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Cobleskilled | 2012 | Red Line of the Witch City


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  

-Rainer Maria Rilke


The Knot

"Propose properly!"

Amber is thrilled to get married. There are few days I return home from work that she does not have The Knot open in a tab, that she hasn't been researching wedding favors or tweaking centerpieces. I know what our colors will be (TARDIS blue and deep purple). I know what her dress will look like (no veil or train, skirt just below the knee, off-white with a sash). I know the sort of place we will be getting married (near the Hudson River, outside, with a tent). I know who will likely be officiating (Rhianna, in whose backyard Amber and I met). I know what we will be eating (catered barbecue). For her, this wedding is among her favorite art projects, one she attacks from every available angle.

The only issue is, I have not satisfactorily proposed (which is to say, I have repeatedly inquired as to why she is not already married to me and she has retorted that it does not count until I give her a ring while asking properly).

It is not that I do not intend to propose marriage. She seems like she will be a fine wife for me. I find her to be one of the most nurturing and sweet beings I have ever chanced upon and I know that I am damn lucky to have her kittenishly cuddled up on my lap while I am trying to write this. I do not wish us to rush into this decision, but it is something I want when we are ready.

But I am getting used to the idea of not starving to make rent each month. I definitely have not saved enough for a cruelty-free, heirloom (or possibly ouroboros) engagement ring. I do not know if I could ever save enough for a wedding, at least as she seems to imagine the concept.

I see the reasons one gets married. It is a legal declaration of a spiritual truth, that this erstwhile stranger has allowed herself by degrees to become a member of one's family. Two cleave from their birth families and conjoin to create a new unit. It is a proclamation that, damn it all, one is going to try to make a union work that is perhaps among the most maligned in our culture (however often people insist they are "protecting" it by keeping it traditional, which must mean that it is the loveless exchange of property for the sake of spawning farmhands and political alliances. My lover is not livestock). I can visualize myself getting married. Knowing that I am The One, that this person won't hit the road because someone else catches the eye of her insecurities (at least, she will not do this easily. I am aware that between forty and fifty percent of American marriages ends in divorce. I would rather never contribute to that statistic).

What I do not understand is weddings. I am supposed to go heavily into debt to show off my "wealth"? What the agricultural fuck is that about? I have no need to offer my Uncle Morrie (twelve times removed) the option between chicken and fish to prove that I love Amber. It is ridiculous pageantry, throwing a party for near strangers to get away with loving someone on paper as well as in life. My older brother had a simple town hall ceremony and no talk has ever been made in my presence of that not being "good enough". My cousin Kyle just married his Brazilian fiancée with identical humbleness (in small part to keep her in the country) and none but joyful words have been uttered about it. On the other hand, I have been party to a few extravagant weddings that were damned before the "I do", brides and grooms who could have honeymooned at the divorce lawyers' offices for the swiftness they were dissolved in enmity.

No one should train for a wedding, especially at the expense of learning to be a good spouse, and I feel that the former is the priority for too many. Our culture feeds little girls this image that, if a man doesn't nearly bankrupt himself for the almighty Hallmark, he doesn't really love her. Absolute insanity, but then a grown woman thinks she needs blood diamond encrusted napkin rings and roast kakapo on a platinum dish or her love - and by extension she - is worth nothing. Do the couple benefit from this excess? The families? Society? Not as I see it, at least not with comparable value for what is expended. The wedding planning industry gets to exist (also, quite possibly, the aforementioned divorce lawyers, since fiscal quarrels are one of the more popular reasons to un-pop the question). There is little other point to what should be a meaningful ceremony. We abide it because we are raised in a culture that tells us this is what must be. I am not certain that very many of us ask why.

Amber's father, who plays a once or twice annual role in her life, has reportedly said that he requires me to ask him for permission to propose to Amber. My suggestions that I have a bakery deliver a cake reading "I am marrying your daughter and there is nothing you can do about it" have not been wholly dismissed by Amber. Even if I bought into the patriarchal possessiveness of the request, it's been quite a number of years since he had a vote. (All this, of course, could be amended if he wishes to subsidize the wedding. I have no quarrel with him buying a vote.) I believe that Amber's mother has consigned herself to the fact that I intend to keep her daughter from moving back with her by any possible means.
"Do it now!"

