The Perfectness of Imperfection

I heard once that love is friendship on fire. That’s how I feel about you. – Ben Feldman as Adam Forrest in The Perfect Man, 2005

When it’s time for a wedding, everyone starts throwing around the word “perfect.”

“It’ll be perfect,” they say.

“No one will notice if it’s not perfect,” they say.

As an experienced wedding planner and coordinator, I say those imperfect moments are what make a wedding perfect. I get to see people in one of their most heightened states of emotions they’ll experience in life and know them better as a result. I see how they react under pressure. I see them at their absolute worst and dirtiest and then see them transform dressed up in beautiful beaded and lace whites, hair placed “just so,” and emotion laid bare that reaches from their smiles all the way up to their eyes.

I coordinated my first destination wedding recently at a three-story cabin in the middle

Angie and Megan donned matching cute “Mrs.” shirts for the occasion with their initials embroidered on the front. Each member of the wedding party received their own as a gift from the brides.

of Red River Gorge, Kentucky as a gift for my friends Angie and Megan. The cabin was all lacquered wood and stone. It included a game room, three decks, movie theater, ten bedrooms, a full kitchen with four dining tables, a living room with a fireplace the size of a queen bed, and expensive furnishings all decked with country décor.

It was also the longest time I’d spent in planning and coordination mode for a wedding – an entire weekend.

It started with a rehearsal Friday night when I arrived several hours after the wedding party. The alcohol force was strong with these people. They were quite jolly as I called their names and wrangled them to stand in line. I assigned each wiggling and loose body a spot and a direction to walk once reaching the end of the aisle, either right or left. Each assured me they’d remember which way to go. Except one, she announced proudly she had drank far too much to remember anything I was saying, and I quickly assured her I’d remind her tomorrow before the wedding. The room (and the forest, I’m sure) echoed with laughter and talk and wreaked of loyalty (and beer) to the brides and from the brides, Angie and Megan, to each other and their guests in attendance.

There was much imbibing at the cabin throughout the “epic wedding weekend,” as we called it. Angie and Megan started the festivities soon after arrival. (Photo by Beth Bartley)

I raised my voice to be heard above the liquored crowd,“Y’all be quiet so you can hear me!”

As the planner, I often am not a participant in the wedding and am much more the observer. To know Megan and Angie was to be family. Watching them interact with friends with whom they’ve spent a lifetime building relationships was watching a family celebrate. For few times in their lives would a happy opportunity arise to have all the people they love surround them in the same space at the same time. This was one of the moments when the imperfection of it was absolutely perfect, because for these two, this was a dream.

During the rehearsal or the wedding, no one talked about the fact that these were two women getting married. It was just a wedding, as it should be.

Rehearsal was sloppily rehearsed, but rehearsed none and the less, and the party got on with the partying.

The next day, I arose early to set about the process of removing the “country” décor I described as similar to what could be found at my grandma’s house. My wife and I and a few close friends rearranged the cabin to make a wedding venue out of the homelike

Me at work arranging and decorating the cake table.

atmosphere. The décor I set up and oversaw was not cheap, but it was worth the photo moments. The brides had chosen a moon and stars theme. We used bourbon bottles as vases. I designated a candle-lighter, and then arranged succulents around table displays and the cake. One of the brides purchased a giant “R” symbolizing the first letter in her new last name. It was decorated with lights and needed batteries.

“Crap,” I said as I realized the thing wouldn’t turn on. “I need two double A batters,” I barked aloud, knowing one of the friends helping me would hear and help solve yet another problem we wouldn’t bother the brides about.

“Check the TV remote,” someone suggested. It used triple A batteries, unfortunately.

“I’ve got some. Be right back,” another friend said.

She returned with two double A batteries in hand.

“Awesome! Thank goodness,” I cried, and held my hand out.

My sweet, beautiful, and ever helpful friend paused and a sly grin appeared on her face.

“Now I need these back,” she said, eyes sparkling. “They go to something important I brought with me.”

She didn’t have to say another word. I knew she was talking about her vibrator, a subject we’d discussed before. We collapsed in a fit of hysterics drawing the attention of the room. I thereafter accepted the aptly-used batteries and thanked her for her donation to this worthy cause. This was yet another moment I could count was perfect in its imperfection. Had the bride remembered batteries, we wouldn’t have had a story to add to their trove of wedding tales.

The now infamous “R” aglow with borrowed batteries from a guest’s vibrator.

I wanted to spend as much time on the details of this wedding as possible. I wanted Angie and Megan’s wedding to be beautiful, not perfect. I customized every detail, from the programs to the memory table to ensure each piece spoke about who Megan and Angie were as individuals and who they’ve become as a couple. I wanted them to love their wedding photos. I wanted to create moments – not flawless, but memorable.

The wedding guests did a lot of that on their own, I must add.

In the early wedding planning stages, the brides and I decided we liked calling their ceremony the “epic wedding weekend,” and by darn, that’s what it was. It was as epic as any event where Megan and Angie are in attendance. Anyone who knows them has a story.

And they continued to create more tales to tell throughout the weekend right up until wedding time. As Angie was in the hair and makeup chair, she and our friends devised a scene they decided to play out and video which featured Angie pretending to make her escape from the cabin donning a head full of curls still warm and yet relaxed and an apron with no shirt, beer in hand. After later abandoning her apron, Angie somehow ended up in my black camisole for coverage, not realizing nor caring to whom it belonged. I was, of course, happy to share and giggled at the sight of her in my top.

