Short Story 7

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For years I’ve had this recurring dream. In this dream I’m at my church—a little white church on the top of a green hill. I’m in a wedding dress, and I’m terrified. I’m about to marry someone I’ve never met. I don’t want to, but everyone I love is there and all of them are telling me it’s too late to back out now. I start to walk down the aisle, trembling and teary, but I never see the groom. I wake up before I can.

The dream came back in the early days of Sam, only twice as vivid. Suddenly my subconscious had decided that Sam was the groom-to-be, and I wasn’t ready to marry him. I tearfully told him I wasn’t ready, braced myself for his anger.

It didn’t come. He shrugged and calmly said, “Don’t worry about it.” Clearly the time wasn’t right, and he could wait until it was.

And then I woke up.

Short Story 6

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Over Christmas, mother and I went on a walk. Back in high school, we used to walk together all the time, thirty minutes a day around the neighborhood. We hadn’t walked together for some time, now that I was away at college. But a walk meant we would have time for a serious uninterrupted conversation.

“Do you like him?”

I watched my breath smoke as I released it in a long, controlled sigh. “I don’t know. Do I have to know?”

“No,” she answered.

“I don’t want to rush things. I’ve had enough of rushing things.” Another smoky sigh. “My heart’s too worn out to go through all of that again. Not now. Not ever.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m serious, Mom. I get sick every time I think about being with anyone.”

We didn’t look at each other, but kept our eyes ahead, watching for traffic. Even without her looking at me, I knew I was being carefully studied.

“Your father and I always wanted you to end up with someone nice.”

“Mom—”

“But we don’t want you settling for anyone either.”

“I’m not settling. You know how I feel about this. I’m happy on my own. My happiness doesn’t depend on anyone else for once, and I like it that way.”

A nod. Then a few paces of silence.

“If—and that’s a big ‘if’,” I said tentatively, “if anyone decides he loves me, he’s got his work cut out for him.”

“I don’t doubt that.” She smiled at me. “He’ll have to be someone really special for my beautiful girl.”

I smiled back.

“Do you suppose they’re fighting over you?” she asked after a longer silence.

“Who, Sam and his brother?”

“Yeah. He sent you chocolate, right?”

I laughed. “Well, it could have been David’s handwriting on the note. I have no way of knowing. Maybe it was Sam. Anyway, I don’t think they’re fighting over me. That doesn’t seem like something they’d put up with from each other. And I keep seeing David with some other girl.”

“I see.”

I laughed at a vivid image in my mind of those two skinny brothers putting up their fists in their dorm room, jabbing back and forth while glaring at each other with steely expressions.

Short Story 5

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Funny thing was, you couldn’t tell he liked me from the way he acted. Not that he treated me like trash, not at all—the opposite, in fact. But he always acted like himself around me.

Here’s what normally happens when a boy is interested in you: his demeanor changes when he’s around you, he follows you like a lost puppy, he laughs too long at your stupidest jokes, he brags about his accomplishments, most of which are fictionalized. He ceases, in a way, to be himself. He becomes someone else, someone he thinks you will like. The mask comes off when he gets close enough to go for your jugular. I learned this too late.

“You’re so lucky to have me taking care of you.”

            “No one else would be patient enough to love someone like you.”

            “If you leave me, you’ll live your life alone.”

If I was alone, so be it, I shouted back to the phantom of him in my head. A lifetime alone, my mother says, is infinitely better than a lifetime with the wrong person.

He had hidden his true nature from me to lure me closer. But Sam kept acting like Sam.

Short Story 4

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S-sure, uh, what night works for you.” Did he and the girlfriend have a falling out? Was she away for the weekend? Was he trying to make her jealous? Get back at her for something? The cad.

“Any of them. Name a night.”

“Monday the 3rd?”

“Sure. I’ll get the tickets. See you then! Happy Thanksgiving!”

He hung up. I stared at the receiver and cried aloud to the empty room:

“But you’re dating!

We went to the play. December 3rd, 2012. I wrote it down in my journal so I wouldn’t forget.

I cornered David in the cafeteria later that week.

“David, is your brother dating?”

A hem. A haw. “Well…apparently not.”

So that was it. Sam wasn’t dating, and he liked me. We had this comfortably platonic relationship, and he had to go and like me, ruining everything. The first normal, healthy, pleasant friendship I’d ever had with a boy, and he just had to try and turn it into a romance. Jerk.

Short Story 3

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It was the day before Thanksgiving break. Everyone in the dorms was throwing jeans and sweatshirts into duffel bags and driving home. A semester of doing every extracurricular known to man left me breathing heavily and ready for a break. I was packing necessities into a few bags while listening to Christmas music.

The phone rang.

My dorm was built sometime during the 70’s or 80’s—the days of landlines and waiting by the phone. Every room has a mud-brown wall-mounted phone that only rings if a teacher needs to talk to you and you won’t check your email. They never ring.

