“Hello, Jefferson. It’s Lucy. Can I speak with the kids?”
“Sure, just a sec. Kids? Your mom is calling.”
Our typical exchange. A handful of words, the bare minimum necessary for Lucy to convey what she wants, and for me to meet her request.
Anyone else answering the phone would have received a more loquacious greeting, replete with “how are yous?” and “how’s the weathers?”
I don’t warrant such niceties. I am merely an obstacle, the thing that stands between my ex and a conversation with our children. Her tone made clear her regret I was the person closest to the phone when it rang.
She did not acknowledge the date.
My parents had not mentioned it either, if they even noticed.
I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.
That day, one of the last of my visit back home, was our wedding anniversary. It was the fourteenth since the big day, and the second to pass since we separated.
For two years, we have been suspended in this limbo, no longer husband and wife, not yet divorced. And in each of those years, the calendar has thrust this date into our faces like a cruel insult.
Or into my face, at least. Lucy scarcely noted anniversaries when we were together. Perhaps they don’t haunt her now.
For me, it will be a while before this is a day like any other.
My wife was never one for sentiment. Indeed, her aversion to sentiment was a hallmark of our wedding ceremony.
We came to be engaged at her suggestion. We had been living together for about year when she allowed that if I proposed, she would not refuse.
I can take a hint. But, as she knew, I had a young anarchist’s distrust of the institution. Why should we seek state sanction for our love, I asked?
Because I prefer it, she answered.
But its just paper, a contract, I argued. Why not trust in one another? Why accept the rules of matrimony, the ideal of lifelong monogamy, when they seem so contrary to human nature?
Because I prefer it, she answered.
So it was that one evening, in a tavern, I proposed. I gave her a ring my mother had passed on to me.
Lucy cried. She lost her breath. She threw the ring at me, saying she was “not worthy” of me. She ran to the street.
I picked up the ring. I followed her to the street. I put the ring on her finger.
“I love you,” I said. “I am yours. Please, marry me.”
She nodded. She cried as she held me tight, as if I would evaporate if she let me go.
We set a date.
Marriage ceased to be abstract, something I supposed I would do some day, when I grew up. Now, at twenty-six, I was grown up. I was engaged to the woman I loved. We were entering into a sanctioned union.
We planned the wedding.
Of course, it would be a civil ceremony. My faith as an agnostic Methodist was no match for her firm convictions as an atheist. Her mother offered us the use of her home, a lovely Cape Cod situated on a bay in Long Island, for the wedding ceremony.
We accepted. Lucy and her mother began the time-honored tradition of mothers and daughters arguing over wedding details.
It was decided that the ceremony was to be performed by a local ferryboat captain.
“Do you want to say anything during the ceremony?” he asked us one afternoon as he guided his ferry across the bay.
“No,” Lucy said, looking at me. “We want the ceremony as short as you can make it.”
“We can do it in about, oh, five lines, if that’s what you want.”
“That’s what we want. Right, Jefferson?”
“Right,” I nodded, taking her newly expressed opinion as my own. “Four lines if you can manage it.”
My family was surprised that Lucy intended to keep her last name. “She’s the end of the line,” I explained. “I’m one of four boys. Our lineage is secure. She’s got one brother, and he’s gay. So she is keeping her name.”
They thought it odd that she rented her wedding gown. “Don’t be superstitious,” I chided. “Why buy a dress she will wear once?”
To me, these things made sense. Lucy’s decisions were consistent with her independence of mind, which I treasured.
They also reflected her ambivalence about the ceremony, which I shared.
Still, there were some traditions we kept.
I did not see Lucy in her gown until shortly before the ceremony.
“You are a stone cold fox,” I smiled, kissing her.
She looked so beautiful.
Lucy prefers her hair short, but knew that I liked it long. For her new husband, she grew her hair so that it flowed over her shoulders.
She had chosen an antique gown, in ivory white, with petticoats and layers of lace. Her smile radiated from her warm olive complexion. Her almond eyes sparkled.
“I’m so sorry about this,” she whispered, fingering the gash on my forehead.
“It’s okay,” I winced. “Looks much worse than it feels.”
“Has anyone noticed?” she asked, looking about.
“Everyone has noticed. But it’s okay.”
Following the reception on the previous evening, Lucy had stormed away from me, shouting obscenities as she hurled herself into the middle of a quiet street.
It was well after midnight. She was drunk. We both were.
She was scared to death. We both were.
“Shhh, shhh,” I shushed, running after her. “Please, don’t walk away.”
“I hate you! I hate you!,” she screamed. “There is no way I am marrying you tomorrow, none!”
“Lucy, Lucy, please. Everyone is here. My family and friends are here. Your family is here. We love each other. We have to get married tomorrow. For us. For them!”
“What, I have to get married because your family got on a fucking plane? I don’t have to do anything!”
“Look,” I said, my anger rising over my dread of being overheard. “We are getting married tomorrow. That’s it. It’s settled.”
“I fucking HATE YOU!” she shouted, lashing at me. Her newly filed nails clawed into my face.
