The day has arrived. To my girlfriend it means everything, to me, nothing. And though a wedding is a wedding, I'm still having trouble grasping the significance, possibly because I don't even know the bride or groom. My girlfriend saved the invitation and the envelope. I think she wanted to make a xerox of the RSVP card but I sent it back before she had a chance. This upset her. I was trying to be responsible.
The presence of Miss Hope Witherspoon and Mr. Jack Wilson was requested as a "couple." Our first such request, upon which Hope said to me, "Jack, seeing our names together like this, I don't know, it just makes me feel so happy." Both the envelope and invitation had been marked with raised black cursive writing that was so fancy it was almost illegible.
Hope looked to me for a response, she was biting her lip; her eyebrows raised halfway up her forehead. I had never realized that both our last names started with W. "You should save these," I said. "Because...you never know."
And to that she smiled.
Now, as Hope and I sit next to each other in the church, waiting for the ancient (and judging by her glasses, nearly blind) woman playing the organ to strike up "Here Comes the Bride" all I can think about is a T-shirt I saw on our way here. It said, my grass is blue. Reading it made me smile and nod in anonymous accordance. But as I look at Hope, the gorgeous woman sitting next to me, tenderly holding my hand as she rubs her thumb along my knuckles in an almost suggestive fashion, it dawns on me that I have no idea what the hell that T-shirt means.
The organ kicks up its volume and everyone quickly stands, our heads turning simultaneously. Most of the crowd is young, like Hope and me, in their mid-to-late twenties. I recognize some of them from a party Hope threw when I moved into her apartment last week. Today's bride and groom were there but I never had a chance to meet them. The party had gotten way out of control in a very short period of time. Spiked Jell-O. Right before the cops came I was outside borrowing a tree trunk. I turned around while zipping up my pants to see a girl standing less than a foot away from me.
She said, "You're kinda cute. Mind if I borrow your lips?" Before I had time to refuse we were locked in an awkward embrace for a solid twenty-five seconds. The kiss was nothing special; tongue was involved, but no groping. I was more confused than concerned with my performance, so it's understandable that when our lips finally did part she wiped her mouth and in a disappointed tone said, "Sorry, just doing a little research."
At that very second the police cruiser arrived, no sirens flashing but the headlights were bright and I could see her perfectly. She was mildly drunk but the bags under her eyes suggested that she hadn't slept for days. And as I see her right now, in the back of this church full of guests while the ancient blind woman plays the organ from memory, I can honestly say that she looks much better. Being a bride suits her well. Her grass is the greenest it has ever been.
Hope squeezes my hand and leans toward the aisle for a better view. She sighs and rests her head against my shoulder. A common gesture but touching nonetheless until she whispers in my ear, "Mr. Jack Wilson...you never know." I nod, not to the notion of us getting married one day, rather to the sentiment that one never does know. The past year has been a case in point.
Hope's eyes are beginning to tear; she is beautiful, by the way. I put my arm around her shoulder, kiss her ear lightly and say, "No you don't, Miss Witherspoon; you certainly don't."
Last week, as I prepared to move in with Hope, I was storing some stuff in my mother's garage. Mom thinks I've made a mistake moving in with Hope. She shook her head as I unloaded a box of old dishes that didn't match, tattered sheets, and a disassembled futon.
"You're gonna want your own space," she said.
"Mom, I've pretty much been living with her for the past six months anyway, and besides, I can always come back here."
"Well, you always say you want to see me more."
"Are you gonna come alone?"
"You got a problem with Hope?" (Of course she does...Mom's got a problem with anyone who isn't my old girlfriend.)
"Sorry, I just think she's making you move too fast."
"She's not making me do anything."
"Where's the rest of your stuff?"
"My clothes are already at her place."
"That's all you're taking? Your clothes?"
"Yeah. My clothes, and this." I held up a small, white, hollow statue of Buddha in my hand.
"What the hell is that?"
"Buddha. Breach gave it to me."
Breach, the old girlfriend: cunning, pretty, shameless. Hope hates her though they've never met; and in this instance Hope is not being shallow, but remarkably instinctive. The simple truth is: had you asked me a few years ago, I would have thought I'd be moving in with Breach by now; and I'd be willing to bet that if you asked Breach, she'd say the same.
"Don't tell me you're changing religions too."
"Religion? She got it at a Japanese restaurant when she ordered a Mai Tai."
