From the Vault

Joyce's Law

June 10th, 2015: I planned on spending my entire day being a nervous wreck. Not only was I about to embark on the biggest trip of my life, but  it was also my first time EVER leaving the United States, and my first time EVER going on an airplane. I was terrified of planes—a trait inherited from family (call it a passing on of paranoia). Intrigued, yes, but terrified. The metal birds that were ingrained in my skull as purveyors of death still seemed so majestic to me—there was something almost soothing about them.  I’d sometimes pretend, especially before falling asleep, that I was a passenger on a plane. I’d imagine myself waking up in another place, having safely landed as if I was never in air at all. This, I told myself, would be all I needed to do to get through the flight without any fear—just sleep comfortably through it and let my dreams carry me away. And with the flight leaving at 10:00 PM, that seemed more than doable. I was finally ready to face everything head-on: I was going to board an airplane, leave the country, and get married in Dublin.

A little backstory: My fiancé, John, and I had been engaged for about a year and half, with absolutely no movements toward our eventual nuptials. Not because we didn’t want to get married—quite the opposite—but because everything even vaguely wedding-related totally freaked us out. Friends gave me piles upon piles of wedding prep books, which would sit on the floor of my room, untouched. We talked about opening up Wedding Planning for Dummies, but we never really wanted to. We wanted to get married, but we wanted something that would be special for the two of us. We also were not the kind of people who plan things in advance; we’re both master procrastinators through and through. Finally, one February night, we came up with a brilliant plan: we’d get married on Bloomsday (June 16th, the day the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses take place), as we were both die-hard Joyce fans and literature enthusiasts—in Dublin. Just the two of us, and two of our dear friends as witnesses. Why not? It seemed almost too perfect—but how on earth could we pull this off in under six months?

People who plan weddings for years are suckers.

Sure, there were a few mini-heart attacks along the way and a number of run-ins with what seemed like the impossible, but positive thinking, determination and an unwillingness to accept “no” as an answer went a long way, and there we were, less than six months later, heading to the airport to make our wildest dream a reality.

Arriving at Newark I realized something: absolutely everything I knew about air travel I learned from Seinfeld. I knew how much to tip the luggage handler (an obsolete piece of information now) and that first-class was a whole different world from coach (true). We made it to the airport and through customs and security freakishly quickly. All that was left to do was wait—which, surprisingly, didn’t freak me out all that much. See, here’s the weird thing about me: I often worry more about the details leading up to a big event than the actual event itself. I’m likely to say no to something just out of fear of how I’ll deal with the stress around it, than fear of the unknown. Having gotten through airport security without any blips along the way made me much calmer. A few Old Fashioneds at the airport bar may have also contributed to that. Either way, I was ready to go and sleep soundly through my first flight.

It’s REALLY difficult to sleep on a plane. Whenever I imagined it as a child, I thought of how comfy Jerry looked with his pillow and blanket, snoozing away next to his new model friend in first-class.  I never imagined myself in Elaine’s position in coach, wedged in between two people, with hardly any leg room, fighting for comfort. It was clear early on that sleep was not going to be an option. Fortunately, the young man sitting next to us was incredibly kind and we ended up chatting for most of the flight. The whole trip was smooth, and we made it safely to Dublin.

Our first night we stopped into a pub around the corner from our hotel. At the bar, a young man named Stephen (how appropriate, given the nature of our visit!) offered to give us a personal tour of Dublin nightlife—and we gladly took him up on the offer. Why not? Our first stop was “The Mezz,” a fun, low-key dive bar, in the tourist-riddled Temple Bar area. Our next few stops were fruitless, but wandering through the city at night more than made up for it.  While the “pub crawl” may have been a bust, Stephen’s kindness, sense of humor and eagerness to show two American tourists a real, local tour of Dublin, peppered with bits of history and politics, were better than any bar.

The next few days were jam-packed with living out our literary dreams. We visited the James Joyce Centre and the Dublin Writer’s Museum. Standing in a recreation of the room Joyce wrote Finnegan’s Wake in, staring at Joyce’s death mask, getting to knock on the actual door from 7 Eccles Street, and touching Joyce’s piano were all positively surreal experiences.  We also visited Ulysses Rare Books where, while we didn’t have €30,000 to spare on the first edition of Ulysses, we splurged on the 1947 hardcover Random House first edition (and a first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick because, why not?).