Angie’s half of the wedding party looked on as the ceremony began. (Photo by Mary Anglin-Coulter)

And then the moment to marry arrived. As Angie accepted Megan’s hands after that walk down the aisle wearing possibly the most expensive thing she will ever wear, neither was thinking about the deposit for the cabin, the decorations, or all the stress. All they thought about was how in that moment all was perfectly aligned, like the stars in their wedding theme.

The memorial table honoring deceased loved ones. Arranged on a bench and table borrowed from inside the cabin’s living room.

Friends and family stood on grass in the warm late afternoon sun. I stood on the balcony after signaling the each member of the party when to walk and watched the couple below me surrounded by all the things that make them unique celebrating their wedding Angie and Megan-style with a full weekend party in a huge cabin in the middle of the woods, Jacuzzis for friends without bathing suits to enjoy in the dark, pergola decorated with chiffon by a gay uncle who was also the minister. They didn’t miss the point of a marriage ceremony and what it could mean to them. It will be a wedding no one will ever forget. Just as no one will ever forget them.

Angie and Megan may already know, but the secret to a happy marriage is realizing your relationship will never be without problems. Knowing the flaws of the other and loving your life with them despite those flaws is how a marriage lasts. Working through those moments of strong emotions. Being the bigger person. Speaking first when you are not speaking. Reaching over and holding their hand when you’d rather reach for a bat or knife. Surviving those moments together, learning every quality – good and bad that makes your spouse human – and building an incredible life together despite their personal hiccups … that’s marriage. Like the wedding that starts it all, marriage is perfect in its imperfection.

The sand ceremony took place on a bedside table swiped from one of ten bedrooms inside the three-story cabin. Go Bengals.

Nice and Ugly

Original story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas.

I was 15-years-old, opinionated and fashion-minded. Daddy decided I was his weapon of clothes-buying instruction.

Dad knows mom only wants one thing for Christmas: clothes. My poor father, try as he might, would get the right pair of jeans but the wrong size; the right dress but the wrong color; or sometimes, it’d be a blouse fit for a teen, but not so much a middle-aged mother. The year prior to dad’s idea to bring me along for his shopping trip had been a particularly rough Christmas present-opening. Mom had returned nearly every present.

Dad wanted the next year to be different. Our shopping trip was going smooth. We dropped credit card bombs at department stores across the city. I taught him name brands and mapped out mom’s favorites. We made a whole day of buying clothes mom would love.

Then dad saw the display of Christmas sweaters, some red and green glittered and others depicting cute, fuzzy forest creatures in the snow. He insisted his one success every year with one of mom’s presents was the ugliest, gaudiest Christmas sweater he could find. Against my pleas to leave the hideous sweater on the rack from which it came, dad purchased one with a Christmas Tree that lit up and played music.

“Clothes are for wearing not singing,” I murmured. He ignored me.

On Christmas morning, dad and I exchanged eye contact as mom began to open the ugly sweater. She gasped and I thought, Ah ha! I knew it! I smirked at my father, giving him that teenage I-was-right glare.

“How cute!” mom said, and lifted the sweater from the box, holding it up to her chest for sizing. She swooned when dad showed her the button that lit the tree up and played the “O Christmas Tree” tune.

My mom with one of the last Christmas sweaters dad purchased for her. Sadly, the dancing snowmen were not captured on film.
My mom with one of the last Christmas sweaters dad purchased for her. Sadly, the dancing snowmen were not captured on film.

Dad grinned at me and winked.

Mom loved all her presents that year. The pants fit. The dresses were the right color. The blouses were age appropriate. So every year thereafter, my father and I would hit the malls together and spend the whole day shopping for mom’s Christmas presents. As I got older, married and had a child of my own, our tradition still continued. This was an annual father-daughter date.

Years after that first Christmas shopping trip for mom, dad and I stood, yet again, in the department store arguing over Christmas sweaters. I had spent every one of the last eleven years attempting to persuade my dad from buying the things and my mom from wearing them.

“Your mom doesn’t think they are ugly,” he would always say, and purchase one anyway.

“That sweater looks like a kindergarten teacher’s dream, dad. Please, no,” I pleaded.

This time, I had found a black button up cardigan, away from the display of sweaters depicting dancing polar bears. The silky cotton was embroidered with small red and green beads forming a beautiful pattern of poinsettias on the right shoulder. It was elegant. It was expensive. It would look beautiful on my mom. Try as I might, my father insisted on the sweater featuring a patchwork of snowman he held before him. It looked like six different multicolored fabrics sewn together with a different dancing snowman on each color block. The only thing Christmas about it was that one of snowmen was wearing a Santa hat and another was wearing a sparkly green and red vest. I’m sure my mom would ask him if she could borrow that vest were it made in her size.

“That sweater looks like a kindergarten teacher’s dream, dad. Please, no,” I pleaded.

“Tell you what. You buy your fancy-smancy sweater, and I’ll buy this one. She will open both and we will see whose sweater she likes best,” he proposed.

“Deal,” I said, confident I wasn’t losing this bet. Surely those tyrannical snowman, barely Christmas, would not win mom over the stylish button-down I had picked out, I thought.

On Christmas morning, my family arrived at my parents’ house to celebrate and eat. The time to open presents came, and we gathered around the Christmas tree. Mom opened my present first.

“It’s nice,” she said and smiled. “I love the material.”

I threw a smirk at my father, who pretended not to catch it.

She opened dad’s. And gasped.

