Please don't judge me when I admit that I watched the entire broadcast of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" in April of last year.
But I had two reasons for wanting to watch it.
The first was undoubtedly because of my moderate success as a romance writer. I write fiction as well as nonfiction articles and books, but most of my fiction involves a man and a woman falling in love, then getting married.
The premise was crazy. I know that. Even as I tuned in, I couldn't believe that they would parade fifty women around a stage for a couple of hours then culminate the whole thing in a legal wedding ceremony. But once the final five contestants donned wedding dresses--complete with veils and ring--I had to know how things turned out. I was propelled by a romance writers mind--how is it going to play out? I perceived it as the most bizarre plot any romance writer could imagine.
But the second reason, as the world has come to know, was that early in the show a certain name was announced. You know the name as well as I. My teenage daughter and I were excited upon hearing that Miss Darva Conger was in the running. We wanted to see how far she would go.
From that point on, I had a personal, vested interest in the show. She was kin.
Conger is not a common name. The woman looked a whole lot like my husband's sister. Granted, I'm new to the family; I married into it just five years ago. But that girl was blood, and I wanted to know how she fared in the competition.
By the end of the show--which still rubbed me the wrong way on a moral level--I liked Darva and hoped that she would make Mr. Rockwell very happy. Besides possessing beauty, she seemed to be a smart, confident and focused woman. In short, a perfect romance novel heroine.
Then it began.
Two days later, a reporter with a national newspaper called our house. (I.E. The National Enquirer). He wanted to know if we were related to Darva. Remotely, I answered, perhaps fourth or fifth cousins. He was desperate for information on the enigmatic bride. I wished him well, thinking it was all pretty neat.
A few days later another relative informed me that she'd received a call from the same reporter.
Our family thought the whole thing was still cool.
But the fallout was on its way. A few friends let me know how unrefined the whole thing had been. None of them had watched it. I actually defended the wedding, citing a few examples of couples who'd married without dating. You might think this is crazy, but I felt that I had to support Darva.
Then the news began to broadcast unflattering reports of both Ms. Conger and Mr. Rockwell, both day and night.
I was increasingly embarrassed that I'd given into a morbid curiosity of watching an uncouth wedding ceremony.
In light of Darva's personal and embarrassing revelations, my Internet buddies boldly began to tease me about our family's shame. Meanwhile, Darva did not slow down. She continued to appear on national television to give contradictory statements about her reasons for entering the competition.
With each passing day, I wished I'd never admitted to anyone that I watched that baneful show.
Meanwhile, a romance I was working on stalled at page sixty-four. I doubted my confidence in unfolding the mystique of romantic love. I was a tainted writer, because I'd polluted my mind with the worst, most coarse scenario imaginable. I had to take a break.
There were two people stuck in Chapter Four of my mind. Sure, you could say that I had writers block, but I think it's even worse. I think briefly forgot how to bring two people together so that they could live happily ever after, and I know it was because of that show!
A few weeks later, I paid a routine visit to the local post office. My package was all wrapped up and ready to send when I slipped the check across the counter. The postal worker, a friendly, efficient man I greatly admire, leaned forward with a wink and asked if my phone was ringing off the hook because of a certain fateful night on the Fox network.
I sighed with a roll of my eyes, but I wasn't upset with him. I told him about the reporter then added, "On behalf of all the Congers, I think we all wish that she'd never entered the competition."
"I'll bet," he replied with just the right dose of sympathy.
Thank you, Jim.