Petty victories

I’m sitting at home these days, because my visa currently forbids me from working.  This is the state of affairs until my appointment on the 18th of October, and after all the wedding hullabaloo and traveling halfway across the planet for honeymoon, I find myself a bit bored.  So I’ve been cooking.  Yesterday I made a bunch of jam tarts as we had a lot of jam and the husband is rather partial to them.  As it was my first time making them, the jam/ pie crust ratio was all off, but he liked them well enough anyway that he took some to work today.  I was pretty proud of that, both because I take pride in my ability to cook well and because it was nice to feel like the good sort of little wife who bakes things for her husband.  Sickeningly Donna Reed, but even so.

One of the side effects of this project though was that there were now a bunch of personal sized jam tarts cluttering our very tiny kitchen.  So we were staring at them last night trying to decide how to store them, when suddenly the husband (he so needs a better nickname) goes into the bedroom and emerges with a tin which I vaguely remembered seeing, incongruously, in his wardrobe.  He cocked an eyebrow and said to me “Many moons ago, the Princess gave me this with some cake inside.”

The Princess is a girl from his romantic past, who basically whinged about how there were no nice guys out there, and when my husband presented himself (as he is a nice guy, though likes to pretend that he’s not), she grew coy and said that oh, they were just friends.  This earned her the nickname the Princess, because she was always on the hunt for Prince Charming.

I hate this girl.  I hate her in a super catty girl way that I’ve never felt towards any other girl before.  Let me be clear: I’ve never met her, and she only barely knows I exist.  When the husband and I first got together last year she was in the habit of randomly messaging him, because she didn’t have his attention anymore. (In my defense that was the husband’s assessment of the situation, not my own.)  He did take an opportunity to crow about his good fortune, and I was smugly glad.  Because, I cannot reiterate this enough, I hate her.  Even though the most I’ve seen of her is her facebook photo.

In reality I ought to be grateful to her.  If she had been a wiser woman and realized that my husband is a pretty awesome guy, he’d be her husband and I’d be moaning about my singledom still.  But even with this knowledge I have never wanted to have one of those scratching girl cat fights with someone so much.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating.  A bit.

Bizarrely, I’m also kind of fascinated by her.  I want to grill my husband about her, but he’s not really one to dwell on the past.  But I want to know more, so I can get angry–I think because there is a loyal streak in me, and if you hurt someone I love, you go on my list.  But also, I think she is the female embodiment of the hurt I once faced, when I hung off my first and only boyfriend while he grew steadily more disinterested.  Nothing is as painful as indifference.

So you would think I’d grab this cake tin and run to hurl it off the balcony, but I had a curious reaction of blandness to it.  He pried the lid off and I saw that he had never actually washed the tin, because frosting was still stuck to the top.  After having an “I live with a *boy*!” moment during which he shrugged at my disgust and proceeded to start filling the tin with jam tarts, I remarked something else.

“That cake had icing on it,” I observed.

“Yes,” said my husband, still busy trying to fit all the tarts in, and failing.

“But you hate icing.”  I am desperately trying to learn his food likes and dislikes, which run along a set of obscure rules understood only by him and his youngest sister, who is apparently like him in that regard.  They go something like this: he doesn’t like cheese, except when melted on a Tuesday that’s a full moon.  It would be a lot easier if he didn’t like cheese.  I do remember that he hates icing, much to my chagrin because I love it.  I had also gotten heat for putting a layer of buttercream in the middle of a Victoria Sponge I made last week.  According to him it should have just been jam.

“Maybe back then, I pretended I loved it.”

I thought about this, and it gave me an odd sense of comfort.  Clearly my husband and the Princess did not have a real relationship.  He didn’t even feel confident enough to tell her his preferences, he was simply grateful for the gesture.  I suppose I could go on a little rant here about how I get grief instead of gratitude, but I don’t really.  He’s just honest, because he feels safe enough.  (And he’s not exactly without kind words either, to be perfectly fair.)  But he can be honest because what we have is real and permanent.  There is no need to beg for favors or attention, or be grateful for whatever scraps we get.  It made me think–we’re good for each other, because he shows me who he is.  And because I listen enough to know not to put icing on anything.

So he went on filling the tin he got from the Princess with tarts I had made, which struck me as symbolic.  And it was symbolic of the fact that I won.

Oh, and also that we’re much better off in this relationship, which is why it’s the one that stuck.

Get it?  Stuck?  Jam?  Old icing?  Omg, I just made a pun.  My husband is rubbing off on me.

