I fell in love with the then-Random Boy’s hometown long before I permitted him to kiss me.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what made it so desirable, but it was something about the hills of corn and apple orchards, the potholed country roads, the pumpkins and chrysanthemums at the local grocery store, the lamp-lined parks and slow-moving creek, the little paths through the woods behind his parents’ house, and the stars that appeared in a truly dark sky. All of these things reminded me so overwhelmingly of my old Place, that I was immediately delighted – brimming with good cheer towards this farm-town and all who called it home. There were other things to recommend the then-Random Boy to me as a potential mate, but his plans to remain settled in Sparta certainly didn’t harm his chances.
Three years later, we are married and living in a drafty old house on one of Sparta’s main streets – a fact that delights me, that continually makes the good cheer brim over. Although that old-place-missing is still present (painfully so, some days), it doesn’t make Sparta any less delightful, any less full of possibility as a Place to call home, to settle in.
The Farm I grew up on is still the place I return to when writing. It’s the place I want to remember, the place that wants to be remembered when I speak of bare fields and red maple leaves, or the smell of ripening grapes in summer air and the sound of spring peepers at night. However, the Farm was not always home – my parents tell me I didn’t take too kindly to the move – and I’ve known for a long time that someday I would need a new home, another place, to write of and write from.
Sparta would seem to be that place. I put on my coat and my boots and I roam the sidewalks under different skies – I listen to the roar of passing trucks and I find the white steeples among the bare branches and I try to read the messages spray-painted onto the masonic temple next to the library.
I follow the little river through the city, I hear the wind-chimes singing from strangers’ porches, I watch the way light plays with the trees, I see the way snow makes the downtown look like something out of a postcard.
And after these roams, after wandering and dreaming and thinking about life, about stories, about the world and other worlds, I come home to my writing-desk and my creaking hardwood floor and I have things to say. But I was never much good at speaking, so I write instead, and that is the very best of feelings.
So, thank you, Sparta. You are a fine place, and will make a good home. I hope to tell many stories of you.
I’m told the traditional little girl spends a significant portion of time dreaming about her fairy-tale wedding. Thinking back on my childhood, I remember a bit of wondering on my future husband, because logic said he had to be alive somewhere on earth, with his own ideas about life, and I was curious. But when it came to weddings, the furthest I got into planning was thinking a bouquet of red roses accented by lily-of-the-valley would be awfully pretty.
I didn’t think any more about it. And, as I got older and had chances to attend a variety of weddings, I decided that, on the off-chance I ever got married, I was definitely going to elope.
Not that the weddings I attended or was part of weren’t lovely and pleasant, but that I could see how much money, planning, and work went into just one afternoon/evening – one meal – and I wanted no part of it.
(During my college years, I had the misfortune to get stuck planning a campus-wide ball. And while, in the end, I and the few dedicated friends willing to assist managed to pull off a highly successful event, it was without a doubt one of the most stressful and terror-ridden experiences of university life. So when the then-Random Boy asked me to marry him, I was happy, and then, I was, “Shoot, shoot, shoot – it’s the Masquerade Ball all over again – please, God, save me: I can’t go through that again.”)
After you tell your family you’ve gotten engaged, and after they’ve congratulated you and cooed over the ring, they really don’t want to hear, “We’re eloping.” They don’t want to hear you’d like to get married in a European castle, either, because no one’s a millionaire here, but they do expect to see some enthusiasm displayed for a celebration that somehow involves them.
So, while I told everyone I hated weddings and didn’t want one – just so they understand my perspective – I admitted that I saw the value in taking a day to mark something as special as the beginning of a marriage. After all, not a lot of marriages make it, and it’s a big deal, and it’s too otherwise unrelated families suddenly having to share relatives during holidays. It’s not a bad idea to get everyone together under one roof or one part of the sky so they can bear witness to the promises you’re making.
Also, I can always get behind an excuse to eat good food.
Anyway, all that to say I hate weddings, but I had a wedding, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of.
My family doesn’t plan parties very often. They’re a little hermitish and sometimes I think they get pessimistic about their ability to entertain.
But when a party must be put on, they pull out all the stops and create something beautiful.
My mother, who doesn’t hate weddings – merely the preparation for them with vehemence that surpasses my own – is nevertheless quite brilliant at the job, and, despite a daughter who displayed nothing but rolling-eyed horror and confusion every time a decision had to be made, managed to see to every detail of dress, decoration, and dining hall throughout the long months of arrangement arranging. She is an excellent planner and administrator, so that even if she couldn’t do something herself, she knew how to find someone who could. And she is not the only one in my family with an eye for lovely eventing – the generous giving of time and talents from my mother’s sisters and my father’s sisters made the evening perfect.
