They say that you will always remember the day that you hand your daughter over, giving her to the man she plans on loving for the rest of her live. And while I do remember that day clearly, I also remember the day where we imitated the act, the dress rehearsal.
After the rehearsal—which, along with the wedding, took place inside my house—everyone dispersed throughout into different areas of the house, all ready to collapse from the amount of weight tensed through their muscles. I headed to my study to relax, maybe have a drink and give a feeble attempt at writing. I entered the study, closed the door behind me, but did not lock the door; an act which would have made the conversations that took place impossible.
I took off my jacket, loosened my tie and sat down. There I let my eyes dance around the study, procrastinating, or what writers seem to call ‘writer’s block’. The study was filled with a collection of my favorite books, my wife’s favorite books, and books that all people should have, which weren’t exactly my favorite. The books were all old and were shedding, perforating the air with dust particles that were only noticeable when the Sun beat through the door sized window to my left.When that Sun did shine through, and the dust coursed through the rays, it created a golden filter in which existed all good things past and present.
My desk was a heavy wooden one, covered in papers and pens. In fact the whole room was an unkempt, disorganized mess—proof that I did, in fact, write.The bottom drawer to my left opened up with a clink of glasses and a small bottle of whiskey. I rarely drank, but sometimes it was nice to loosen up the tight muscles in ones neck. And on those rare occasions it did seem to help my writing.
I poured myself a small glass and held it in my hands, stopping to look at my worn hands. A scar here, calluses everywhere, and muscles tightened from a life of writing. Yes, time for a drink. I threw it all back, down the hatch, burning my throat, hitting the stomach quickly.
I put the glass down next to a picture of my family that was taken when the kids were thirteen and eleven, respectively.I was sitting in front with a suit on, showing a hardened smile full of compassion. My wife, Rebecca, was standing behind me in a sweater, short brown hair holding her beautiful face, and her left hand on my shoulder. Standing to her right was Evelyn, my beautiful daughter. Her long, brown hair was wavy and she looked like her mother. She was smiling as little as she could in order to hid her braces. She hated those awful things. I then looked to another picture on my desk, a picture of her taken two months ago, while she was a junior in college. She may have hated the braces, but she couldn’t argue that without them her teeth would not have matched the rest of her beauty.
I returned my gaze to the original picture to find my dorky looking son, Monte. I say dorky looking, but that only held true to the picture. His hair was shaved, exposing his big ears. Like his sister, his teeth were in need of braces, braces he wouldn’t get for two years due to defiance. And like his sister, he would grow up good looking. He looked more like his Uncle than he did me, which bugged me, especially when Mark used to tease me about it.
Now my writer’s block had finally won with the aide of nostalgia, but I did not want to rise from my seat. I could hear the group of people still in my house and was too tired to entertain. But I did not need to rise from my study to end up holding conference with people. My door opened, the lock shrugging at my glare, and in walked Evelyn, still wearing her gown.
She slowly closed the door, watching it latch, then turned around to me with the smile that I fell in love with when it was her Mother’s. Her cheeks were defined, making her hazel eyes appear to be acting coy, which drew you further in. Her lips were glossed and opened to reveal those perfect teeth. Her hair was up, bouncing even when she did not move. The dress was white, with thin traces of black around the seams. It lacked the huge, cumbersome bottom, which made the dress look less like a wedding dress, and more like a dress I imagine young belles wore a long time ago in order to catch a glance from a man they coveted.
She did not speak, but walked gracefully to the chair across the desk, where she stood and put both of her hands on the back of it. She was beaming, so happy that I literally could feel the warmth wafting my way. I stared at her half humored, half quizzically, waiting for her to say something, but all she did was smile.
“You look like you’re enjoying this,” I finally offered teasingly. Her smiled dropped, then erupted even wider, her feeble attempt at trying to act mad.
“Did you just come in her to grin at me? Because if so, you haven’t done this since your were eight years old. And then you used to drag in Barbies.”
She still couldn’t speak, her tongue caught by the joy. Figuring that she wasn’t here for anything more than the same reason I was, I began to try and focus on writing again, content with having her warmth spread throughout the room. Just as the paper in front of me began to offer ideas, she spoke up.
“I’m not bothering you, am I?” Her smile dropped a bit. She didn’t want her joy to appear to be at the expense of my serenity.
“No dear, you aren’t. How’s it going out there?” I asked, showing that I wasn’t trying to dismiss her.
