How innocent we were back then, last month, before the day arrived. We were full of perfect plans and plans for the perfect day, full of visions of everything going perfectly and plans to remind ourselves and each other to breathe when it didn’t.
Somebody told me that at some point I’d stop hoping nothing would go wrong… that there would come a moment when I would start to enjoy…
“But I’m enjoying already!” I said, through clenched teeth.
I didn’t sleep much before the wedding. In that way, I take after my grandmother. There we were, roaming the halls, the Jewish Queen and Princess of the night, the gears in our minds clicking with what ifs and need tos and how abouts. By the time D woke up every morning, my To Do list had usually grown, not shrunk. Still, I maintained, it was all good, all fun, all for the best day of my life.
At 6 a.m. on the morning of September 15th, six days before my wedding, I quietly unlocked the door to my mother’s apartment. She too was up, sipping her instant coffee, reading the paper, stroking the cat. Lola, my mother’s sinewy, grey cat must have known that D’s parents needed to sleep as, for once, she was quiet.
They had arrived in the middle of the night at Ben Gurion airport and had come straight to Haifa, to my mother’s apartment where we were to spend the next couple of days together.
“I’m going to the beach,” I whispered, “would you like to come?”
My mother shook her head, “No, I should be here when The Parents wake up.”
She had been fretting over their arrival for days. What did The Parents like for breakfast? What would The Parents think of Lola? Which part of Haifa would be best to show The Parents?
The Parents had finally arrived and were sleeping just on the other side of the bedroom door. I knew S, The Mother, would probably be up momentarily and could understand why my mother wanted to hang around.
I drove down to the beach enjoying the pre-rush-hour serenity, a rarity in Israel. The waves were quite high that day, the sky white as the sun was still busy setting somewhere else. Along the water, people were jogging, walking their dogs, talking loudly down their cellphones.
“Motti! I told you!” one large woman hollered, her bulges rolling around as she strode purposefully along, “I can’t right now, I’m relaxing!” She was dressed for the gym, walking as if on Wall Street, her voice at the same pitch and tone as someone watching the markets crash from the floor of the stock exchange.
I smiled: Israel.
Three hours later, I returned home smelling of seaweed and carrying one hundred and ten stones on which we would write our guests’ names later on that day – me, my Mum and my future sister-in-law, Silv, who is mad-talented at the arts and crafts thing.
My mother opened the door and burst out laughing. Behind her, D’s mother looked worried. I was covered in a layer of sand, my shorts were falling down, my t-shirt was drooping off one shoulder as I dragged one of those huge blue IKEA bags – the ones with the lifetime guarantee, mostly because they are so toxic that they will probably outlast humankind – filled with the rocks I had scrounged at the beach.
In addition, I was also carrying a large, rotting oar. Under a layer of seawater and algae, the rusting screws and attachments sticking out, it was a beautiful find that would, in my opinion, fit perfectly on my mother’s terrace, next to her plants and copper pots.
We are foragers, my family and I, and everything from our friends – picked up in restaurants or airplanes -- to our homes reflect this. My mother’s coffee table is a huge slab of tree trunk found by my grandfather years ago; ours – D’s and mine – is an old trunk a friend pulled out of a landfill in New Jersey. The artwork on our walls is a mixture of gifts and treasures acquired when others no longer saw a need for them. I remember my first bicycle: it was an olive green banana-seated rusty old thing bought for a quarter at a garage sale in a suburb of Chicago. Talk about aspirational – I was still riding a tricycle at the time! I remember the day that I was finally able to touch the pedals with my feet. What a day that was… And now here I was, getting ready to be a bride.
First I would need a shower.
I had had to make two trips for the stones and though I had barely slowed my pace walking by the oar the first time around, I hadn’t been able to resist twice. As I dragged the bag of rocks with one hand, the oar with the other, my cellphone had started to vibrate in the back pocket. I can never resist my cellphone – or any other phone really: what if it’s something important? Even in other people’s houses, I have to remind myself that no matter what, agents and publishers and even my family do not have the number, that they can call me on my mobile if they want to offer me a book deal. Which is why when my back pocket vibrated that morning, I dropped the oar and wrangled the receiver to my ear as quickly as possible.
I recognized PB of PB&J fame (well, really, it’s PB&SB, but I prefer J as they are as mythical a couple as my favourite childhood breakfast).
“PB!” I laughed at the timing of his phone call.
“It’s PB,” he said at the same time, “greetings from Ojai!”
“What time is it there?”
“Oh, I don’t know, the middle of the night … We’re leaving in the morning and hadn’t heard from you. We wanted to find out how to get to Jerusalem from the airport.”
My cousin had arrived from Canada a couple of days before. I would be seeing D’s parents in a few minutes. I had spoken to other friends who were already in Jerusalem. Still, hearing PB’s chipper charms oozing from California to Haifa made it suddenly real. They were wondering how they were going to get to Jerusalem, where they were going to sleep… because they were on their way to our wedding…
“I was going to surprise you,” I admitted, feeling stupid for having forgotten to email them some false information to throw them off the trail or at least put their minds at ease, “I’ll be at the airport.”
Half an hour later, I walked into my mother’s flat carrying the rotting oar and one-hundred-and-ten stones but unlike when I had left at 6:15 that morning, I was excited rather than stressed, filled with exuberance not anxiety for the days to come.
