding, we ran and rushed and played until we were exhausted. We lived like we’d been let out of jail, which in a way we had been. Free from our parents’ houses, we listened to the music that was supposed to have devil possession written into it – especially if you played it backwards. We laughed at how innocent the Beatles, Stones and Eagles were, though they still formed the repertoire of many a minister’s warnings on the evils of rock and roll.
We read the kinds of books we’d had to read in secret before – fantasy and horror and philosophy; books with sex and vampires, violence and nihilism. ‘Decadent’ was a word we finally came to understand as we swooned at the discovery of Wilde, Baudelaire and all those others who’d lived without limits and loved Art above morality and utility.
We went to the cinema whenever we could, and joked about Ellen G White’s admonishment that your guardian angel never sets foot in such places. Our eyes were greedy and uncritical. We borrowed huge unsteady piles of videos, trying to catch up on the classics we’d read about. The images, beautiful and shocking, drew us into the dark and we never wanted to leave. I wondered if it might be possible to craft a life around my newfound love for cinema.
‘Let us eat flesh,’ Isaac proclaimed one day at the supermarket.
And so we ate all the unclean meats: great feasts of mussels and prawns and oysters, those dirty creatures prohibited by Leviticus for their lack of fins and scales. We cooked sausages and bacon from the filthy pig, an animal that sports the necessary cloven hoof but doesn’t chew its cud. We drank it down with the demon liquor till we were sick, holding each other’s hair back as we retched into the toilet bowl with the rituals of first drunkenness.
Then we lay in bed reading for days, testing the limits of slothfulness. Brought up in the proud Protestant work ethic – where reading a book was a waste of time unless it was useful or spiritually uplifting – we knew that reading for pleasure was an act of defiance. So we set up our bed like a becalmed pleasure cruiser, stacking it with the tools of idleness: magazines, videos and books. When we grew tired of them, we kicked them onto the floor and dove under the covers to find each other’s bodies again, warm and alive and willing. And the constant surprise that this, this was allowed now.
Putting our heads together on the pillows, we let our long hair tangle into one dark mass and cried for the things we’d missed out on: the lovers, the share houses, the dope-smoking freedom we thought was supposed to come with youth and university. And we sighed with relief that it wasn’t too late.
There would be no other lovers for us, but in everything else we’d be greedy and take what we wanted, taste those things that had been denied us. And we’d do it together.
‘The path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom,’ said Isaac, quoting Blake as he sloshed more red wine into his glass and pondered his chess move across the table from me.
‘Moderation is a fatal thing,’ I countered with Wilde.
‘Nothing succeeds like excess.’ I skipped my wooden knight into enemy territory, knowing I was going to be beaten very quickly.
We desperately wanted to believe these heresies, but whenever we indulged we were still amazed that no punishments fell upon our heads. We looked in the mirror for signs of our sin and found none. Our cheeks were as round and smooth as apples and our eyes were clear. We held up our wedding rings to the light and knew they held magic that would bind us together forever.
Reproduced with permission from Fallen: A Memoir About Sex, Religion and Marrying Too Young by Rochelle Siemienowicz, published by Affirm Press.
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