My Secret Husband

I couldn’t appease my mother by marrying my boyfriend — mostly, because I already had

Vivian McInerny
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readJun 28, 2019

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Photo: Marius Hepp/EyeEm/Getty Images

“He seems so nice,” she said while I was visiting. “Why doesn’t he ask you to marry him?”

“Mom,” I groaned. “I’m not a Barbie doll sitting around hoping Ken will pop the question. We’re equal partners. If we want to marry, we’ll decide together to marry.”

This wasn’t exactly a lie. It just wasn’t the whole truth. The story of our romantic relationship was more complicated. As I helped my devoutly religious mother make up two beds in two rooms on two different floors of my childhood home — no daughter of hers would “live in sin” under her roof — I wondered how to break the news to her. I was a rebel without a cause. I was an unconventional conformist. I was outwardly resisting a tradition while secretly upholding the institution.

What I’m trying to say: I was married.

Let me explain.

The summer of 1974, I graduated from high school, turned 18 and, with money earned at the mall, bought a round-trip ticket to Switzerland. I had a vague six-month plan to “see Europe.” Three-plus years later, I was back in the United States for the first time. I hadn’t seen my family in as many years. We’d spoken only once. In those pre-internet, expensive long-distance call days, we relied on snail mail. I sent postcards. I wrote aerograms. Whenever I had a stable address, they wrote back. We’d spoken only once when I phoned home my first Christmas away. From India. It did not go well.

I cannot exaggerate how unusual this all was for a girl like me.

The only people I knew who had traveled overseas were in the military. And some of them didn’t come back.

I grew up in a large, Irish Catholic family in a comfortable blue-collar neighborhood, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. The mothers on our block were homemakers. The dads worked as roofers, bricklayers, and gas meter readers. My father carpooled about 45 minutes each way, to an oil refinery where he was a purchasing agent of the pipes, valves, nuts, and bolts necessary to keep the place operating. Our next-door neighbor worked the line at the Ford factory. Our neighbor to the other side had a job at a printing company…

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Vivian McInerny
Human Parts

Career journalist, essayist, fiction writer, and life-long spirit-quester.