Tuesday, November 9, 2010

With This Ring

There’s something about a wedding.

A holiness in it.

Palpable mounds of frothy expectation lace the air like sweet dollops of meringue on the cupcakes which awaited the tasting, once the vows were spoken, the sanctifying kiss ‘tween bride and groom sealed, the dancing commenced, as we stand there, mother and son, my hand draped across his arm, waiting.

Waiting for our cue to lead the processional through the lush San Fernando Valley garden, under twinkling lights, draped from palm trees, past rows of prim white chairs and loving admirers. Deservedly so.

They waited. And I, looked at Nathan and drank in every drop, completely immersed in that sacred prelude to the rest of his life; the sun starting its descent, the forgiving breeze, which would break the heat wave, stirring the fern leaves, the table linens, blowing my bangs the wrong direction. The muted voices of guests in the garden, floated our way as we strained to hear our musical cue. I quieted my mind to be present, fully present to that finite moment, like none before or none to come again, my son and I, on the threshold of the rest of his life.

Back home tonight, days after the wedding, I’m reminded of a poem I wrote to him the day before he was born. It was an unseasonably warm November day, we were living in Virginia Beach then, my husband in the Navy. I’d taken a long walk along the Chesapeake Bay, trying to nudge my womb into bidding a fond adieu to its little charge. The beach was wonderful; bright and breezy, the sun further from the south, intense. It was quiet, near empty, save for the locals walking their dogs and a 23-year old girl, eager and scared. I was walking and thinking, thinking and walking, looking out over the choppy bay. I lay down in the cool sand, heavy hips and heels leaving an impression. I hiked up the home-sewn maternity blouse over my belly, exposing it to the sun, his prenatal nest, a greenhouse now.

What will you be, my mystery child?
Rolling about in your sea of seclusion,
I know you not but love you already.
Soon you will breathe the same air as I
and begin your journey away from me.

Thirty one years later, on an unseasonably warm California evening, he stands next to me, as I quietly inhale all the sweet promise of this minute. I study him, my handsome son, my baby, my firstborn, confident, happy, excited.


Ready to complete his journey away from me, down that flagstone garden walk,
head high, to stop.

To turn around.

And see, his future.

Radiant, lovely, sweet and smiling. A gift. A precious gift of thousands of mornings and California sunsets, and middle of the night wakeful babies yet to come, she proceeded. So worthy of our adoration -- stunning, a vision, joyful, brimming with love. So in love.

With my boy.

How pure and wonderful an emotion, there is none above it, than the moment a groom sees his bride walking toward their forever, except for, perhaps, the first sight of a their newborn baby, the manifestation and miracle of that love.

How grounding. As seven, yes, seven parents of this couple looked on. Never mind our missteps and eleven marriages between the lot of us. And me, the perennial parent without a partner, I sat next to Nathan’s father, my first husband. The poor man was sandwiched in between the former wife and the current wife. Not that she's going anywhere, seems like at least he got it right the second time around. And the three of us are downright chummy, we're nothing if not model co-parents. And the family into which Nathan is marrying, stupendous, they are just the best people and I love my son’s new mother-in-law like a sister.

It was all just so lovely. Lovely and sweet and inspiring and romantic. And tonight, looking at the photos, I am simply amazed.

Amazed by, what the hell was I thinking?

Who was with me in the dressing room at Nordstrom’s? Why did I think I could get away with a sleeveless dress? Why did I take off my sling backs and dance in my flats? I looked like a Pygmy. And when did my knees get so chubby? And why didn’t I pay the extra $28 for those little bra strap holders after I’d paid $30 to take up the shoulders on my ruffled purple cocktail dress ? Why didn’t I realize the dress straps would be sliding off my shoulders all night, so my black bra strap was showing in half the pictures from the dance floor, akin to a slightly disheveled middle-aged hooker?

