So I got a letter from Neiman Marcus yesterday. I know what you’re thinking (because, if my WordPress Stats mean anything, they mean that “you” are pretty much just “me,” checking in from different computers to see whether anyone has read my blog). You’re thinking: But you haven’t been to Neiman Marcus since the Reagan Administration!
And now you’re thinking: Wait, what? When was the Reagan Administration?
Silly “you,” the Reagan Administration was when you were in college, drinking so much nickel beer that you are no longer able to remember that one road trip to Chicago you took with your roommate, “Renée” (which is totally not her real name, since she doesn’t use an accent mark).
Would it help if I remind you that even though you were dirt poor—no, poorer than dirt poor: silt at the bottom of a turtle tank poor–you went into Neiman Marcus and bought exactly one thing there, and that it was probably the least flattering piece of clothing you have ever owned? YES, that’s right: that stupid teal-colored Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, with the polo player stitched in red over what the shirt made appear to be your lumpen, pudgy breast.
The shirt that, in a different color, made “Renée” look tall and willowy and somehow simultaneously preppy and punk, while it mostly made you look like a golfer.
Ohhh. That Reagan Administration.
Well, but anyway, you’re wrong: you have been to Neiman Marcus since. In fact, you were there just this past summer, shopping with your daughters for—wait for it—your fabled blue wedding dress.
I know, I know. It’s okay that you forgot; it’s not like we haven’t been not quite talking about it since October or something.
And besides, it’s not like you ended up paying for it anyway, since your soon-to-be-in-laws reimbursed you for it that night, because they felt bad that you had no parents of your own to buy you a wedding dress.
And besides besides, it’s not like you ended up wearing it. Though that’s a story for another time. Tomorrow, I promise. We’ll talk about the blue dress tomorrow.
So, but here’s the thing: buying a dress that you don’t end up wearing can not only provide you with months of material to not write about, but it can also wind up embroiling you in credit card theft! How cool is that? Now, you not only have the Polar Vortex in common with all the other people on Facebook, but you could also discuss Russian hackers and changed pin numbers and all the other fun stuff that normally leaves you feeling so memeless in a social network world!
Even though your Neiman Marcus credit card doesn’t actually appear to have been hacked.
Mostly because you don’t have a Neiman Marcus credit card.
But like they say on Facebook, Keep Calm and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff On! #ThanksObama:( #WhichRussianCreditCardHackerRUTakeTheQuiz!#HereIsAPictureOfFoodIWouldBuyIfIHadn’tBeenHacked #IWouldLoveToLookAtThePuppyKittyFunnyBirdSurfingOnARoofOoohPenguinsFallingDownButICan’tBecauseHackedCreditCard
“You seem a little blue today,” the Actual Ghost says to me, because I guess he must have died in a time before irony, or because maybe he has no idea that he is, in fact, entirely blue. “What is it?” he asks. “The two-hour delay?”
After a vaguely disappointing turn hosting the Golden Globes, the Poehler Vortex has returned with a vengeance, so rather than let him freeze to life in the car, I’d brought the Actual Ghost In The Car into the JCC with me, to run on the indoor track.
The track, surrounded by a metal railing that is intermittently interrupted by supporting posts, rises high above a gymnasium that is filled on one side with the daycare program’s brawling toddlers, and on the other with a handful of smelly, two-hour-delayed teenagers playing basketball. The track’s two lanes are just wide enough for two people to occupy at once, side by side, except you’re not supposed to: one lane is clearly marked “walk”; the other, optimistically, “run.”
The Actual Ghost and I, like many of the people who normally use the track, are breaking the rules and jogging two abreast. Unlike many of the people who normally use the track, however, one of us is discernibly not dead.
“No, I’m used to the delays by now,” I tell him. I stop and pretend to tie my shoe, which is a thing I do when I’m winded. (It’s a genius move; feel free to borrow it. But remember not to overdo it: more than twice during a lap and people start to wonder, especially if your shoes, like mine, have Velcro fastenings.) “It’s just that I’ve been thinking lately that I made a mistake. Maybe I should have gone to David’s Bridal and bought an actual wedding gown.”