Yet that day, it rang. I picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“May I speak to Emma, please?” Male voice. Vaguely nasal. Cheery. Familiar. I thought it might be David, Sam’s brother, who had asked me out twice and sent me chocolate not-so-anonymously.

“This is she.”

“Oh, hey! This is Sam.”

Sam. The brother with a girlfriend. What could he possibly want?

“Hey, Sam.” Maybe he’d detect the note of confusion. Maybe not.

“I was wondering if you’d like to go to It’s a Wonderful Life with me.” A stage adaptation of the Frank Capra feels-fest was playing in the little theater on back campus. I was planning on going, but hadn’t bought tickets yet. I was going to go alone, but if a friend asked me to join him, I saw no problem with accepting the invitation. But Sam was dating someone. Why was he asking me?

Short Story 2

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I dove into my junior year head first and arms flailing. After two years of swallowing his lies, I didn’t know who I was. The only way to reconstruct my identity was to try on as many hats as possible. Was I an actress? A leader? An artist? A singer? A victor? A victim? I wasn’t sure, but I was sure that the days of self-doubt and self-loathing were over. I was sure I was finally free to be myself. Whoever that was.

I was sure of one thing more: I was never going to be in love again.

I had met Sam the year before, during a shaky honeymoon period in my relationship with my then-boyfriend. Sam was his opposite in every way: tall, thin, brainy, fidgety. Happy.

We met backstage as cast members of a campus production. My boyfriend had recently told me that I was no good at acting and I shouldn’t audition for any more plays, so I was enjoying this one as one of my last, savoring every cue. The whole time I felt a coldness in other cast members’ eyes, as if they pitied me for my feeble efforts. Their scorn was nonexistent, of course; his words tended to poison my perception of other people.

But Sam was kind, and nothing my boyfriend said about how people saw me could convince me otherwise. Yet I avoided Sam, lest I be tempted to dream of a life with someone other than my self-proclaimed savior.

Sam didn’t avoid me. Fast-forward eight months, and we were running into each other all the time. Campus leadership meetings. On the sidewalk. In the halls. In the cafeteria. I didn’t mind. He was dating a spunky go-getter he’d known for years—I got that from credible sources. He wouldn’t be coming after me. We formed a happy, pressure-free camaraderie. I was safe.

Until the fateful day I got the phone call.

Short Story 1

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“This is the story of how I recovered.”

Perhaps that was a pretentious opening line for a college journal, especially since I hadn’t recovered. Not yet.

It was August of 2012. I was halfway through college and I felt as though I’d just started. The first two years I was trying to erase from my memory.

That August I found myself in a hotel by a river in Croatia. If you’ve never heard of Croatia, it’s a tiny boomerang-shaped country across the Adriatic from Italy. I went to teach English to Croatian middle school students for two weeks—at least that’s what I wrote in the support letters. In reality, I went to prove a point. I went to run away from the sound of his voice in my head.

“What’s the use of going to Croatia? It’s a waste of your time, not to mention your money. What good could you possibly do?”

            These words and hundreds more echoed in my mind as I leaned on the broad windowsill, gazing out on the moon-bedazzled water. Frank Sinatra serenaded me from my laptop’s speakers, as he often did when I needed to drive away the nightmares.  

            “Moon river, wider than a mile,

            I’m crossing you in style someday.”

            Standing over those shining waters, I tasted freedom for the first time in eighteen months. It tasted infinitely better than everything I knew, or thought I knew, of love.

“Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,

            Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.”

            I knew that I wanted to chase every river I crossed and see where it led me. Nothing and no one was going to tie me down. I’d had enough of that for a lifetime.

Happy Beginnings

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I married the love of my life today.

I’d like to let the whole world know.

I’d like to let the whole world know that love is very, very real. Love is alive.

God made love because God is love. And God in His infinite mercy and grace decided to give me a taste of His love in my relationship with a wonderful young man. A young man who is much more than I deserve, who is a far better man than I could have ever dreamed up for myself.

God took my wildest dreams and made them wilder. He knew what I wanted and told me, “Let me give you that and more. So much more.”

And He gave me him.

Listen, fellow wanderers: there is hope. There is life. There is love.

And God is always so very good.

1

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I’m getting married in twelve hours.

The church could not be prettier. The flowers could not be lovelier. I couldn’t have more wonderful people in my bridal party. I couldn’t possibly be filled with any more love.

I am filled and surrounded by joy.

I am so grateful. I am grateful for my parents and my parents-to-be. I am grateful for the people making my wedding happen. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my groom.

I am thankful for my God who loves me enough to shower all of this wonder over me. I can’t understand it. I never will.

But I have never felt so blessed.

I have no regrets, no backward glances, no second guesses. Am I ready? There’s no way to be ready. Not really. Everyone has told me that.