“It’s adorable! Where did you find it?” she exclaimed. She stood up and pulled the dancing snowmen on over her shirt. She looked down at the red, orange, purple, yellow, black and blue color blocks, the snowmen appearing to dance to celebrate their victory.

Dad smiled and winked. Words were not needed. I knew I lost. I didn’t know this woman better than this man. They were married 35 years.

Dad passed away from cancer before the next Christmas. Mom still wears all her ugly Christmas sweaters dad bought her, and somehow they don’t appear as ugly to me as they once did. I smile when I see her donning the sparkly green argyle, the kitten popping out of the present, or the multi-colored snowmen, and simply say, “You look nice, mom.”

Pass the Light

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”

– Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in Universe

Tonight I sat in a circle with a group of women ranging in age, pain, and hope for the future.

The air was heavy as the weight of all minorities sat upon our hearts and our minds.

Every generation was represented, from the Millennial and on. After eating a delicious array of food, sharing wine, darkening the room, and lighting a candle, we took turns passing the flickering light from one hand to the next.

The candle holder shared her gratitudes and then her hopes for the future following the election of the most anti-anyone-who-isn’t-white-rich-and-conservative administration on the ballot. Their forms awash with the warm glow from the small, flickering candle, each shared a thought on social justice.

light reflected in wine glass

Many spoke through tears. Some spoke of fear. Most seemed hopeless.

From my position perched near the pot-bellied stove to warm my back, I studied their faces. So many of these women had burned the road before me. While I laid under a tree in my parent’s front yard reading Judy Blume, they marched through city streets with protest signs. While I worried over addition problems, they knocked on doors. When I was molding Play-Doh, they were molding minds. Each had fought her own battles to earn the same respect that I have no doubt taken for granted.

It seemed to me the hardest battles were already fought. As far as civil rights were concerned, these ladies already threw the revolutionary party and I was just now arriving to sweep up and wash the dishes.

I’m good at cleaning up, I thought.

The more who shared, the more it became apparent to me that so many felt hopeless. As if each were thinking, “How are we here again? How have we taken so many steps backward after all the progress?”

While listening to these women speak their truth, an image of my 7-year-old daughter flashed through my mind. A day after the election, she attended her usual evening art class and brought home a picture she drew of the American flag. She was so disappointed after the election and wanting so bad to see the first female be elected as president. My daughter handed me the picture, which carefully depicted the correct number of red and white stripes and stars smudged with white color pencil barely visible on ivory card stock.

I am not afraid. I know that although these ladies have already blazed the path ahead, and it now lay carved out and ready for tread, it would not be without times when we feel a shadow has eclipsed the sun.

“It’s our America, mom,” she said.

drawing of American flag

She was right. It is still her America. It is still my America. To these women, I wanted to say, “America let you down, but this is still your America,” but instead I spoke of hope.

My voice broke, but I told them I will write loud and speak in metaphor. I will be an example of a loving human being even to those who don’t deserve it or return it. I told them they had already done the work. I will finish it. We will finish together, if they like. I told them my generation was roused, we were ready, and we needed to be given the chance to turn the boat against the tide.

I am not afraid. I know that although these ladies have already blazed the path ahead, and it now lay carved out and ready for tread, it would not be without times when we feel a shadow has eclipsed the sun.

Pass me the light.

Because just as author and activist Andrew Boyd reminds us, the truth will set you free, but first it will hurt like hell.

A Family Tree, Nuts, and Poetry

Nothing bubbles the excitement within our house like autumn.

Our calendar explodes with plans and activities for the entire month of October:

Our children pose for a picture on a trail laden with fall leaves.
Our children pose for a picture on a trail laden with fall leaves.
  • Decorating the house for Halloween
  • Fall and Halloween-themed meals
  • Homemade apple pies and other apple treats
  • Walks in nature to surround ourselves the warm colors of fall
  • A visit to a pumpkin patch
  • A night of screaming at “haunted” trails and attractions
  • Pumpkin-carving
  • A fall or Halloween-related craft or art project
  • Costume-shopping and make-up practice
  • Visiting a cemetery or other local places of lore at night to tell ghost stories
  • Bonfires and keeping packet of hot dogs and marshmallows in stock
  • Trick-or-treating wherever and whenever we can fit it in (school, church parking lots, downtown special occasions – we are there)

This year, we were able to spend an afternoon at Bernheim’s ColorFest event. For a five-buck-per-car entry fee, we all enjoyed a $200 time. We launched pumpkins, folks, with a giant slingshot. We ran through a hay maze, made necklaces out of natural things foraged from the forest, made the prettiest mud pies you eva’ did see, played strange-looking instruments, and listened to fantastic live music (not crappy music, but actual sit-down-and-listen type of music).

Our older girls laughing seconds after launching a pumpkin through the air using a giant slingshot.
Our older girls laughing seconds after launching a pumpkin through the air using a giant slingshot.

At  some point while perusing the artists’ booths, we were asked if we wanted to write a poem about our favorite season, trees and the hippies who love them (we kind of fall into that category), or why we love nature. My teens and wife were leery, and hung back.

Our 7-year-old stepped up to take a pencil for a spin with her imagination at the wheel. She chose to write about winter (spelling corrected for easy reading) and is untitled:

Our youngest daughter's poem about winter.
Our youngest daughter’s poem about winter.

Winter

Cold, windy

Holiday, celebrate, no leaves

Santa goes to deliver presents

Mrs. Claus

She sometimes tells me she will be an artist like me, and other times she says she wants to be a writer like me. I tell her she can do both. I tell her she can do many things. I do.

