307 – The Engagement

Since–finally!–moving in together on a permanent basis Lindsay and I have fallen into a holding pattern of unwritten rules. We realise that in the future these rules may change–they’re already permeable to some degree and may well let one side further seep into the other–but for the moment  we’re happy adhering to them, seeing as they play to our strengths. She unquestionably does all the driving–unsurprising, seeing as I can’t drive in Gran Turismo, let alone real life–while I do the majority of the cooking.Marriage is a trade off, but like a comfortable arm chair it relaxes in the middle over time, and rules that were once stringent become, well, guidelines, really. We still like doing nice things for one another, proving our love, showing how much we care, but we’re no longer as intent upon impressing one another as we once were. Bill Haverchuck from Freaks and Geeks insisted he couldn’t be in a long-term relationship with a girl unless he felt comfortable ‘cutting the cheese’ around her. If you can’t do that near to your beloved, he reasoned, your bowels will eventually burst. It’s a good point, well made, and though we don’t exactly rub one another’s faces in our toilet leavings we at least acknowledge they exist, though hers obviously consists of glitter and sunshine and jelly beans and happiness.

As one of the more complicated transactions of this grand trade-off my wife will be inhereting my monumental collection of a lifetime’s worth of crap–including a library the likes of which not even Alexandria has seen–while I’ll have access to her social circle. I’m her Plus One now; it’s my right as her husband to attend any social engagements she’s invited to as arm candy, moral support, or in some cases, both.

She’s tremendously excited about this while I’m somewhat trepidatious. My social circle begins and ends with my Google+ circle; the only +1 I’m used to seeing is the one that plays the little 1-Up sound from Super Mario Bros. Yet there I was on the day before Halloween, still jet-lagged, still exhausted from two days of travelling, acting as navigator on our journey upstate to the impromptu wedding of one of my wife’s best friends.

“You’ll like Alina,” she’d told me, as much of a promise as a threat of what might befall me if I didn’t. “And you’d get on with Matt, if either one of you actually talked to people. Which you don’t.”

Matt and Alina are what Lindsay hopefully refers to as ‘couple friends’. Having a Plus One is key to the wide world of mingling with other couples, allowing us access to fondue parties and couples’ squash. We don’t have to worry about going stag to soirees ending in after dinner mints, during which our well-meaning friends pair us up with an emotional nightmare with teeth like the keys of a smashed piano and hair, the texture and colour of which defies description; as a couple we get to pair single friends up with other misfits, and we’ll do so in conjunction with other couples, both to widen the pool of potential suitors and to widen the audience for when things go horribly awry.

The two of them recently went to Virginia with my wife, to house sit for her Rich Uncle Pennybags. “Alina and I had fun,” she told me. “I hardly saw Matt. He spent the entire time hiding in his room.” Good for him, I say. Having visited Virginia before, I have also spent much time hiding, albeit from her extended clan and their eldritch festive festivities as opposed to Lindsay, who I really shouldn’t be hiding from at all.

Then she breaks out the stories of how well Matt got on with the demon dogs that move like arthritic sharks, snuggling with them, playing with them, petting with them–all without fear of his testicles becoming doggy snacks, as is my constant worry. My one saving grace is that I’m of average-to-to tall height while Matt is–by all reports–a height more associated with cartoon mascots peddling Lucky Charms.

Still, they were getting married, Lindsay was invited, and as her husband and Plus One I was entitled to witness the dealio for myself.

We drove upstate in the wake of a snowstorm. Snow rarely falls this early in this part of the country; as I type it’s retreaded to more northern climes, its last slushy trails melting in gutters statewide, leaving autumn wondering what the fuck just happened. On the way to the wedding we had the rare privilege of seeing what autumn foliage might look like wearing a coat of glistening white.

It’s beautiful, is what it is.

These autumn golds and rouges are much like those back home except there’s no gradient blurring them, no subtle tones but sheer eye-catching colour. Bright greens stand next to dusky maples, sunshine yellows mingle with bonfire browns. Each burst of colour hangs in a cloud bumping those next to it, with only the slightest suggestion of the tree beneath dying as the season wanes: a skeletal branch protrudes like a burned hand, its body consumed by incandescent flame.

On top of this, dousing the flames was crisp and sparkling snow, which had mounted in leaves not yet shed as on window ledges and rooftops. Like someone had taken a sugar shaker to New Jersey trees became confectionery under the blankets of snowfall, delicious, unreal, allowing bursts of colour like ripe fruit to show through its sweet, powdery crystals.