“Fine, I just wanted to escape. And coming to see you was a good enough excuse,” she said volleying a tease back my way.
“Are you excited?” It was a question she had been asked numerous times, yet her responses were always different. They ranged from an admittance of nerves, to dismissing the nerves, to making a joke about the nerves, and even questioning the nerves themselves. I’m sure all her responses were rooted in truth, but it was amusing to watch her deflect questions the same way her Mother and I did.
“I think the excitement has worn me down. John and I are just ready for this to be over.”
“It’ll be over too quickly. Enjoy it,” I advised.
“Yeah, but the attention is too much. And to be honest, everyone is acting a tad bit fake,” she said with a laugh, doing a terrible job of masking the frustration.
“Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about anything else but the moment,” I said. In my younger days I would have laughed at what came out of my mouth, which Evelyn did. I looked at her as she sarcastically said, “Ok.”
“There are going to be times in your marriage when you need something to make you smile and remember why you did marry John. And what gets lost in the commotion of trying to arrange the particulars, and dealing with the fake excitement of friends, is the actual joy of being with the other person through something that is monumental. Stop sometimes, look around, soak it up, and let it overcome you. Next week comes and goes and then it’s the grind. Right now is fun—pure joy and love. Enjoy it.”
She gave it thought, and it seemed to take hold of her. Evelyn was always one that was capable of listening to people without being fooled by half-truths. When I did try to offer sincere wisdom—if you can call it that—she seemed to notice, and gave it genuine thought. She walked around the desk and I opened my stance to receive a hug. She kissed my cheek, thanked me, and left with the same big smile that she’d come in with and a lighter walk. She always was the logical one.
I kept my eyes on the brown door for a few beats, watching the aura she left in the room. How I love that girl, and am proud of the way she has turned out, although it wasn’t easy raising her. I can’t imagine any father has thought raising a daughter was easy, not to mention raising a daughter so pretty. I now empathized with Rebecca’s father, who was so stern with me during my courtship of her.
Once again the paper in front of me called, beckoning me to cover it in script. I turned down the chance to jump into the writing, a cardinal sin as a writer. So I finished another glass of whiskey and looked through the window, entranced by the slow dancing of the fern hugging the window. And my mind raced behind the serenity of the scene.
Suddenly, there was a knock and before I could answer, in came my sprouting, mopey son. He was wearing a graphic t-shirt over gym shorts, and came walking in staring at the ground before raising his eyesight to meet my nose. He sat down immediately and before he could even get comfortable began, “Remind me to never get married.”
The statement didn’t surprise me; the sentiment was hardly unique for a young adult male. But still, I was taken back. That he immediately made this conversation about him so quickly was startling, it was so unlike him.
“You’re too young to get married anyway,” I said to him.
“Ev’ is only two years older than me,” he retorted defensively.
“Young does not mean age here,” I smiled back at him. He nodded his head, knowing he couldn’t argue, although it had never stopped him before. He had always offered good resistance to my rules and opinions, something Rebecca and I encouraged in both him and Evelyn. He could be a nuisance when he wanted to be, not letting the argument die, but most of the time he won, negating the need to further the argument.
As annoying as it was to be questioned as the seat of authority in the house, I imagine he annoyed his sister even more. It was a mixture of jealousy due to success and attention, ruthlessness that comes from being the second child, and just pure love. He couldn’t ever admit that, but Rebecca and I knew. He wanted to better Evelyn because he wanted to impress her, his mother, and especially me.
I feel as though I’ve made Evelyn out to be an angel by describing Monte as a nuisance, but she had her flaws as well. She could be down right mean and hurtful to Monte, even when he tried to be nice. It was balancing act really. They could never both be nice at the same time, nor were they ever truly mean to each other at the same time. It drove me crazy.
And Monte wasn’t without positive attributes. He was equally as smart as Evelyn, but more street smarts and logic than book. He wasn’t ugly, far from it; after all, his Uncle had been the ladies man when he and I were young. But at that moment, he, like most young men at that age, was going through a break up that made his view of the world distorted. And that was why he was here. It was why he started off centering on him without even offering passing comments about his sister’s wedding.
“And anyways, you would have to be seeing someone to get married,” I offered, knowing that words would not get close enough to bother him.
“You know Dad, when you’re right, you’re right,” He answered with a bitter smile.
“What ever happened to Jennie?” I asked.