Then I wrote a poem too. Moved by the moment of time with family I was fortunate enough to enjoy, I quickly penned the following (slightly edited from original):

Family Tree

My poem inspired by spending time with family in nature.
My poem inspired by spending time with family in nature.

Never a tree

More precious to me

Than mine, my family tree

Though it also be

Beyond flesh and bone

Its gold leaves

Bark

And nature

Are my home

I forget how much I enjoy writing poetry. I never forget how much I enjoy our Octobers, and that we don’t have too many left to spend like this.

My wife and youngest seconds tag-teaming the launch of their pumpkin.
My wife and youngest seconds tag-teaming the launch of their pumpkin.
Accurate pictorial representation of the wife and me.
Accurate pictorial representation of the wife and me.
Mud pie art.
Mud pie art.
A necklace made with flower petals, seeds, fuzzy leaves, and other items foraged from the forest.
A necklace made with flower petals, seeds, fuzzy leaves, and other items foraged from the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Never Camping Again

“Mom, camping is not a date; it’s an endurance test. If you can survive camping with someone, you should marry them on the way home.”

― Yvonne Prinz, The Vinyl Princess

I just needed to feel warm again.

We had arrived at the Green River campsite 18 hours earlier. My clothes were soaked with a salty combination of late September rain and sweat.

I trudged in muddy boots up the hill to the restroom that doubled as a shower house. I slipped behind a moldy curtain, an inch of light on each side where the curtain fell short of hiding my shivering body away from the world. I only brought shampoo with me and a roll of paper towels to dry my hair as we forgot to bring towels. I needed the steam and hot from the shower to quicken my blood and release the numb from my limbs. I’d scrub the dirt away later. I didn’t have anything to use anyway, unless I wanted to snap a pinecone from a tree out back.

I tilted my chin up to let the blessed water slip down my back, and opened my eyes. Three of the four corners in my tiny shower stall harbored well-fed spiders. They crouched in their webs watching my naked form.

“Stay there, guys, and no one loses a leg,” I warned them. I watched each of the spindly arachnids to ensure their obedience.

my-family-is-one-tent-away-from-a-full-blown-circus

The spiders were not a big deal, and they were not why I hated camping.

I hate camping because I’ve never had a good camping experience absent of something that makes me declare every single time that I am never going camping again. I’ve now camped four times, and all four times, something horrible happened ranging from a bad sting needing a steroid injection to a campsite take-over by a Mexican Baptist Convention in which the attendees were so excited for Jesus, they sang about it all night long.

You can imagine I wasn’t thrilled by our friends’ suggestions to gather up our children and go camping.

“It’ll be different,” they said. “You’ll be with us, and we always have fun.”

They were right of course. These people, Joe and Robin and their two girls, were our favorite family. We were all best friends – the kids too.

So I relented. My wife wanted to go, and the kids would love it. We set the schedule, divided the expenses, and packed the cars for Green River. Here is a rundown of events that followed:

Friday

  • We arrived at dinner time on Friday. The kids were hungry. We were losing light, and it began to rain a steady pour despite the weather claims for a calm evening. We managed to get our tents up.
  • 45 minutes out of the car, and one of two change of clothes I brought for the weekend were already soaked. I only had one hoodie. I lay shivering in the dark on a weird foam beach bed my mom gave us to use for the trip. My hip ached from laying on the hard surface.I wondered how the kids would do on a diet of chips for supper. We would not be able to light the wet wood in the fire pit to cook for our group of four adults and five children.
  • Our tent leaked. I felt around in the dark, and could feel large areas of wet and cold on our sleeping bags, pillows and blankets. The glow of cell phone lights revealed the tent was indeed leaking in several spots despite the rain protection tarp thing strapped to the top. The old, but expensive tent belonged to my father, who passed away six years ago. I never got the chance to use his camping stuff.
  • We realized at some point we forgot most of what we needed to make dinner. Even the heavy duty aluminum foil rested in the cabinet of our dark house. Not that it mattered. A fire won’t start in the rain.

thank-god-no-one-forgot-the-booze

  • When I informed our friends of our fumble, they realized they also left behind many of the groceries purchased specifically for the trip, including breakfast and cooking utensils.
  • No one forgot the booze.
  • Our first night “camping,” we ended up eating chicken strips and ice cream at a nearby Dairy Queen in our wet clothes. We voted on whether to buy another tent and stay the night or go home. I lost the vote.
  • At Super Walmart, a slippery, half-eaten kiwi slice took down and injured one of us in the produce aisle (identity omitted), but the rest of us got out unscathed. We purchased a new tent, re-purchased all the items both families left at home, then headed back to the soggy campsite.
  • The first night camping closed with my family sleeping on damp bedding in a dry tent wearing wet clothes. The cold ate at my face and hands, but the alcohol lulled me to sleep off and on throughout the evening.

