Monthly Archives: April 2015

Marriage Is What Brings Us Together Today

Subtitle from AWP15 Challenge– 1. We are afraid to write what’s true, but it always seems to be the most relevant.–@CherylStrayed

What’s true?

Today: I get ready for school. I put wax in my hair, a blazer on my shoulders, blush on my cheeks. Everything is routine. I reach for my ring.

February 2015: It’s the first day of school. I greet my classes and talk about my cats and my D. It feels just a tiny bit false when I say fiancé this time. The ring on my finger says otherwise.

Speculation, April circa 1997: When I was in ninth or tenth grade, I got asked to hang out with a group of artsy kids on a weekend night. It was a coed non-sleeping sleep over. We listened to music and talked like we were five years older. I remember a girl leaving her rings somewhere. I can see the image on a shelf or a hearth. I think I told her to grab them. We all wore multiple rings. We trespassed in the neighborhood backyards after midnight. We drove to Waffle House.   She must have taken them off before and never had them in the car. The rings, I mean. The next day, I remember being blamed for her not finding them. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous, but I still went home, eager to make friends with someone I didn’t like, and I found a ring that my mother had. It was a small diamond, on a white gold setting. It meant a lot to me, and I gave it away. For some reason I thought it was a good idea; I’d sacrifice something I loved, something I knew was valuable to me and my family, to make amends for a wrong-doing I didn’t believe I’d committed. She didn’t say thank you.

*

February 2013: After good years, and bad years, and mountains of love and fighting for what I wanted and what she wanted, and becoming what we wanted, on our sixth anniversary I was asked (at the end of a day long travel trip) to be married. We were in the DCA airport, in the exact spot where years ago, I had heard for the first time that D loved me. It’s a romantic story.

March 2013, San Juan: We purchased an engagement ring on vacation–under sales and friend pressure–even though we both had doubts (about the ring, not each other). The ring was too big, and to this day I still wear the cheaper, beloved ring she bought as a placeholder, the exact match to hers that we both liked more. And the diamond, gorgeous but a size too big, stays in its box.

I have a friend who has a tattooed ring. I keep hoping she will write about it at some point, but she hasn’t. I understand.

What’s true: This week, an old friend, one of the people D and I were vacationing with when said diamond ring was purchased, recently asked us about the wedding. K, like others, admits to feeling awkward about asking but asks anyway (with good reason): “Did you have to change your wedding guest numbers?” The world assumes we are getting married in July (with good reason). That’s what we said, the last time anyone really asked. But this spring is a series of awkward conversations. People have been expecting invitations. We don’t know how to say the things that should have been said months ago.

In the only holiday letter we’ve managed to get out in our eight years of being together–nearly seven years at the time of writing–we mentioned that we were in fact engaged and that we were hoping to get married in the upcoming year. We had been engaged then for nearly a year. Another anniversary has come and gone and so much has happened and nothing has happened. We are not getting married. Not last year, not this year. Not next year. We are not getting married. No worries. It’s okay. Yes, we’re still together. We love each other. Yes, yes.

Speculation: Other people have done this before. They must have. Where are the stories and movies and TV shows about the couple that got engaged and then got unengaged but decided that everything else was good? I’ve seen movies like And Away We Go about non-married couples having babies. We are not having a baby. I’ve seen movies about couples who assume they aren’t getting married, who have a hard time, then accept it, and then eventually get married anyway. That used to be our story.

November 2014, Florida: One week last fall when we went out of town for a friend’s wedding, we felt it was easier to satiate people when they asked or hinted. Yes, we’re getting married. Yes, next year. Over the course of a few nights and a couple of days, we started our own drinking game. When they ask about the wedding nonchalantly, take a sip. When they ask about how you met, get a shot. When they want to know the story of the engagement, finish your drink. People at weddings (with good reason) love to talk about marriage and weddings. We love Love. And people love D and I together. We are an especially good poster child for the straight liberals who like cute queer couples. We are the kind of couple that even not-so-liberal-straight people can’t help but smile at. D wears her suspenders and dances with an eight-year-old boy on the dance floor. I cut in after a few. Pictures snap snap snap.

What’s true: I love our friends and our life. I love wearing this ring. I love D.

What’s true: Before we went to the wedding reception in Florida, we had to get in touch with our wedding planner, whose next pay installment was due, and tell her we weren’t going any further.

Today 5:57 PM: A friend texts from NY “Why’s it easer to be open on paper than in life?”

“Because on paper we have time to prep and primp and rip all the band-aids off–we have more control.” I have D. I have (say it, in your best Elizabeth Bishop) control. I am not getting married.

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#AWP15–The One Liners

Here’s a snapshot of my experience measured in sound bites, a dozen one-line reminders, recommendations, and definitions I overheard (or synthesized) at AWP last week. Sure, they’re out of context, but isn’t that part of the fun? I’ll commit to making full pieces out of some of these soon.

