Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Love

I have set a date for marrying my husband. Yes, it sounds silly enough till you hear the story.

My husband and I met after four years of being in the same social circles and remaining completely unaware of each other. We didn't meet, in fact, until I put in a special request. I tell him this all the time, and he thinks I'm silly for it. But it fills me with wonder.

I was, at 34ish, ready to give up. I had, in most ways, given up long before. At age 10, along with a deep wish to have twins when I grew up, I had a deep down conviction that I would never marry.

But, there I was, coming up on 34, having been the official "Old Maid of Honor" at my sister's wedding. Having been at my brother's small but lovely and quiet wedding. My other sister had eloped. Most of the people I knew in high school had married by their mid-20s. Heck, my own grandmother asked once if I would ever get married; "I mean, to a man." she added as if the question weren't rough enough.

So I decided I was done with it. I thought about the men (and boys) I had dated over the years and what had drawn me to them. I am grateful to them for many things--in particular for teaching me what I needed to know to be in the relationship I am. I actually, literally, no-I'm-serious-Oprah-would-be-proud-ly made a list.

I knew that humor and intellect tied for first place. Part of the joy of intellect is the ability to use it to laugh at the world. Part of the joy of humor is the ability to use it to make intellectual commentary without inducing coma. I wanted one of those.

The rest don't follow any particular order.

I wanted a man who could appreciate music--on a deep level: I trained in Opera and Jazz, and was raised by eclectic-minded people, listening to everything from classical to pop to rock. I wanted someone who could appreciate that.

I wanted a man who appreciated the world beyond the borders of this country: as much as I love America, I love Israel, and Europe. I am sure I would love Africa and South America. More than anything I love travel. I wanted a man whose idea of travel wasn't just a day trip to Tampa.

I wanted a man who wasn't threatened by my intellect. Sounds snobby when I read that line. But when I was 15 my older sister pulled me aside to explain to me the reason she was followed around town by guys and I had no boyfriend was that I refused to act stupid--or even pretend I didn't know something. "For example," she started. "If someone said to you, 'I wonder how far it is to the sun...'" and I responded "About 93 to 94 million miles, but it's called a light year." She stormed off, yelling at me that I had just provided my own example of her lesson.

I wanted a man who was kind. There are different levels and types of kindness (lots of kinds of kind). To me, kindness is not about being soft, it's about having compassion--empathy. I wanted a man who could interact with others at a level that was imbued with that kind of kindness.

I wanted a man who was not afraid, ashamed, or guilty when it came to sex. One who understood it as the deepest form of physical intimacy, who could respect me as a lover and open himself up to me as one, too. I was raised to believe that sex, when meaningful was a beautiful act, not a secret, shameful unnecessary part of life, but one of the most important and meaningful ways to fully and truly share intimacy.

The list went on. I was making my impossible man list. I had to include everything. Unlike Sandra Bullock's character in Practical Magic, I wasn't looking for real impossibilities so as to ward off love, but my list was impossible to fill--I was looking to set high standards.

My husband and I began dating a month and a half before I turned 34. By my birthday, people were asking us how long we'd been married. We were amused. I was besotted. By our second date, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him. At the end of our first month together, I told him I loved him (having first told him I would prefer if he did not respond to what I was about to say).

Is he impossibly perfect? Nope. He's marvelously human. Does he meet my list? Far more than enough of it. Are we a problemless couple? I doubt that monster exists, and even more deeply doubt I'd want to be in it. We are, however, in it for good--and always remind ourselves when it's tough that it's the hard things that make us better. We are a team. Like our dogs (each of us brought one into the marriage) we have bonded. We are family--in deep, permanent ways that no state approval can change or improve upon, that no disapproval (were we to be of the same sex) could have ever torn asunder.

But he wants a wedding, too. He wants to have a ceremony and a party. And now that I'm getting the planning ball rolling, well, so do I. We will be announcing to others what most of the people who know us have known all along. He was born before me, so technically I was made for him--but I think he was made for me. Special tailored to my impossible list. Meant to amount to the best of every guy I'd ever loved. My miracle man.

Most interestingly, to me, is that while it took him a few months to come to terms with "us," I felt a certainty I had never had in my life. I had loved before--and deeply, too. But I had never known, before, that I was with the love of my life.