We were so innocent back then, a month ago, when I still thought it was “just a piece of paper.”
We wrote vows to each other and fretted over our speeches.
We walked people around the Old City of Jerusalem and climbed Massada at sunrise. We spread mud on each other’s faces at the Dead Sea, and listened to the chanting of the Muezzin. We huddled with the rest of the masses making their way out of the Damascus Gate, and sipped fresh mint tea in the garden of the American Colony Hotel. We welcomed friends and family from the UK, from the US, from Canada, from Belgium, from Modi’in and Tel Aviv, from Switzerland. We answered questions about the history of Jerusalem and our history as a couple, we introduced people whom we would have wanted to have in the same room on many occasions and watched them click into easy conversations as if they had known each other for as long as we had known them – years or generations.
And D and I stood back every few hours, holding hands and watching it all unfold without really realizing what was happening, what was about to happen, what had been set in motion.
Then, suddenly, there was no time… for anything.
From the back of the minibus, my eyes filled with tears when the first sign appeared: “To David and Gabriela’s wedding”. My aunt had promised to put them up a few days earlier upon hearing what they meant to me. Still, seeing “To Michal and Jonathan’s wedding” is very different from seeing my own name in the bride’s slot. For the first time, I understood why magazines pushed so vehemently for waterproof mascara.
Throughout Israel poles and trees bear signs to people’s weddings. They hang there, weeks after the event, fading in the sun, dripping with rain, until they fall off, making way for new signs, new celebrations. In a country so filled with sadness, the signs to people’s weddings are a testimony to the human desire for happiness, under any circumstance.
“May we meet on happy occasions” people say, “Nitrae Besmachot”
The reality of seeing those signs pointing to MY wedding, in English, in Hebrew, with my Tia from Canada and my mother and my friend DBK from London sitting next to me – was starting to sink in when I sat upright so quickly I hit my head knocking my perfectly-done hair loose: with all of the preparations, the photographs, the laughter, the mediation, the emotions of that morning… I had forgotten my vows.
I looked up at the roof of the car and shook my head. Oh the irony… I knew D would love it, savour it, like a bite of chocolate ice cream that lasts for months instead of seconds, or the perfect espresso, imbibed at a hole-in-the-wall in Italy but superb enough to recall to one’s fiancée years later.
Fresh from a week of ups, downs and many, many sideways, I had finished my vows that morning having added a final message to my soon-to-be husband:
After an emotionally raw but honest admission that “I love the way you look at me sometimes, with more love than I thought existed. Even when my heart feels cold and closed off, there is always a sliver of love, like the crack of light seeping out from under a tightly shut door. I am reminded that there is someone there behind the pain and sadness, that I am capable of feeling the way I do for you. You have taught me to love imperfection, because you love me despite all of mine.”
I had deliberately followed it up with “You’ll probably forget all of this as you forget most things, but if there is one thing that I would like you to remember, it is that I promise to work every day of our life together to accept you like you accept me, to forgive your foibles and idiosyncracies like you forgive mine, to forgive both of us, to love you as best I can and to make you feel loved.”
I did not expect so many tears – his – or so many things forgotten – mine. Who knew that we would be exchanging roles that day, showing each other our most vulnerable sides – in public! – and that those little things would make the larger reality of our marriage mean so much more.
When we were theorizing about how we wanted our ceremony to play out, sitting on the couch in our living room in London, the heating blasting, the rain pelting down in the middle of summer, we considered everything from the poles that would hold up the huppah to the music our friend ITB would play. We talked about stones for place-holders and dessert. We wondered whether the jeep would get people up in time, whether everyone would be able to walk to the ceremony all right, and when it all needed to happen in order for us to make sunset.
Never, not once, did we consider what we would do if I forgot anything.
Because I don’t forget things.
In the well-oiled mechanism of our partnership, that’s D’s job.
My job is then to sigh as if he has just deposited the entire scope of mother-earth on my shoulders, which I predictably follow-up with a shaking of the head in an “I-Knew-It” fashion. Depending on my mood, I either let him have it or I laugh it off, which is when D picks up the ball and looks either relieved or afraid, frustrated or defensive or glad.
Those are our jobs; mine and his. And that was what I was signing up for, wasn’t it?
If there was ever a moment to realize that partnership, marriage, love is about change and growth, about accepting that we will never know the other person fully, and about enjoying those new nooks and crannies – that was it.
I don’t think I would have been as ready to commit myself to D at any other point in time as I was that afternoon. I have never loved him as much as I did then, nor have I been able to laugh at myself as easily as I did realizing how many things I was supposed to do that I hadn’t. Because I forgot. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t make me any of the things I would usually have called myself -- stupid, useless, etc. -- because those are the little things that will make our chuppah memorable – for us and everyone else. I forgot my vows, I said “shit” under the chuppah – twice.
And still, it was the best day of my life… for so many reasons…. When do you stop talking about something that didn’t feel real and was so incredible that people are still discussing it almost a month later?
All I can say is I don’t know but I’m not done yet…
Scriptnotes, Ep 300: From Writer to Writer-Director — Transcript - John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August. Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin. John: And this is Episode 300 of Scriptnotes. Craig: Whoa. Joh...
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