Promises were made…

May 19th, 1984. 

i was such a hippie-goob.  Bad perm, owl glasses.  Wearing this dorky long white satin-esque dress that had belonged to my maternal grandmother.  He was wearing his only best suit – the Brooks Brothers rig his parents bought for him when he graduated from college in 1976.   Brown.  Soft plaid.  We weren’t ‘retro’.  Just dorks, and really fucking cheap.

Holy. Shit.

The wedding pictures are just precious*.  i was 22, he was 29.  Nerds?  You bet!  We’d been living together since i was 19, bought our first house a year later in 1983, and fought like animal rights activists in a medical school laboratory to keep the wedding tiny.  Much to the annoyance of my Mom, who wanted a big wedding** for SOMEONE.  i was pretty much her last hope, and she fought to make it bigger… while i fought to simplify.

We refused to send invitations.  Only announcements to most people – after the fact.  We’d purchased a house, and wanted to discourage gifts.  Some of the announcements actually said “daisyfae and EJR announce the change in tax filing status from ‘single’ to ‘joint’, with an estimated annual tax savings of $1,475.”  We were paying for the wedding, which took away much of Mom’s ability to influence.  But she was resourceful and tenacious as a pit bull.

My favorite example of the passive-aggressive battle?  Mom thought it would be nice to have a “Unity Candle” ceremony in the church.  This is where the Mother of the Bride and the Mother of the Groom bring lit candles to the Bride and Groom, who then light their own candles from the symbolic maternal flame.  And together, the sappy couple attempt to avoid holy conflagration and light a single candle together. 

Awwww…. So symbolic.  So fucking stupid.  i drew a line in the worn church carpet and said “NO!”  arguing that we’d be too nervous, and burn down the historic chapel and that would suck loudly.  She sulked.  i won.

Our guest list was drawn up via the following criteria:  “Who will never speak to us again if they aren’t invited?”  Total guest list was about 30 – all family except for three of our friends.  For our reception, we wanted to just go out to eat at a decent restaurant.  Figuring that our families might never get together again unless we dropped dead…. and even then?  Maybe not.

Arriving at the restaurant, i was quite annoyed to find that Mom had brought a plastic-flower encrusted styrofoam block.  She’d spray painted the styrofoam forest green.  Mounted upon it were a bunch of fucking candles.  Yep.  She got me on a technicality – “You said you didn’t want to do it at church…”.  Sneaky, sneaky little snake-mother, wasn’t she?

And so it went…  But it was a good party.  i got really drunk with my new sister-in-law.  DQ, then 12 years old, caught the bouquet.  The marriage was generally ok – he was, and is, a good human.  We eventually sucked as a couple.   Our genetic products are delightful. 

And 25 years ago today?  i really meant it when i promised “til death do us part”.  Maybe what i meant was the figurative death of “us”, rather than the actual heart-stoppage of either body***. 

Taking a page from Mom’s playbook…. a technicality?

 Shit happens.  Or sometimes, it doesn't...

*yes. there are candidate photos for the “awkward family photos” site  – sadly.  no. i won’t scan them in.  i respect him too much…

** Mom eloped the first time.  And the second time.  And it was a little shotgun event with the justice of the peace when she married Dad.  Oldest sister, S?  Ran away at 18.  My brother, T?  Pretty much the same thing.  And my other sister, T?  Lesbitarian.  Although she did manage to marry a Palestinian taxi driver at the height of the Persian Gulf War…. that was later.  A story for another time…

*** Paraphrased from “The Big Chill”:  “Rationalization is more important than sex.  Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

white noise

 Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
– Thoreau

How do we get there?  I mean, no one sets out, cheerfully saying “Gee! When I grow up, I want to lose my ability to feel unbridled joy, cry at a beautiful sunset, or develop myself as a unique and special creature”.

We’re merrily chugging along through our 20’s, full of optimism and dreams.  As yet unravaged by failure, heartbreak… or the numbing weight of day-to-day responsibilities.  The emotional exhaustion of the hamster wheel.  We play, we grow, we learn.  We chart a course for an unknown future. Restless at times, lost at others.  We know we’re just getting started – and the journey can still take us anywhere.  It’s exciting and unscripted!  There are possibilities… there is hope.

