Monday, July 11, 2011

Saga of Sentimentality XI--Another Side to This Life I'm Living

For anyone joining the conversation now, or not remembering my blog way back to August of 2009, this is the long and drawn out story of how Avram and I got married. As you can see from the title, this is the eleventh installment, so to catch yourself up to speed, the other ten are linked on my sidebar, or you can just read the last one, X - The Four Word Question.

This is a guest post from Avram, talking about our dating days. He is in Israel for the summer, studying Modern Hebrew at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, while I am holding down the fort with our three girls here in Ohio. Perhaps all of our yearning has made us both remember our dating days - hence picking up the pieces now. I will put in some of my comments in italics throughout his piece.

So, over three years ago, Thora started the Saga of Sentimentality, the (in depth) story of how she and I managed against all hope and against all odds to get married. We certainly did, because here we are, three children later. Thora had not, however, updated it in a long time. There are a number of reasons for this. One, we are moving into the sad part of the story, and Thora has to make some hard decisions. As in, when I stopped writing it two years ago, it was mainly because it was too hard to remember it, too hard to relive it, and five years had passed! Now that seven have passed, I guess it's gotten easier.

Two, as I mentioned previously, we have three children now, and that has made it difficult for Thora to find time to write. I am, therefore, writing an installment, which will be my version of the rest of the relationship leading up to the break-up. It will not be as narratively coherent as Thora’s posts have (for one thing I lack her keen eye for narrative—I do, however, share her love of parentheses). This post presumes knowledge of the previous story, so if you haven’t read the rest of the Saga, or even if it has been while, it is probably worth your while to go back and read it again—it is okay, I’ll wait. You’ll find on the left hand side of the screen underneath all of the widgets. Alright, back? Everyone invited? Good.

So, the whole proposal thing mentioned in the previous post (Saga of Sentimentality X) represented for me a sort of low point in the relationship, because I felt like I was being toyed with. It turns out there were actually two Thoras, and they didn’t always communicate very well their intentions. Thus, she and I could sit for long nights discussing our future together, while she waited and planned to dump me for her missionary. It was a hard place for her to be in, which left me in the sometimes difficult situation of trying to help and support her, and supporting her in ways that sometimes led to hurt for both of us. The proposal incident is one such occurrence—Thora essentially asked me to get down on one knee and propose to her with the intention of telling me no (or rather maybe, which I felt, under the circumstances, as good as a no). One of the difficulties with telling the story of how my wife and ended up married, is that there is a lot of being hurt (I do most of it, but Thora does plenty, too). There are parts of it that just aren’t that pleasant. However, there were lots of exceptional times also, which are worth telling, since we did, in fact, actually get married someday, which means the whole story has a happy ending. Which is an important thing to keep in mind, ‘cause folks, The Empire Strike Back is coming.

Not yet, though. There were some genuinely fun times—one of my favourites was when we went to go see the third (I think) Harry Potter film. On opening night. Now, Thora and I are not especially huge Harry Potter fans. But another one of our friends had tickets, and was giving them away. Here is the thing; he had three tickets, for reasons best known to himself. So Thora and I took them, and then roped my friend Matt (with whom I would later room at the Bird and the Bulloch, BYU’s most distinguished club and Provo’s depository of awesomeness) into coming with us (Matt had a car, a keen appreciation of modern cinema, is an all-around good egg, and was, at the time, unattached. In other words, he was the perfect companion for this adventure. He is also great to eat with, because he understands food. Good movies, good food, good conversation—is it any wonder the Bird and Bulloch received its just reputation?). So it was sort of a date—sort of (Matt actually has some experience with unusual dating arrangements, but that is a story for another time). Matt was, like Thora and myself, somewhere around indifferent where Harry Potter was concerned. But a free movie, in the cinema, is not to be turned down. So, we went. I don’t actually remember the movie, but I do remember that going to it was fun.

