It was 4:15 – fifteen minutes after I said I’d be there to pick her up, and I wasn’t even in my car yet. Geez! The phone rang. It was my sister. “Can’t talk now, I’ll need to call you back. Mom’s waiting and…”
“Uh, yeah! She’s called me three times wondering if you’d forgotten her at the church,” she said tersely.
“Gotta go.” The only reason I was stuck with this job was because my sister, Laura, was at home taking care of two sick kids. As I approached the intersection, a block from the church, I noticed an elderly woman in front of me. She was perfectly still.
“The light flipped green, honey! Go, go, go!” She didn’t budge. “It’s your turn, dear,” I beeped at her twice.
Nothing. The two cars behind me beeped too. Now the light was RED again and the clock read 4:35 pm. I knew she’d never believe this wasn’t on purpose.
Finally I arrive.
“Well, glad you could make it. Hope I didn’t inconvenience you or worse, take you away from something really important? It’s only my wedding rehearsal. It’s not like I get married everyday,” my mother said to me with her hands on her hips sounding irritated.
“Well, actually, now that you mention it, this isn’t actually your first…” I started to say, still panting after the two-block jog from the parking lot.
“Oh, good grief. You know what I mean. I asked you to meet me here at 4 o’clock sharp. What’s so difficult about that?” She wanted to know. She was visibly upset.
I decided to ignore her.
“So, what did I miss?” I asked pleasantly, still trying to catch my breath. By the time I had arrived, everyone had gone home except my mother, who stood in front of the church with her arms crossed, tapping one foot.
“You missed my groom to be. He waited for twenty-five minutes! He had to go to the airport to pick up his son, Michael who, by the way, is single and a dermatologist. You know, Libby…”
I assumed she was trying to make a point, or change the subject…or something.
“Oh please, Mother. This is about you, not me.”
“He waited so he could meet you, Lib,” she said trying to sound believable.
“Yes, you’ve said that. But you know what they say; you meet one groom of your mother’s, you’ve met them all…” She shot me a nasty snide look.
Perhaps I should have kept my sarcasm to myself.
“That’s not true, Libby Ann. My first and second husbands were nothing like Henry. I resent the implication.”
For a second, I tried to recall what I left on the stove. I couldn’t remember if I left my tea… We approached my car and got in.
“Why do you need to rehearse for your wedding when the only people in it are you, Henry and the priest? The rest are guests. What’s to rehearse? I mean really? Couldn’t you both just show up early tomorrow and go over it then?” I realize I made a valid point, but sounded rather snarky.
“Well, all of sudden you’re the expert, right? May I remind you, I’ve been through this a number of times, missy.”
“Yeah. That’s a funny sentence even for you, Mother!” Ah! She was obviously stressed, and I was extremely tired.
“Buckle up Mother; I don’t want to be responsible for anything happening to the bride so close to the big day.”
Again, the traffic was horrendous. “What is with this traffic? Move buddy!” I yelled out to the car in front of me. I looked over to my mother and noticed her staring out the window.
“So, what did I miss, Mother? I want details. Sorry I was late and missed Henry. Really! I’m sure we’ll have time to chat tomorrow.”
“The wedding’s tomorrow Lib. What makes you think you’ll have time then? He’s yet to meet my editor, publisher, and…”
“You’re right, mother. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I said.
I was thinking, of course, that they haven’t met Henry yet, because she only met him two months ago at a writer’s conference in Los Angeles. He wrote one novel and she immediately believed him to be a brilliantly successful novelist. One novel! He’s only been divorced for one year after a twenty-one year marriage, producing three sons – all doctors. His ex-wife must have had family money. It’s never been mentioned what she did for a living. And prior to Henry’s “successful” novel, he wrote for a local paper teaching a creative writing class at a nearby junior college. Since the engagement, however, he’s no longer working there as you’ve both agreed he should move in with you. Good thing he likes the weather here in California!
“They’re only in from New York for the day, Libby…”
“All right, all right! So, are you hungry? Should we stop for a bite to eat before I drop you off and the frenzy begins?”
Again, she was looking out the window. My mother looked tired…or perhaps unsettled is a better word.
“What?” she asked.
“What, what?” I repeated.
“What did you ask me?” She said, looking confused.
“I asked if you were hungry. You know! Do you need to feed your body, your soul, your…”
“Would you stop it?” She retorted, wrinkling her face and narrowing her eyes.
“Stop what? I’m concerned that you didn’t eat today.” I announced.
“Stop insinuating that I’m making a mistake by marrying Henry. He’s not like Jim or Bob, you know. He’s different. THIS is different. You haven’t even met him Libby…MY Goodness!” My mother adjusted her seat belt and smoothed her hair with her hand. She was visibly unnerved.
Come to think of it I’d only met Bob, husband number two, once. He and Mother eloped and were married for less than a year. Although they were the same age and seemed to have many common interests, it fell apart in the end. Bob was a freelance writer and had been very successful in his field. He wrote primarily about his travel experiences. Unfortunately, his trips were mostly alone, and Mother rarely saw him. Hence, their marriage crumbled, but on friendly terms.