“I see,” says the Actual Ghost. But you just know he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t even have eyes. Just these black holes in what looks to be a glowing blue sheet. And of course he doesn’t get winded, because: no breath. But he stops anyway, and waits for me. “Wasn’t the wedding like, half a year ago or something?”
I am not gonna lie: I am hurt that he doesn’t remember. Because he was in my wedding.
That’s the last time I’m letting a ghost hold the chuppah, I decide.
(Even though, technically, you could have like fifteen ghosts holding the chuppah, and you might not know. You could have all the ghosts holding the chuppah and you might not know, plus, you wouldn’t have to hurt the feelings of at least four of your friends because there was no longer a chuppah-holding spot available in your wedding party.)
(Not that there will be another chuppah-holding occasion for me.)
“It hasn’t even been five months,” I hiss. I finish “tying” my shoe and abruptly break into a sprint, since surprise is the only way I ever manage to leave the Actual Ghost behind.
But it’s a dick move, for two reasons: 1) I’m in the “walk” lane; and 2) unbeknownst to me, a young idiot mother has brought her toddler up to the track, so that she can “exercise” by pulling him out of the way of runners (or, in the case of most of us, shufflers), or by keeping him from slipping through the many toddler-sized gaps the supporting posts leave in the railing.
I veer out of the way just in time, only to nearly take out a couple of nonagenarians inexplicably occupying the lane marked “run.”
“Oy!” we all say, because this is the JCC. Then one of the oldsters turns to the other and grumbles something in what is probably Russian.
This fills me with rage, because I took Russian for two semesters thirty years ago, and I have no idea what it is they’re saying.
“I’m sorry!” I say, because I’m sort of from Iowa, and this is what we say when we mean fuck you.
“Zshuzetzhustinka?” the other oldster maybe says. If I remember rightly, and I’d like to think that I do (even though I know for a fact that I don’t), this means: What on Earth could be troubling you so that you don’t even watch where you’re going?
The Actual Ghost pats my back in a warning sort of way. “We’re okay here,” he says. “Nothing to see, folks. Let’s move it along.”
Which would be very helpful, except that what it sounds like to most living people is “Whooo-whooo. Whooo-whooo.”
“I’m upset,” I tell the oldsters. “I’m upset because my new husband acted just like my old husband last night. It’s like he never even read my blog!”
The male nonagenarian, who looks a little like Bono because of his huge, tinted, wraparound glasses, raises his arms and then lowers them, nodding. But the female nonagenarian, who is wearing a purple velour jacket over what appears to be a life vest, looks confused.
“The one about how maybe the thing that makes for a good marriage isn’t the outfit you choose, but the husband?” I remind her.
“Yah yah,” she says, gesturing at the track. Clearly, she wants me to go on.
But the Actual Ghost has other ideas. “Girlfriend,” he says, “why don’t we let these nice people get their exercise while we go and get a cup of coffee or something?”
“I’m sorry!” I shout at him. Then, just in case he doesn’t speak Iowish, I tell him about what my friend “Many” (which is her real name, but you’re pronouncing it wrong, so her privacy is still way protected) said the other day: that she thinks he’s the ghost of a wise old woman. “But I don’t,” I say. “I think you’re just another stupid guy.”
“Two things,” the Actual Ghost says. “One: I miss being in the car. And two: why don’t you tell me exactly what it is your new husband did, so we can figure out how you should feel about it?”
Somehow, we’ve started jogging again, two abreast. We pass the idiot mom and her toddler, but rather than veering out of the way, the Actual Ghost just whooshes right through them like a blue-sheeted and empty-eye-holed puff of wind.
“Fine, you want to know what he did?” I say. “What he did is he got mad at himself, and then he took it out on me. EXACTLY LIKE MY EX.”
The Actual Ghost skids to a stop, throwing out a sheeted arm. “Hold up,” he says. “You mean, exactly like your ex?”