Our “honeymoon” was nearing an end, though, as our wedding day was quickly approaching.

Murphy’s Law says that everything that can go wrong, will. I only believe that to be somewhat true. Sometimes almost everything will go wrong, save for that one thread of hope that you have to hang onto for dear life to survive. That’s what happened to us—from going down to the wire with our Catholic marriage forms, to cutting it much too close to getting our paperwork ready in the states, to a mistake in booking that almost lost our spot for getting our marriage registration in Dublin the day before we were to be wed, to a missing pair of pants the morning of the wedding—our entire love story was a comedy of errors. An almost tragic, yet comedic, love story—call it Joyce’s Law.

Remember what I said about being nervous about the minor details? Any sense of nervousness was completely washed away when I was walking up that aisle. The church was positively gorgeous—ornately decorated with multi-colored flowers to commemorate the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa of Avila. I was not, for the first time, a nervous wreck—there was no room for it when I realized that not only had we made our dreams come true, but that we were still living them. Everything that came before, saying yes to his proposal, yes to this trip. Everything that came after, the rounds of applause from passersby, Joyceans dressed in their Bloomsday best stopping for photos or to send us their regards, being serenaded and fawned over—it was all like reading a chapter from a book I’d never want to put down. I was never surer of anything in my life—and yes I said yes I will Yes.


From the Vault: Creative Non-Fiction Prompt 2/6/13–Time Travel

In honor of the 100th anniversary on February 1 of New York City’s famed Grand Central Station, write an essay about a time in your life when you travelled—it could be daily travel, such as the commute to and from a job; seasonal travel, such as heading to a beach community every summer; or a vacation, such as a trip to a foreign country. Focus on what compelled you to go and the transition of leaving one place and arriving in another.

“Come on, where the hell is this bus? You know, years ago, the bus would come a few minutes early and they’d let you sit inside with the air conditioner on if it was hot out like this, not make you wait in the heat like animals.” The blazing sun beat down upon my small face as my grandmother and I waited for the #26 Beeline to take us home. Every day after school an executive decision had to be made: walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the bus or walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the train? On this day, we opted for the bus. By the time we reached the bus stop, we realized it probably would have been cooler to wait for the train.

With my mother now working a 9-5 job, my grandma and I were left to our own devices to get home. If the weather was nice enough, we’d walk. The walk through the quaint town my grammar school was located in usually stopped being so wonderful when my heavy, rolly backpack started to weigh us down and we’d spend the rest of the trip irritated and praying that someone, anyone, would spot us alongside the road and give us a lift. Sometimes we were just lucky enough for that to happen, but not very often. Our other option was the train. We’d hop on and ride it the one stop home, hopping off right as the ticket-taker got to our car. I never realized that riding one stop rarely required a ticket, so I felt as if we were doing something wrong and dangerous. My grandmother noticed the look of amazement on my face the first time it happened, so she made a game out of it from that point on. “Quick, he’s in the next car; let’s stand by the door so he won’t notice us!” She’d whisper to me. It made the humdrum trip exhilarating, and then quickly back to mundane once we’d leave the magical Grand Central-bound train and get off at the Fleetwood stop, walking through the pigeon-shit piss-scented tunnel into the outside world. Then I’d get a bagel sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts, which was pretty nice.

It was the last week of fourth grade and it was unseasonably warm for late June. Fortunately, the last week of school also meant it was dress down week, so I had the option of wearing something cooler than the stuffy white collared cotton top and navy blue cotton/polyester blend shorts, cuffed ankle socks and loafers uniform I’d wear any other day. (Most girls opted for the much more flattering light blue skirt, but I found the awkward boy-tailored shorts to be more my style. And in 8th grade when I would ruin them and many a classroom chair with period blood I’ll look back and be content with my clothing decision.) However, my forest green coolots were still not cutting it in the unbearable heat. I closed my eyes and dreamed of going home, changing into my swimsuit, diving into my pool in our backyard, and swimming, the cool, chlorine water covering my entire body.

