Hearts and Doilies and Gray Areas: Two Versions of a Love Story


Last year my innocuous Valentine’s Day post drew the most views of this blog in one day ever. Thought Catalog republished the post, thousands read it in 24 hours. My sweet little love story made some people terribly.

Describing my husband’s and my courtship, I wrote,  “I wasn’t about to bet the farm on sexual attraction.” Well, that stuck in people’s craw.

Cupids and heart bouquets and irrepressible desire seem to be the only acceptable basis for romance and marriage. Maybe our love story needed more doily hearts and sighing. I could have told it that way and it still would have been true.

Every story we tell ourselves or others is imbued with subjective meaning. Like a traffic accident with several witnesses, every story has a perspective. Even our own singular perspective changes given time, wisdom, and circumstances, what we’re willing or able to say in a given moment, at which points we pull back the curtain.

There’s so much gray to every story—nothing is so black and white. -Lisa Ling

For example, I say my grandparents were from Russia when actually, they were from Grodno, Belarus. My father had always said Belarus. But I’m further removed from the Russian émigré neighborhoods of 1940s Gary, Indiana, where people were differentiated by their parents’ country of origin, where my Russian auntie still refers to people as “the Greek restaurant owner” and her “Romanian mother-in-law.” And not Belorussian auntie because she’s actually my dad’s step-sister. Actually Russian.

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My maiden name, Kiwak, is Polish, although anyone related to me will disagree, due either to Russian nationalism or to the ancestral affinity for derogatory Polish jokes. My father’s maternal grandmother wasn’t Russian at all, but German, a smoldering wick I choose to quench with denial. We need not mention the fluidity of borders throughout history, or, heaven forfend, that Kiwak is listed in the Etymological Dictionary of Jewish Family Names.

I simplify for expediency’s sake. “Russian.” Don’t you?

Likewise, I wrote in last year’s Valentine’s story that my husband and I met at an abandoned Catholic church in a ghost town. In actuality, that was the 2nd time we met. We first met long before at Hawaiian luau in Scottsdale.

Dan, a blonde haired, blue-eyed young man from California, invited me to the luau. Dan was a housemate of my husband’s, outgoing and funny and Robert-Redford-handsome and was one among many young men running about the yard in swishing grass skirts fussing over a bbq pit. After repeated failures attempting to skewer a dead pig onto a spit, the housemates enlisted a guest who was a doctor. “Is there a doctor in the yard?” Who better at impaling a dead body than a man schooled in anatomy?

442e4afe39c61e31f07ad2d0c7245de0Dan was appreciative of the carved watermelon boat I brought for the buffet. I vaguely remember my future husband walking across the patio in a grass skirt—rustle-swish— on his way to the kitchen and offering my watermelon faint praise. He barely saw me.

To be fair, I was weeks, even days, maybe, out of a contemplative convent. I had spent years discerning a vocation, visiting nuns in three countries and had a few months plainly dressed and praying, and came out frumpy, shy and bewildered by life’s sudden lack of trajectory. I was a rather shrinking violet in a luau full of leis.  And my future husband was distracted by a girl I’ll call Heidi.

In a strange coincidence, the only person I knew at the luau, besides Dan, was Heidi. We had met when volunteering in a south Phoenix homeless shelter run by nuns. We were both discerning the same vocation.

Intermittently, the culturally-appropriating housemates encircled the roasting pig like a giant raffia wreath. Then the wreath would dismantle as they scattered through the yard to other guests, the kitchen, the buffet table, the hiss of their skirts like a breeze through the trees.

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The pig, the decorations, the grass skirts, the motorized rotisserie spit rental. “It was fun,” my husband reflects, “but it snowballed into a huge financial burden.” I judged a Haiku contest this week, so forgive me for instantaneously coming up with this marriage motto, aka my husband’s epitaph:

Fun was had by all,
But fun is so expensive:
Snowballing burden.

No sparks flew outside the bbq pit at that luau. Dan became a pilot and moved to Hawaii. He remains a confirmed bachelor. Heidi did not become a nun.

When my husband and I “met” a year and a half later, Cupid chose an arrow from his pragmatic quiver. My husband and I noticed one another. We spent months assessing our compatibility, because I wasn’t about to bet the farm. . . . Hearts and sighs and doilies, wedding bells and babies. We’ll celebrate 21 years in May.

And that’s the gray of the story. What stories do you tell in black and white?

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