We do that thing that is expected of us. Socially and biologically. We ‘Settle Down’.  We play less, we worry more.  We furrow our brows as we plan our future.   But we have purpose.  We are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers.  Employees – with increasing responsibility.  Those dependent little faces?  Our children.  Our parents.  Our employees.  We care for them.  They are counting on us.

Along the way to “Settle Down”, something is lost.  There is no free lunch you can’t have it both ways you can’t always get what you want.  We let go of things.  We lose our Selves.  Dreams.  Passions.  Hobbies.  Creativity takes a back seat to bill paying. Our friends who didn’t head for “Settle Down” seem irresponsible.  How dare they call us at 11:30 pm on a weeknight?  We are grown ups.

That person in the bed next to you is different, too.  Lost among the routines of taking out the trash, cleaning up the dog puke, fixing the plumbing…. No longer a “person of interest“, to steal a phrase from modern law enforcement.  A room mate.  A co-parent, if you’re lucky.

You watch him sleep.  Listen to his endless snoring.  Knowing that he’s gone, too.  You walk the house at night, tripping over your amiable, but thoroughly confused, dogs.  You walk quietly, so as not to wake your sleeping family – and all you hear is the white noise in your head.  The noise that replaced passion.

We still have purpose, but it’s less compelling.  They don’t need us as much now – that was the goal, right?  Fly away, babies!  We’re aware of the clock hanging over our heads.  We can see the finish line.  We watch the old couples…  The men who drive their wives to WalMart.  The ladies who lunch.  We listen to our elderly parents – recounting every item of food consumed during the previous week as a “scores and highlights” reel.  No exit ramp in sight.  We know exactly where we’re headed…

“Only cowards stay, but traitors run*…”

Then the white noise in our head is replaced by something else… the screaming…  No one else can hear it. Except maybe the dogs…

alone

* Bare Naked Ladies, Jane.

Pinning Points

Every November, i have the same argument: “Put up the damn Christmas tree!”  This is followed immediately by “What’s the point?”  Sometimes, i have this argument out loud.  By myself.  For several minutes… Because it amuses me.

Never one to go overboard with decorating, i’ve always kept the holiday stuff at a reasonable level. Never put out more than i could take down on a cold, January afternoon. As the kids grew, there were a few standards they wanted to see – the “mouse countdown” calendar, Santa’s Marching Band, and of course, the random collection of weird shit on our tree. 

The other family tradition?  Once the tree is assembled and decorated, we must stand beside it and say “It’s the most beautiful Christmas tree ever.  Just like last year…”  The kids often delivered this line in monotone, with corresponding eye-roll. 

The tree itself? For the past 15 years, it’s usually been the same artificial tree – assembled branch by branch. It looks good, but never as nice as the real ones we’ve murdered purchased from time to time.  And it seems that i am always near tears when i’m putting it up, or taking it down. 

So why the fuck do i do this?

Holidays provide easy “pinning points” in our lives.  i mean, you don’t sit there on some random May 15th and say “damn, i remember May 15th from four years ago…”.  It just doesn’t work that way.  So when that damn tree is put up, or comes down, i am overcome by memories of over two decades of tree assembly or deconstruction.  And all of the emotions that were present at the time.

Every year i tell myself “Fuck it.  Don’t do it.”  But i give in… and it usually feels right after it’s up.  Sometimes i tell myself it’s for the kids.  Although they say it doesn’t matter whether there’s a tree or not, i suspect it represents a pinning point for them as well.  Sometimes it’s just because i’m not ready to become one of those people who drags out a small, fiber optic tree and says “Voila!”  That’s so my Mother…

This morning.  Removing the ornaments.  Smiling at the goofy shit* we’ve had on the tree for years.  Groaning at the hideously ugly** ornaments Mom has given me – which i dutifully place on the back of the tree.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Year after year.  Stuffing the scratchy synthetic wires into the large cardboard box that will sit unnoticed on a shelf in my garage for the next 11 months.  Carefully taped shut to keep out spiders.