"Have you talked to her lately?" Her tone of voice is accusatory. I made a couple of major mistakes with Breach; one of them was allowing her and Mom to get too close.
"Last week. She moved back here you know."
"I know; she came over Friday night. Don't think for a second Hope is gonna let you guys chat on the phone anymore. Those days are over." Mom smiled the way pissed off people do, and she left me in the garage.
When Hope saw the Buddha enter her house she said, "What the hell is that?"
"You sound like my mother."
"Well, what is it?"
"It's a good luck charm. Where can I put it?"
"How about the garbage?" If Hope knew the Buddha was an old gift from Breach she probably would have said, "How about we run it over with the car...several times?"
* * *
The organ blasts and the bride and her father process down the aisle. As they approach Hope and me, I lock eyes with the bride. I shoot her a little wink, which quickly breaks all contact. Her dad notices and I smirk, probably because I'm reminded of my own father. Two seconds later it dawns on me that I'll have to avoid him for the rest of the night.
As I headed toward the bedroom, Buddha in hand, Hope called out from behind, "I did your laundry." Two piles of my clothes were folded neatly on the bed. One stack was all the stuff Hope didn't like. Hope's apartment is much nicer than my old one, but the design is upside down. The front door, living room, and kitchen are all upstairs, while the bedroom is on the ground floor. She followed me down the stairs saying, "I'm not sure if there's room for all of it."
"Let me guess," my hand slapped the reject pile, "everything but these?" My father had given me the shirt on top. In the ten years Dad's been gone it's the one gift he's sent. A custom job he designed himself, the T-shirt is red with black, furry iron-on decals that spell, SNAKE-EYED JACK!!! A present for my sixteenth birthday; he'd been gone almost four years. A postcard of Atlantic City came with the shirt -- "Come visit," written in pencil, "you might not ever leave." The receipt for the shirt was in the package. It came from a local shop run by two hippies, right here in the center of town. It's likely Dad was in town and never told me. I think he comes around a lot without telling me.
"But I'm Snake-Eyed Jack," I said. "If I throw it out, how will people know?"
* * *
In an attempt to be different the bride is not dressed in a long, white, flowing gown, but instead a short, pale yellow satin skirt that does not go below her knees. She's got fantastic legs, and I'm considering the missed opportunity of our grope-less kiss. Of course I'm cleared of any wrongdoing concerning my commitment to Hope; had I known this woman was behind me I would have been able to react appropriately...I also would not have hummed so loud while relieving myself.
This first week living with Hope has been unsettling. Nothing in the apartment is mine -- the furniture, the kitchenware, not even the broom. Hope's got pictures everywhere, friends from home, her mother, and most popular, her mom's dog, Slider. It's strange to be surrounded by photographs and knickknacks that have no personal meaning. It's an artificial familiarity.
Then there are those oddities that you don't discover until you live with someone, such as Hope's aversion to sugar cereal. The other day I was unpacking some groceries when Hope saw a box of Trix.
"You can't have those here," she said.
"I know. They're for kids."
"Seriously. I mean it."
"I'm twenty-six, Hope. I think I can monitor my own sugar intake."
She snatched the box off the counter, opened it, and started pouring the contents into the trash. "Listen," she said through clenched teeth. "Please, I don't want to explain."
I tried to stop her but she was shaking; her eyes began watering. She kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," then walked out of the apartment with the empty box and threw it in the dumpster out back.
As the bride reaches the altar everyone quiets down. Her father lets go of his little girl's hand and turns around, nodding solemnly. The church is brand new; the structure looks like it belongs in an upper-middle-class subdivision. Not made from stone, but wood; no dark, stained-glass windows, rather large clear ones. The interior is bright and lively. The lines are simple and inviting, and though the feel is less religious, a commercial appeal has been achieved.
The bedroom ceiling in Hope's apartment has an opening to the living room upstairs. It's a convenient sort of portal; Hope and I pass things between the floors without using the stairs, but there's less privacy. This morning Hope thought I was asleep while she made a phone call. She was upstairs talking to her mom about our new living arrangement. "I love living with him," she had said. "It's encouraging he's so willing to make a commitment, but he's really loud in the bathroom."
I've never met Hope's mother but I don't think she likes me. Hope's voice becomes too cheery when they talk about me.
I got up and began to brush my teeth silently, keeping the water pressure low and drooling the foamy toothpaste instead of spitting. Hope opened the bathroom door and said, "What are you doing in here that's so quiet?" She was still wearing her nightgown, a flimsy, purple piece of fabric that's seventy percent see-through.
