Found a box way up on the closet shelf. Our wedding stuff. A third of a century old. Like a freaking time capsule. My my how thin I was in the pictures. And young. And dashing. And unwrinkled, my still thin wife helpfully points out. And tall, I add, being that I still am and will be forever. Infrastructure, ya know. Some things don’t change.
November 29th, 1980. I don’t remember much of that day. The weather was a perfect southern California late autumn day. A flawless blue sky. People come out to California on days like this and never go back. And I remember my brother’s punk rock friends, one of whom, all leather and spikes, knelt like a knight of old and kissed the bride’s hand. I remember my Dad being so nervous he Cecil Taylor’d the Wedding March. And how everyone was so poor then, back in 1980, after the endless recession of the seventies. So we were married at my folks’ house and the ceremony was sweet and the feast home-made and wonderful and my other brother’s band played Beatles songs out on the patio.
I remember all the relations that are only memories now. Grandparents and parents slipping away one by one, as whole generations disappear. These wedding cards, some of the handwriting comes back so vividly, cursive lettering that fills out into real people in our minds. And some of the cards from people I don’t remember at all. Just sweet little messages in ballpoint ink, blue, black, red even, and there’s no one even left to ask whose handwriting it was.
My wife pulls out some bunched ribbons that had been wrapped around her bouquet. And the decoration–bells, three of them–that sat atop the cake. Thirty three years ago. A third of a century. An actually measurable slice of time in the long term. Three thirty-three years ago World War One began,and a whole world dissolved and a new, mostly awful one was created. Ten thirty-three years ago the Pueblo people threw the Spanish out of New Mexico, stopping an empire in its tracks and so we speak English here in California. We wouldn’t be if 1680 hadn’t happened. And a hundred times thirty-three years ago a scribe etched the Epic of Gilgamesh into mud tablets, which hardened and weathered all those thirty-threes of years since.
Thirty-three years ago we returned at the end of that long November day to our Hollywood bungalow and flopped, exhausted, on the bed. We both stared up at the ceiling, silent. Then she looked over at me and said, amazed, I’m married to you now. Not scared, just amazed. Thirty three years later, I remember that. The rest of the day is mostly a blur, but that I remember. I’m married to you now.
A decade or so later I was reading the Epic of Gilgamesh again–the Penguin edition–and came across this passage:
“Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find the eternal life for which you are looking. When the gods created man, they allotted to him death, but life eternal they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
That’s it, I thought, that’s what it’s all about. I’ve never told anyone this before, but that’s what it’s all about. The Sumerians knew. A hundred times thirty-three years ago, they knew.
We put everything back in the box as carefully as we’d removed it, like artifacts from a museum drawer. And we put the box back in the closet, tucked far back in a corner. And we piled all the other boxes back in front of it, and the other boxes in front of them, just as we had found it. And when everything was just right, we turned off the light and shut the closet door. I’m married to you now, I said. She looked at me. I explained. She smiled and went into the kitchen to start dinner, and I sat down and wrote this.
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