From Friday Freeflow #5: The Oswego River School
Dear Marie, we got married last summer. Do you remember? What a funny way we fell into it—changed plans at the last minute, cut our guest list significantly, bought fifteen throw-away cameras, but none with flashes. Most of the pictures came out as dark blurs. I love you Marie. You know that. I loved you the first time I saw you. Ho! Me kissing you? Never! Scott and I, drunk and hallucinating, (Who was I then?), watching your grace work the tables at the restaurant. Your lips were so red! And I was convinced your eyes were blue, though I refused to look into them, for fear I might faint if they caught my stare. A year later we sat on my stoop in the August night’s stillness, and you told me about all the places you would go. Paris, Denver, actually anywhere but on the stoop with me. The following year we moved into our poor, wonderful apartment on West Fourth Street. I took you away from your dreams. You came quietly. We would have to get married someday. So I nervously proposed, feeling rich and cared for. We drove a borrowed Jaguar through the Adirondacks and spent the night in a four hundred dollar room with chocolate chip cookies. A poor cook got her to say yes. Ho! I woke at dawn to look for the loons. “There, there,” I told myself, “we no longer need to worry about the poems.” We came home dizzy and your parents bought us a broken down house. Two years later we were husband and wife.
I want to write about our wedding because I haven’t stopped long enough to think about it. I want to remember. We walked downtown to buy our rings. You wear two now: Mimi’s Depression diamond and the thin wedding band that fits loosely around your tiny finger. You are a little girl. We are children. And the feeling of my love for you is a summer drive off together in any direction with all the money in the world, or no money but a promise to pay. I am clean-shaven, wearing a belt and new, shiny shoes. No sound. Just sun splashing on your face. Love is this. All else is rot!
The small boy in the back seat of his father’s car counts cows beside the highway. I am with you now. Dad will pull up to a drug store to buy cigarettes, and I step out of the parked car to smell the wet dog before the rain. The world is silent and empty, but kind. A flash of lighting over the hills, and all I desire is covers and sleep. That is what matters now when we are married.
Our planning was childish—as if doting parents looked over our shoulders impatiently. We felt less pressure than boredom.We set a date and waited. You bought your dress on a whim in Montreal. No, we weren’t rich. I had just quit another job, and we had very little money. That is when you go to Montreal, because love is a drive off together in any direction. You are so poor when you’re a child. You poke around with a stick in the backyard and play until they call you for dinner. The dress was cream color. Rachelle would match you. She would hold the rings and a bouquet of flowers.
Those were our wedding plans six months prior to the day. Everybody asked about invitations—who could they invite, how many, where, how much, any music? I took a job at Woolsey’s restaurant because there aren’t careers. There is marriage, love, raising children, and being a child kneeling on the carpet on a cold November Saturday. The tree in the side yard is wet and black. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the old couple next door, are filling up their bird feeders in the rain. I took that job because we decided to cook the wedding feast ourselves. Because minds are partly cloudy, small disturbances make big headaches. Only our immediate family and Pat were invited. By July you finished the invitations. The date was set for August 14, 1999.
What a busy summer! Apart from the wedding plans, Rachelle was leasing a pony to train for the County Fair. I just tore down a third of our old house and began piecing together a back porch, and replacing a rotten, oily tool shed with a Japanese tea house. That’s not what happens before a wedding. Not in my memory. No hammer and nail will be the thief of my soul. I am building the tea house for the children we are. The back porch, if left alone, would forget about her body after the first year to talk about boobies with another cook on the line. I will sleep in the tea house the night before our wedding. I don’t even like tea. I do these things because I am always fighting the grown-up lie. Nine hundred years ago a sage came for tea and left a poem. He carried a staff, a wood bowl, and some dry rice in a bag. A power tool does not manipulate a board without pain. It has no place beside two lovers in bed. A sage had a wife. He married her along with the stream at the bottom of the hill, the goldfish pond, the foraging squirrel, the Japanese maple. He was proud and careful of these things which did not belong to him. What is tongue-and-groove? What are sinker nails, chalk lines, circular saws? What is plumb that doesn’t fall from a tree? Why is a man building a porch when she is twenty-five years old and always naked under the clothes she wears? She bends down twice a day to trim and weed around the miniature roses. Is he out of his mind? What a waste of summer! Presently it’s the first dawn of spring, and I am building a porch of words in the dining room. You’re twenty-six with soft-skin and hard desire, probably opening your eyes to the cat. I’m on my way up! Here I come!