For my husband, who is probably rolling his eyes at the fact that I turned something stupid into something significant: this is what you get when you marry an English major.


So today is 9/11.

Or 11/09 as my British computer is telling me.

And it’s eleven years now.  To the day.  Today, for the record, is also a Tuesday.  In Birmingham it is bright and warm and sunny the same way it was in NYC that day, the same way it was in North Carolina, where I was eleven years ago.

I’m not a person who dwells on that day.  The world watched in horror, but I was afraid.  I was afraid I had lost my mother, that one of my best friends had lost her father.  So many people I know lived in fear that day, and I was halfway down the East Coast, in a state where I didn’t belong and wasn’t particularly wanted by the boyfriend I had come there to be with.  All the phone lines were jammed and no one had internet–certainly not high speed internet.  I have been a lot of places, even set myself adrift in countries where I barely spoke the language, but I never felt so far from home as I did that day.

The fear subsided–my friend was sitting in the lobby of an NYU building in shock while a kind stranger waited in line for her to use the pay phone, when her father passed by the window she was sitting near and rapped on the glass.  My mother was engulfed in the dust of the Towers, but she walked from the World Trade Center all the way up to the 59th Street bridge and into Queens.  Miraculously, a van was going to Flushing.  She said that when she got into Flushing, the heart of Northern Queens and closer to Long Island than Manhattan, everything was normal.  Businesses were open, buses were running, people moving about.  She, covered in white dust, was a ghost, haunting everyone with what had just happened.  Because things were never going to be the same again.

For my mother, it meant sarcoidosis, the disease everyone is thought to have on House.  For New York, it meant a stinking hole, gaping in the bedrock of downtown, where two mighty buildings stood.  I couldn’t conceive of them being gone.  I had left New York for North Carolina but a couple of weeks before, and right before I left, and errand brought me downtown.  I stood beneath the towers craning my neck and marveling at their sheer size.  A month later, I could not conceive that they had been reduced to dust.

In the weeks that followed, I immersed myself in the news.  I started a scrapbook.  I wept when I read the headline in Le Monde: “Nous sommes tous Americains.”  I could not tear myself away.

When it was over, though, I dusted myself off and didn’t want to look back.  There is a part of me that was almost angry when the nation grieved as if it had happened to them.  “You don’t know,” I wanted to say.  “This wasn’t in your backyard.”  I felt protective and defensive of my city.  The first time I went to England to visit my friend, I was at her wedding.  In 2006, when I said I was from New York, the question which immediately followed was what I had seen that day.  But when people espoused the conspiracy view that seemed to have some weight in those days, that George Bush had plotted 9/11 himself, I flared in anger.  He was stupid, he was hardheaded, and he was bad for America, but he wouldn’t do *this.*  A monster couldn’t do it.

So today people remember.  The documentaries come on tv, even here.  They change their facebook profile pictures to the American flag and rainbows, or vows of not forgetting.  There’s nothing wrong in this at all, in fact, it is very moving, but I bristle at it.  I bristle because I don’t want to be there anymore.  I want to move forward.  I don’t want my city defined by this.  All the things it has done and been and seen, all the 8 million souls that pulse through it day after day–they deserve more than to be defined by tragedy.  We New Yorkers are tough.  We are survivors.  We’ll always go on and we defy anyone to stop us.  Which means not living forever in the worst day, but building better ones.

Where I lived in Briarwood, I would take the Grand Central Parkway to get to Metropolitan Avenue where I would grocery shop.  The trip along the Grand Central offered an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline, something I never fail to appreciate.  One day last winter, though, I noticed something different.  Instead of the hole in the downtown skyline I was accustomed to, the Freedom Tower was rising at last above the buildings.  Everyone I knew commented on how one day, it was there, shining.  And it kept growing, stubbornly rising, and I liked that best of all because it showed resurrection, strength, resilience.

In the days after 9/11, my mother said what helped her get to work was the idea of the English after the Blitz.  Bombs would rain down on London, Coventry, Canterbury, but the next morning the people would dust themselves off and go to work and get on with their lives.  Now there are memories and reminders–there are but a few scant remains of the quaint medieval Coventry–much of it is modernistic now.  But life goes on, just the same.  And that, more than anything, is what I want for NYC.

Red hot exhaustion

**Disclaimer:  So, obviously, this blog is based a lot on my personal life.  In this post, I reference a real event, and real opinions of my friends (though I have made every endeavor to keep them anonymous).  The debate I reference got quite heated, and to any of my friends who may recognize themselves or their points of view–I’m not taking sides.  I’m just ruminating, because it’s an interesting debate.