Saturday

  • Saturday opened with pockets of rain that forced us to rush food back and forth from the table to the coolers and chairs back into vehicles throughout the morning.
  • Our 7-year-old girls found most of a large fish skeleton and decided to share their find with the whole family back at our campsite. They brought a trash can lid also assumed a treasure to place over it for protection.
me-with-7-year-olds
Me and the 7-year-olds (dead fish to the left unpictured)
  • The family dog lost her mind every time she saw another dog, which was often. She tried to eat the fish bones too.
  • The rain almost prevented us from cooking hot dogs for lunch, but we managed to get them cooked enough. We dubbed them “acid rain dogs” and ate them plain since we forgot condiments.
  • I took a hot shower with shampoo to thaw my body. I dried my hair with cheap paper towels we purchased from Super Walmart and the hand dryer next to the sink since no one thought to bring a hair dryer.
  • I suggested a walk to the beach to stretch and get away from the camp. The family competed in a rock skipping contest, collected geodes along the shore, and explored. The fun forced my bad attitude back into the corner of my mind for a while. The rain, for once, rested during this brief time, but it began again when we started the walk back.
  • My nerves snapped. I picked a fight with my wife, and we sat up until late talking before she crawled into a tent to try to sleep. Sleep was beyond me.
  • I sat by the embers in the fire pit and stirred them for heat. Midnight had long passed, and the camp was quiet, until I heard what sounded like someone dumping water onto the ground behind me. I turned in my chair to look, only to see my dear friend Joe peeing on a tree. I was grateful for the lack of lighting. I decided it might be best to also retire to the tent lest I witness other men emerging for middle-of-the-night peeing sessions.

Sunday

  • I awoke to a woman yelling at a boy about his clothes. I heard footsteps running away after his final defiant, “No!” The campsites were so compact, it sounded as if they were arguing right outside our tent.
  • I needed coffee and couldn’t find any more cups. So I dug through the trash until I found a used one. A hair clung to the coffee-stained side. A rock and possible bug hung out in the bottom. I used the water pump to rinse away the undesirables, then filled it with hot, brown caffeine. I took a seat by the pile of arranged sticks in the fire pit. Joe attempted to build a fire, but the lighter refused to strike. Joe informs me there were more coffee cups in the car.
file-oct-03-9-07-52-pm
Geode we found on the beach.
  • Not long after, we packed the cars and drove away from what many consider paradise. It definitely was not paradise for me.
  • Finally headed home, I shot my wife a pitiful look. She turned on the heat, took my hand and squeezed it.

I recognize there are no other people in the world whom I’d rather have shared this experience. Our family’s ability to come together, to overcome, and still laugh in the pouring rain spoke of a decade of deep friendship and connection. Between all these moments of feeling like my face would freeze off, we played card games. We light-heartedly poked fun at each other. We watched the kids make friends with other kids. The children got to run around like sprites in the forest and gather wood (since we didn’t bring nearly enough). We sang weird songs around the campfire, likely disturbed our neighbors, and didn’t give any cares. Robin and I snuggled – a lot. We huddled in our tent and shopped for Halloween-themed leggings during a heavy rain. We held deep discussions uninterrupted by the outside world.

take-a-sad-song-and-make-it-better

Then there were those beautiful moments on the beach. We were all dirty. Wet. Hungry. Tired. But we were together. We were one large family playing on a sandy shore brought together by love, not blood, and we were making the best out of a horrible series of unfortunate events. We had a sack-full of incredible memories to add to our trove.

That was the take-away, and it was a gem I’ll treasure far more than our 7-year-olds treasured that dead fish. But I still hate camping, and I still declare I am never going camping again.

 

 

The Happy Ending

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life-to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot, Adam Bede

I cried at the wedding rehearsal.

I was sweating in the late Spring heat lining up the wedding party behind a curtain to the brides’ instructions.

I made notes on a crinkled paper flapping in the breeze on a clipboard: two female ring bearers, one flower girl, a little boy holding a wooden sign I would soon inscribe with “Here Comes The Brides” in chalk, followed by a bride with her parents on each arm, and a second bride also donning a parent on linked elbows.

I cued the music, “Rejoice” by Il Divo.

“This song is very dear to me,” said one of the brides.

I whispered instructions to the kiddos. “Take your time walking down the aisle. Sit here when you reach the end.”

The young ones were into it. They would do well. Now it was the first bride’s turn to walk the short strip to the altar.

Photo by Sharley Hughes
Photo by Sharley Hughes

I looked at their faces – these two brides who were my dear friends. The two beautiful ladies had been together for years, but only now had the opportunity to marry in our state thanks to the 2015 Supreme Court decision granting marriage rights for all. They chose to speak their vows on their farm in front of a charming barn surrounded by tall green trees. Goats bayed in the background.

I held the curtain back. One woman turned and made eye contact with the other in line behind her. Her gaze read we’re doing this and I love you and all the burrows and ridges they’ve traversed together over the years passed between them translated in a single glance.

They looked back at me to cue their turn to walk down the aisle, and I lost the slim grip on my emotions.

quote with key to a happy marriage

For other weddings I rehearsed (even my own), the couple had been together for a few years, usually followed by a year long engagement, and then the wedding.

This one was different.

Here I stood running through the processional of a wedding for two women who were forced to wait years for this moment. They were practiced in their relationship. They had already rehearsed weathering the thunder and sometimes flash of lightning we experience when we love another.

It was only now they were practicing ceremony. The rest – the truths of a marriage – they figured out long ago.

“Don’t you dare!” one bride said to me watching my tears give me away. Her tears followed suit.

Photo by Mackenzie Coulter
Photo by Mackenzie Coulter

I thought about how our own country and its fellow citizens robbed them of a special kind of commitment – spiritual, legal, financial, physical, and emotional – too long denying a fully functional life in society without shame or harassment. As if to say they could come this far together, but no further. We were now practicing closing that gap.

The first bride finished walking to the altar, kissed her parents, and turned to watch her love join her.

I held the curtain back for the second bride and watched with tear-soaked eyes as she rehearsed meeting her soul mate at the end of the aisle.

