For you, twenty years later

The first time I saw you I was sitting in the back pew of a church. You stood up dressed like a Kennedy, wearing a white shirt, a red bow tie, a navy wool sports jacket and khakis. You spoke about Medieval Japan and Portuguese missionaries crucified upside down and I inhaled your words, verbal pheromones wafting above the heads of the crowd into my senses. I leaned over to a mutual friend and said: “He is interesting.” She knocked her hand against her forehead with exaggerated dawning: “Of course, the two of you are perfect for each other.” She was the dental hygienist who would later casually mention my engagement to another man as she scraped the tartar from your teeth, but for a time, she would take credit for our match.

What the hygienist and I did not know was that you had already had the revelation. You had picked me out at the grocery store. I was a contestant for Miss Cherry Days, the only brunette, the only newcomer to this small town. Each girl had a montage of photos displayed and perusing, you discovered my pictures and (I like to imagine) the bolt of lightning hit. This one could be the one. But you had thought I might be stupid or silly, what was I doing in a beauty pageant? Until you found out I was singing “Papa can you hear me?” from “Yentl,” in a homemade ghetto dress and head scarf, amid so many sequined dancers.

On our first date you drove up in a red Fiat convertible. We drove fast through the mountains, heads leaning close to hear each other’s voices over the rush of air. You had assembled a picnic of pheasant and grapes. I watched as you divided the food, you had the most beautiful hands, a poet’s hands. We talked like breathing, like we were thinking aloud, like jazz. We went back to watch movies – “Hair” and “A Star is Born” with Judy Garland – and when I got home at 2:30 in the morning I woke up my family, stood on a chair in the kitchen and said: “This is big.” And it was. Lots of dates became being with you.

I was a child of my culture and love had a certain order and timing. I was on one schedule and you were on another. You were dangerous, moving in a direction that was not the status quo. You wanted to travel, to study; I wanted to set up house. Once I said I wanted a felt chart with pockets for chores and Popsicle sticks with our names and the names of all our children and we could make assignments by moving our stick family from place to place on the chart. You told me you would never be a happy person. I left the restaurant dreaming of a home that was easy and bright.

So I got engaged to a new boy who was easy and bright, within two weeks of the Popsicle stick conversation. Impulse is not unusual in a world orchestrated by divine intervention, but I still didn’t have the nerve to tell you. The hygienist did, she said she knew it would have never worked out between us. You sent me roses with a note: “I wish you had been the one to tell me,” and I was angry, so angry, how dare you send flowers to another man’s fiancée? I perched, poised on the back of a white steed, clutching a knight so bold and dashing – my parents’ choice, my church’s choice, my correct choice. Then I slid off. Slid off the horse, slid off the ring in the food court of a mall and handed one future away. In the uncertainty of present tense, I called you that same night. In rejecting the obvious, you were my obvious, a tangled, jungle path that wound into darkness.  

Two years later I giggled as I shifted my too long dress from one side of the altar to the other with a thump. You looked as white as your suit. We went to Alaska on a cruise because I didn’t like bathing suits. We walked on a glacier. We bought a totem pole Christmas ornament that is just now starting to rot, the dough crumbling from a mold spot near the eagle’s beak.

Of all the people we knew, we would have been voted the couple least likely to survive. They were not wrong, but we were too afraid, lazy, or tired to act in crisis, saved by inertia and also each night at dinner, ever curious what the other had to say. Never a grand plan, just tiny daily decisions, getting up again and making breakfast, concluding that leaving always seemed slightly more absurd than staying.

This week is twenty years since I promised some mumbo jumbo about king and queen and death and obedience. The liturgy meant little then and less now. But when you speak, slicing through with an observation that we are all thinking but no one has the guts to say, I laugh with a guilty gasp and think “I do, I do” and no time has passed. And you are still the smartest person in the room. And you still surprise me. And I still think you are as cute as a bow tie in August.

Today I look in the mirror and see a woman who remains vain and strident, but who listens more, considers more and risks more because of life with you. The best parts you believe in, the worst you put up with and the rest you seem to think are entertaining. I could live with many people, but I choose you every day; every day I change a little more to fit us and us is little more fit for the day.       