I am deeply in love.

I am deeply in grace.

Ready to not, here I come.

2

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There’s nothing stranger than saying “I’m getting married the day after tomorrow.”

I mean, maybe saying “I’m getting married tomorrow” might top that, which is what I’ll be saying tomorrow.

I’m not letting myself overthink anything. After all, the wedding is just a thirty-minute long ceremony. All I’m doing is promising my best friend that I will love him forever, which is something I made up my mind that I would do about a year ago.

Everything about this wedding feels so perfectly natural. I’ve wanted it to happen for so long.

But here’s the thing:

I’ve been in a lot of plays. I’ve always had plenty of reason to be nervous. Lines weren’t always in my head, costumes weren’t always finished in time and weren’t guaranteed to stay in place, and blocking was always a little touch-and-go. Yet no matter how precarious the upcoming performance might be, I wouldn’t get nervous until the day of, nay, hours before the curtain rose. And that nervousness would find me in a dark corner, shivering, alone with my feelings of anxiety and a tentative urge to lose the contents of my stomach.

I am a mere 36 hours away from my wedding, and I am not nervous.

Yet.

3

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Three days.

Almost the day after tomorrow.

I’m holding an ice cube to my face to make a pimple go down. My nails look fantastic, My feet haven’t looked this good since I was seven.

There’s only one box of my stuff that remains to be taken from my parent’s house to my apartment.

We meet with the photographer tomorrow.

And I need sleep.

4

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Almost everything is perfect.

The decorations are perfect. The location is perfect. The bridal party is perfect. The dress is beyond perfect.

The only items about the wedding that are not perfect is the absence of two of our grandmothers and the uncles and aunts that cannot be there for health reasons.

Other than that, perfection.

I know it’s four days out still, and that’s plenty of time for things to go wrong. But as far as this bride is concerned, the only thing that can really go wrong would be something that resulted in me not marrying my fiance. Everything else is just icing on the cake, and I happen to like cake without icing.

So far all is going well, thanks to all the wonderful people who are fluttering around and making everything go right.

I am a peaceful bride.

Now, if this zit on my chin would just go away….

5

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Here are some fun facts about the wedding that won’t make it into the program:

  1. The paper flowers in the bouquets and boutonnieres are made from retired bound volumes of periodicals from the library where the bride worked for five years.
  2. The decorative netting used in some of the corsages are cut from the yards and yards of netting from the removed underskirt of the bride’s mother’s wedding dress.
  3. The ring the bride is wearing on her right hand belonged to her grandmother, who gave it to the bride’s mother mother on her 16th birthday.
  4. The pennant flags decorating the reception hall and the ceremony space are cut from old maps used in the classroom of the couple’s university for the last who-knows-how-many-decades. They were donated to the wedding by one of UU’s best beloved history teachers.
  5. Some of the decorations at the rehearsal dinner are music boxes that belonged to the bride’s maternal grandparents.
  6. The sun and moon pendants worn by the bride and groom were commissioned by the bridesmaids and were modeled after a drawing done by the bride as an illustration for her book.
  7. Muffins are being served at the reception for three reasons:
    1. The reception takes place early enough to be called a brunch.
    2. The bride and groom use “muffin” as a pet name. The groom goes by “blueberry muffin” and the bride is “chocolate muffin,” the two flavors available.
    3. The church’s youth group (taught by the bride and groom) call themselves “The Mighty Muffin-Eaters,” a tribute to their propensity to eat a ton of the muffins that one of our church members makes for Sunday School every week.
  8. All of the children playing a role in the wedding are members of the aforementioned youth group. The bride grew up with most of them and considers them to be her younger siblings.
  9. The groomsmen’s boutonnieres are paper airplanes placed as a subtle nod to the Disney animated short Paperman, a cartoon that the bride and groom particularly love.
  10. The bride and groom are getting married a year and two days after they told each other “I love you” for the first time.

6

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This whole wedding experience is turning out to be a lot less dramatic than I thought it would.

All the weddings I’ve heard of, even the weddings of close friends, seemed to be a year-long, drawn-out, horrendous pile of drama. So much drama. Huge families butting heads, bridezillas or bridesmaidzillas or motherofthebridezillas, delinquent grooms, threats of calling off the wedding, actually calling off the wedding. I’ve heard it all.

I knew the people that would be helping me put the wedding together, and I knew that they are all reasonable, kind, and giving people. I did not expect drama. I little tension, maybe. Some tears shed. Maybe some hurt feelings.

Yes, it’s been stressful. But never too stressful. Not mind-blowingly terrifyingly stressful. Just tense. Just a lot to do.

Thankfully I have a big crew of people that are competently and efficiently getting things checked off the list.

This has been fun. I have seen nothing but the best out of everybody involved.

Still really ready for Saturday, though.