There is another Matt, Avram and Thora anecdote which is worth the telling (Matt figures in a lot of stories from this time, because we had a budding friendship, and unlike Travis, who was also part of the Bird and Bulloch, he was in Provo for the Summer. The fourth part of that mighty band, my brother Samuel, figures prominently later in the story). So, I love cheese. A lot. Thora likes having fun activities with a theme. We got it into our head that we were going to have a sort of Mediterranean picnic, where we bought expensive cheeses, had some grape juice, hiked up to a rock which overlooked Provo, and have a generally good old time of it. Thora wanted to spend some time with her room-mate and dear friend Michele, who appreciated the need for good food, and so she was summarily invited. As I mentioned, Matt is a man who appreciates good food (he and I once made ship’s biscuit in Thora’s kitchen. It wasn’t too bad), and so I invited him too, as a sort of way of balancing out the ratios, since it wasn’t really intended to be a romantic picnic, as such (little did I know that I married my work at balancing out ratios would be in vain, for I would have three daughters). We informed our friends of the premise, and got them on board to chip in, because the whole point of the picnic was to eat expensively, which is easier when the cost is spread across several parties.

Now, Thora had a reputation for being quite the social butterfly. It is a reputation which was justly earned, because Thora has a gift with people, and she does in fact throw fun parties (something which I, not being a social butterfly had to get used to. Although, if you are in Columbus in December, you are invited in advance to our annual Christmas party, which is the one party a year I throw). Well, word of this picnic we were planning got out, and soon a few other of our friends asked if they could come. We assented, explaining the parameters to them. Or so we thought. The morning of the picnic dawned (it was a Saturday, because Thora and I were both in classes—I always took classes during the Summer, and Thora was in intensive Arabic, in preparation to go Egypt), and there were many people there. Many more than we had expected. Some of whom had been invited by other friends. Which was fine—it wasn’t intended to be some kind of exclusive party. It was picnic with good bread and good cheese. Unfortunately, some of our friends didn’t get the memo about why we were having a picnic, which was rather more focused than merely hanging out with friends. We proceeded to walk, in procession, to the place of the picnic (this overlook rock was actually a favourite place of my wife and I to sit and look out over the city and talk—an important conversation in our later relationship happens here). Some of our friends began to wonder why we were walking so far away. Others had not been told about the cost, and so were shocked when asked to take their part in defraying expenses. They wondered why, since we were paying for this, we hadn’t purchased cheaper cheeses for the picnic. They missed, in short, the entire purpose for having this picnic, which was to hike to this rock and eat expensive cheese. Everything else was ancillary. It was a little frustrating at the time, because they didn’t get it, but Thora and I look back and laugh. We laughed then, with our friends who were in it from the beginning. And the cheese was just as good. Thora and I still sometimes plan expensive cheese nights (we had one last Bastille Day with Samuel and Aleatha. I am quite sad that I won’t be able to celebrate Bastille Day with my family).

There were still changes as our relationship progressed. Shortly after the wedding of Thora’s cousin the biggest change to our summer relationship happened. You see, I have two really great friends in my life, about whom I can about most everything, and who mean the world to me. I have other friends (some of whom I am quite close to), but nothing like these particular friends. One is my wife (who was then my girlfriend, and not yet so close to me then as she is now, although we were fast friends from the beginning—Thora has always been, first and last, a dear friend). The other is my younger brother, Samuel. We slept in the same bedroom as kids, and had a rapport. Growing up, Samuel was always my best friend. We had other friends, and sometimes spent time with them and not with each other. But we were always there at the end. As an illustration of our friendship: pansy that I am, I cried a little bit the day Samuel left on his mission, because I knew it would be that much longer before I saw him. Well, because I was at BYU, when Samuel got off of his mission, he applied and got in, so that we could be room-mates and go on being coolest set of brothers in history (actually of my siblings are really great, but Samuel are and were particularly close). Then I ruined everything, because I got a girlfriend. I recognize that this is a series of ‘blog posts about how that girlfriend and I (eventually) get married, and that this is, in fact, he ‘blog. It would not however be fair to the story to not mention Samuel and his justifiable difficulties, both with me being in a relationship and with the way the relationship was going (I had to go through my own growth when Samuel was dating his wife—we have now all grown out of it, and live in the same city and have great times all together). Samuel struggled with interacting with Thora, I struggled to juggle the two (and sometimes did it poorly), and it generally put some strain on things. Even with all of that, Samuel, Thora and I had good times.