“Exactly, yes,” I say. I see the idiot mom staring, so I lean against the railing, pretending to be looking at the ballgame below. Luckily, the railing is waist-high only if you’re tallish, which, as we’ve established, I am notish, so I’m not terribly likely to pitch myself over it.
At least, not unintentionally.
The gym floor is polished to such a high gloss that you can practically see the reflection of the teenagers’ body odor wafting along.
“Which is also,” says the Actual Ghost, “exactly like every other living human being.”
He grabs me by the shoulders (which is creepy, because he has no hands), and points me back toward the track. “Plus us dead ones,” he adds.
“Zhoutnaya!” say the Russians, moving out of our way, and if memory serves anything besides soft drinks, this means: Plus you.
The other night, after I thought I heard the front door slam, it occurred to me that there’s really no point in discussing the dresses we choose for our midlife weddings if we don’t spend at least a few minutes considering a topic that is nearly as significant, if not quite as fun: finding just the right husband to go with the dress.
I know what you’re thinking (because I’ve turned on the Google Thought Translator™ that helpfully came with my new iBrain). You’re thinking: Well, but I don’t want him to be too matchy-matchy.
That’s an excellent point. Does anyone really want, say, a frilly husband with a low neck? Or a lacy husband with a dropped waist?
I say no.
(I also say, but wait: what the hell are you wearing? This isn’t the 1970s.)
But nearly as important as getting a husband who contrasts, but doesn’t clash, with your outfit is finding one you’ll want to hang on to even after your big day has come and gone.
And not just because you’re concerned about the environment.
I don’t know about you (because the fucking internet keeps going out, and now the GTT™ isn’t working), but I’ve reached the stage where I’d prefer a marriage that’s more about making puns and watching (spoiler alert!) Downton Abbey SVU than it is about having a splashy party and then waiting for the ever-increasing number of kids to fall asleep in the car so I can listen to Paul Simon songs and weep.
This is what I realized when I thought I heard the front door slam: that I am now in a way different, way happier marriage.
Because in my first marriage, the front door slamming meant that my husband had just stormed out, again, for reasons I couldn’t begin to imagine but that were most certainly going to turn out to be my fault.
So the other night, when I heard what I thought was the sound of the front door slamming, I felt something I hadn’t felt in years: some combination of frightened and stricken and a little bit sick to my stomach, with a side of wanting to disappear entirely rather than endure whatever it was that was about to unfold.
What had I done?
Did it matter?
What would it take to make it better?
Would I have to apologize and apologize, only to be made to feel even worse about it, even though I still had no idea what it was I had done?
Most of all, how could I have forgotten that this is what marriage is really about, and why the hell had I willingly gone right back into it, now that I’m way way older than the age I was when I was old enough to know way fucking better?
I ran to the window to watch my next ex-husband driving away.
“What are you doing?” he asked from the couch.
“Jack?” I said (which, for the sake of privacy, and because he changed it in college, but not legally, is not his real name). “I thought I heard the door slam. I thought you were mad at me, and had stormed out!”
“Umm, no,” he said, thoughtfully, his phone making the “bloop bloop” sound of the Shuffle Letter function on Words With Friends. “Why would I ever be mad at you?”
“Oh,” I said. “Then why did you slam the door?”
“I didn’t,” he said. He looked up, his eyes soft with concern. “Honey, do you think ‘yiyi’ is a word?”
I never did find out who had slammed the door (I’m looking at you, Exposition Fairy) or why (vicious game of Chinese Checkers with the Actual Ghost), but what’s important about the story is that I had come to expect it.
Because my first marriage had been full of that sound, and full of noise, and drama, and trauma, in general.
And while maybe that’s because I had chosen to wear an ivory, tea-length, shawl-collared wedding dress with my mother’s pearls and those stupid dye-to-match shoes, maybe–just maybe–it was because I had picked the wrong guy to go with it.