How these photos ridicule my failures. I didn’t lose the 20 pounds I’d set out to. I didn’t do it. I lost a mere six. Weight Watchers is going to give me an “honorary mention” and set my ass out on the curb. Why didn’t I remember to plant a child, or a bush, or a short bridesmaid in front of me in every picture? Hell, I should have rented somebody’s kid for the night. Why didn’t I remember to lean forward, ever so slightly with my chin, so as to make the other chins disappear. I know this! Oh, and that little detail of lipstick and powder after dinner? I used to be a model for crying out loud! Powder and lipstick! Powder and lipstick ! I know this! Matte is good, shiny is bad! But no! We now have 9,000 photographs of a slightly pudgy, middle-aged mother in the throes of rapid-fire hot flashes, freakishly looking like a female version of Bill Murray.

Granted, it was record heat in L.A. that weekend, 100-degrees, and then some. And I did choose not to refill my hormone replacement prescription, thinking the $50 could be better spent elsewhere and surely after five years it’s time for my personal heat wave to subside. Damn weather.

Best laid plans of menopausal women, eh? I wanted to be a knock out. I truly did. I wanted folks to whisper, “Wow, four kids? She looks great ! ” Why? Why is this? What is wrong with me? Am I just a shallow, narcissistic heap of “that-ship-has-already-sailed” pitifulness because I wanted to make a splash? Or do most women secretly dream of being the age-defying gorgeous mother of the bride or groom, hoping against hope that somehow, we can hike it up, tuck it in, paint it over and prop it up enough to look, for just one night, remotely like the women we were when we were brides?

These young women don’t know the power or the beauty they possess. With their creamy skin, silky arms and legs and tiny waists and flawless necks that have not turned turkey, I doubt they appreciate how truly lovely they are. Some day they will. And someday, if they’re lucky enough to have beautiful babies who grow up to be beautiful adults, (the DNA upgrade is what I call my kids) complete with youthful minds and bodies, well equipped to embark on the rigors of love and marriage, they’ll have the privilege of witnessing their children fall in love, and mature into human beings possessed of character and grace. I don’t mean agility because Lord knows my kids aren’t exactly gazelles. I’m talking state of grace, to be present to the prospect and promise of love and to be brave enough to take that first step down the flagstone walk to their dreams.

And why the hell not?

Because joy lies there. And in these photos, I see joy. Unmitigated joy.

How wonderful. How beautiful a gift when our children become our teachers, reminding us of the purity of love, the magic of one person’s touch, one kiss, one soul, the one soul, that makes our lives complete. Everybody knows this is the good stuff. We watch, reminded, revisiting these moments from our own lives, restored, hopeful, renewed, like reciting baptismal vows from the good book of love. We glow in their glow, reflected in the happy smiles from grandparents in their 80s, from gray-haired dads in their 50s, with their still brunette wives and ex-wives, from hipster friends, who make up the couples’ created family, to my brother’s new widow, with her son next to her instead of her husband, to the younger brothers and sister, so thrilled that their big brother has married the girl of his dreams.

How blessed are we.

How lucky am I.

And for the record, I actually did have a date, bitches. Not a boyfriend, just a good friend who lives in L.A., a wonderful escort and dancin’ fool, who set the parquet floor on fire. I danced with all of my children, Nathan, Patrick, Lauren and Sean to “Shout!” (throw your head back, shout!) Brother Don would have been proud, as this was the last song he ever danced to. He’d gotten up on the dance floor at my niece’s wedding in June, cane to steady him, as we held on to the back of his pants and stood behind him, praying he wouldn’t fall. God rest his sweet, sweet soul, as his whole damn family was jumpin’ and shoutin’ like converts at a tent revival. Lauren and I ran to find each other when the DJ spun “Brown Eyed Girl” the song I spun her around to, in the living room on the night of her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. I had flown my mom in from Albuquerque just for the occasion. She said she’d never forget that night. Abundant joy then and now, giggling like school girls as we’d twirl and spin.

Abundant joy. How precious. How fleeting.

And now, I am home. Home to devote due consideration to this man just ten minutes away, who believes he’s found his joy in me. It would be so much easier to be young and in love, like my son and his bride, unencumbered by decades of life experience. Life experience, like so many gallons of discarded paint, separated now, into layers, the oil on the surface, the hue, the essence, underneath, not knowing the true patina, until we stick our paddles smack dab in the thick of it. How many times have we discovered too late, that the chalky disappointment in the bottom of the can wasn’t worth prying off the lid?