For example, one time we went to a rodeo. Now, I’m country folk, but I’m from the East, where a rodeo is almost a joke. Not completely, but almost. Thora, on the other hand, is very much from the West, but is city folk. I don’t that she had ever been to a rodeo. Being from the west, I'd actually been to more than one rodeo. Apparently this isn't something we sit and talk about, though, since Avram didn't know it. I certainly had not. Yet, my ward had an activity, where, as a ward, we went to a rodeo. I try to support ward activities (to the point where when I was living in a Student Ward in Provo, I had to tell myself that not attending the occasional activity was not a sign of a lack of devotion—there are many, many, activities to attend in a Student Ward). Anyway, this one seemed sort of fun in a, hey lets experience a culture which is quite different from my own, sort of way. It was fun. It was also the first activity that Thora, Samuel and I did together. If I remember correctly, it was the Pleasant Grove Strawberry Days Rodeo, which was every bit as spectacular as it sounds. Like most of the good memories, a lot of the details are lost to me, but I remember having fun. I remember enjoying in particular the mutton busting, where little kids come out and do rodeo type stuff with sheep. I remember feeling a certain sense of outrage with how they make the bulls angry enough to be busted.

Thora and I went out to the Outback Steakhouse once when we were dating (in point of fact once in our entire relationship). Her reasoning was if we got married we would be too poor to be able go to these kinds of restaurants (she was right, of course. Also this logic represents yet another example of my wife’s uncanny ability to separate herself into essentially two women, with two plans for the future). As incidental fact, how did we afford this place when dating—well, let’s just say Samuel, good man that he is, paid for most of my groceries. I owe him much. We actually walked the restaurant (Thora and I used to walk all over creation, something which we don’t do as much as we used to, although I do enough of it here in Jerusalem). It was nice. At the restaurant, we were sparked into a conversation speculating about what we would be like if were not members of the Church—vices, et cetera. It was a fun conversation and very revealing. We went all out, with a Bloomin’ Onion, virgin daiquiris, and I think we may have even split a dessert. Yep, I owe Samuel a lot. Thora had the rack of lamb, since there is nothing my wife and I like as a good lamb (although I don’t think I had lamb). It was probably our most classic date, and so very memorable for that. It was nice in the coziness of the booth to talk and have what Thora calls “expensive conversation,” i.e. if you are going to pay for an hour together, than the conversation had better be especially good.

One of the things that I brought into our relationship was good cinema. My wife had not had much exposure to good films before we were married, and so something I would do (and still continue to do) is show her good films (oftentimes from previous generations). My favourite actor in the world is Humphrey Bogart. He has a very compelling combination of strength, intelligence and toughness. I discovered that Thora had not yet seen Casablanca, which is, without a doubt, my favourite film. We settled one evening to watch a movie with Samuel (this was not an easy task, since we didn’t have a television, and so Samuel and I had to haul our computer from the back room so that we could watch in the front room), and I decided to show her Casablanca, which was, after all, the film I liked the most. However, at the last minute (and I am still not entirely sure why this happened), I switched the film out for another Bogart piece, Sabrina. Looking back on it, this was a fortuitous change, since in Casablanca, the Humphrey Bogart character (spoiler alert!) heroically gives away the woman he loves, while in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn falls in love with the Humphrey Bogart character instead of the man she has loved since her youth. I have no idea was I thinking in planning on showing her Casablanca instead of Sabrina. I suppose I just wasn’t planning. We watched Sabrina, which was good.