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a pool. Or a backyard. And that my best option would be to turn on my old, cumbersome AC in my room and take a cold shower or bath—which was never fulfilling NOR did it ever really do the trick of cooling me down. But it was my only option, and so I embraced it, and thinking about it at least helped me cope with our wait. My grandmother was still cursing the bus driver when the bus crawled up to the bus stop, #52: Destination Secor Housing, Bronx, NY. Damn!

The bus was an adventure in and of itself as well. The yellow cord was like a lifeline, forget to pull it and you’re done for, doomed to circle around your town on the bus forever. Or you could pull it at the next stop and have to trek your way back to where you’re supposed to be in the snow, scuffing up the brand new glasses you just got from the eye doctor. Another bus creeped up to the stop, #26: Bronxville RR Station. Score!

The bus driver scurried off the bus frantically with a phone in his hand. “Just one moment, everyone, I need to handle a situation at the bus depot. We’ll be leaving shortly,” he said with a think Island accent as he rushed off into the shade. The bus was parked. And locked. And air conditioned. And we, all of my elderly homeward-bound comrades and myself, were on the outside looking in. I’ll spare you the swears that flew out from my grandmother’s mouth, as this is a family publication.

The daily commute is a thing that brings people together. Office workers who hate each other 90% of the time can commiserate if the ride to work was hellish. No one argues whether or not traffic is bad. But even when gas prices soar and roadwork and rubbernecking gets the best of you, pretty much everyone agrees that public transportation is about as bad as it can get. I’m not one of those people. Getting to zone out in my own world for 45 minutes to an hour, doing nothing but watching the world pass quickly by while simultaneously getting in some of the best people watching ever is one of my favorite things. Getting to see familiar faces everyday and piece together life stories based on where they got on and off provides wonderful material for writing. The only thing I really dislike about it is the waiting. The knowing you’ll have to brave the weather but not knowing HOW long you’ll have to brave it for can be a killer. Despite that, I’m thankful for those public transportation trips of my youth. The years of travelling with my grandmother built up my knowledge and resilience in my later, license-less years. But, I mean, if you’re offering me a ride, sure I’ll take it …

The bus driver returned a few minutes later and let us all onto the comfortable, non-sweltering bus. We were able to finally breathe and enjoy the cool air for the five-minute ride home. Our journey was coming to a close. At my grandma’s signal, I reached my small hand up and yanked the yellow-cord. I beamed when the bell gave out a little “ding” and the stop sign at the front of the bus flashed. As the bus approached the stop I could see our apartment, where my bed and my TV and, most of all, my air conditioner were. Repeats of Arthur called my name. The heat wouldn’t bother me anymore, and victory was so close I could taste it. We exited the bus and slugged our way over to our side of the apartment complex and made our way to the front door. The sun was bearing down on us, my skin felt clammy and I could feel the beads of sweat forming after only being outside again for a few minutes. But we made it, we were there. Home was where my heart and sweaty body longed to be. My grandmother placed the key in the keyhole and … nothing happened. It was the wrong key. She had the wrong keys. We had the wrong keys. There was no getting inside until someone either came out and let us in, or we maneuvered our way in through the basement on the opposite side of the building. Even then, we’d still be stuck in the hallway of our apartment until either my mother or grandfather got home hours later.

Another thing I’ve learned from the travels of my youth is to always remember to bring your keys. Do not lose them, and don’t forget them at home. This is something I’m still working on.

In the end, the summer had its victory over us. And I did the only thing I could to accept our crippling defeat: “Maybe we could go and play in the park?”

The slide never burned more than it did on that day, but dammit, it still felt good.

From the Vault is a series of posts from my personal blog that I've liked enough to share here. This post was originally written on this day four years ago.

From the Vault: Fiction Prompt 2/16/13 – Take A Turn

Write a story of 1,000 words from a main character’s perspective about the moment his or her life took a significant turn. Keep the description about the moment sparse, focusing on what happened versus how it happened. For an example, read Denis Johnson’s short story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.”  Poetry & Writers.


Architectural Digest

“Don’t you know that he’s gay?” Mallory’s words struck me like lightning, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant.

“S-so…” I managed to stutter.

“Gay—you know what that means don’t you?”

I guess my blank stare answered for me.

“He only likes men. Like, loves men. He’ll only fall in love with another man. That’s what gay means—when a man loves a man,” Mallory stated, matter-of-factly.  She was so worldly, she had learned so much more in her twelve years than I had in my seven.