I did not see the beginning of a new chapter in their story. This was their happy ending.

 

 

 

 

My Wife Will Die Before Me

Barring a horrific car wreck, aneurism, or other freak accident in which life stumbles from my mangled body, chances are high that due to our 10-year age difference, my good health, and my wife’s Chiari Malformation, she will die before me.

My wife’s disease, Chiari Malformation, is a brain disorder that is progressive and dangerous. I could lose her as early as age 60 if not sooner if she needs a second or third brain surgery, which is 20 years from now. At that time, I’ll be 50, about the same age as my mother when she lost my dad to lung cancer. Watching mom experience life as a widow has been both equally inspiring and terrifying. She survived the trauma. She is happy. And although I know I would survive losing my wife and so would our children, I still cannot help but selfishly wonder what will happen to me.

These thoughts occur most often when I see older couples sitting down at the table next to me in a restaurant, one sweetly caring for the other. She will take his cane and lean it carefully against the wall. He will help her, fragile as a glass trinket, sit and scoot under the table. Sometimes these thoughts plague me when we hang out with our friends, many of them older than me. I get jealous. Most of them are partnered, taking fabulous vacations, and vivaciously pursuing life. What is going to happen to me when I am their age?

What about our children? In 20 years, our children will be 26, 33, and 35. I was 26 when I lost my father, and shrink away at the thought of our kids dealing with the death of a parent at a critical stage of adulthood as I did. Will I be strong enough to help them?

Depressed yet? Hold that dreary feeling for a moment before you let it drop.

I am lucky. My wife is the perfect fit for my quirky, anxious, creative, and loud personality. She is the yin to my yang. She is patient when I am not. She is the quiet pause when my brain storms. On our honeymoon, she jogged back to our car to grab granola bars and the container of expensive organic almonds to give to the homeless teens in the park. Though our children are at an age where we vomit money for their education and care, she pushed me to take the risk of quitting my job and pursue my dreams. She loves me with a ferocity written about in novels and screenplays.

Yes. I have accepted the likelihood that my wife will die much too young. She may be robbed of seeing daughters marry and meeting grandbabies. I will be widowed before I should be expected to be ready. I will be far from retirement age, with plans all laid out for how she and I will travel; plans that will likely never come to fruition.

But even knowing what fate has in store, I would never trade living every single moment with this incredible human being for the next 20 years for anyone or anything else. One breath of a moment with her is worth the pain of a million absent her.

I am blessed.

Thank You, Denver, For Helping Me Feel Normal Again

Denver. Joggers and bike-riders dressed in yoga pants and other breathable material pound the streets, littering them like beer bottles and cigarette butts adorn the roads of our hometown. My wife and I must move aside to allow them past.

denver blog wife
My gorgeous wife loves to hike as much as I do. Here she is posing with the mountains.

From the runners to the waitresses to the girls discussing rebuilding their website at the table next to ours at the all organic restaurant, almost everyone is around my age, 30’s and 20’s, and drip with hospitality and kindness. The ladies sitting near us in the busy and eclectic eatery we chose for our first lunch to kick off our honeymoon all carry mod clutches. In Denver, women carry either a small clutch, backpack or mailbag. No one lugs their wallets in fat, over-stuffed purses I’m used to seeing around at home. I’m glad I chose a mailbag for our trip.

We are two married women, and in Denver, no one cares.

One of the girls discussing social media traffic wears new boots with a lace white dress, and her friend dons a chevron-patterned maxi dress with a large triangle of fabric cut out in the front to show off her midriff and back. It’s either work out wear or stylish and fab garb one sees on mannequins in shop windows. I’ve yet to see anyone in public wearing slouchy clothes or PJs, all too common in our local Wal-Mart. Nearly everyone is skinny, skin aglow and healthy from their gluten-free diets. The jogging, clean mountain air, and vegan restaurants probably contributes. I feel like I might be able to relate to these women, even though I feel small and country in their presence. We all are enjoying selections from the all-organic menu common to most of the restaurants here. If only Kentucky would catch up.

denver blog mountains
Pike’s Peak, Colorado’s tallest mountain visible from wherever we traveled. We took a train to the top.

Here, there are lesbians and allies everywhere. No one stares at us when we hold hands or pop kiss after a shared joke. Gawking seems illegal. We blend in at every clothing store and café and on every street. We are two married women, and in Denver, no one cares. I feel so comfortable. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel different, and no one treats me like I am. When the locals ask where we are from and why we are visiting, we respond we are on our honeymoon, and they all smile widely and offer their sincere congratulations.

One guy in his late 20’s hiking behind us on a trail said, “That’s awesome, ladies! Did you have to come here or could you marry there?”

“You girls are going to love it here,” was another’s response at the bed and breakfast.

“Hi girls! You ladies from here? We just want to make sure you girls aware of the lightning dangers,” said a husband and wife in their 60’s hiking down the mountain towards us. We had been holding hands.

I didn’t realize how badly I missed being treated like I am normal until I was finally treated like I am normal. (If only Kentucky would catch up.)

denver blog b and b
The Capital Hill Mansion Bed and Breakfast where we stayed two days in the city before heading out to the mountains. Our stay was fabulous!