The trees were unprepared for this. Often they were bowed to breaking, their limbs and boles not yet hardened for the winter, their sap still rising, and they split beneath heavy loads falling on power lines, depriving populated regions of electricity. At one junction we weren’t sure if the stop lights were out or dazzled by the sun; two junctions of vehicular chaos later and it was clear we were in the land electricity had forgotten.

North and west we went, the townships growing smaller, the villages more picturesque. We moved into mountainous territory, climbing Schooley Mountain Road in a winding passage that threatened to throw us at every curve. “I hate this road,” said Lindsay, gritting her teeth as she navigated another sharp turn. “But isn’t the view something?”

Affording a look out over the candy-striped valley beneath, I had to agree it was.

The countryside became hillier, the houses more rustic. In a strange sort of way the entire landscape seemed comfortingly familiar, as though I’d read about this place before, or seen it in a thousand Rockwell paintings. The mountains rose sharply ahead in a tide of autumnal bliss while crosswise across the landscape pylons–maybe still working, maybe not–resembled ski lifts mounting thin, steep strips of snow that had surely been designed with sledding in mind.

“Keep an eye out for kids,” said Lindsay. “With gorgeous weather like this there’s bound to be a few out playing in it.” There weren’t, however–or at least none that we could see. There were very few people out at all, just the odd man shovelling his drive, who’d lean on his snow shovel to watch as we drove by.

At certain points we stopped up short as the trees ahead unloaded snow in comets spattering on lane below. A couple comets hit the car roof surely hard enough to dent it; we took extra care avoiding them from then on, worried about the damage they might inflict on the windscreen.

Alina had originally intended to get married beside a like. With the weather too cold she’d moved it somewhere a little more practical, though wherever that was, it had yet to be decided at the time we arrived in town. Finding the town itself was a difficult as the access road had been cut off by the storm, but with a frazzled bride-to-be giving directions on the phone we eventually found our way to the inn where she was putting the finishing touches to her wedding ensemble.

There were little pastel flecks of confetti on the carpet outside her room. Or perhaps they were lost sweets.

Inside the room people fussed while those not useful at the moment milled about, eager to help but instead getting in the way. “Lindsay!” said Alina, half-hugging her in a way that wouldn’t cram her dress. “I’m so glad you could make it. And Campfire!” I’d never met Alina before and I’m not ever happy with being hugged by strange people regardless of gender, but it was her wedding day, and as my preferred alternative–a karate chop to the face–was out of the question, I stiffly allowed myself to be embraced before standing swiftly back against the dresser, lest it happen again.

She and her attending entourage introduced themselves to us. Her friend Crystal was doing her hair and makeup, her fiancé’s friend Alex (“I’m guessing you must be Matt,” I said like an idiot when reaching to shake his hand–my last attempt to socialise for that day. Being a tall sort I assumed Alina would be marrying this man rather than the little guy who’d darted from the room as we’d arrived, whom I’d assumed to be his helper) and–Oh God–her mother.

“Lindsay!” said Alina’s mother, arms out-flung. I’ve heard so much about you!” She hugged her, an experience Lindsay would later describe as ‘uncomfortable’, adding “She hugged me, right? I must have blocked that out.”

“And this is?” Alina Senior said, turning to me. She was at least three sheets to the wind on pre-wedding vodka, perhaps four, and however much she’d imbibed was clearly disagreeing with her medication, which I assumed to be a non-prescription blend of acid and shrooms.

“This is Campfire,” Lindsay offered by way of her own protection.

“The husband,” I said.

“CAMPFIRE!” said the mother of the bride. “Oh my-I can’t believe you made it! Because you almost didn’t make it, didn’t you? With the storm and the–how was your flight? Was it okay? How did it go? Was it a long trip? I’m so happy to have you here! Where are you from? You’re Scottish, aren’t you? I mean, you must be, with the dark hair and the light eyes.”

I told her I came from Plymouth.

“Where’s that?” she said. “It’s in Wales, right? You know, I went to England once. In fact I went three times. And I must say, I love England. It’s so–I’m so happy to see you! Both of you! But Campfire, well, he’s had such a journey. You must be exhausted. Are you exhausted?”

I am now, I thought, but instead smiled frantically and looked at my wife, hoping she’d turn into an emergency exist instead of laugh at my misfortune as she did.

“Mom!” yelled Aline, frilling her short but voluminous skirts about her. “Stop being like that. Calm down, give them a break.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said her mother. “But, well, he’s come such a long way and he’s come so far, and I’m so happy he’s here. Where did you say you came from again?”

Up near Schooley’s Mountain on a crisp October day Matt and Alina’s engagement would soon be over.

With a whole morning of socialising still ahead of me, mine was just beginning.

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