How I wish I did not know this. Or, is it good that I know that in this process of familiarization, once the lizard brain takes an exhausted nap and we move beyond the tactile benefits, beyond the rave reviews on the book cover flaps, and actually scour the contents, it eventually becomes cipherin’ time again. Not the normal kind, where I’m figuring how much credit I’ve got left on the Macy’s card, or how many more fill-ups between now and payday or which utility bill has to be paid first to avoid disconnection, no, this is cipherin’ of a heightened dimension and consequence. This is cold, hard analysis, pencil to the paper, let’s get down to the facts. For example, “on a scale of one to ten, how important is this one bad habit compared to all his good habits, intellect, sense of humor, good looks, remaining hair, music collection, and generosity of spirit and material possessions?” Or, “how uncomfortable am I with his opposing view on this particular topic, compared to the ten issues in which we’re in synch like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire?” Or, “when he does this it makes me want to scream!” as opposed to “when he does this it makes me want to scream.”

How do we inventory? Do we grade on the curve, like a lenient teacher who’d rather see more pass than fail? How large or small is a single act, behavior, episode or chapter when held up to a lifetime, at least so far. I always say, judge me on the entire body of my work. Shouldn't I grant him the same license? If so, what’s immediately tossed off as inconsequential? What constitutes a deal breaker or a commitment maker?

Oh, if we could just get references! We do that for every other commitment in our lives, from housekeepers to house painters! Would it seem untoward to call up a former lover or ex-wife and simply ask if she’d be willing to participate in a little survey?

“Using a ratings system from one to five, with five being highly satisfied and one being not satisfied at all, please answer the following questions.....”

But of course, we can’t. Somewhere at the nexus of our gut, brains, heart, lust, evidentiary hearings and misty-eyed optimism lies some bedrock truths, such as they would reveal themselves at any given moment in time, some truths being transitive, some not. While I try to sort through the knotted ropes, he is confident that his molecular planets have aligned. He loves me. How can he know this? He loves me. This puts him ahead of me.

I am like the lead guitar, backstage, waiting in the wings. The front of the house fills with expectant fans, the noise, the heat, the smoke, clinking glasses, laughter, metal bar stools scrape the concrete floor as concert goers take their seats. It’s safe backstage in the dark. The gun metal gray matte stage floor, marked off with glow-in-the-dark tape, provides a safe pathway around the cables, weights and pulleys, and the heavy black curtains. The blue light of the sound board a beacon, your bearings in the dark, comforting, familiar, throwing soft light up into your wise, road-weary face, resigned, comfortable with the drill, the solo performance, repeated night after night. You know this. Your friends are here, they know the set list, they’ve got your back, they know the fills, the beats and baselines. The pre-show rituals are predictable, familiar, well rehearsed. But then, you’re alone, guitar neck down by your knees, a spotlight catches the dull metal sheen of the haywire of new strings and you’ve been spotted, a whistle goes up in the crowd. They’re waiting. Your friends have moved off to take their places and it’s just you and your voice, your instrument, your audience. Nobody can tell you how to do this. Nobody knows the longing in your heart, the yearning for some magic solarium, a sunny cove next to a window sill, where the perfect lover resides, no more performing, no risk, no fear. He plays for you, an acoustic guitar cross his lap, the mere sound of fingers sliding over the frets, soothes and stirs your soul, like a healing rain, where one song, one song, for as long as it lasts, washes away every pain, every disappointment, every heartache, shame and fear, even for just a few short measures. Who could possibly know that song? You tighten the guitar strap and walk toward the spotlight.

But, it's a porch light which shines on him now as he waits for me on the stoop. Leaning against the rail, legs crossed at the ankle, he’s stepped outside to greet me on this harvest moon night. I pull up, he waves. The distance from the curb to the porch is about twenty feet. Twenty feet. Is this my flagstone path to the future? I step up, under the porch light, into his embrace, his sweet kiss, his house, his room. He takes off his glasses. He takes off his watch. He lays them on the nightstand.

The lamp stays on.