I guess the most important thing about this tale is to say that if you need a wedding put on, the Party Planning Services of Frazee&Sonnenberg would do right by you.
I’m sure they’d all love to do it again.
I have recently been made aware that I (as a married person) am now fully authorized to give expert relationship advice. So, seeing as how this is the third anniversary of the first time I went on a date, I will share some wisdom.
Some things (that worked for me):
~ When meeting potential significent others, don’t say the first thing that pops into your brain
I’m really bad at social interaction. I get so anxious about the impression I’m going to make I either a) shut down entirely and communicate solely via smiles and shrugs or b) give up on the idea of being likable at all, turn off all filters, and let thoughts and actions pour out in this chattering stream-of-consciousness where the other person is just snowed under in my attempts to be deep, witty, or hilarious. The friends that have stuck around are those that have either a) survived those first impressions of Erika or b) somehow managed to catch me at a time when I was putting every fiber of my being into behaving like a normally functioning adult. Miraculously, when introduced to the then-Random Boy, I bit my tongue to hold in my first instinctive comment, smiled, shook his hand, and said “Hi” in a pleasant manner.
~ Be willing to try new things
I hate new things, but met a couple people at my University who trained me in the secret arts of Doing Stuff You’ve Never Done Before and Living to Tell the Tale, so that later, instead of always saying “GET THAT THING AWAY FROM ME OH MY GOSH IT’S SO SCARY,” I sometimes shrug and say, “Oh, what the heck. Let’s do it.” This was, essentially, how I consented to dinner out with the then-Random Boy.
~ Believe (with confidence) that you are valuable
If you can’t see yourself as liked, likable, and at least somewhat independent and capable, you will have a hard time believing someone is in love with you, or seeing when someone isn’t right for you. You have to believe that you are worthy of someone else’s notice and also know that not everyone is worthy of your notice (in that way).
For myself, I don’t think it was coincidence that I met the then-Random Boy during a summer where I’d finished my first truly good novel, where I’d moved a little out of my parents’ house, where I’d had a great academic year and a good social one, where I was happy at work and trying to take care of myself. I wasn’t perfect, but felt good about myself and my accomplishments, which made it easier to envision a future where I might be perfect for someone.
There. That is all I have to say about that.
~ Your glasses are in your purse.
“My glasses are NOT in my purse! I NEVER put my glasses in my purse! They’re somewhere else in the house and there’s no possible way I can search the whole place before we have to leave for the movie WHY AM I SO DISORGANIZED??? You know what, it doesn’t matter – we’ll sit close to the screen and I’ll squint and it’ll be just fine. NO! I’M NOT GOING TO EVEN BOTHER LOOKING IN MY PURSE THERE’S NO WAY THEY’RE IN THERE!”
(Next day, looks in purse. Curses.)
~ I think you might want to go to bed.
“It’s too early to go to bed/I don’t want to go to bed/YOU GO TO BED/I have to eat first/I have to clean this thing/I need to write, read, shower, take a walk, whatever/DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”
(Falls asleep on couch for seven hours and wakes up drooling.)
~ You should write some.
“I hate writing! All my characters are stupid! I want to spend time with you.”
(GO AWAY SO I CAN WRITE OH MY GOSH I NEVER HAVE TIME TO DO ANYTHING!)
~ Have you eaten yet? You kind of seem like you haven’t eaten anything in a while and maybe –
“Who has time to eat? I had some coffee – I’m fine – we can eat later – let’s go erranding.”
(Yelling incoherent angry things, breaking down into snot-thickened sobbing.)
~ You will enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons.
“I will NOT enjoy it! I don’t want to play any such thing! I hate people! I already spend most of my waking hours in virtual worlds: my brain doesn’t have room for another one! NO ONE CAN TELL ME OR MY MADE UP CHARACTER WHAT TO DO! I’m too used to being the boss of everything I can’t function in any else’s world. LEAVE ME ALONE!”
(Plays Dungeons and Dragons. Enjoys it. Hates Husband.)
Now that I’m on summer break from tutoring, I’ve had time to fully explore the delights of house-tidying and oven-wrangling – my efforts mostly to keep from dying of boredom while I wait to hear back from various local job applications. Some evenings I find the Husband blissfully engaged in dishwashing, to which my response is “That’s MY job, understand? Those are MY dishes! MINE!!!”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong about a husband assisting with household cleaning duties – he can do all of them, if he really wants to. But he works overtime every week, while I am in that carefree space void of students and, until I find a place within walking distance that will let me wait tables, make sandwiches, or run a cash register, I feel rather unemployed and have laid claim to the title of Homemaker until further notice.