12. Listicles are a legitimate form of online publication.–@JamieIredell

11. Writing (capital W) about something is actually about creating distance.–@BenTanzer

10. An essay is a unique expression of universal insight.–@AnnaMarch

9. Regardless of medium, the rules still apply.–@MarlonJames5

8. You don’t get to have a mind without a body.–Eula Biss

7. There is no self beyond the constructed self.–Claudia Rankine

6. It’s not a blog, it’s a sandwich.–@MattSailor

5. If you want to be a writer, you must become teachable–if you succeed, the piece will be your teacher.–@ElyssaEast (I think she’s paraphrasing someone else, but didn’t write it down)

4. You do not need a conclusion.–Joe Hoppe

3. “[Writing] is like being in a dark cave…you have to sense the limits of where you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.”–Elizabeth Wiley, reading Robert Root, quoting Arthur Miler

2. Once you know the interlocutors, you have to make a party for all of them to talk: this will be the form.–Maggie Nelson

1. We are afraid to write what’s true, but it always seems to be the most relevant.–@CherylStrayed

Center Stage

The stage of the Chicago Theater went dark after the opener took its leave. But after the customary amount of fiddling time—for folks to grab concessions and get back to their seats—a disembodied musical progression could be heard throughout the theater, building up to Colin Meloy’s entrance. Finally, center stage awash in the spotlight was Meloy in a three piece costume, a guitar slung around his body like a prop. Slowly the mise en scene grows to include the rest of the players in the band, as they perform the opening song of their latest concept album. And, to help literally set the stage, two angelic humanoid creatures lower into the backdrop space, followed in a minute by what seems to be a gigantic drawn quilt, with cut-outs just so as to see parts of the angels. The quilt, of course, is also the cover art of the album.

Everything about a Decemberists’ show has evolved into a meta performance. Performance aware of itself as performance and loving it. Watching, no, experiencing one of their shows is different from that of their contemporaries. Whereas many folk rock musicians appeal to the sense of Artist we take from the Renaissance geniuses of old—men made special by a higher power but still men—whereas they play for you and showing their soul for a brief moment on stage to make a human to human connection, whereas they ask you to see them as mere people with gifts or talent, The Decemberists know better. They want us to see every element of the show as part of a performance. And perhaps they are more genuine then—with this no fuss attitude about what we’re getting.

As this shenanigans was all starting, my mind was still back in the opening act with a group called Alvvays. The lead singer of this band, from my vantage point in the first balcony, was wiry and bleach blonde. She had a deep side part, and I remember thinking about how much time I was spending looking at the top of her head. It was a strange vantage point for a concert-goer who’s used to swaying among much taller patrons on the ground floor. In my experience, when I’m looking at a musician, I’m looking up. So this particular woman, with her baggy dress and spindly legs, with her sheet of hair, deeply parted to one side, struck me as familiar, even from hundreds of feet away. This woman, with bleach blonde hair, and no discernable facial features to me, reminded me of my childhood best friend—who neither had bleach blond hair nor a rock career.

In 1990, we’ll call her Tiffany, and I played soccer together at recess, we rode bikes and played with dogs, we ate with each others’ families on Friday nights, we planned birthday parties for her younger sisters. We painted our nails and talked on the phone about crushes. And then suddenly to me, four years after we met, it was as if we were strangers overnight. A wall had gone up and there was nothing I could do to destroy it. We were too teenage girls playing the parts of teenage girls in a drama about ______? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know exactly what role I was playing, but I knew it had something to do with falling from popularity. I clung to my good grades and extracurriculars as if they could  shield me from disappearing each time the bell rung and I stepped into a hallway.

Only after I had changed school districts, suffered through a three-year depression, and started anew, did I realize that what probably happened was a rumor that I was gay, or a lesbian. I’m not sure what terminology the fourteen-year-olds were using back then in suburban Texas, as I wasn’t too much aware of a terminology myself.

I always assumed that as she grew up, Tiffany would come to her senses and realize that queer or not, I was still me and she had broken my heart. I felt that one day, we’d speak again, and she’d be sad about all the lost time, but I wasn’t sure what I’d say or do. I wasn’t sure which role I wanted to play in the future I created.  I didn’t want to think of her as a cruel person, choosing something else over our friendship for the rest of her life. A loss that big at a age that young ended up defining my adolescence in a way I’m still slowly coming to understand. I did get over it, and in 2010 I’d more than moved-on. I was standing in D’s and my first floor Wisconsin apartment, making the bed, when I got a phone call from a man whom I’d known in junior high, one of the friends I grew closer to after the split with Tiffany. Dan was calling to tell me that Tiffany had died. He wanted me to hear it from someone first before I saw it on social media. Her body was found away from her purse. It was ruled officially a hit and run.

~

I hadn’t thought about her in what was probably years, since the last time my brother or father (still in Texas) had mentioned that they’d seen her working a Italian chain restaurant. There were only a few times I had seen or heard of her since we were in the 8th grade, and I did get my wish. I do remember her trying to get my contact info from family to make a mends. I can’t remember if they gave her my phone number or if they gave me hers—but we never spoke again. In our youth, I had exited stage left long after she had left the building. But perhaps in our adulthood it was me who left her center stage, holding a photograph of us, with identical side parts.