You are and I am. But you is my everything, my partner, my best friend. I am not these things to myself. Driving, you are my co-pilot. Walking, you’re a third hand dangling by my side. Sleeping, you have become what I spent my early life dreaming for: A contentment in heaven-on-earth. Because the end of our days do not carry a single anxiety, I come to you every night with joy and ease. We are simple hermit lovers. We awake clear and clean of disturbing thoughts to last an entire day in an evil land, managing very well without hate, violence, or greed. We come to bed at night, our heads joyfully empty and ready for slumber.
Angst I know very well, but will never hide its face behind you. When we are together walking under the sun, I feel you as an extension of me. I cannot touch your hand, although I hold it tightly in mine. I never need to look for you. Here you are! Not for me. Rather, me. There I am.
I imagined our wedding week to be tumultuous and unkind, foreshadowing a life of what many American couples can expect. We had accomplished very little organization. Your greatest anxiety turned out to be the cake frosting that our baker demanded be processed with additives and not true like ourselves. “Fire her!” I said. But you wouldn’t hear of it. She was a young girl with feelings and you are the heart I will care for until death strengthens our bond. Sometime in July we abandoned our wedding plans. Cook for ourselves? Worry on our day? Worry in our lives? Never! We hired a limousine bus, a 1934 Buick Sedan, and made reservations at our favorite restaurant in Syracuse. We would have the place to ourselves. Our own chef, dishwasher, waiter, bartender, busboys. You redesigned their menu without prices. No one should worry about money. A millionaire cannot feel the glory we feel with a hundred dollar bill. The cake would be delivered. Kevin would drop off the flowers. Let the world revolve around us. It is our turn to be married!
August is an iron month. August is when we first kissed. If I asked you for a date, would you say yes? Would you climb a tree for me? I love you. I love every memory that you have put into me. Birds sing in spring. Fox run free at night. I love your constant. I love what you did to me before we met. It was only a matter of time before we came together. Paradise for me is God pushing my nose down in the grass after a summer rain. “There, smell that,” he whispers. Yes, of course God whispers. It is quiet. She is silent. It walks as one with their hands always touching. They will be married. They must show the world why it was born. Love does that. It takes an older thing like August and makes it green. It can turn a bitter old man into a hopeful child.
Marie, you are my one—my greatest love I give to you, Rachelle, and our children not yet born. I declare now what I did not on the day we were married. I will always love you. You have taught a very selfish boy how to love—how to return to your arms a man. You have made me a man. You will never need to wonder where I am. My sweet love, look at me, you, her, us, them. Death is the coming of another perfect night wit you. I am not afraid. I will reach over your back and turn off the light.
“Until death do us part...” What is that? Death cannot do us part. You see, even the Christians do not believe. “Better to marry than burn” wrote Paul the woman-hater. Jesus was a practical businessman—”They’ll give me a free lunch if I talk? Lead the way!” There is no room for Christian vows in real love. God agrees. The squirrels in the park know. The Justice of the Peace doesn’t have a clue. He mixes up some New York law with Bible paraphrasing, high octane gasoline, a polyester robe, aftershave, and two swigs from a bottle of warm scotch. Zoom! And then it really is until death does them part. They will beg for it moments after the reception hangover. Every day to partake in a race to the end. Death please. A slap in the face of love. A wife to turn ugly and fat. She is ugly and fat. But he thinks she is, and that is the universal problem. A husband to covet a forty thousand dollar truck. Children to have and berate with scorn and contempt. Always building something—never tearing down. A strong foundation is rock and cement. Good beginnings for houses but a wicked metaphor for love. Love we brought to the park, humble as a dense forest surrounding men while they sleep. We are not a foundation to lay brick on. We are solid like a great lake—a secret life abounds in us.
The energy of our love...
Whenever we are together there is music playing. You began as my muse. Now we are musical. It is what nobody has. They can have anything at all, but not us! Our song plays while the world turns. We give life its rhythm and verse. Nothing exists until we recognize it. Love is our movements on West Seventh Street.
