“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way…Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
“What are we supposed to wear?”
She turns back to the closet before I can answer. We’ve heard the forecast. The air will be cold and microscopic droplets will hover, landing on chilly skin, being breathed in and out.
“Whatever we want,” I say, humming a Passenger song still stuck in my head. My brown corduroy jacket isn’t as formal as my black one but I don’t care. I don’t get enough opportunities to wear this.
In fact, maybe there’s a Halloween costume I can come up with for it.
In our early days I imagined teaching English, maybe at a private university or something. She’d make art and we’d be happy in our little house, gardening and reading to each other by candlelight. Didn’t happen, but maybe we don’t have to live up to an image of happy to be happy.
Why aren’t there any songs about that?
What is this story really about?
“I just don’t want to be uncomfortable,” she says.
Always the same thing. I try to bite my tongue, but I can’t stop it.
“You’re going to be uncomfortable; that’s inevitable,” I say. Then, softening, “It’s a wedding and we don’t know anyone. Wear what you want.”
It’s a weekend, a day’s drive to Tahoe, then a quick flight back. But I can’t remember why we’re going. It’s mainly as a nice gesture to my cousin, and we needed to pick up the night guard for Sheri’s teeth anyway which the dentist calls an “appliance” that’s supposed to cure migraines. We shall see.
But do we make an effort to go now as a married couple because we’re supposed to or because we want to love people well? And even if it’s the latter, do we really love people well? Or are we still always too wrapped up in our own lives to really notice them?
Do we really know what this story is about?
Most of my life I’ve spent thinking about myself and the figure I cut in the world, the figure I want to cut, and then figuring out the tricks and what clothing will be required. And each passing year, I’ve wondered if I’m any closer.
Are we there yet? And are we happier here?
Now I just want her to be happy, healthy.
She puts on another dress and she’s beautiful. She is. She wants to know if she’s “okay.” She’s more than okay.
“Can you see through?” she asks, looking down. “I don’t think I have a half slip.”
“It’s fine,” I say. “I can’t see. Anyway, it’s going to be dark.”
But I can see. Not what she’s asking, but so much more.
It’s a brilliant line from the Passenger song. I know that feeling. Fourteen years ago, my eyes wouldn’t open when she called me to say there was an ivory dress she loved and should she buy it. I guess I’d decided then and there on the phone. She had to buy the dress because she was the one, the one I wanted to help pick out her dresses.
I feared I’d choke if I didn’t spit it out. The unbearable thrill of it. And the sadness of what was my old solitary life, now behind me forever. I think that part doesn’t get mentioned much. But it’s a happy sad.
Love takes with undeniable force. And we can’t really be sad for what we must leave behind, but how can we not be? Life is so precious and gone so soon.
“What’s left to say when all the words have been spoken? What’s left to give when the gifts are all opened?”
I’m so much more now than I was before her. But in many ways, I’m also a shadow of who I was before her. My ambition, my grand dreams, all my big plans for who I’d be and the image I’d project of confidence and simple mastery of my self-contained world, that’s all gone now.
And in its place, a stiller heart, a warmer man. And this stylin’ corduroy coat.
Life moves along the lines of love. The things we let go, they were never ours to begin with. And the things we keep, those things are truly ours.
She turns once and I imagine the light in her hair, the way it was that drizzly day in Seattle fourteen years ago. I whistle and she turns again.
“You’re just sexy, you know?”
She smiles. Is it the eyes of love talking? I don’t know. But my eyes see so much. And it only takes a little light…