In my senior year of high school (at Middleburg High School in Middleburg, Florida), I met my future husband. One of the big problems with this was that he was not another student but rather a teacher. He was what was known as the school resource officer, an employee of the Sheriff’s Office whose primary duty was to work at the school. I was 17 and he was 44. He got me a job that summer as a lifeguard on Kingsley Lake in Starke, Florida (yes, the same Starke where Ted Bundy was executed) and it was there, in one of the cabins, where our relationship became, well, intimate.
One day at the lake he introduced me to two of his children. This bothered me of course, since to my 17-year-old mind a person with children was probably a person who was married (up until that point I had been assuming that a person who did not wear a wedding ring, flirted with and was intimate with another person was NOT married). Shame on me, however, because I did NOT ask the question “are you married?”. What I did ask was something along the lines of “where do they live?” and he mumbled an answer similar to “at home with their mother.”
Things continued between us for a while, with me eventually going off to college (at Clemson in South Carolina). It didn’t take long, however, for me to find out that he was actually still “married” to (more on the quotation marks later) and cohabitating with his children’s mother. At that point I told him I could no longer see him and I carried on with my life.
When I returned home the next summer, he told me he was getting a divorce. I told him that was the oldest story in the book and I would believe it when I saw the paperwork. To his credit, he did actually produce a divorce decree and (don’t ask me what I was thinking because I HONESTLY don’t know) we got married on December 5, 1994, which was the end of my third semester at Clemson. I graduated the following December and we moved to Orlando (I joined the Navy and was assigned to teach at Nuclear Power School), where our son was born in 1996.
Flash forward 11 years, 4 towns, 6 houses, 5 schools and 1 hurricane. After 11 mostly dreadfully unhappy years, my divorce was finalized in December 2005. I honestly thought that was the end. Flash forward another 3 years, 1 town, 1 house and 2 schools. I was using ancestry.com to do research on my son’s family tree. Since many of the men in my ex-husband’s line share his name, the website mistakenly pulled up one of his documents when I was researching one of his ancestors. It was a marriage certificate dated 12 days before we had gotten married. He had married the mother of four of his children, the woman who I had always presumed he was married to when I met him. I had married a bigamist.
I immediately called him to find out why he would have done something like this. He had absolutely no explanation. He still has no explanation to this day. What I do know is that the two of them had been defrauding the Sheriff’s Office (for medical benefits on her behalf) for years by pretending to be married. They had also been filing joint tax returns as a married couple. All of this seemed to originate from the fact that he had never divorced his second wife, the mother of his third child, the woman he had been with before this woman. Of course she had passed away in 1989, but I guess it never occurred to them to get married at that point because they had been living the lie for so long.
OK, back to me. I immediately sought legal counsel. I quickly found out that I could not take action in Maryland since the divorce had been granted in Florida. I found a lawyer in Okaloosa County, Florida and started working on getting a legal annulment (since the marriage had never been legal to begin with). This was at the advice of the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) personnel I spoke with, since technically I had been defrauding the federal government by collecting benefits on behalf of my “husband”. I needed to get a document showing the marriage was not legal, that I was not responsible, and then I needed to turn that in to the personnel office.
So why is it my anniversary? Apparently you cannot annul a marriage that has already been dissolved by a divorce. So I had to get the divorce vacated. Which means, officially, that I am now no longer divorced. Now you get it. Yes, technically I am still married to the guy until the legal annulment is granted. Therefore, as the title above states:
Happy Anniversary To Me!