The summer after I graduated from high school, my father started wearing jewelry. First a platinum watch. Then a small bracelet, a thinly threaded band of yellow gold. Then some chains to match. He wore two, maybe three of these at a time, nestled in the gray, white-crested waves of his chest hair, his shirt unbuttoned lower than usual to show them off. Then came the ring, thick and clunky gold, more hardware than frippery, wrapped around his smallest finger.
Before that summer, he never even wore his wedding band. He removed it and gave it to my mother for safekeeping as soon as the folding chairs were folded, the punch bowl and cups rinsed and stacked, the leftover cake cut into sections and divvied up between the twenty or so guests at my parents wedding. Half of these guests fought against raised eyebrows and insistent whispers that had to wait until the party was over. It was June 22, 1974. My father was a convicted murderer, one year out of prison, two years off death row. He survived thirteen execution dates through lucky breaks and legalese and after fifteen years, a fluke of American history saved him for good. Furman v. Georgia: The U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium on the death penalty. My father was paroled.
A marriage to a killer, a former mobster, was not quite what my mother’s family envisioned for their good Catholic daughter—a nun, until recently—though the horror of it must have mitigated somewhat their disappointment that she’d left the convent in the first place. When my parents were dating, and during the first few years of their marriage—before the shock of who he’d been had faded in light of the man he’d become—a family man, a straight arrow who worked hard and kept his head down—my father wasn’t welcome around my mother’s family, her young nieces and nephews especially. This explains his conspicuous absence from photographs of many family holidays and gatherings. My mother wasn’t happy about this, but she understood. My father was paroled, never exonerated.
The full text of this nonfiction piece appears in our Fall 2013 issue (Vol. 60.1).