Our story begins on the fall equinox of 2014 in the City of Sin, Las Vegas, where I eloped with Jacques, my now ex-husband, at The Chapel O’ Love with an ordained minister/Elvis Presley impersonator.
I met Jacques in a Meisner acting class we took to- gether in Toronto. For those of you unfamiliar with acting training techniques, Sanford Meisner was an act- ing teacher at the famous New York Playhouse with the likes of Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan.
The technique is a kind of improvisation based on the connection between two actors and their emotional states, with a minor focus on what is actually said. The actors simply repeat the same objectively true observation about the moment, over and over. For instance, I might go on stage with an actor and say “you are wearing a black shirt” and they would repeat “I am wearing a black shirt” and you would repeat “you are wearing a black shirt,” and so on. The exercise’s purpose is to connect the actor with the living truth of the moment and get the actor out of their head and into their bodies and intuition.
I had noticed Jacques in class; I saw him as a rug- gedly handsome outlaw, a brooding artist, and quiet sage. Because he was dating another actress at the time, I was forced to hide my secret crush from him.
Until one night in class we had an exercise that blew both of our minds.
He had come into class covered head to toe in swirl- ing, colourful body makeup after having just finished shooting an album cover. I thought he looked like some sort of futuristic, sexy, alien rainbow throw-up, and when our instructor put us on the stage together for a repetition exercise, I could feel the excitement pulsing through me.
He sat down in his chair with his face down.
“Rainbow makeup,” I said, and he looked up and repeated, “Rainbow makeup”
As we repeated “rainbow makeup” over and over, he sensed my attraction to him and stood up, walked toward me, and held himself inches from my face. He bumped his chest against mine and gently pushed me up against the wall.
I could smell his sweet and sour manly musk, and I stuck my face into his armpits. Sexual energy was pulsing through me; our faces nuzzled, necks became entwined, and I felt like I was making love to an alien. I turned myself around and pressed my ass into his groin. He reached around my shoulder, grabbed my face in his hand, and pressed his mouth to my ear so I could hear his heavy breathing.
We reached the pinnacle of that moment, and I turned around to face him. I smiled warmly, and he looked at me in surprise. I lifted my shirt to expose my
THE BIG DREAM
belly then lifted his, and pressed our bellies into one an- other. We both started to laugh.
His laugh evolved into a cry, softly at first. Then his knees got weak, and he fell into my arms, causing both of us to collapse on the floor. I held him in my arms like a child while he cried - all the while, still repeating “rain- bow make up, rainbow makeup” - until he stopped crying, and we stopped repeating, lost in each other’s eyes. The moment was broken by our instructor calling out that the exercise was finished.
The moment was so all-consuming that it was diffi- cult to shake it off and come back to reality in the class. We both felt that a powerful connection was made. We were riding the same wave, and something deep came pouring out of both of us.
We ran into each other the following weekend at a Toronto International Film Festival party, where he told me he had broken up with his girlfriend. I took him home that night. Things moved very quickly, and we ba- sically started spending every night together. (Which I now know is not a great way to start a relationship, but I was just a young bunny completely caught up in the ro- mance of it all at the time.)
Our ceremony at the Chapel O’ Love was scheduled for 2:30 pm.
Our mutual friend Rob was our only guest. We were giddy with excitement at the day’s ridiculous events and didn’t have much time to prepare.
By the time we got to Old Las Vegas, it was 2:00 pm, and we both needed something to wear. We stopped
at an old vintage clothing store about a mile away from the Chapel O’ Love, where I purchased a sequinned, belly-showing tube top, high waisted brown shorts from the ’60s, a sequinned jacket, and white leather cowgirl boots. Jacques chose a brown button-up shirt, a black suede vest with a long tassel fringe, and a Russian fur hat that sat high on top of his head. The last thing we needed was a ring for him. We already had mine; a pearl ring Jacques had gotten for me the last time we were in Vegas from one of those stands where you choose an oyster and open it up yourself to find the pearl inside. We did that a year ago and he made it into a ring for me, so we were repurposing it for today. I looked in the store’s glass cases and found a man’s ring with a turquoise stone and bought it. It was 2:20 pm when we raced to the car and realized we were completely out of gas.
We had no idea where the closest gas station was, and none of us had smartphones. So Rob used his flip phone to call a cab to take him to a gas station, and he said he would be back with a gas can. He was gone for about twenty minutes, while Jacques and I sat in the front seats of the car with Nevada’s bright, blazing, yel- low sun in our eyes. We sat in silence, not looking at each other. I could feel the sweat dripping down my back and armpits in all of that polyester clothing. My skin couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe.
I felt needed with Jacques. He opened up to me about his father’s death when he was a child, and he told me about how his mother moved them to Portugal after- wards to live an isolated, ex-pat life. There, without the
THE BIG DREAM
support of a loving family and friends, grief overtook her, and her mind slowly started to go. She became obsessed with conspiracy theories about the Illuminati being a group of lizard people using mind control from a space station on the moon.
I felt Jacques was still carrying this pain from his childhood, and I loved being there for him, offering him love and devotion and solace from his inner hell.
As we grew closer, Jaques started to open up to me about his spiritual practice of meditation and his beliefs based on Christian science and mysticism that his mother had taught him. I could relate to some of the teachings since I had been studying new age philosophy and A Course in Miracles with my mom for years, and new age, “you can heal yourself” philosophy emerged from Christian Science. I had taken a transcendental meditation course and was meditating every day, and Jacques would join me.