23 responses to “For you, twenty years later”

  1. hey, p. you have my vote for post of the year. happy anniversary. i’m glad i’ve known the two of you for the second half of your wild ride.


  2. MF says:

    Pandora, this is a beautiful, beautiful post. Happiest to you and your “Kennedy”

  3. LP says:

    Pandora, this is lovely. Your husband is a lucky man. xo

  4. Rachel says:

    Stunning. Hope you get to celebrate in style, PB.

  5. Marleyfan says:

    If we all were loved as much as your man, oh, what a world it would be. I like how you say that (each day) you continue to choose him. Congrats!

  6. Tim Wager says:

    This is simply a lovely and wonderful prose poem. It brought tears to my eyes.


  7. Scotty says:

    Wow! You are both so lovely. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, beautiful post.

  8. Stephanie Wells says:

    Miss Cherry Days, your post is breathtaking. Such personal and beautiful details! The pheasant and grapes, the totem pole, the song from Yentl! I remembered your story of “trouble husband” and the guy you ditched for him from your previous comments, but this brings it into such lovely soft focus. I don’t completely get how one can get engaged two weeks after still dating someone else, but I’m so glad you didn’t go through with it, opted for trouble instead.

    Your story of standing on the kitchen chair and telling your family “This is big” reminds me of the joke in my family: after my little sister had met a new boy, she liked him so much she wanted to bring him home to meet us all before their first official date. She declared to us, “You WON’T be disappointed.” We quote this to them all the time, because of course, we weren’t, and they had their ten-year anniversary this summer.

    I hope you continue to choose each other every day—I love how active this construction makes the relationship (despite your claims of “inertia”—this proves otherwise).

  9. AW says:

    You are a remarkable person and remarkable writer. I’m forever glad you and Mark are in my life.

  10. cynthia says:

    what a beautiful post. congradulations and another 20 to come

  11. ssw says:

    There’s something so compelling within your post that has to do with the power of choice. Hats off to you for twenty years. We’re so lucky to know you. xoxo

  12. hey p: i’ve been thinking about mark all day. i really wanted just to head over to your house and grill something tonight. probably didn’t help that i read the post this morning while i was in cambridge. we miss you! bw

  13. p.s. i’m totally going to steal the line “as cute as a bowtie in august” and use it whenever i can.

  14. lisa t. says:

    wow. this is some beautiful writing. what a sweet tribute.

    as i head into my inaugural year of marriage, i do hope (and feel quite sure) i’ll be as– or more– smitten in 20 years as i am now.

    glad you chose the “trouble husband.” obviously, your heart isn’t troubled at all.

  15. lisa t. says:

    p.s. do y’all think we’ll have a GW 20 year anniversary??

  16. Demosthenes says:

    For some reason this post reminds me of the short story “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but with a better ending.

  17. Demosthenes says:

    Great post too.

  18. PB says:

    Thank you so much to everyone for your congrats and gracious feedback on my post.
    Your comments were like little toasts with the best champagne.

    By the way – “Trouble” husband (who read this for the first time online) found the post a bit sentimental and embarrassing (for him). Other than that, I think he liked it. Sigh. Part of the charm is the crusty exterior.

  19. slade says:

    lovely post. i’ve herad so many of the tidbits — lovely to see how they all string together. really beautiful.
    and congrats on being the least likely to succeed and busting all notions of success to find yourself there..

  20. ann fei-johns says:

    awesome. you guys are such an awesome family. i enjoy every moment talking to any of you. happy 20th.

  21. ann fei-johns says:

    ps: don’t ever tell me you don’t write poetry again. this is poetry. beautiful.

  22. Colleen says:

    Pandora, I am so amazed, impressed and in awe of your post. I had no idea underneath all the “Crate” that you were such a fantastic writer. Move over J.K. Rowling! Love you, Colleen.

  23. WW says:

    So I know it’s been a few weeks and I’m sure what I’m about to say doesn’t “add any value” as per our Housekeeping discussion, but this is just so damn good. Love it love it. Love it. Love you, too!