Amber feels that weddings are, at their core, a ritual. This is a spiritual as well as legal joining in our eyes and I couldn't support that more. I have never encountered someone who more considered this joining with me a blessing. I do not see the wedding as a culminating event - as seems to be a popular outlook - but another (admittedly glowing) point on the continuum of our relationship.

While preparing dinner, I have a long, somewhat rambling conversation with Amber about how little I need to think of her. "The last two women I dated required me to justify why I was with them, justify myself even. To a lot of people outside the relationships, it didn't make a lot of sense that I was waiting for women who wanted to be anywhere but home, or who neglected me. I tend to be able to make excellent use of my private time, so I never minded much that they were elsewhere because it gave me time to write and wander about. Plus, if I put up with this, if I suffered, I must be really in love. Emily and Melanie were programs that took up my mental and emotional resources and were prone to crashing, so I had to frequently judge that I did not wish to uninstall them, as it were. I had to tell myself I was in the right, which is enough to program me to believe it in a deep way. It's easy to love someone who isn't there... But you are this amazing little program that works wonderfully and without an error, so I barely am aware you are installed. I don't require justification for you..." This doesn't seem enough and she is too quiet for me to be sure I've made my point, so I add, "When I taught my psychology class at Vassar years ago, some of my students did an experiment on their peers where they asked them to do a boring task, like sorting a deck of cards into order. They gave the successful a full-sized Reese's Cup, a mini one, or nothing. Guess who reported most enjoying doing it?"

"The ones who got nothing," she replies.
"Now? Propose now."

I point a spatula at her for emphasis. "Smart girl. They had to convince themselves their time was not wasted, that they chose to do the task, so they justified that it was fun. With you, I get this huge reward - all the Reese's Cups, metaphorically speaking - and I don't want to be ungrateful owing to some quirk of human psychology."

"You aren't," she says.

"I feel I might be, sometimes." I am still getting used to all the aspects of cohabitating with someone again, even four months in. I cannot deny that being with Amber combines the best parts of being with my best friend with being alone. Aside from the times she is being willfully pesty to be cute, being around her is like being on my own or, at most obtrusive, with a cat that would like affection. I am a writer, I do need solitude for my art to bloom and am continually surprised I can get this when she is only five feet away, turning destroyed books into flowers.

I admit that Amber does have the arguable disadvantage of having uncovered me when I had gotten over the lion's share of my issues (if, in fact, this is not all a different level of issues I am mistaking for being "cured"). I am no longer codependent and I do not foresee that changing. I do not need her and know I would function perfectly well without her or any woman, however much I appreciate love in general and hers in specific. I do not imagine I will ever cling to her like she is the last handhold on an otherwise sheer cliff. I have wings. I am ever here in this moment because she is where I want to be. She is not some inanimate savior, she has wings of her own to flutter and soar. I intend to fly beside her, to tumble through the air in loops and gambols, to carry her when she grows tired (she has pointed out that I currently carry her around when she goes outside without shoes, so there is a precedent), to keep her warm beneath them against raging winds. Our relationship will ever be two individuals caring for one another, not incomplete pieces hoping to find wholeness in the other's arms.

When I later mention I am going for a jog, she offers to walk beside me (she is not much for such vigorous exercise herself - a summer of soliciting donations door-to-door made her lose any taste for a good run). We end up exploring a dilapidated chocolate factory that has been portioned off into office space and she suggests ways in which I can incorporate this into my books. I smell the spring on her when we get back. We never are at a lack for things to discuss as we wander around, trying to find our way back from where I have gotten us intentionally lost. She accepts without reservation that she would rather be hopping beside me in the still too cool air, even when we happened upon voodoo dolls of hipsters. If this may be seen as a physical metaphor for marriage - her contentedly strolling beside me, no matter how weird it gets, as I get us lost - we are certainly suited to the task.

Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Salem (if Amber gets around to planning it...).

last watched: Legend
reading: The Hunger Games
listening: Puscifer

Cobleskilled | 2012 | Red Line of the Witch City

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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