“look at me,” i said to greg in an early-morning, pre-coffee, saggy-faced tone, “i have this rash all over my face.” after a moment greg squinted at me as though he couldn’t see me clearly though i was inches away, “really?” he asked, turning away quickly to keep reading his magazine. and that about sums it up.
sums what up? a marriage of five years. really, any long-term relationship. added to the usual stress of vacationing with your in-laws during some of the hottest, most muggiest days of the summer, i had a terrible reaction to something -sunscreen or shampoo- that manifested as a terribly swollen and itchy rash all over my face and neck. needless to say my daily coffee wasn’t enough to quell my strung-out mind and i began to eye greg’s breakfast beers enviously (if i survive parenthood without becoming a stumbling muttering alcoholic, it will be something of a miracle. think 34th street. key in the mailbox and all). i looked bad. so bad, i was avoiding my own reflection in the mirror, something i’ve only done at a few points in my life, one being my last weeks pregnant with ruth when i swelled up like a freakin’ thanksgiving day parade balloon. shudder. i don’t think greg was avoiding looking at my hideous rash. he honestly didn’t see it.
it’s all so ironic. that the face you obsess over, daydream about, spend hours upon hours gazing into adoringly early on you overlook, ignore, and simply don’t see.
here it is, five years later. being a sentimental fool, i got out my wedding albums, the ones i spent ridiculous amounts of money and time on, and flipped through the pictures. my conclusion? a lot changes in five years. i saw my friend, who now has two kids, one entering kindergarten, eight months pregnant, the first domino in a certain row of us that fell down the path of starting families. there are so many babies where there were none. my younger brother, before he became a father, who now has two sons and a little someone on the way. little cousins that are now in or even graduating college. and people, a surprising amount of actually, have died. three of them, smiling at me from the pages, not really aware that their time is so limited. that, here in this book, they are posing for pictures, eating our wedding food, and grimacing at our selection of music. but in real time, they’re dead. friends that, at that point, we were somewhat close with and kept in touch with, and are now distant facebook friends only, people whose pictures you “like” but aren’t even close enough to them to comment any more.
i looked at greg and i, greg still looking as shockingly good as he did that day. when i saw him that day, i was put to shame. he really was in his element. he owned that day. and there i am, his hot mess of a bride. whatever greg sees or saw in me that made him want to stay with me, i will never really know. all i can say is i’m lucky. that’s it. besides his glowing beauty, his face looks younger, more open, free from worry. this was before his master’s degree when he spent hours on stubborn research, holed up in our basement, while ruth and i hung around upstairs, or i took her out to let him get some real peace, to my mom’s or elsewhere. in those days, i felt like a single mom. before ruth and joel and all of the times what you really want is “tough shit” and they always come first so that you find yourself living your life in sneaky little bits. a thirty minute jog here, reading a chapter of a book there and so much of it is just dropped to the side, our home and lives overwhelmed by ruth and joel.
what would our lives be like right now if we hadn’t yet had children? i use all of my concentration to try and picture it. but i can’t. it’s too distant, too far removed from our overwhelming reality. this is how we grow apart from people. we take different paths. that separates us.
i look at myself, something i really hesitate to do. i don’t think i look much different. well, aside from the fact that i had bleach blond hair and was painted up like a hooker. 25. me at 25. just having finished my student teaching, and still reeling from the experience, all obsessed with wedding shit, living with greg in my mom’s second floor. i can see the results of all of the teeth-bleaching i did that summer, though it ate away at my enamel so that air over my teeth sometimes stung. my eyebrows are nicely waxed, without an obvious tan line, which means that, at that point, it was a regular thing. now, i don’t even pluck out the unibrow. and a certain uneasiness behind my eyes. i was quite lost in general. yes, i thought to myself, i like myself more now. i’m happier now.
greg worked on our anniversary this year. while i was in the yard, pushing ruth on her swing as joel slept in the stroller nearby, i thought about how at that time, i never would have pictured myself still in dearborn. and with two kids, being a stay at home mom. i looked at ruth and can’t believe how long and lanky she is, how kid-like. that was the only time the day-of that i had a moment to think of it. the rest of the day was the usual struggle, juggling the two of them which i am not at all good at yet. i keep in my mind the idea that by six months, things will make more sense. i hope.
after greg got home, he cooked some steaks on the grill that my mom was nice enough to get us specifically for this occasion. it was thundering and rained that day. our wedding day was overcast and it rained lightly at one point, but it cleared in time for the ceremony. i have a clear memory of myself on the phone to greg from the beauty parlor where we were all getting our hair done, trying to make a call about the rain. in my hand was the piece of paper with the number on it to dial if we wanted to switch from the outdoor ceremony site to the indoor one. “what do you think?” i asked greg, unable to make any more decisions at that point, needing him to take charge one way or the other. it occurs to me now that this moment was a pivotal one in our wedding day. even more pivotal than the moment we put the rings on, stood up in front of family and friends like cultural puppets on strings. this was just us, navigating an everyday issue. together. the words he uttered were more telling than his vows, “let’s go for it.” and with that simple phrase, he took all of the weight from my shoulders and it evaporated like water vapor into the summer air. that was one of the most unencumbered happy moments from that day. my heart was actually light as i smiled through the receiver. i could actually hear his smile in return.
after dinner, we took the kids to petsmart for cat food. “what a romantic activity,” i said as we loaded the car. greg said, “yeah.” it rained while we were getting out of the car. ruth panicked and started to flip out. inside the store, after a while, joel became hungry and was clearly indicating he would need to be fed soon. ruth lost it over the hand-sanitizer dispenser on the wall as i was trying to rally her to leave, and ended up throwing herself to the dirty pet store floor, thrashing and screaming and refusing to get up and leave. i left greg to it and went to load the brother into the car. after a few minutes, greg showed up with ruth, stuffed her, crying, into her car seat, proclaiming that she would get no bedtime stories that night and that once we were home, she would get a lengthy time-out. joel, very empathetic to his sister’s crying, started in as well, finally overcome with hunger, and screamed in his car seat all the way home alongside ruth.
as we pulled into the drive, greg’s plants overflowing onto the sidewalk, our car full of toys, books, shoes, and things needing to be taken into the house, both kids still crying loudly, we took a moment before getting out to prepare for going into the house and everything that awaited us once we were inside-bedtime rituals, an hour or so worth, before we could lie down and rest. i looked at greg. he looked at me. “just another day in paradise,” i said and patted his arm. he smiled and scoffed and then we both got out.