“Jennie with an ‘ie’ or Jenny with a ‘y’?” He asked with a smile and a touch of boastfulness.
“Kinsella,” I clarified. “It seemed like you were both really into each other. I don’t recall seeing any signs of deterioration.”
He shrugged, clenched his jaw, removed a piece of cake from his molars and said, “Sometimes it’s just the right thing to do. Sometimes you don’t feel like the right thing is happening. It wasn’t anything about her, it felt like the right thing to do.”
“And yet you sit here obviously wanting to be in a loving relationship.”
“I can’t always have what I want. A lesson you taught us many times,” He offered unapologetically.“Sometimes all you can see is in front of you, and when the walls around you become cramped, you make a decision so you can best move on, to reach a goal.”
“What’s your goal Monte?” I asked amusedly curious.
“Well, that’s something I still need to figure out.” He did not see the humor in his answer, or how it contradicted what he had said previously. I sat in silence, holding back the real urge to lecture him on contradiction, but he had heard it before. And in all honestly life is itself a contradiction, so how could I fault him for it?
“Did you at least learn anything from her?” I asked, reaching for some silver lining.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think it truly matters much anyway. Things are so dark right now that I don’t know how much I could actually apply later in life.”
“Monte, you are showing your youth,” I chuckled out, sitting back in my chair. He looked upset and curious, so I continued, “You know better than to dismiss lessons that life has gift wrapped for you.”
“This was a lesson of balancing time.” He offered me a look of only partial understanding. As bright as he was, and as sound logically he was, it was his hesitancy to be presumptuous.
I stood up and walked towards the window, crossing my arms behind my back. I didn’t speak for a moment, letting the silence sharpen Monte’s perception and hopefully his understanding.
“There was a story I heard a long time ago of a man who thought as you did. He believed that life was a maze, that it was a series of twists and turns, where you could only see in front of you, and that your true ambition of life goal was the prize in the center. I always thought the philosophy had two flaws, but liked it nonetheless. One, a maze implies order, which I do not believe there is any. And two, a maze connotes loneliness and solidarity, something that as social creatures, who need to interact in order to survive, cannot make sense of. But the idea of life as a journey that is clouded by mystery was an interesting one. One that made an incredible amount of sense the more we discussed it.”
“So you’re saying that I’m at a dead end inside this maze?” Monte asked, putting his hands out as if I was going to place the answers in the palm of his hand.
“I am saying that, but I am afraid that you’re not getting the lesson I am trying to impart here,” I said, growing a bit frustrated as the alcohol made me a little bit light headed. I turned to him, waiting for him to piece it together, but he couldn’t spit it out.
“The dead end is the fulcrum of the balance of time. You are facing that dead end because you’ve lost your way. And you have two options, one of which is not really an option. You can either quit and die, which I don’t think you can do, or you can continue on this journey towards something that has not revealed itself to you. But how can you, if you’re stuck in this dead end?”
Monte knew the answer, but was either too proud to admit it, or was stuck on words, or was maybe further ahead, past my words and contemplating his next action.
“You look back Monte. When life becomes stagnant, or you’ve become lost, you need to retrace you steps to find out when the misstep happened. I don’t know when yours happened, or even if you have had one yet, but don’t ever forget your past. Without it, you cannot hope to move forward.”
Monte nodded his head and relaxed into the chair. His mind was running back over the words I said, no doubt finding the flaws in it. When he inevitably found the flaws, he had two choices: he could reject the premise because it was flawed, or he could recreate it to his own liking, filling in the gaps. I hoped that Monte would do that latter, but wasn’t entirely sure.
His eyes were working back and forth, his mind tracing the words when he became aware that I was watching him. Possibly afraid that I was somehow capable of reading his mind. He began another conversation in order to distract me.
“Are you happy with John? You know, being your son-in-law?” It was a question that he did want the answer to, he always wanted a reason to dislike Evelyn’s boyfriends, also a natural state for a young man. But I don’t think it meant as much to him now. In all likelihood, he would ask it again when he was fully paying attention to my answer and not lost in his thoughts.
“I trust Evelyn’s judgment of character,” I answered. It was a deflection, of course I had my doubts, but truth and honesty often times aren’t the same.
Monte shook his head, accepting the deflection for now, stood up and left without saying goodbye. The lack of farewell was not of insolence, but was due to his inward journey that had begun. I wouldn’t see him for a few days.