Two days before the wedding, my sister-in-law (in two days) was driving me and three of my bridesmaids who were staying with me back from the rehearsal barbecue we had just days before the wedding.  She and I were chatting inconsequentially when all of a sudden the volume of the conversation in the backseat rose by a volume of about 15 decibels.  I caught snatches of it, and being a naturally inquisitive (read: nosy) person, I was dying to know what was going on.  But I was marrying into a British family, and  the Brits excel at a) not making a fuss and b) pretending a fuss is not happening.  (Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever fit in. )  So we carried on talking about teaching.

Eventually, I found out that the source of the debate was this: one friend was explaining how she wanted her relationship to be full of lifelong passion, and the other was saying that is an unrealistic expectation.  In so many words.

Of course this got me thinking, as I was about to enter into a lifelong relationship.  What did I hope for in my marriage?

The friend arguing passion had expressed this feeling to me before, and in expressing that opinion said, essentially, that she didn’t want to be friends with her partner, that she had plenty of friends, and if he wanted to tell her about his day, maybe he could feel her up while doing it.

I have the good fortune to have some truly amazing friends (like the ones I’m referring to in this post), and in that I see her point.  I don’t *need* another friend.  That is one area where my life is full.  But still…the husband and I are friends, and in a lot of ways that’s really nice.

Part of the draw of being with someone is that you don’t have to be alone anymore.  When you are in any form of serious relationship, there’s a comfort in knowing you won’t come home to an empty house.  Or even more, that their lives are tied up with yours.  Someone else cares just as much when the internet goes out, or the tv dies, or dinner gets burnt, and that makes you feel a little less alone.  And if you’re going to be going through life together, it’s nice to know that the person by your side is a comrade-in-arms, a friend who can be confided in and relied on.

More than that, it’s fun.  Passion is an important part of life, but it’s a very specific one, and unless you have some seriously jumped up hormones, nobody feels passionate every waking moment of the day.  So when you’re not feeling passionate, if that’s the basis of the relationship with your partner, there’s not a whole lot left to do together.  My husband and I can sit around watching Wonders of the Solar System or play Rock Band or just sit and have a chat.  Last night we ate dinner, watched a couple of episodes of Community and Grand Designs, played a bit of Rock Band and read in bed.  Nothing hot about it, but I loved reading in bed together, because we’d read funny bits to each other, or turn and smile at each other, and the simplicity of that made me really happy.

Moreover, constant passion is exhausting at the very least, if not unsustainable.  To wit: one of my other friends was telling me how a coworker’s marriage seemed to be falling apart due to some Facebook craziness.  I was shocked, but then as she went on to explain, they were crazy for each other but would fly into jealous rages and follow each other to make sure of where they were going, and interrogate each other over who’s posting what on whose Facebook wall.  There was lots of slamming doors and sleeping on the couch.  That to me is a side effect of a passionate relationship.  Yes, the highs are very high, but nothing in life can be a constant high.  Eventually there’s a crash, and in a relationship that means bitter arguments, perhaps a lack of trust.  Perhaps even (and this may be a controversial hypothesis) passion causes mistrust, because when one partner isn’t feeling amorous or passionate, the other can easily come to believe that they’re getting satisfaction elsewhere.

Also, if passion is constant in a relationship, when it’s good, what room is there for anything else?  I remember a friend (the same one who was reporting on her work mate’s problems) telling me about her first relationship, a deeply involving Edward and Bella sort of affair (her comparison).  She told me that after the whole thing ended her family expressed sheer relief.  Apparently, they hated the guy because not only did he not even address them, but he also totally distracted her and drew her in.  We’ve all been there, but the point is would you want that for the rest of your life?

The husband and I discussed this debate while on our honeymoon, which turned out to have its very unromantic moments.  Ultimately, I’m glad we’re friends and glad we can support each other when we’re feeling ill or upset.

But this is a double-edge sword.  It is so easy to be friends, and so comfortable, that a danger exists.  While constant passion is unsustainable, it is all too easy to forget about it altogether and sink into the comforts of married life.  We’re going through this a bit now, I think.  There’s no more drama, no more separation, no more big wedding, and so while we have our nights where we do stuff together, there are also nights where we’re in the same room, but engaged in our own activities.  It is blissful to do nothing, and sometimes it’s tempting to not bother with passion and romance, because they are a lot of work.  But the thing is that when you marry someone, while it’s necessary to be friends, you’re clearly not *just* friends, not if you married for love.  There is an attraction there, and that shouldn’t be forgotten because things are familiar and comfortable.