As time went on, I started to realize that we had dif- ferent reasons for spiritual practice. Jacques became more and more obsessed with sorcery and “opening the doors of perception” to attain spiritual power, and he would mock my interest in Eckhart Tolle’s teachings and Mari- anne William’s lectures, saying that they were “kindergarten spirituality lessons.” Eventually, I gave up on my own pathways of spiritual pursuit and took on his.
He had adopted a belief in conspiracy theories from his mother, and began to preach to me about the Illumi- nati, who he said were a group of people that used spiritual sorcery and sex-magic to control the American government; and would show me his research on ma- sonic symbolism and compare it to the symbolism on the American dollar bills.
There were these radio programs by Alex Jones and David Ike that fed him more information about this con- spiracy. His paranoia became so intense that he started to prepare an apocalypse kit for when the Illuminati took over and the government could no longer protect him.
As our relationship continued, we became enmeshed and co-dependent. Jacques began to depend on me for everything; I became his mother, his therapist, his maid, his cook, his driver, and his whore. I had fallen into these roles unconsciously and worked myself into an almost constant state of rage. Yet, I had no self-esteem or rela- tional tools to express myself, set boundaries, or move on from the situation.
Our relationship became toxic and emotionally abu- sive. Jacques’ preferred weapon of choice was criticism. My actions, the music I made, and the friends I had were all stupid, meaningless, and disposable. He began to “jokingly” call me a nigger to “de-condition me” me to the word, “Words only have the power you give them, Nigger,” he would say, knowing full well that my father is black-South African.
He loved to joke about killing me, as well. It was his favourite joke to write me notes describing how he was going to kill me, then write me emails saying that he wanted everyone to know that it was he who had done it. He thought this was very amusing.
He hated my friends and told me that I should stop hanging out with them, encouraged me to cut off my re- lationships with my family because they were the ones to blame for all of my emotional problems.
Now that we were married, we were to get rid of our cell phones and live off-grid. He would call me stupid for
THE BIG DREAM
having credit cards, and say, “That’s how the government keeps track of you.” I gave up the agency to my life, and I let him control me.
Shockingly, my appetite for sex with him was non- existent and when I rejected him he would say things like “You’ve got to keep your customer satisfied” as if I was there to serve him, or he would try and guilt me into it by saying, “Do you know how many other girls are dying to sleep with me, and you won’t?”
My life revolved around him and what he wanted me to be. I wasn’t doing any of the things that I love to do: no singing, no acting, no dancing, no hiking, no yoga, and no taking classes. I was doing whatever Jacques needed me to do and being whomever he needed me to be.
We were living in L.A. together on working visas, and when my visa expired, I was so fucked up and with- out self-worth that I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I had no life without him.
When Jacques offered to marry me to apply for our green cards together and stay in Los Angeles, I said yes. Tragically, I felt deep down that I wasn’t going to make it as an actress. I had completely lost all of my self-esteem.
If I married him, at least I could be in close proxim- ity to his talent, his success, and could be by his side as he made it in this world. I convinced myself that it was my fate to have the honour of nourishing him so that he could be brilliant in his work, like a First Lady or some- thing. I submitted myself to the idea that I must let that be good enough for me.
Jacques instructed me, “Alright, we can get married, but you have to pay for it, and I don’t want anything traditional. I want it to be stupid, funny, and irreverent.
A joke. We will go to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator, and we won’t wear a dress and a suit, we will wear costumes.”
At 2:50 pm, we arrived at the Chapel O Love and met the friendly old receptionist who signed us in. She was smiling and ushering out the previous couple, brightly telling us we weren’t too late for our ceremony. They brought us into the small Chapel, and Rob took his seat on the very back row before our Elvis-impersonating minister came in to tell us how it would all go down.
“I’ll sing her down the aisle, you’ll say your vows, you’ll kiss her, then I’ll sing three more songs, then it’s over.” He was in the middle of asking Jacques what songs he would like when I noticed how sweaty and gross our Elvis was. It looked like his face was rotting and melting away. I looked at Jacques, and in a flash, his face looked like a skeleton’s skull. I looked around and wondered why none of this was funny. Wasn’t this supposed to be funny? No one was laughing.
You can back out of this right now, I thought. My mind was racing. What the fuck am I doing? I asked my- self. NO, no, I made a decision. This was the only way to get my green card and keep my life in Los Angeles. I’m not backing out. I’m going.
I stood in front of the closed chapel doors and waited for my cue - the dulcet tones of Fake Elvis singing “Love Me Tender” - to walk down the aisle. The recep- tionist opened the door for me, and I walked down the aisle alone. I looked at Rob, and he had kind of tense, “alrighty then, this is actually happening” smile on his face as he snapped pictures of me on his flip phone.
THE BIG DREAM
I stopped in front of Jacques and saw that he was shaking. His eyes were red, and his hands were clammy and cold. I wanted him to break, I wanted him to call it off, I was waiting for him to let go of my hands and walk away, but he didn’t.
Jacques slipped the pearl ring onto my finger and promised to be my “hunk a’ hunk a’ burnin’ love.” I put the turquoise ring on his finger and promised to “never step on his blue suede shoes.” We kissed. Elvis began to sing “All Shook Up”, and we danced clumsily under the fluorescent lights of the Chapel O’ Love.
Then Jacques disappeared. Rob and I didn’t know where he went, and we needed to sign the marriage pa- pers. We went to the parking lot and couldn’t find Jacques anywhere. I wanted to scream. I was holding back tears when Rob flashed me that tense smile again.
After a long and awkward search party, we finally saw him walking toward us from down the street, smok- ing a cigarette in a manic state. He was laughing in this hysterical kind of way and kept saying, “that was intense, that was so intense.” Finally, we both laughed about how, even after trying to make the ceremony a joke, the expe- rience was all too real. He lit another cigarette. And another. And another.