We also watched a movie which reintroduced me to a song which for me properly summed up how I felt about our relationship. This movie was Kenneth Branagh’s musical version of Love’s Labours Lost, and it featured the Gerswhin number “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which I had first seen in the Fred Astaire and Gingers Rogers film Shall We Dance. I had not marked it then, but now in the relationship I was, and the mood I was feeling, it pretty accurately summed up how I felt:

Our romance won't end on a sorrowful note,
Though by tomorrow you're gone;
The song is ended, but as the songwriter wrote,
The melody lingers on.
They may take you from me, I'll miss your fond caress.
But though they take you from me, I'll still possess.

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can't take that away from me

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no, they can't take that away from me

We may never, never meet again
On the bumpy road to love

Still, I'll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three [I changed this to “talked till three”]
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can't take that away from me
No, they can't take that away from me

We may never, never meet again
On the bumpy road to love
Still, I'll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can't take that away from me
No, they can't take that away
Can't take that away
Can't take that away from me

Although Thora liked the film, and the song, she never really felt that it properly summed up our relationship. She didn’t care for the sentiment that we would never meet again on the bumpy road to love. Mind you, she had scheduled our break up date, and was planning to marry another guy, but the idea that all I would have left was memories was unpleasant to her. My wife, as I am sure she will observe had an amazing ability to essentially divide herself into two people. What can I say? This was all very true.

These vignettes illustrate both that that we had a lot of good times, and a lot of good conversations, and that there were still difficult currents running underneath our relationship. These are important things to keep in mind, for the storm was continuing to gather. Thora’s missionary came home in the middle of August (I don’t remember the actual date, since it was not a date I wished to hold long in my mind), and so our breakup date was set (by Thora) for August 18—this left us just enough time left in our relationship for us to celebrate my birthday. I don’t remember all of the plans—as I observed earlier I don’t have as keen an eye as Thora for detail, but I remember that we opened a few presents for me, and did something fun with Samuel. I believe I had pumpkin pie that year for my birthday cake (I usually have some kind of pie or cheesecake). Thora gave me a medieval style favour, which she had embroidered with my name in Hebrew characters (I still have it, of course).

I knew that Thora would be leaving me, and so hobbit-like, I decided to give her a present on my birthday. This was, in some ways, intended to be a physical reminder of our relationship, a token of my love and our summer together. I knew that there was a good chance that I would never see it again, nor never again have the chance to give her a gift, so I wanted it to be a good one (the irony is that since that time I have had many opportunities to give my wife gifts, and few have surpassed this one. I work well under pressure I guess). Thora’s birthday is October 4, and the Saint whose feast is celebrated on that day is St. Francis of Assisi. So, I ordered for her a St. Francis medallion, for more money than I had (to this day, Thora does not know how much the present cost. As for how I afforded it, see the above discussions about Samuel). It was one of those things which as soon as I saw it I knew it would be the perfect gift. The website from which I purchased offered, for an incidental fee, personalized engraving. As I considered it, I was taken over with a sort of perverse anger at the whole situation. If this was, in fact, to be the last token of my love between Thora and me, then I wanted here to remember it, and remember always that I loved her. I had inscribed on it: To My Thora. It was a pretty gutsy move under the circumstances, but I was feeling a little desperate, and besides, at that moment she was mine, and with that inscribed on a necklace she would always remember that once, she had been mine.

When I gave it to her, she loved it (she has always appreciated the fact that St. Francis is her patron saint), and when she saw the inscription, I told her that at this moment she was mine. I don’t if I actually referenced the end of The House at Pooh Corner, but a similar concept was in my mind. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” –A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (1928). I wanted there to always be time and a place, where, whatever else happened, Thora and I were in love. We went on a walk that night. It was a good birthday. It had to be, because in a week it would all be over.

5 comments:

  1. gahhhhh! can't wait to read the next one!

    I love Thora's St. Francis pendant. i guess it helps that he is my patron saint too. :)

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  2. I didn't know (or had forgotten) about the St. Francis medallion. It was quite the brilliant move!

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  3. Avram must have time on his hands.

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  4. You have an informative blog. I’ve learned something from it. I do have mine too http://music-xyzc.blogspot.com... Thanks

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  5. I hate when my kids do this, but MORE! MORE! I demand more!

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