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.


  1. You have dazzled me, more than usual. You have taken me for a ride in the back of a New York Taxi, whipping and wheeling though midtown Manhattan, through red lights that most people at least slow down for, down narrow streets strewn with sights and sounds and feelings that are too honest for this neighborhood. But it's not all white knuckle, dry mouth, wide unblinking eyes. It's laughs and cleverness and self-deprecation and words that were never meant to work like that but they do.

    How lucky I am to know you, to read you, to try to guess where you're taking me next but haven't been right yet. 100 degrees in the Valley and our hero has not replaced her hormone prescription but she wants to look/act cool. We laugh at her discomfort. And so does she. Now there's good sport. Since when did words conspire to kidnap the reader's mind and hijack it to a new dimension? The rhythm of the writing, the rhythm of the Saints.
    You have sanctified us with you dispensation and desperation, taken us to the next level with your insight and humor, your wicked inspirations and insight.Get thee to an editor, a publisher, Prepare the masses for the onslaught. Armageddon is just around the corner, down past the taco stand, between Heartbreak Hotel and Hotel California. I've tossed shots of bourbon in the latter, for the better. Your insanity is saner than all of us lumped together. And we're better for it.

  2. NO! A thousand times no, this can not be the last installment. Your words are kick ass honest, hold your gut hysterical, passionate and compassionate. Every vicarious jaunt with you peels another layer off the reader.

    Your agent will want twice as much. Your editor will have minimal work. Your publisher will gloat, and I will hold an autographed copy of your best-seller and say, "I knew her when."

  3. Having two married sons I know from where you speak. We only had 4 parents at their weddings and an extra wife and boyfriend both of which are not involved in the lives of my sons. We married young (19 and 20) and lasted 20 years. I encouraged my sons to marry later and they did at 31. So far so good but as you know we never know what lurks between the 4 walls of a marriage.

    But if you thought the marriage was wonderful and unmatched wait until the grand kids arrive. That is without question, next to the birth of my own kids the other greatest joy in my life.

    I never envisioned myself as a grandmother and worried about boundaries and my wanting to finally have a life dedicated to me-it has worked out so different than I imagined.

    To have little arms loving you whenever they see you, calling out Grammie, endlessly and telling you that you are "awesome" is the the true gift of having children. Also, you can send them home anytime you want.

    Three live within walking distance and one in Illinois but my life has reached a fulfillment different than any job, career or adventure I could possibly have in my lifetime.

    You have just started with the first wedding. Many more joys to follow. Your writing is brilliant and absolutely captured the moment.

    Then to come home to someone who loves you, right now, is the feeling of being in the right place, in the present. Enjoy your present (s) in all senses of the word.

  4. Too bad I couldn't have met you in LA. Hope the day appears soon that we are in the same room together.

  5. Think back to those hand-wringing moments when the 911 call would come in from the brothers maniac and we'd rush down hoping to live another day. Think of all that bullshit when this book arrives, and how despite the universe's forces that have tried to pull you apart at every turn, you have lived your life with such truth and purpose. You haven't arrived, you've been here all along. It's the rest of us who are just now puling into the station because of your unselfish and beautiful story telling.

    I'm with Linda, I can't wait to say, "I knew her when."

  6. I continue to love your writing and am also pleased based upon the content that the present and future are and will be upbeat experiences. We have only met for a few minutes in person, but I feel that your writing has enlightened me about a special creative talent and I think of you as someone that I know better than people I have know for a much longer time. I just celebrated my 75th birthday while spending time in Ft Myers FL and I am actively learning (just attended the Sanibel Islands Writers Conference) and writing in spite of playing tennis daily. Keep up the writing, good luck with getting it published, and congrats on the new guy. p.s.--no bra clip, How Tacky

    Mort Levy

  7. Despite the bond we had before I took my first breath, I feel like the older I get, the closer we become. You've always been an amazing and loving mother, but over the years you've become one of my best friends.

    It's been a privilege and a delight to watch you grow into such an amazing wordsmith - but then again, I knew you were a good writer before I was even born ; )

  8. No damn way is this 'gonna be your last posting. This stuff is too good... when do you get time to right this stuff?... this is the stuff of excellent lit!
    From your "Lit" pal and dancin' partner,

  9. Nate, I don't think you'll ever fully appreciate the impact your words you have just written to your mom will have. So few mothers ever hear feelings like that from a son. The way you expressed it shows the apple does not fall far from the typewriter. The two of you are indeed fortunate to have each other... and be able to tell each other how you feel.

  10. Girl, Gerry is right--you KNOW how to write!!!! Go for the book--it's all right there!!!! Bobbie

  11. I'm righteously verklempt.

    Talk amongst yourselves.

    Okay, I'm better.

    I don't know what to say except, grace is not a four letter word. I am blessed beyond measure.

    Your comments and encouragement are the currency which buys my passage to a purpose beyond the ordinary. The fact that you stop what you're doing to read my stuff blows me away. Words fail.

    Drinks on me, when the book deal comes through.

    With gratitude and love,

  12. This is absolutely the best post I have ever read from anyone !

  13. I don't think its fair (she whined) that you are this good. I really don't. And you killed with "and the lamp stays on."

    But Happy New Year, anyway Jean. :)