"I'm just trying to be a little less loud," I said.
She sat on the counter and pulled me between her legs. "Why? There isn't anyone who can hear you."
At one point she was screaming so much I stopped and asked if she was all right. After, I couldn't eat breakfast. The word Hope had used with her mother upset my stomach. "Encouraging"?
The bride stands next to the groom and everyone sits down. Hope is still holding my hand, her thumb still working at my knuckles as the groom shuffles his feet to face what will soon be "his better half." His chest heaves a bit as he takes a deep breath, probably in anticipation of the enormous promise he is about to make. A good-looking guy, tall, dark hair, athletic build; Hope says he's a law student. Apparently he almost got thrown out of the program because he failed his statistics class. His face is genuine and though he may not be a stats wizard, I'm sure he knows what "50 percent of all marriages" result in, and truly I am wishing him the best.
The best part of living with Hope is coming home after work. We play a lot of backgammon and I never win. Hope taught me the game, but must have held back on the strategic tips. Playing is fun; we always gamble though, so I'm constantly losing. Last week my hair was cut by Hope's stylist, Bruce. He had a great sense of humor, and after five minutes with him I no longer cared about losing the bet. Hope gave him a picture she tore from a magazine to use as a guide. He looked at the man on the page, then at me. With one hand on my shoulder and the other on his hip, he said to Hope, "Honey, with your ambition, you just might find the right man after all."
I've won once. The bet: Steak for dinner. Hope brought the meat home, I grilled it; and then she said she felt ill. She put her hands on her stomach and made a sad face.
"That's probably the worst fake expression I've ever seen," I told her.
"Honey, sorry, but I'm queasy."
"You're making me queasy. I've seen better acting in porn movies."
"Oh yeah? Watch a lot of porn?"
"No. It's a saying."
"I've never heard that one before."
"Well I'm glad I could enlighten you."
"You don't have to be a dick about it," she said, and stormed downstairs. An hour passed. In the bedroom, the phone beeped as she dialed.
From the kitchen I shouted, "Who're you calling?"
"I'm ordering sushi," she yelled back. "Alright? Now would you please drop it?"
Today's bride made sure no bridesmaids would show her up. In order to be consistent with the bride's nontraditional yellow wedding dress, they're wearing yellow Capri pants and red satin vests. Perhaps these were meant to be "summery" colors, but the women look like McDonald's dancers. Their posture is proud and erect (like a crispy french fry), but I'm sure the phone lines were buzzing the day they received their uniform, which reminds me of another backgammon casualty:
I found myself in a large rectangular room with heavy carpeting and mirrors on every wall. As the only male in sight I was somewhat of a novelty, which must have been why an incredibly attractive, older woman approached me, told me her name was Merideth, and assured me that I'd survive. A hit song by a teenage girl, global in her popularity, though really more a marketing juggernaut than a singing talent, blared from several large speakers hanging from the ceiling. With my head down, surrounded by women in tights, lunging left to right, I vowed never to play backgammon again.
The aerobics instructor introduced herself as Amy. Her body was tanned and shaped in a way that asked people to stare, and I didn't protest. With an encouraging voice she gave instructions through a headset. I didn't know the jargon and was completely out of sync, stepping up while everyone stepped down, and vice versa.
The class was an hour and fifteen minutes long, and with an hour and five to go there was no way I'd last. But then a bead of sweat rolled from my newly designed sideburn. The cotton of my shirt began to stick to my back. A new song played that I recognized from a movie soundtrack. It was the kind of song almost everyone likes but few admit it. A simple, feel-good song; sung by three brothers from the sticks somewhere, who got their start singing at cattle shows. Now they're teenagers, millionaires and famous. I started to feel sorry for them but their song gave me so much energy. Merideth noticed and smiled. I returned the gesture and gave a half wave from a hand at my waist. With so many mirrors, Hope didn't miss it.
After the aerobics class Hope obviously felt defeated as we drove home. Her attempt to humiliate me turned into a jazzed up flirting fest. Then, to rub it in, because I was still bitter about Steak Night, I started humming the catchy song. "Jack, do you mind?"
"Sorry," I said. "That workout just really pumped me up."
She rolled her eyes, "You certainly tried your hardest to impress that woman. I hate to break it to you, Jack. She was wearing a ring."