“Are you trying to convince me ……or yourself?” I inquired. It was curious to me that she was so uncomfortable.
“This is beginning to sound like an inquisition. And I don’t need to fight with you the night before my wedding. I’m under enough stress as it is. Really, Libby Ann!” Now she was getting emotional, and that was not my intention. I said nothing for a few minutes.
“I didn’t mean to upset you. That’s not my goal here, okay? Do you mind if we run by my house? I’m worried I left my stove on. I’ll be really quick, I promise!”
My mother sat in the car while I quickly ran into my house. The kitchen was a mess, but nothing was cooking and my stove was turned off. The blinking message machine on the counter caught my eye.
“You have two new messages,” Announced the computerized voice from the machine.
“Hi, Libby, it’s me Laura, I wanted to make sure you got to the church and picked up Mother. She was a wreck when I talked to her earlier today. Call me when you get this.” (beep) “Hi, it’s me again. I guess you’re not home yet. Call me.” (beep)
I quickly used the bathroom and raced back to my car parked in the driveway.
“Well?” Asked my mother.
“Well, what?” I replied.
She released a long deliberate sigh, “Was it?”
“The stove Libby, was the stove on?” she repeated, growing more aggravated.
“Oh, nope!” I said quickly.
“Really, Libby, you do this all the time,” she snapped.
“Do what…all the time?” I snapped back.
“You know, think you’ve left something on the stove, or forget to lock, or didn’t close, or didn’t feed, or didn’t stop, check, or remember to…! Remember the time you left town on a business trip and called me from the airport? You asked if I would go to your house because you couldn’t remember if you’d unplugged your curling iron. Remember that one, Lib? Perhaps you should discuss this with your…”
“Um,” I interrupted. “Are you hungry?”
I swear to God, she could turn any situation into an entirely different state of affairs. Personally, I think it’s a method of distraction she taught herself to avoid an obvious issue. I’m not sure what that issue is yet, but it will come to me. Just you watch, this dialog will turn up in her next novel. She has a tendency to write about art imitating life. My mother has been incredibly successful in her writing. Ironically, before the sale of her first novel, she’d never considered a career as a writer. She’d never even taken a writing class before her first novel was published. And that book was a fluke. Who knew that her journal, where she’d been painstakingly recording the whereabouts of my father and later documenting the details of their divorce, would turn into a best seller? He wasn’t the most honorable of men. He was an attorney who had numerous affairs with women in his office.
Many late nights and holidays were spent without him and was the impetus that moved my mother to become emotionally independent. As it happened, my father supplied her with plenty of gossip-content for her story, which he later referred to as “hearsay.”
In the end, the accounts of his many indiscretions filled enough lines to string together an entire book.
“I guess,” she said, still fixing her eyes out the window. Then she licked her finger and abruptly rubbed what appeared to be a smudge spot off the side window.
“So, where would you like to eat, Mother?” I asked.
“I’m not hungry anymore! Maybe you should just drop me off at home. I have a lot to do still and I want to get to bed early tonight. I need to look rested for the wedding tomorrow morning,” she said.
“What’s left to do? You have everything done. Your dress is pressed and hanging nicely in the closet.” I wondered if she was having second thoughts about Henry. But, I didn’t dare ask her. She’d sell her best jewelry before she’d admit to making another mistake. …. I’d make my sister ask her.
“But, if you think you’d rather go home…” I told her, leaving the decision up to her.
“Yes, I think I should. I’ll grab something to eat there. But thanks, Lib. I’ll see you tomorrow at the church. Ten o’clock sharp Libby,” she reminded me.
I arrived home after dropping Mother and quickly stopping by the market.
“You have one new message,” said my message recorder.
“Hi, it’s me. I just got off the phone with Mother. Call me back. We need to talk.” (beeeep).
It was after 7:00 p.m.. Her kids were probably down for the night, so she should be able to talk without interruptions.
“Hello?” Laura answered.
“Um, hello? Hello? (pause) Hello?” I repeated.
“YES, NOW WE’VE BOTH SAID HELLO,” she said irritably.
“Did the phone even ring on your end? How weird. I barely dialed your number and you’d already picked up the telephone. That’s so weird. Maybe…”
“LIBBY!” She interrupted. “What’s going on with Mother? I just got off the phone with her, and she sounds terrible,” she snapped.
“Well, she seemed okay to me, a little distracted maybe, but okay.”
“That’s it?” Blurted Laura.
“Well, I DO think she might be having second thoughts about marrying Henry.” I announced.
She exhaled noisily, “LIBBY! That’s what I’m talking about,” she replied with a raised voice, then quietly muffled the phone with her hand and whispered to her youngest son to get back in bed.
“Do you think she wants to back out?” She asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“I don’t know. I think you should call her up right now and ask her.”
“ME? Why me?” She screeched.
“Because I tried to “go there” with her this afternoon and she would have no part of it. In fact, I upset her! It’s your turn.”