It’s a term I heard plenty of while growing up. Though my mother graduated with a four-year degree centered on biology and psychology, she wanted to use her education as a stay-at-home Mom rather than in pursuit of an outside career. She often described herself as a Homemaker, one whose job it is to create and maintain the kind of household environment best suited to the family’s needs. She was and remains exceptional at it, leaving me, newly married and moved into a traditional house with a hard-working and well-providing husband, to contemplate how she does it: how I, in turn, ought to do it.
I don’t believe every woman needs to be a wife and mother or that every wife and mother needs to stay at home to manage the household. But I do believe that if there’s going to be anything resembling a home, the people living in it need to recognize that keeping that home home-like is just as much a job as the going out and earning money to pay the mortgage. A home is not simply provided for, or made; it must be provided for, and made, or it begins to feel like a poorly kept hotel room. While still unmarried, I played the role of both the breadwinner and the breadbaker for my household of one, and it was a continual struggle to find the balance between keeping a roof over my head and keeping the roof over my head a relatively pleasant place to spend time under.
It’s up to each couple to come to an agreement on how the duties of providing for the home and making the home should be split up. One of you provides while the other makes? Both of you provide and both of you make? One does more providing while the other does more making? How do you decide? Work schedules? Work responsibilities? General mood?
These arrangements need to be made, not to shackle one spouse to the stove, but to ensure that the job of homemaking is seen for what it is – a job. Acting as a chef, office administrator, accountant, maid, interior decorator, and party planner all at once can be just as demanding as any full-time position, and forgetting this can lead to an attitude that the housework will sort of “take care of itself.” It does not.
At this time, the Husband and I just don’t make enough messes or do enough entertaining for one of us to need to be a full-time Homemaker. It’s why I’m happily searching for a nearby place to work when I’m not tutoring. It’s an opportunity to help provide while staying busy. But while the Husband is doing the providing, I aim to do my part with the making. And I’m keeping in mind that once I do start working, there will still be dishes in the sink at the end of the day, that someone will need to do them, and that we’ll have to come to a new arrangement.
Now, I’m off to make a fabulous dinner. Or, you know. Get something from McDonald’s. Maybe they’re hiring . . .
Okay, okay. Being married isn’t exactly living alone. But trust me when I say that, compared with my former living situation, one husband with a busy work schedule feels like I have a house to myself. And while the solitude is lovely, there are a few things that take a little getting used to, after two years festooned with communal living.
1) The Quiet
In case you’re wondering, living in a moderately-sized house with at least five roommates, a baby, a dog, and innumerable possibilities in Random Visiting Friends/Family members/Co-workers/What-Have-You is not for those who find silence to be golden. There was always a comforting din of hysterical laughter, sobs, barks, video-game-guns-going off, and floor creaking throughout the house – so much so that if anyone had ever broken in, I’m sure no one would have noticed.
The house my husband and I share, on the contrary, is quiet like the dark room a horror movie character enters while looking for the source of that mysterious scratching she heard a couple minutes ago.
Not that the house isn’t safe: it’s just quiet. The person talking? Me. The floor creaking? My footsteps. That weird clanking in the basement? Hmmm . . . . Not me. I’d better check that out. By myself. With a flashlight that works MOST of the time.
2) The Remote
It is so unusual for me to have the definitive say in what’s watched on television that I panic and end up watching shows I’ve already seen instead of exploring the world of Netflix like it’s meant to be explored. I could finally see what all the fuss over Doctor Who is about. Find . . . other stuff. I don’t even know. Maybe I could watch old kids’ shows I remember from youth. Hey. What’s more adult than nostalgiaing?
When I do get up the gumption to watch something I’m curious about, the only person there to enjoy is me, because the husband is working all night. I start to make some witty comment about what’s happening, but no one’s there. So I start talking to the characters on screen themselves. “Don’t do that! DON’T GO INVESTIGATE WITH A FAULTY FLASHLIGHT, RORY!”
(Oh, wait, that’s right. Nothing interesting ever happens on Gilmore Girls. I keep waiting for the vampires, werewolves, dragons, or dinosaurs. Nothing. About to give it up for lost.)
3) The Hermitude
While living with TAHOMAFRA (the cultish name my housemates and I gave ourselves), there were so many people in the house all the time it felt like a party even if it definitely wasn’t a party. After a while, it gets on your nerves, but eventually, you learn to deal with it.
Living in the distant north, however, a party is a couple week’s worth of coordination and then a half hour drive away rather than a 30-second walk upstairs. This is not a bad thing, as exposure to people drains the lifeblood out of me with shocking speed, but it’s weird walking into the kitchen and not meeting a small food-and-beer-enjoying group of great conversationalists. And speaking of the kitchen . . .