“Fuck!” I grabbed my head. I pulled back my hands and saw blood. “Oh, shit . . .”
“Oh my god,” Lucy gasped, shaking her hands like things she could no longer control. “I have to go. I have to go.” She ran down the street, away from her mother’s home, where we were to sleep that night.
“Don’t follow me!” she called back.
I looked at my bloody fingers, and wiped the mess coagulating on my eyebrow.
I had to take care of her.
I had to disguise this outburst. No one should know.
I was bleeding. How do I fix this?
I abandoned the reception party and headed to my future mother in law’s home. No one was there. I could sneak in and clean up the wound. Maybe it would look better in the morning.
I awoke alone. The pillow was streaked with blood.
I washed my face and went downstairs to join in the wedding preparations. I had to be normal.
“Good morning,” Lucy’s brother Richard said as I approached him on the lawn. “Did you enjoy the . . . good Lord, what happened to your face?”
“Uh, nothing, just, you know. Say, have you seen Lucy?”
“You mean she’s not in your room?”
“No, and I’d like to find her quietly, okay?”
“I’ll find her,” he said. He understood. “You just try to, I don’t know, just avoid Mother until we find her.”
That was good advice.
I visited my family. My mother expressed alarm at my scratched face. “Lucy did this to you, didn’t she?”
“Mom, please. She’s anxious. It’s a big deal. The wedding, I mean, not the scratch. It doesn’t hurt.”
“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, examining the wound. “Hmm. I don’t think you need stitches . . .”
“Mom, please,” I batted her hands. “I don’t need stitches. It’s a scratch. Anyway, I have to go. I have to help with the set up. I’ll see you at six, okay?”
She hugged me as I stood.
“I have to go, Mom.”
“I know,” she stroked my hair. “Just . . . don’t let her hit you again.”
“She won’t, Mom. Geez.”
When Lucy left me standing on the street, she ran to the house a friend was renting for the wedding.
I had invited dozens of friends, and most had accepted.
Lucy invited very few friends, but this one in particular. Of course, she took Lucy in. She sat up with Lucy, calming her down.
The next morning, she woke Lucy and called her sister. Together, they did Lucy’s hair and make up—she was clueless about these things—and helped her into her gown.
They made her into a bride. I think Lucy was as surprised as anyone to see how ravishing she looked.
How much I loved her.
I put on my suit. I pinned a boutonniere into my lapel, then into the lapels of my father, brothers and future brothers-in-law, Richard and his partner.
My former professor, Whitman, was on hand to serve as my best man. I reserved flowers for his lapel and that of his partner.
A bus pulled up in front of the house, discharging my past. My friends from high school, from college, from work.
I hugged Allan. He told me I looked great in my suit. I thanked him for not wearing shorts, and took a swig from his flask.
“Man, I got to tell you, Lucy is really, really pretty.”
“That’s kind,” I said, swallowing his bourbon. “I mean, considering she is the only girlfriend of mine you haven’t fucked.”
“Jefferson, I am shocked, shocked,” he began, his mouth dropping. “But, you know . . .”
“I know, its true.” I handed the flask to my brother and greeted more arrivals.
Marcus was there, with his new wife.
Debra sat with Donnie, who was, by this time, so thin he was swallowed by his suit.
Guini was there, in a skirt so short my mother felt compelled to tug down the hem. (Later that night, my little brother Lee would feel compelled to lift her hem with his face.)
Everyone mingled, all these parts of my life coming together.
And I realized that with the exception of people sharing my last name or that of my bride, I had pretty much slept with all the wedding guests.
It was time for me to settle down.
The ceremony was over fast. Whitman clocked it at under two minutes. We exchanged rings, we signed a paper, and we kissed.
Just like that, we were married.
“I love you,” she said. “Thanks for marrying me.”
“Thank you for accepting my proposal. I’ll love you forever.”
The wind was coming strong from the bay, anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Bob a few days later. It whipped everyone’s hair and clothes; as the drinks settled in, it blew away inhibitions.
We had hired a stomping swing band. In photographs from that night, everyone is contorted, windswept, dancing, laughing.
Everyone agreed: there has never been a better party, before or since.
My friends paired off as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms, or boarded the bus back to the city. The driver covered the sounds of kissing with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.
That night, everybody got laid.
Well, almost everybody.
With the departure of our guests, Lucy decided we would not sleep at her mom’s house as planned. We loaded the wedding gifts into a car and drove, drunk as can be, to her friend’s house.
Over my objection, Lucy opened all the gifts that night as I tried, hopelessly, to match names to items.
We fell asleep on a couch as the sun rose, my wife in my arms.
Four days into the honeymoon, we made love for the first time as a married couple.
I videotaped her afterwards, laying on the bed, still flush from sex, her slip pulled up over her belly.
She laughed into my camera, “Now you have evidence that we had sex on our honeymoon.”
I laughed, though the comment made me rather sad.
A month after returning from the honeymoon, we were in couple’s therapy.
We would see our therapist every week for two years, until the birth of our first child.
We’d return to therapy many times afterward.