I think the thing is that keeping passion alive does take work.  If it happens too naturally, then you get a very tumultuous relationship that exists only around passion.  But humans are essentially lazy, and once the chase is over would rather rest than keep running.  Of course, all this is well and good to say, but the trick is to find the things that will keep the spark alive.

Contented Ever After

The (very famous) opening line of Anna Karenina is “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  This is one of those literary moments that became famous because it is a universal pearl of wisdom that Tolstoy shrewdly pointed out.  Most people focus on the ‘unhappy families,’ and all the problems and drama therein–after all, isn’t that the very basis of story even in life?  But I find myself in the first part of the sentence at the moment, settling in to contentment.

I think that’s the exact sentiment–settling in, and contentment.

There is nothing wrong with either of these things, really.  In fact, I’ve wanted both for a long time, and have tried to fabricate contentment all the years when I was alone and something was missing.  In our long stretches apart, the husband spoke very fondly of a time when we could be together and do nothing together.

So here I am, in happily ever after.  All the hullabaloo is over, and I have exactly what I’ve always dreamed of.  And I’m *not* ungrateful.  I’m very content.

Just…happily ever after feels a bit anticlimactic.

I’m not used to a quiet romantic life.  Up until now, my love story has had a sort of novelesque feel–finding someone so serendipitously, knowing we were right for each other so quickly and then making a relationship work across an ocean through sheer perseverance and the wonders of Skype.  The way he proposed so quickly, and as such a romantic surprise, planning a wedding and worrying how we would ever be together with draconic immigration rules getting in the way.

Because our time together was so limited, every second felt precious, and we felt the need to fill it with excitement and activity.  We were always going out somewhere, doing something, and when I arrived at last to live, the fairy tale continued, for we were gearing up then for a wedding.  I thought life had its quiet moments then, but I was wrong.  This is quiet.

After everything, I think that’s what I’m struggling to get used to.  The biggest day of my life, that I hoped and planned for since I was a little girl, is over, never to come again.  That’s an odd feeling.  I don’t think I would want to stage another wedding, not with all the stress of coordination involved, but it’s weird to know that I can’t dimly look forward to being a bride.

And life is so quiet.  Due to visa stuff I can’t work at the moment.  Tomorrow all my fellow teachers will be heading back to school, preparing course contracts, writing out lesson plan calendars, fighting for space at the copier.  In July I thought I’d never miss it, but now I find that I do.  That’s the trick of teaching.  You get to feeling like your life has some real drive and purpose.  But here I am, looking for ways to fill my days.  At the beginning of July, when it was all still like a fairy tale I thought I could happily be a housewife.  That’s because it was still novel, and still this illusion of peace in the midst of turmoil.  Now it’s all to easy to spend the day melting into the sofa cushions and watching bad reality tv while playing iPad games.

I’m *not* complaining.  I am happy to have my story, and I’m happy to be a wife, and to know in a few hours my husband will come home, and we’ll have dinner and live the ordinary life we’ve been craving.  I don’t even dislike the quiet, I’m just…struggling to adjust.  Everything went quiet so quickly.  It’s like when I would visit my grandparents in the Pocono Mountains in the summer.  In New York, even in Queens, there is always street noise.  Even if we didn’t live on a main drag, there was always one nearby, and the rush of traffic, punctuated by sirens and sometimes people wandering about, doing who knows what at 2am in the hours between Monday and Tuesday.  It was its own lullaby to me, and I grew used to the sounds, found the constant company comforting.  Then we would go to the Poconos, where there were no streetlights and the darkness closed around the car as we wended our way up barely paved roads with no sidewalks.  When I would lie in bed at night, all I could hear was crickets.  They were so loud, and so natural, that I missed the rush of the city.  Eventually I got used to the crickets, and they lulled me to a better sleep than I got in Queens, but there was still that period of adjustment, of learning how to cope with quiet after noise and bustle.

What I find weird is how the husband and I are settling in to our old routines even while everything is new.  I’ll happily sit chatting to my best friend while he plays Xbox.  There’s not anything wrong with this, but there’s still a part of me that wonders–shouldn’t we be glued to each other’s sides just that little bit more?  Is all the romance leaving our relationship already?  Probably not–we’re still quite sappy with each other, but it’s just another example of how quickly things are slowing down and how normal married life is.  When I was single, marriage seemed like this fantasy land, a nirvana where one has achieved perfect bliss.  That of course is hardly the case–it’s just life, with someone beside you.  And I’m struggling to get used to the normalcy of that.