The kids had a spirited debate about irony in the car the other day (which was ironic, since the Actual Ghost in the Car didn’t bother to participate). While they bantered cleverly, it struck me that their conversation would be the perfect lead-in to my New Year’s post, but because I am old, I promptly forgot the specifics of the conversation the minute I pulled into the driveway.
“Hey you guys,” I said to the kids a few days later. “Remember that spirited debate about irony you had in the car the other day?”
“No,” two of them said.
“Maybe,” said the third. Then she made the noise French-speaking people make when they shout their word for “egg,” which is very similar to the noise English-speaking people make when they’ve been elbowed in the stomach by their brother.
“Why do you want to know?” asked the Daughter with the Straight Hair. “Is this for your blog?”
“No,” I said.
“She’s lying,” said the Actual Ghost in the Car.
“I knew it,” said the Daughter with the Straight Hair. “Oh my God, Mom, get your own material! Isn’t your blog supposed to be about buying a wedding dress, anyway?”
“You,” I said, in a tone both chilly and commanding, “ARE my material. I made you, and now I will use you as I please.”
The children cowered in terror before helpfully shouting out useful details from their spirited debate about irony, which I faithfully reproduced here, segueing easily into a discussion about why I had to buy not one, but three wedding dresses (only to have none of them fit on my wedding day).
“She’s lying,” says the Actual Ghost in the House, who, because of this stupid Polar Vortex, has been allowed to leave the car until the windchill rises to zero and/or the kids go back to school, which is, apparently, never.
“Duh,” says everyone.
“What really happened,” says the Exposition Fairy, warming her hands over a nice cup of Irish coffee, “is that the Daughter with the Wavy Hair made a case to her siblings that up to a point, it couldn’t hurt to try to help their mother with her blog, and while the Son wanted to define that particular point, the three of them agreed that they would try to resurrect the spirited debate about irony on the off-chance that their mother might someday be able to earn a living from her writing, and buy them stuff. Only nobody could remember what it was they’d said.”
“Which is,” says the Actual Ghost in the House, pouring more Kahlua into his cup, “like, totally ironic.”
“No it isn’t,” says the Exposition Fairy. “That’s not irony, that’s just coincidence.”
“Dude, coincidence with a twist! That’s totally irony. That’s the definition of irony.”
“You can’t call me ‘Dude,’” says the Exposition Fairy. “I am the Exposition Fairy. I have been around since man first stepped out of the cave and conveyed information through unlikely but helpful dialogue! You should show some respect.”
“Oh yeah? Well as a literary contrivance, you should totally know the definition of another literary contrivance, Dude.”
“You want to know what’s ironic? What’s ironic is that you’re not even alive, and you’ve drunk nearly all of the Kahlua.”
“That’s so not ironic. Being dead is not the opposite of drinking Kahlua.”
“What does being opposite have to do with drinking irony?”
“Who are you talking to, Mom?” asks the Daughter with Wavy Hair, peering around the doorway to my writing nook. “And why did you forget to wake us up? It’s after nine.”
“School’s cancelled. Again. Go back to bed.”
“YES!” shouts the Daughter with Wavy Hair, ironically waking her siblings in the process.
“Dude, that’s not really ironic, either, unless you’ve explained to your readers that you can only write when the kids are in school, or asleep.”
“Well, that would have been explained, if the Exposition Fairy weren’t so busy getting drunk and arguing about the definition of irony.”
“Yeah, but wasn’t that kind of helpful, since nobody could remember the actual discussion about irony, which was sort of similar, but with swear words?”
“True. But honestly, I don’t even know who’s speaking at this point. Is the Daughter with Wavy Hair still in the writing nook?”
“Yep. Can I have some coffee, too, Mom? It smells really good.”
“No, because that will keep you awake, and I can’t write about the irony of having gained back the weight I didn’t want to tell the readers I’d lost in explaining why it was that I had to keep buying dedding wresses if you’re awake and not at school.”
“Shhhh. You’ll wake the Exposition Fairy.”
“Wouldn’t that be ironic?”
“Umm. Maybe. I think.”