4) The Mess
When you live with others – lots of others – you can blame clutter and dust on everyone rather than yourself. You never have to feel guilty about the crumbs on the couch or the dirty dishes in the sink, because, hey, someone else was probably eating the same kind of chips you were eating in the same place you were sitting and there’s no way you could have possibly used that many dishes in one night. Yeah.
Here, there is no hiding from the truth. There are the clothes you wore and left all over the floor, the popcorn you stuffed between the sofa cushions, the four bowls you dirtied eating ice cream because one helping is never enough for dessert, and the fingernails you chewed off and tried to hide under the dining room table.
Honestly, you’re just disgusting.
Of course there are other things requiring adjustment in a new life like this, but those are the MAJOR ones, I assure you.
Once you’ve made these adjustments, however, you can sit back and bask in the changes, or crank up the music (to drown out the weird clanking in the basement – it’s probably nothing) and write late into the night without fear of disturbing anyone, as I’m going to do until the Husband gets home from work.
So, getting married in about two weeks.
In the past month, my cousin/best friend for life has had a beautiful baby boy, the Fiance and I have closed on a house, I’ve said farewell to Steak ‘n Shake, and the home I and my housemates have made for ourselves for the last two years has finally broken up, each of the couples and individuals moving on to their own spaces. I’m currently bouncing back and forth between the Farm and the new homestead, which I’ve dubbed “EleventyFirst,” on account of its street address.
Surprisingly enough, all this dashing about (arranging for utilities, packing, applying for a marriage license, premarital counseling, camping out in my in-laws basement, two lovely bridal showers, continuing to tutor through the end of busy spring semester, helping the family with final wedding prep decisions, beginning my own episodes of Home Improvement, the list goes on) has left little time for writing. I sneak in bits here and there, but sometimes, when I’m smiling proudly at a whole page’s worth of work, I remember how my original life plan was to live in an apartment with my cat and my typewriter and complete novel after novel whenever I wasn’t working some waitressing job to feed myself.
House and husband are rather different things than cats and characters, but I’m not objecting to the change. Just finding new ways to help everyone live happily together.
And now perhaps a quiet moment to scribble before work.
I write here when there is a certain quiet of mind allowing for coherent flow of thought. When this quiet is lacking, I scrawl angry, weepy complaints elsewhere or cease writing altogether to brood like any dark-haired, dark-pasted male hero in a romance novel. And then, eventually, I start writing again, as if the break was a vacation of sorts – a planned moment of silence in the music of life.
Mostly, though, writing breaks happen when life becomes so full of clutter and change and people that something has to give, or when another kind of writing (mainly novel-concerns) makes such obnoxious demands I’m forced to push other kinds off to the side. Sometimes, it’s both, and when that happens, I avoid my online presence like the plague, because, meager as it is, it feels like yet another person I have to talk to, and I’m not good with talking to people.
Some of the greatest non-life-threatening stresses on the human mind involve changing martial status, getting a new job, and moving. At least, I think I read something about that during my college Wellness class, but my brain is so untrustworthy right now I can’t even keep track of important receipts or tax-related documents, and have to pay my bills early so I don’t forget about them completely. All of the upcoming change is good change: I’m looking forward to marrying the Random Boy – er – Fiance, and moving into a house of our own, and getting a job that’s not service training at Steak ‘n Shake, however pleasant my memories will be. But just because a change is good doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially for a personality type like mine, which tends to curl up in a ball and cry uncontrollably when the old ways vanish.
“It’s all your fault!” I screech at the Fiance, who merely looks confused.
“What’s all my fault?”
“You’ve ruined everything!” (Storming away, slamming doors.)
I got as used to hysterical breakdowns as a person can get during my college years, when everything terrified me and crying was a daily ritual like yoga or morning prayers. But, as college became a regular old thing and then as post-college life was adjusted to with relatively little screaming bloody panic, I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to being happy.
Living with stress – the packing, the job-hunting, the wedding preparations, the marriage preparations, the house-shopping (which is somehow even worse than clothes-shopping) – with the strange empty of the calendar past May 15th, has taken a lot more energy than I at first imagined. This is fine, all fine, as I tell everyone who asks how I’m doing.
“Fine, fine: everything’s fine. It’s all fine.”
It’s a great word. Perfect for conveying that things are not bad, but are still somehow a long lonely ways away from what can be called good.
Rather like my writing . . .
Today, the sun came out. And few customers appeared for breakfast at my little Steak ‘n Shake kingdom. And my novel-revision seems to be coming together, as does the wedding. My mind was quiet enough to write.
It might be so tomorrow; it might not. We’ll see, and I’ll keep plugging away. At writing, at brooding, at living.