Crossing into April, Dawn and I were getting ready to be married. But the weather had been so nice every weekend for three weekends straight, we worried our luck wouldn’t hold out. All of us met at a lodge in the mountains, at a small town called Gold Bar. We had a cookout that Friday, then the wedding the next day. It was misty-cool in the morning with light showers, but by mid-afternoon it burned off. And that night we all stayed up around the campfire singing and drinking, then said goodbye in the morning, flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove several hours to Moab, Utah.
About a week before the wedding my friend Loren wrote, he said he and his wife Christine hadn’t booked a hotel yet (despite instructions we’d sent): could they stay with us a couple nights? We had a small house then, the kind of house where you’re aware of every sound, like living in a tent. We agreed, they were kind of broke. I think they even drove up from San Francisco, but at least they brought some cheese.
We agreed, but part of me resented Loren for taking those last couple nights from us before we got married, and the stress of marriage closed in that day I went to get the rings, and we sat in the grass near Green Lake, he made me laugh, and I felt comforted by one of my oldest friends, whom I’ve known since 4th grade.
And then a few years later, my mom’s difficult, Parisian neighbor Gilles wanted to track down an old ex at Berkeley (he thought he’d just fly there and look her up on campus, but needed a place to stay) — so I put him in touch with Loren, and Loren’s wife Christine — and then I got an email from Loren saying Gilles was making Christine uncomfortable walking around their small apartment with just his bath towel on, fresh out of the shower, and I had to laugh. “It was bumming Christine out,” he said.
Ten years later we returned to Gold Bar for two nights. Some people from the group photo weren’t there anymore — Dawn’s dad, her grandma, my step-father John — and some couples weren’t together, like Brad and his girlfriend, or Loren and Christine.
Mom flew in from Germany with Eberhard, about to turn 60, recently retired from the German police force, his first trip to the States. He was like a dog with his head out the window the whole time, taking pictures of everything. The first night, we walked to the lake near our house, took roadies with beer, pictures of eagles, smoked cigarettes, burned wet wood well into the night.
But though it was our 10-year anniversary, I couldn’t enjoy myself. My job had taken a bad turn, and I worried they were going to take me off the project. I’d walk by conference rooms and see my boss with his boss, imagining them talking about me. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.)
In a sense we tried to recreate that weekend we got married but of course, you never can. Eberhard tended the fire, and was good with the hatchet. And he didn’t have a problem using it while wearing a Speedo, smoking a cigarette. And he’d just started growing his hair out, but it was thinning up top with a gray stub of ponytail in the back.
I was there but not there, feeling sorry for myself. I took that Monday off so Eberhard, my mom and I could see Seattle. It was a beautiful spring day; we drove to Golden Gardens, a beach near Ballard. Eberhard got his feet wet in the Pacific and I took pictures I promised I’d send, but was too distracted to remember. All they wanted to do was make fires at night and drink, or barbecue. Our neighbor complained about the smoke, she said it gave her migraines.
That summer we went back to Germany and decided we’d move there in a year, take a year off. I’ve witnessed this in other people who leave a job after working there a long time, it can become an identity thing. Maybe it’s because your work relationship is like other relationships with people you’re close to, or spend a lot of time with. Sometimes you change and they don’t, or vice versa, and you don’t fit the same.
The love for a partner expressed through marriage is a life-long commitment, a vision for a love that learns to endure itself, that gets stronger under its own weight. It’s like the tall trees around our house that get bigger year by year without you noticing.
Love the work you do, and find a place that will love you while you’re doing it. Don’t expect they’ll love you back, it’s not the same kind of commitment.
Photo by Loren Chasse: found art sculpture at Brad’s cabin, Waitts Lake, Washington.