Even the physician and urgent care nurses were unabashed by the news I am married to a woman. After learning I had contracted strep, I casually asked if this meant an end to our honeymoon romance, gesturing to my wife. She buried her chin in her chest blushing from my direct, unfiltered question. The doctor placed his hand on his hip, laughed and responded, “Of course, honey! But you’ll be good to go in about 48 hours as long as your fever is gone.” He smiled and chuckled. I had expected awkward silence and a straight (no pun intended), dry answer. One of the nurses had even conceived a child with her partner using a donor and artificial insemination – the first lesbian I’ve met in 7 years who had gotten pregnant like me. To finally relate with someone on this level and trade our stories … it was golden. (To compare, this is how I was treated at an urgent care center recently in my home state.)

denver blog balcony
I loved writing on the balcony of our bed and breakfast.

Resting on the balcony of our third floor room of the historic bed and breakfast owned by a nice gay couple, I hear a rhythmic thud nearing me. I lean forward in the iron rocking chair to peer over the adobe balcony. Sure enough, it’s a jogger. I never want to leave. I can’t help but think if I could somehow pack these gifts of hospitality and being treated like I’m human in my suitcase, tucking them in safely alongside the trinkets we bought for our kids, then perhaps it’d make returning home a little less pensive.

 

 

But … We Were Wearing Matching Shoes

Her name was Laura. Dressed in matching mint green scrubs top and bottom, she brought out the white papers that moments before, had been clipped in a clipboard clasped in my clammy hands while I scratched on them with a germ-covered pen.

The white surgical mask was itchy on my face. I didn’t like breathing in my recycled breath, making the mask wet. I can’t stand a wet face.

My head throbbed. My body radiated heat through my denim shirt and white tank top, yet I was freezing. I had gone out to drop off some copies of a magazine to the organic store I interviewed for a story, then decided to do some shopping while out. My reality aligns beautifully when the book store is located beside the art supply store.

The symptoms hit me like a Mack truck. One minute, I was reading the back of Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss, and in the next the shelves are whirling and the words are blurring. I felt the heat rising inside; the vertigo twisting my stomach into nausea.

I put the book down on a completely different shelf than I had removed it, and took off to the parking lot. I had been caring for my stepdaughter for the past two days as she recovered from a 103.3 flu-induced fever. The doctor had informed us she was highly contagious, and warned to watch for symptoms as I had been exposed to her more than her two sisters or her mom, my wife of four and a half months.

This is craptastic.

My head pounded as if a hammer was beating my temple. I sat in my car, searching Google for the nearest immediate care center. I had a busy week scheduled after the weekend, meetings and deadlines to meet as my freelance writing business was picking up and doing very well. I had scheduled myself about 60 hours of work, and nowhere on my calendar had I written in “lying in bed with the flu.”

Finding my target, I set out to get tested and hopefully a Tamiflu prescription.

maskAt the counter, the check-in woman smiled and asked me to sign in. I explained I needed a mask as I suspected flu. She handed me one, and I asked her which way it went, blue-side or white-side out. She didn’t know, looked at the back of the box and told me white side out. She handed me a clipboard. Since it was my first time there, I had a litany of forms in which to scrawl my life story.

I complied, and returned the clipboard to her with my I.D. and insurance card. Since the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage for samesex couples, I was finally able to marry Amy, my soulmate. We had been engaged for months, waiting on this decision before planning our wedding, as I insisted upon a “real” wedding with all the legal-binding consequences. After our dream wedding, my wife added my birth daughter and I to her union insurance like every other normal family has been able to do. It was the best insurance coverage we had ever had, and was saving my family so much money.

My insurance card, therefor, has my wife’s name on it. We hyphenated our last names so we could each match our children’s last names. Her birth children being Coulters and me and my daughter being Anglins, we changed both of our last names to be Anglin-Coulter.

The check-in lady ran the insurance, and I paid my co-pay, then sauntered back to my chair to slump and despise my surgical mask some more.

I watched as my forms were carried to the back, then Laura, in her mint green scrubs, brought the flapping papers back to the check-in lady, pointing and saying something about them being confusing. I couldn’t hear the check-in lady’s response, but watched as she pointed at the forms. Laura’s face screwed up and crunched in confusion, her eyebrows pressed together in a way that looked like two caterpillars kissing on her forehead.

Can I please just get tested, get my prescription and leave?

Laura opened the door at the side of the room, and called for me by my first name. I stood and smiled, then remembered she can’t see me smiling through my stupid itchy, surgical mask.

Her mouth formed a tight, thin line forcing the wrinkles around her lips to pronounce. She stared at me a few seconds longer, then dropped her eyes to her paperwork and made notations I couldn’t see.

I entered the holding area and started to lay my keys and phone down in preparation for weighing, but Laura asked that I take a seat. I sat.

“Your form was very confusing to me,” she said.

“Confusing?” I said.

“Yes, I didn’t understand why you were listing ‘Mary’ as your name in some places and ‘Amy’ as your name in others,” she said.

“Amy is my wife. I listed her under the spouse section. I’m on her insurance,” I said.

Laura stared at me. She looked to be in her late fifties, and was not well practiced at keeping her expression neutral.

I continued, “We decided to keep both of our names and hyphenate so we match our children.”

Her mouth formed a tight, thin line forcing the wrinkles around her lips to pronounce. She stared at me a few seconds longer, then dropped her eyes to her paperwork and made notations I couldn’t see.

“Any allergies?” she asked. Her tone sounded curt.

“Not to my knowledge,” I said.

I dropped my eyes to the floor. I could feel the tension from her thicken and surround me. As if the mask wasn’t suffocating enough.

