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FAINT GLOW

Invited To a Wedding

Dan and Lily are getting married this afternoon at four-thirty but I'm not sure I'll attend. I want to. It's not often I get invited to a wedding where the couple already has a seven-year-old daughter. Will she be the flowergirl? I'd love to find out. But it's blowtorchy-hot outside, and I'll have to ride the unairconditioned streetcar and will arrive at the synagogue a ghastly, sweaty mess. Plus the tendinitis in my left foot is not yet resolved and all I can stand over it is this vivid turquoise Keen trekking sandal. SOOO haute couture, someone might mistake me for a Kardashian. (Isn't one of those worthless whores also getting married today? PLEASE, U. S. congresspeople, TAX THESE PARASITES.) (The Hiltons as well.)

But I digress. Daniel and Lily are very dear to me. They live across the street and I've known them for twelve years. Lily used to come into my yard looking for her favorite cat Johnny and we struck up an ongoing conversation about life in general, cats in general, her relationship with her Israeli mother, her yen to be married despite the fact she's never liked Dan's surname... Lily can out-talk even me. Whenever I see her, the conversation takes up again where it left off. The shorthand way to describe her would be "hippie". Except I was there when hippiedom was established and this couple doesn't really qualify. They don't broadcast their liberalism (although Lily did go postal the day after Bush beat John Kerry, but it probably had a lot to do with the death of our beloved neighbor Mr. Ivory on election night and that's another story...). Your original hippies were all about war protests, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, and Lily and Dan just don't do three of those. But they eat organic, shun television, wear natural fibers and homeschool their child, and Lily doesn't shave any part of herself that I can see. Neither of them holds any kind of nine-to-five job--Daniel does do some property management for at least one neighborhood landlord--and they own their own home and avoid using air conditioning as much as possible. They purchase the all-natural raw rabbit prescribed for their hypothyroid cat by a homeopathic veterinarian yet live way more simply than most. I admire that, plus I envy their freedom. They indulge in yearly travel to some woodsy property they own in North Carolina where they stay gone for weeks and weeks. No bosses telling them when to come back, no school schedule to worry about, they just pack up their little camping trailer, hitch it to Dan's truck and hit the road. Very ecologically-minded, Daniel and Lily. Friends of the earth, all that shit. Been there, done that--I'm too old now to believe I can save this poor ol' planet by using recycled toilet paper, though it's heartening to see an unjaded young couple still keeping the faith.

But always, always--during our ongoing early chat--Lily would mention how very much she wanted a child. And marriage: not a usual hippie goal. She was nearing thirty and wanted just two things in life, and not having them worried her.

So when she began appearing in 2003 in a happy maternal condition, I figured she'd taken what she could get. Once I was sure, I patted her belly and asked, "Lily, are you having kittens?"

Her pretty freckled face--no makeup, ever--split into a big white grin. Hearty laughter: "Just ONE, I hope!"

Yeah, it was just one. And she was born in August and they named her Pearl. They gave her crayons and art supplies and encouraged her to amuse herself and create her own beauty. They taught her to love animals, particularly ones which meowed (whom Pearl called "kick-kas"=kittycats). They encouraged her to go barefoot, to play in the soil, to garden, to spend time outside. They took her camping. What a dear, dirty little girl, clothing smeared with food and then Elmer's Glue and watercolors and over that a layer of soil, always chatting and singing and occasionally pitching such loud and long tantrums that at least one neighbor was concerned about child abuse. It worried me that Lily and Dan never told her No. They didn't discipline her, they gave in to any whim she had. It bothered me that she wasn't being socialized, that she had no little friends. Her screamed demands issuing from that house led me to believe she was on her way to Bratdom and already pretty far down the road...

Katrina came and they ran for their lives. I remembered they had family in the northeast and assumed that's where they'd gone. I came back on October eighth after five weeks in Houston, and their house looked undamaged but they weren't in it. Their fattest cat--the one who now gets raw rabbit--showed up much, much thinner. Humane Society volunteers had set up a feeding station at the church next door, but the big sack of pet chow was moldy and mostly empty. So I fed her, I fed everything that turned up hungry. I didn't expect all of my neighbors to come back. Some of them couldn't, financially. Some were putting down roots in new places. I didn't expect Dan and Lily.

They weren't from here. Home was someplace else.

But winter came, and on one overcast and very cold day, I saw them getting out of a car across the street and trotted over to them. She carried sleeping Pearl in her arms. We were matter-of-fact with each other. "Welcome back," I said. The church windows behind me were gaping caves. Daniel fisted his house keys. The two of them stood with me in the street. No traffic. There wasn't much to say. Words can't begin to cover some things. "Motie's here," I pointed to the tortoiseshell cat on my stoop. "I've been feeding her..."

Lily looked for somebody else. "What about Johnny?"

I shook my head. "Haven't seen him."

Her eyes just flowed like a fountain. "Oh NO...!"

It's bad when you can't pull a cat out of thin air. "I've been back since early October, Lily, but..."

"Oh NO! --Johnny was so smart like a person, that's why Dan and I used to call him Johnny-Person, that's what we named him, and he was just so...so...!"

"He was."

"...so FRIENDLY, Annette, you know? Maybe somebody took him, because he's so handsome and friendly? Johnny-Person, you know how he is. Some animal welfare volunteer, or somebody like that? He wasn't microchipped. They know he's somebody's pet but they couldn't just leave him out on the street like that, so they've taken him, and he's living with nice people in some other place, and he's happy...?"

I nodded. It had happened, for many local pets. I didn't think it had happened for Johhny, but maybe it had.

"Well, I choose to believe that," she dried her eyes, suddenly resolute. "That's what I choose to believe."

"I'm SO glad to see y'all," I hugged them. "Welcome home."

Maybe "home" is the place you choose to be.

They settled in. Dan began taking Pearl outside on clear chilly nights that winter, and they'd huddle on the church steps next door to my house to watch the raccoon come climbing from the big elm to chow down at my backyard feeding station. Dan would sing to his daughter. I could hear him through my window and it made me feel...something. Mushy. He invented the song, something about a raccoon eating cat Moon's food--got a rhyme going there--and whenever he'd stop, little Pearl would reach up and touch his lips. "SING, Papa," she'd insist. With none of her former brattiness. Just a simple request. He'd sing. Sometimes Lily would be out there too. They'd all have their arms around each other with their ugly Tibetan earflapped knit hats on so they looked like three pinheads, and they'd watch the night and the animals and just talk and talk and sing.

For reasons I don't fully understand but which are none of my business, Daniel and Lily are at last making it official and getting married at Touro Synagogue this very sweltering afternoon, at four-thirty and it's two-oh-two right now. Now how on earth can I go to a wedding, in an ungodly pair of Keen sandals, in this heat that'll make me look like a deranged homeless woman when I get there? How can I go?

How can I not?
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