Remembering the tree assembly from 2006.  Knowing at the time it would be the last holiday we would be spending together as a foursome – a pseudo-family***.  Having a ridiculous fever of unknown origin**** but plugging through it anyway…  The Girl was sailing through Europe during her Semester at Sea.  The Boy and his girlfriend lending me a hand as i wheeled around the tree in a rolling desk chair to conserve energy…

Flashing forward to an unknown future.  Knowing that choices i’ve made in my personal life are far-reaching.  And will bring moments of darkness, along with the freedom i crave.  Letting this knowledge wash over me like a scalding shower.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Blasting through year after year.  Tossing aside the idea of getting a gigantic 12′ pre-lit artificial tree for next year.  It wouldn’t be the same…

Pinning points.  Our lives woven around them.  Sometimes a beautiful tapestry.  Sometimes ragged, uneven web…

http://www.zastavki.com/?lang=amr

image sourced from:  http://www.zastavki.com

* the traditional first ornament is a miniature 6-pack of beer.  we’ve got an alien spaceship, painted pine cones, holographic glasses… silliness abounds…

** she gives each of us two gold-plated “collector” ornaments each year.  Some of them are hideous – including the gold-plated mini-van.  Seriously.  A mini-van?  it’s like the people who have to come up with new ornaments for the series are sitting around saying “Holy Fuck.  We’re out of Christmas shit.  Let’s start doing cars…”.

*** Our divorce was final in August of 2006, but it was quite amicable.  We agreed to spend that holiday together to soften the transition.  The Girl was 20, and The Boy was 17…

**** At the time, the doc thought it might be malaria (after a meet-up with The Girl in Vietnam and Cambodia).  It was only mono that i contracted in the Cambodian jungle, but i didn’t get that diagnosis until early December.  Around the time i was diagnosed with breast cancer…  Sucky month, eh?

Dealing with failure*

My first year in college wasn’t pretty, academically or socially.  For two quarters, i coasted on what i’d learned in high school – mostly via osmosis, as i’d rarely cracked a book during my secondary education.  As is often the case, it caught up with me by the end of my first year – and i failed Calculus III** – a required course for my chosen degree program.

 

Tucking my tail between my legs, i went back to The Park to report out to my parents – who funded my first year***.  Mom was “disappointed”, and told me that i’d need to “buckle down” and get to work.  Dad took a different approach.

 

Rooting around through some old papers, he located his undergraduate transcripts.  Handing them to me, he asked me if there was anything that jumped out at me.  He had a terrible freshman year – even failing “Strength of Materials”.  This was, in fact, the course that he was currently teaching as an evening class at a local university.  He also only had one “A” during his undergraduate career – and it was in “Hygiene”.

 

Rather than lecture me, he went on to talk about “why” his first year was so bad.  It was early in World War II, and he was planning to enlist at the end of his freshman year.  Knowing that his eyesight was horrible, the only thing he studied that year was an eye chart – figuring if he memorized it, he could make the cut.

 

Invariably, they changed the chart before he went in for his physical, he failed and he was not allowed to enlist.  Tucking his tail between his legs, he had to go back to his second year at the university and recover.  He successfully completed the engineering degree program****, and went on to a productive career – and a life with meaning and substance – never looking back on that one academic failure. 

 

————— 

 

* “failure” is likely to be a recurring theme for me as i conjure snapshots of my life.  i suppose everyone has to be good at something, and i seem to be good at dealing with fuck ups…  Go with your strenghts, right?

 

** But hey, i got an “A” in Psychology 101, a “B” in English composition and a “B” in Analytical Chemistry!

 

*** i moved in with my future husband halfway through my second year (at 19 years old).  From that point on, i declared myself financially independent, and didn’t accept additional parental financial support – although they were quite willing to help.

 

**** A remarkable achievement, my father was one of the extremely rare first-generation immigrants to go to college in that era.  Typically, this didn’t happen for another generation.  He spoke no English until he was 8 years old.  How did this happen?  His mother understood the value of education, told him he was brilliant every single day – rather than focus on their miserable economic status – and that he was expected to continue and complete his education.  So very sorry i never knew her…

Let’s talk about failure

Not always at the top of the conversation list, it’s something that happens to all of us. This week, i stumbled and fell – a little unexpectedly – and my reaction was also a bit unexpected.

i am required to complete a 13 month professional development course. It has been required for several years, but most of us played the waiting game – hoping the requirement would vaporize with changes in the front office. But alas, we could wait no longer as strong arm tactics were deployed. Small children would be maimed, puppies would be stomped and (shudder) blackberries demolished if we failed to comply.

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