She was wearing grey and white Sketchers with white shoelaces and a bit of light blue detail, the exact same tennis shoes I was wearing. Amy had bought them for me for Christmas. They have memory foam on the inside and are as lightweight as paper on my feet, perfect for my days shopping and walking around the neighborhood. I wonder where Laura got her shoes.

I looked up at her. She had a gold cross pinned to her nametag. She glanced up and noticed me studying her, and took a small step back.

She asked me to put my arm on the table, and wrapped my arm to take my blood pressure. She lightly pressed her stethoscope to the crux of my elbow, keeping her eyes down. I did too, and looked at the pink polish on her nails. They were done professionally. I liked the cotton candy color. She made a few more notes and picked up her paperwork.

“Follow me,” she said. She did not make eye contact again.

I followed her to my designated exam room, thinking it strange that she didn’t take my weight and height, but I didn’t want to have any more conversations with her, nor did I really want to know how much I weighed.

The nurse practitioner came in to confirm a flu test was warranted, then sent Laura back in to do the test. Without words, she pushed a Q-tip into each of my nostril holes. I gagged and coughed. She handed me tissues, then left. Pulling the mask down, I wiped the water draining from my eyes and blew my nose.

I texted Amy. My concerned wife had been blowing my phone up wanting an update on my condition.

Flu confirmed, I awaited Walgreens to fill my Tamiflu prescription. I sat in a chair near the window willing the headache to subside so I could make the drive home, texting Amy for the third time that she did not need to come and get me.

My thoughts lingered back to Laura and the immediate care center. I wondered whether she had noticed we were wearing the same shoes.

 

 

Chasing Ghosts

 

IMG_2886“You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.” – Eva Ibbotson, The Dragonfly Pool

Yesterday was my last day employed by the bourbon distillery where my father worked 17 years.

I made it 31 months.

It wasn’t that I didn’t inherit his stamina and work ethic. My co-workers were interesting, good people, with laid back, comedic and gossipy personalities one grows up around in a small town. Time tick tocks a little slower down in the valley where the distillery rises up above the tree lines.

Dad began working there when he was 19 until he was 36 years old. I was 12 when he got a better job making more money at a federal prison. He passed away at age 50 of lung cancer about 10 months after diagnosis. I was 25 years old, five days before turning 26.

Despite being an adult with a mortgage, paralegal career and a one-year-old daughter, the devastation of his loss brought my knee caps to the kitchen floor.

It happened after I called my brother to deliver the news. It had to be me to tell him. I knew it had to be me.

IMG_2583

Sometimes we are able to close the door on our emotions long enough to accomplish a difficult obligation. That’s what I did. I did it for months before dad let go of life. I knew I’d have the rest of mine to leave the door wide open, but not in front of him, or my brother or my mother. Not while hope and strength were needed as a priority to push us all through the treatments, hospital stays and filing for Social Security based on terminal diagnosis.

All until that moment when I hung up the phone with my brother; strength evaporated and took hope with it.

I knew part of me was going to be different from this point forward. I was not wrong.

My brother and I would join thousands of people who had lost parents, some young, and many who were much older than us. There’s an understanding expression in the eyes when we see each other, because it’s not possible for another human being to understand what it feels like to lose a parent until it happens. Not even if I were to craft a hundred metaphors to describe the feeling.

I wager the experience differs as well for those of us who were close to our parent, like I was with my father. (No, I’m certainly not saying it is harder or worse for me, but different.) We were so much alike, and we were best friends.

About two years after grieving dad’s death, I received a Facebook message from a friend working at the distillery letting me know her position would be open soon. She asked if I would be interested.

Here was a chance to meet many of dad’s former co-workers who I’m sure could tell me stories I hadn’t heard. I was tired of my commute to my current job and was feeling guilty about spending so much time away from my family, so I took the job.

I was right. Within a month, I had gathered many hilarious stories about my dad’s antics and humbling tales about his kindness. A few folks wandered to my desk just to meet “Otis Ball’s daughter” and tell me what a great person he was. I soaked it all up like a little shriveled plant thirsty for water. These were his memories brought to life through people who knew him well, and I had gained unfettered access.

My connection with my deceased father is so strong, I feel it even in death. Perhaps the pain comes from my inability to create new memories using our connection. Surely others left behind in the light of the living feel as I do. I was lucky. I had found a way to discover old memories which were new to me.

The job was easy, simple office work. I knew I was overqualified. Hearing about dad’s life from co-workers fed my soul, but the work didn’t. I was a writer. My passion lives inside words scrawled on a page. I liked challenge. I liked to help people.

Somewhere on my journey chasing my father’s ghost, I had forgotten my passion. So after several months soaking in the atmosphere where my father had spent half his adult life, I slowly began to write again, and realized I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore. Dad wouldn’t want me stuck in place on his behalf, a place I didn’t belong. A place where my talents were not utilized.

So I left.

I am pursuing a fulltime career as a freelance writer. When I switched majors my sophomore year in college from Physical Therapy to a double major in English and Communication, my father said, “How are you ever going to make any money doing that?”

me and dad collegeHe was laying on the concrete floor of the carport at home, fiddling under my car. The forest green Honda Accord was making a crazy scratching noise. He had the tire pulled off minutes after my arrival.

“I will,” I said, though I really wasn’t sure myself how I was going to turn words into cash. I was seated on my tire watching his greasy elbow move this way and that.

He turned his head and faced up at me to make eye contact. “Show me,” he said, then turned his attention back to the mechanics of the car he helped me buy.

Well, dad. I’m showing you now.