The next morning…
Two bag pipers could be heard while approaching the church and the sound was magnificent. They were wearing tradition plaid kilts with long white stockings and black tasseled shoes. Mother knew how to put on a classy event. The small church filled up slowly with beautifully dressed guests. Some of her business associates arrived in fashionable, sophisticated attire with elaborate hats and matching gloves. Others were decorated in vintage designs made from delicate willowy fabric, garlanded with tiny colorful beads.
Mother had two sets of friends. There were those who were enveloped in the literary world, and hip in terms of fashion and trade. And then there were those she considered to be her more eclectic group of comrades. These were the creative writers and artists who were inspired by the free and open universe, living an uninhibited existence. Both were easy to spot in a crowd.
It’s 10:15, no Mother. I noticed a man wearing a tux. It must have been Henry leaning against the wall near the vestibule. He looked intense. No, maybe just nervous. I saw him laugh out loud as if he hadn’t a care in the world, as he joked with a man who appeared to be… his son. I watched his wrinkled face as he slowly twisted his head from side to side, adjusting his tie. I walked over- and his son walked away.
“Hi you must be Henry, I’m Libby.” I said to him as I extended my hand for him to shake. “You look nice,” I told him.
He quickly glanced at the clock above my head. I pretended not to notice. “So, did your son arrive safely last night? I’m sorry I missed you at the rehearsal. I understand it went well. Did you arrive on time to pick up your son, Michael from the airpit – I mean port? Did he arrive on time?” I asked, realizing I was fumbling for words as well as repeating myself when I spoke.
Henry just stared past me. He looked worried and didn’t respond right away. In fact, he didn’t respond at all. Instead he asked,
“Have you spoken to your Mother this morning?”
“Nope! You?” I asked.
“No, ah, NO!” he confirmed.
“Hmm!” I mumbled, and then immediately excused myself. I quickly scooted into the women’s bathroom and dialed my mother’s cell phone.
“Hello?” She answered.
“MOTHER,” I whispered loudly, crowding myself into a very small bathroom stall.
“Yes?” She replied, as if she’s surprised that I am calling.
“It’s 10:25. Where are you?” I asked in a stern, but concerned voice.
“Why?” She questioned.
“Are you kidding me? Why? Why…WHY?” I repeated in the loudest whisper I could manage, while flushing the toilet to disguise my side of the conversation. At this point, three different well-dressed women had come and gone (one of which didn’t wash her hands…I noticed).
“You know Lib, I was thinking…I think I am not someone who should be married. I thought about it all night – I didn’t sleep a wink. God, you should see my eyes! Anyway, I decided that I’m someone who should just date, not marry,” she announced.
“Oh my GOD! Did you happen to mention it to Henry? I only ask this because he is standing in the church hallway looking extremely anxious waiting for you to arrive.” I screamed.
I cracked the door to the ladies bathroom and peeked out side. I saw Henry’s face. “Maybe you can just postpone the nuptials until you feel better about things? People are beginning to wonder where the hell you are!” I told her, stunned (well sort of stunned).
“Well, how could I have mentioned it to Henry? I just realized it myself this morning,” she announced sounding clear, stable, and surprisingly together.
Suddenly, someone knocked on the door of the bathroom stall. I remained frozen. I hadn’t a clue how anyone would have known I was in here. Holding the door closed, I crouched down on the rim of the toilet – quietly peeking through the door crack.
“Hey Lib, is that you?” whispered Laura. “Everyone is wondering what’s going on. Where’s Mother? Should I tell the organist to start playing yet?”
“Ah,…. NO.” I said as I heard my Mother hang up on the other end. Peeling myself off the toilet I blurted out, “There’s been a change of plans. Mother’s not coming to the party and…” I started to explain.
“Not coming to the party? You mean wedding…not coming to HER OWN WEDDING?” She shouted, shocked and upset by the new turn of events.
“That’s right, she’s not coming! So go tell Henry, then make up an appropriate excuse to announce to the guests. But, don’t forget to graciously invite them all to the club for the reception. It’s already been paid for. It would be a shame to waste all that food and wine. In fact, did you know most of the wine came from Italy and the food was…”
“ARE YOU KIDDING? WHY ME?” She blurted out, snapping her fingers in my face to keep my attention. She could barely compose herself. She stood looking at me with eyes as big as quarters. Slowly shaking her head from side to side, she finally threw up both hands and demanded to know, “Again…why me?”
“Because OBVIOUSLY, you didn’t call Mother last night like we discussed and talk her out of this wedding before it was too late. Now it’s too late. So…it’s your job,” I told her, darting towards the door before she could respond. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her shoot me a seething look before walking back into the church.
I phoned my Mother again. This time the phone just rang. No answer. None!
One year later…
Featured in the window of the corner bookstore is a collection of the recent New York Times Best Sellers. Displayed along with them was of course, my Mother’s latest novel entitled Again. It was a story of how a middle-aged woman escapes marriage.
I wonder where she got the idea for that book!!