“B-but… but he’s married… to a lady… how can that be?” I felt not only saddened, but betrayed. How could he be in love with a man if he was in a caring and affectionate relationship—not just a relationship, a MARRIAGE—to Carol?

“Jeez, Louise! It’s only a TV show! They’re not married in real life. Just on TV. You know that TV’s not real life…right?!” Mallory was getting impatient with me. Suddenly I felt so small, so much younger than my cousin.  Even though I was aware of our age difference, she always felt like my peer. Someone I could confide in and know that I wouldn’t be judged. Someone who could teach me things without talking down to me or making me feel like an inferior being. But now, they playing field didn’t seem so level any more. I felt like nothing more than a stupid, little child.

“Like, did you think it was on now? It takes place in the ‘70s. It’s not the ‘70s. Jeez, don’t you know ANYTHING?”  Her words got more and more biting and with each syllable it felt like a jagged knife being pushed slowly into my heart.

“…I know…” I managed to whisper sheepishly.

But I didn’t. I didn’t know anything. And in that moment, I became aware of the vast amount of nothing that I knew. A few minutes ago we were engaging in our normal summer routine. Every Wednesday afternoon my cousin would come over while her mom went to work and we’d watch TV together, then we would go to the park with my mother, come back for lunch, and then watch some more TV. When Aunt Karen got home from her job at the daycare center, she’d pick up Mallory. This happened every Wednesday now that stuff was different in Mallory’s house. These were all things I knew, they were all certainties.

I also knew that every day at 1:35 pm The Brady Bunch was on TBS. This was something I could count on. Mallory and I sat on the floor in my living room with the lights off to keep cool. “If we sit on the floor we’ll be cooler since the AC’s broken—I learned that in science class this year!” I informed Mallory. She just shrugged and plopped herself down on the floor next to me. She became infatuated with picking the polish off her nails while I remained infatuated with the person I thought—no, KNEW—was the man I would marry someday.

There was just something about Mike Brady; so tall, so handsome. He wore groovy threads, had the best perm I’d ever seen and was just the perfect husband and father. I knew it was wrong to fall in love with a married man—that’s something I learned in Bible studies—but I couldn’t help it. Part of me wished I could be adopted into the Brady family, but I wasn’t sure if I would be a daughter or a wife.

“People in the ‘70s dressed so badly,” Mallory stated, disinterested in the drama unfolding before us. Will the ever decide on the right wallpaper for their bedroom? “Clothes today are so much better. And ugh, look at their hair.” I liked their hair, but I guess I was wrong. “But I mean Greg’s still kinda cute,” she added.

“I like Mike Brady,” I blurted out. I didn’t mean to say it, but I automatically felt so much cooler and more grown up for having done so. “He’s really cute.” I looked to Mallory for some kind of response, but she just kept playing with her nails. “I’d like to marry him someday,” I meant it.

Mallory finally looked up and stared at me, wide-eyed. I thought I had said something that impressed her—until she started laughing, that is.  “Don’t you know that he’s gay?” I didn’t know what “gay,” was or why it meant I couldn’t love Mike Brady. The rest of the episode ended in a blur, and I never did find out what wallpaper they finally chose.

“Hey, Louise, are you going to watch Beverly Hills 90210 later?” Mallory asked me after the show was over. I shook my head “no.” I wasn’t allowed to watch that show—I was too young, there would be too much I wouldn’t understand. “Lame. Dylan’s such a cutie. I’d marry him someday,” Mallory said proudly. I guess Dylan wasn’t gay.

Mallory and I didn’t really talk for the rest of the day. I was just too ashamed. But before she left I figured it was as good a time as any to ask her that one last thing I didn’t understand, but wanted to know anyway, “Mallory, why doesn’t your dad live with you anymore?”

“Cuz him and mom are getting a divorce.” She said, taking a sip of her Hi-C Ecto Cooler. I supposed that “divorce” meant that two people who are in love stop falling in love. I’d heard that once on TV, but I still didn’t really understand it. Was Mallory’s dad gay? How does someone just stop loving their wife and daughter? It seemed like something Mike Brady would never do. But I guess I was wrong about that, too. I wanted to ask her more, but I held back. The only thing I really understood that day was to never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.