I poured myself another glass of the blood thinner and replayed the conversation. When I was Monte’s age, I hated getting advice because it never did me any good. Any change in my actions or way of thinking came from my own hand, my own mind. It wasn’t until later, in one of the first instances of handing advice to my kids did I understand that the change did not come from me and me alone.
While I rejected the advice on the surface, my brain still subconsciously picked up on it. And when the change did surface it was because my brain worked it out for myself. All the growth that I’ve shown was due to guidance in one way or another. So the difficulty in giving advice to someone like Monte was making sure it was Socratic and not explicit. Sometimes it failed, sometimes it did not. I didn’t really have control over that.
By that point I had abandoned any and all attempts at trying to work on writing, instead soaking in the stupor of the whiskey. I was pretty buzzed by then, feeling lighter and my thoughts quicker. I was at that point when inhibited thoughts became discussion points. Drunk words reveal sober thoughts and all.
When the door opened again, it did not surprise me. What did surprise me was who it was: my brother, Mark. He wore a black jacket with red trim on top of blue pants. He held a white hat with a gold anchor in his hands.
“Sit down, Colonel.” I offered the chair Monte had recently vacated and Evelyn had stood behind. And like Monte and Evelyn, he, too, smiled. But his was more practiced.
“Colonel was dad, Sam,” he said, taking the chair, crossing his legs, placing the hat on his knee.
“And so he was. But the eagle on your shoulder says you are too.”
“Why so cold brother?” He asked. He was getting to the point and his voice was stern. It confused me a bit because it almost seemed like he was talking down to me.
“You know, the usual. Brother comes walking into a room, a brother who has a tendency to be judgmental and offer opinions that no one wants.” I stared at him, seeing if he would even acknowledge that it was he who I was referencing.
“I didn’t come here to judge you and your life, I came here to celebrate Evelyn’s marriage to…John.” He didn’t even seem to care that he didn’t know Evelyn’s husband’s name.
“That’s fair. But why are you in my study? I don’t recall inviting you in here.” The scowl from my face had not vanished. There were too many times in our past that Mark mistook my smile as a sign that I wasn’t taking what he said seriously. So he thought he could stretch out his indecent remarks because I don’t object.
Usually, at this point, Mark would offer me some lies, try and beat around the bush. Instead, to my complete lack of surprise, he contradicted a sentence that he had just spoken. “Evelyn’s a little young for you to be allowing her to marry.”
“I wasn’t under the impression that I was allowing her to do anything. She’s of age. And I do recall being her age when Becca and I married. And why are you sitting here questioning me again?”
He ignored my question. “She’s still your daughter.”
“Yes, she’s my daughter, and if I want it to stay that way, I let her make her own decisions. It’s this crazy cycle that apparently you missed.” I stood up and again walked to the window, hoping the serenity that took place outside could calm my nerves. But the whiskey would not allow that to happen. Or maybe it wasn’t the whiskey, but another powerful drink: my pride.
“What about your son? Moping around like the world is falling apart around him. He wouldn’t survive a day in the military.”
“No shit he wouldn’t, Mark. That’s why he’s not in the military. And maybe his world is falling apart around him. You just…” I paused. I was questioning whether or not explaining anything to him was a waste of time.
“Why do you sit here and judge me all the time? Judge how my kids are raised?” Still he did not answer, remaining silent, hoping that I would forget the question. “Is it because you don’t have kids? Or is it because you always looked down on me? Or both?”
“I never looked down on you Sam,” he said, fidgeting his thumbs and adjusting in his seat.
“Are you lying to me or to yourself? Because you’ve always looked down on me. You’ve always thought you could do better in my shoes…” he interrupted me.
“I did do better in your shoes. I was raised in the same household, by the same parents, and I turned out fine.” His voiced carried momentum that made him stand.
“Did I not turn out fine?” I asked, incredulous at his judgment of me, though it was not new. “You see my struggles as a failure. You see my hurdles in life as showing my true weakness. And because you were a perfect student, a perfect soldier, a perfect kid, that anyone else who failed to be the same was below you.”
I stood defiantly at him, fists clenched. We wouldn’t fight, but it was a habit learned from growing up next to him. He was right, we did grow up the same. But he took an interest in following in my father’s shoes, ignoring that his joining the military was less about choice and more about honor in time of war. I, on the other hand, took an interest in literature and philosophy. I wanted to know why men like he and my father did what they did.