Worry not. By tomorrow I'll be feeling cynical and depressing again and write something about war and blood. Today, though, as I pack for Spain, well, my life feels like love, actually.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I was an infant author

In some ways I am now an authoring toddler, but what I mean by infant author is that in the stories we tell in my family, I see that from even before I could write, I couldn't not write. That may sound weird, but hey, let me tell you a story.

I have very few memories from my early childhood. Interestingly, recent work on memory shows that before the age of 3 or so (depending on the child) the brain has not formed enough memory of memory to start keeping memory. I love this fact. My first actual memory is from when I was two years and nine months old. How do I know? It was the day my baby sister was born. Here's my version of the story:

My mother was being taken away in a BIG red and white car that made noise. I was holding on to her leg as they tried to get her in the car. She was fat. My auntie was trying to help them take my mother away. She grabbed me around the waist and called my name over and over and said other things. And then she pulled me off my mom's leg. So I swung around and punched her to make her let go of me. When she did I had to run after the car, but it was gone.

Here's the version I've been told and that has been (re)told all my life:

My mother went into labor while my father was at work, which apparently is how all the birth stories in my family start. She was having her fourth, was an RN, was unfazed, until she realized that it was happening faster than she was expecting. She called an ambulance. The nearest hospital was about 45 minutes at 1970s ambulance speeds. She took us next door to our auntie--her best friend. And we all waited for the ambulance. When it came my mother hugged each of us in turn, but I refused to let go. I had to  be forcibly removed by my auntie who was trying to calm me and promise my mother would return. As the ambulance pulled away, I punched her in the face and started running after it, crying and begging to be allowed to go along.

I knew this story. But even before this story, according to my mother, I was drawn to the written word. I refused to play with baby toys. I chewed on magazines and flipped through them instead. We had games and blocks and things of the like, but my favorite were the punch cards my father brought from work (for the young'uns out there, that's something they used to program computers back when computers took up entire buildings). I would take these and either draw on them or, more likely, pretend to write on them. My pretend writing took up interesting (I am told) forms. My mother would ask what I had drawn, I would insist I had drawn nothing and then tell her the story I'd "written."

When we moved to the US, I pretended to write by scribbling eternally connected loops of different sizes on notebook paper, bringing it to my mother and asking what I had written.

When I finally learned to write I spent hours practicing my words. I also wrote short stories (one paragraph a piece) for my mom. She has one about a tooth named Honey who goes to Hawaii. I'm not sure why Hawaii, but I remember being very intentional about naming the tooth Honey. I felt it was funny. I would now term it Ironic, but hey, I was 7.

In my 6th grade year, a woman who should never have been allowed to teach--and whom I would have nominated for sterilization if possible--took a book report I had written (I wrote it in the style of a New York Times book review because I was bored with summary), had me read it to the class, and then announced as I stood before them that it was the perfect example of how not to write a book report. EVER. This particular teacher hated my whole family through several years of her career. I stopped voluntarily writing for about 6 years.

In high school I was blessed with Mrs. Fields, whom I talked about in my teacher appreciation post, and who made me want to write again. I became an obsessive journalist (in the non-press meaning of the term). I also starting writing stories again.

My high school graduation came around the time of the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in high school graduations. The fight was raging in the local paper. My father, who had been giving me topics to write polemic essays on each week for at least two years, asked me to respond to a "letter to the editor." The Niagara Gazette is a Gannett publication, meaning (both then and now) that most "letters to the editor" were excerpted to about three sentences (if not three words). It was all I expected, but I poured the essay practice my father had been giving me into this one piece. It got published in full--with a guest editor byline. I still have a laminated copy.

In college, when bored and unable to think of a story, I would sit at the typewriter at work (yes, a typewriter) and practice by typing out the lyrics to my favorite songs, parsing them, finding ways to recombine them. I wrote because the physical urge would not be quelled otherwise.

My writing history from that point is unnecessary here. I am a writer. I was, apparently, born one. A writer from infancy. In fancy. I write because writing is stronger than the jones for a cigarette, or the next hit of heroin. It's my next hit of heroine--and I have to have it.