"Yeah, well, I was just keeping my end of the bet. When do we have to go back?"
"Sure you don't want to go alone?"
"Why? You just told me that woman is married."
Hope pulled the car to the side of the road and jammed it into park. "Apologize or get out."
I leaned my head back and laughed. "Hope, we live a block away." I laughed again, trying to diffuse the situation. "I can walk home in less time than it will take you to park."
"Fine then. Do it." So I carefully exited the car, shutting the door with the precision of a chauffeur. It may have been the exercise, or it may have been that I really was curious about Merideth, but instead of walking home I sat down on a bench. It was sunny, warm, and it felt good to relax. I shut my eyes, and I began to talk out loud to my friend Mark.
Mark is dead; a few friends and I were with him when it happened. We were so far out in the country we ended up sitting by him for an hour waiting for an ambulance. That hour meant many things, and I will never truly recover from the feeling of helplessness, watching my friend slowly die.
I said to Mark, sitting in the sun while the sweat from aerobics dried, that I had just had a fight with a girl I had recently moved in with. I said I was surprised I'd even agreed to live with her. We'd been dating nine months, but still, it's a big step and I'm not completely sure. I explained to Mark that normally this would bother me, but since his death I've taken a new philosophy of life. I paused to let him consider this, then explained my belief that as humans we are helpless to fate anyway, so I'm trying to worry less about all the decisions that arise on a given day.
At that point a high-pitched voice came from behind me saying, "Who're you talking to?" I turned my head to see a young boy straddling a silver BMX bike.
"A friend of mine, but he's not here right now."
"Where is he?"
"Dead." It was the kind of response only a kid could take in stride.
"Do you think he can really hear you?" The question was sincere.
"That I don't know."
The boy climbed back on his bike, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Well...you never know," and he rode away, trying to pop a wheelie off a crack in the cement.
Today things were much more amicable in the car as Hope and I headed toward the wedding. I was thinking way too hard about the MY GRASS IS BLUE T-shirt, and Hope was giving me dirt on the bride's father. It seems the father of the bride is also the father of a five-year-old girl, who right now is presenting the groom with the wedding rings. An adorable blonde girl, button nose and all, she's almost too precious to be the product of an adulterous affair.
The father, a software designer turned executive turned multimillionaire, turned out to fall in love with his wife's much younger and prettier sister. The young sister had a child, which, following a blood test, was proved to be his. The first wife split with half the money, all the artwork, and a custom designed GMC Suburban, equipped with satellite tracking, an onboard computer, fax machine, and DVD player.
But the audience at the wedding has forgotten all that and a collective sigh fills the church, the blonde button-nosed lovechild the endearing catalyst. Leaning into Hope I whisper, "What did her mother do with the car?" A non sequitur, but because Hope was thinking about the same thing (as she sighed), she understood.
"You mean the Suburban? She donated it to a Top 40 radio station and they gave it away in some dumb contest. He hated Top 40."
"She probably could have sold it for fifty grand."
Hope whispered back a little louder, "Jack, there's a wedding going on. Let's talk finance later."
Though the bridesmaids are dressed as drive-thru attendants, the vows follow the norm. The mention of Top 40 reminds me of the song I'd heard in aerobics. Looking around the church, I wonder if Merideth could be here. Hope has put her hand on my thigh, sensing my growing restlessness with the ceremony. Outside the afternoon is tranquil. The sun is high, the wind is calm, and the grass, predictably so, is as green as the sky is blue.
Copyright © 2002 by Jimmy Gleacher
It's How You Play the Game
Jack Wilson's got a few problems. First, there's his ex-girlfriend, Breach -- their relationship was too perfect for any twentysomething guy in his right mind. Unable to commit, he quickly ran the other way. Since then, the dating games have spun out of control.
Now there's his new girlfriend, Hope -- she's gorgeous, exciting, smart, and quite possibly crazy. Hope's rich friends? Even crazier. Jack's life is suddenly cluttered with young, beautiful people who have a strange definition of love. Relying on fate, Jack decides to ride the situation out with little or no regard for the consequences.
A no-good gambling father, the new girlfriend's psychotic mother, and a seductive older woman aren't making things any easier. Jack's getting plenty of advice, though. If he isn't seeking the counsel of the local Mafioso deli owner, then his mom and her "Friday Night Drinking Club" are more than willing to butt in. Through it all, Jack learns that finding love and living with it depends on a set of rules, a few good moves, and a dose of luck.