And along the way I met friends who dragged me down. And I did things, drugs mainly, that were, for me, a test of life. I learned to love because I had learned to hurt. I learned to raise kids because I saw how malleable young minds were. It was my life, all the things that Mark had missed out on, that made me proud of my life; proud of my wife and kids.
“Like a lighter in a dark room, you’re so blinded by what’s in front of you, your life, that you can’t see past you. You can’t look around and take in the room. You can’t take in the different ways of life. So you make erroneous judgments about others based on a very limited scope of knowledge.”
Mark had sat back down by then. You could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. He had heard this from me before. And he knew that my words were less malicious and more enlightening. I had wanted Mark to understand why he felt so angry all of the time, so he could accept it, learn from it, move on and live a life that had substance to it. But he never could.
Before he left, he offered me one more question, either out of some faint hope of reclaiming his pride, or to show that he really did understand. “And you’re really happy with your kids?”
“Mark, if I were in their shoes maybe I wouldn’t be happy with how they’re living. But, I’m not living their life. Mom and Dad raised us the same exact way, right? And we turned out so completely different. So I have to accept that no matter how good I think I might have raised them, they might turn out to be something I can’t stand. But it wouldn’t matter because I gave them the power of living their own lives. And they’ve taken it. And no matter how upset I may ever be at their lives, I can take pride in knowing they know that it’s on them.”
He stood up and walked out. It was not a walk of defeat, but a walk of fatigue. The lonely life he had chosen was beginning to wear on him. His personality didn’t help with it, but he’d have to learn. Although I’m almost positive that he never would. He was always welcome here, but he would always be an outcast.
By now you can expect me to have been drunk and angry, a terrible mix. With the pen and paper put away, the sun the same, and the house emptying out, it was almost time for sleep. But before I could sleep off the day and let my mind run through the conversations I’d had, there was still one more I was bound to have.
My wife, Rebecca, walked in carrying a cupcake and sandwich. I hadn’t eaten in nearly five hours and she somehow knew that. I journeyed back to my chair. She then came and sat on my lap, placed the plate on the desk, and wrapped her arms around me.
We said nothing for five or ten minutes, instead letting the sounds of the house accompany the crickets outside to the tune of a sleepy harmony. I took a few bites of the sandwich; I would have preferred something salty, but did not want to be ungrateful. I rubbed my eyes and planted a kiss on her neck, which she coyly brushed off. I stared at her, taking in all of the beautiful features that I could map out in my mind while asleep. She was older now, but still as beautiful as the day I had met her. Sorry for the poetic cliché.
Finally, she spoke up, “So, how was it holding court for Evelyn, Monte, and Mark all in the same day?”
Hearing her say it made me even more tired. I recalled the main points of the conversations and she nodded her head, waiting until I was done to critique my handling of it. She offered me both sides’ views, which was admirable of her, but she really did it to tease me. After she was done, we remained quiet for a minute or two. She was waiting for my defense, but it never came.
“I remember being young, Sam,” she said, looking at the window.
“Do you really?” I asked, genuinely surprised. “It feels like a lost dream to me. Everything that happened is still a part of me, but it’s almost a myth now. A story we tell to each other and to our kids to empathize with them.”
“I love our kids, Sam.”
“I love our kids, too, Becca.”
“Do you think we did right with them?”
“That’s a question that we can’t answer,” I told her, contradicting everything I’ve told you, the reader. “But other people will answer it for us, including our kids. Do you feel we ever wronged our kids?”
“No. I think we did the best we could. Just like we did the best we could with our lives. And the best we could with each other.”
“They’ll be fine,” I assured her.
We stood together and walked hand in hand out of my study, up the winding stairs where the kids used to slide down on boxes, down the long carpeted hallway where the kids would play tag, ignoring our yells, and into our room where we had spent many love filled nights.
We fell asleep quickly and into our dreams, never letting go of each other. We woke up the next day, the wedding happened the next week, Monte moved out two months later, and Mark found a woman willing to put up with him.
I don’t know if any of the others remember the conversations they shared with me that day—I still question why I do. Maybe it was because each conversation was the epitome of the relationship I shared with all of them, and they just happened to have occurred within the same six-hour window. Or maybe it was because I was drunk and made myself out to be smarter and wiser than I really was. I honestly don’t know. You’d have to ask them. You’d have to find it amongst their personal life stories, the same way you found this here.
© Copyright 2016 Tommy McMahon. All rights reserved.
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