We are careful. We do not have the approval of mankind. We are supposed to be worried about worldly things. It is taxes and phone bills that upset the American marriage—not war or nuclear annihilation. It is because a man and a woman did not marry for love, that they have grown rich and wanting things. Do not get married unless you strive to let an entire day go by in bed. You cannot wait until the house and both cars are paid for. You cannot wait for the kids to go to college. If you are thirty-two and she’s twenty-five, you have waited long enough without meaning in your life. Don’t wait for retirement to spend a whole day together in bed. By then you’re probably too sick to enjoy the time. Touch her skin. This is the last time it will feel so warm and smooth. His arms are strong, his touch light. Don’t wait until his stomach protrudes. He is going to grow fat and lazy without love. He can build a house, fix a car, make conversation at the table, wonder about the Internet, the stock exchange and current events. He is a well-rounded, semi-intelligent, disproportionate American husband and father of as many children as you’ll let him get away with. Has he spent an entire day in bed for love? Did he postpone the washing of the car, the watering of the flowers, the purchasing of a chicken, a swimming pool, hammer, outboard motor, wrench set, hand gun, spare tire—and openly desire all afternoon to be wrapping around your body?
You left me sugar plums in the tea house. They were yellow and sweet. I set my shoes outside the door and caught you watching me. That is the proper setting of the sun. Any poetry between a man and woman today is most necessary. We have gone too long without it, and now we praise our life for the toys and comfort it brings. Who is she watching me? Who is he touching me? Just one summer night in the tea house. Just one is enough to get married. You have got to respect the fragility of her. In real time it is the end of our lives the moment we open our eyes.
We are in love. You give to me a stable and constant. I am never left guessing. Love has no time for games.
“Joy and peace,” thought Bobi, “Joy must be tranquil. Joy must be a habit and quite peaceful and calm, and not belligerent and passionate. For I do not say that joy is when one laughs or sings, or even when pleasure is more than bodily. I say that one is joyful when all the habitual gestures are gestures of joy; when it is a joy to work for one’s food; when one is in an atmosphere that one appreciates and loves, when each day, at every moment, at each instant, all is easy and peaceful.” —Giono
Welcome to Montcalm Park. Hello to everyone and the still gray day. Every day is our wedding. Each moment is this ghostly morning taking form. You can see it with your eyes closed and your nose pressed against the bark of a Horse Chestnut tree. I walked to Montcalm with an umbrella and my grandfather Ronald’s broken pocket watch. The tops of trees know. They know because they remain out of our lives. Impartial judges. Tiny birds fly our case over to them, and the trees ask the rain to hold back its fall. Then the silence sings. A quiet song from birds in distant trees, cars on another block, a breeze and children playing—the tops of trees are very wise to this marriage. They have a vested interest in its outcome. These two lovers aren’t going anywhere. They will live in the seasons, staying put in the earth’s house, while her human spawn of spoiled brats tear up the globe and make a mess of things. The lovers will not cut down a tree to build a garage, nor devastate a squirrel’s nest to insulate a wall. The tops of trees send down this gray warm day as a gift to the hand-holding newlyweds, the clean humans, the content couple. No rain. At this moment August dons its friendliest look.
Chuga-chuga-chuga-chug. Thank you for coming here my sweet love. You didn’t have to do it. Step out of that old car and marry me. My life has never been so sweet. Place our family in front of the three of us. They can reclaim all the beautiful dreams they dreamed. For the chance is now. The tops of trees and the gray day have opened up a window of opportunity. They have organized the last marriage of Adam and Eve, and all are allowed in through the window. But for a limited time only. Tonight the firmament breaks, the thunder roars, and the rain pelts the infidels with human cares. Step out of the old car with Rachelle holding flowers. Tonight she will be your stepdaughter., I will be your husband, you will be my wife, and the tops of trees will bow their boughs, and all the earth’s wild creatures will find shelter in the storm, curl up on beds of sticks and grass, and fall asleep without worry.
You are so beautiful. The yellow roses, your Montreal dress, your lips, smile, breasts, arms, your eyes, and long shiny hair, held up with pins and my hand while I kiss you. Rachelle’s shy look, the applause of our family, the judge’s backing away with his hand held out... Mr. and Mrs. Ronald John and Marie Marie Throop. If in our long lives you ever doubt us, relive this moment of color and birth in your mind. We are innocent and gentle. We are the ethereal surroundings, the calm before the clapping thunder. We shall forever remain a picture of this calm, a gray still day in August.