The girl was awkward, as most girls are at twelve, with her hair cut in the shape of a wiry mushroom. The boy asked the girl to go, and even though the girl had no idea where they were going, she said yes. She would go with that boy anywhere. Here are a few of the places they went together: to the movies, bowling, to the mall where the boy bought the girl the new UB40 tape, Little Baggariddim. (At the time the girl thought Baggariddim must have been a town in Jamaica, maybe a coastal hamlet in England, like Bath. It is only now as the girl-turned-woman types out the name that she realizes, ah, yes, bag of rhythm.) Their song, of course: I Got U Babe.
The boy and the girl went together for one month, an eternity in the topsy-turvy world that is 8th grade romance. The girl-turned-woman remembers this month like a montage of The Wonder Years: the night the boy kissed her outside of a boy-girl party. The girl was taller than he, so she leaned against the wall to scrunch herself down. The deck was wet. When he kissed her she slipped and fell on her ass, her Guess? jeans muddy for the rest of the evening. The time the boy asked her to come over and watch Nightmare on Elm Street. It was during the day but the girl was still surprised to see his parents weren't home. It's okay, he said, and started the clicking and the whirring of the VCR. At some point the boy heard a car in the driveway and turned to the girl. Run! He said, panicked. Out the back door! And the girl, she climbed over the retaining wall and up the back hill, confused and with dirt under her fingernails. Later, it could only have been a week or so, but still, later: the boy and the girl sitting on that same hill above his house, the smell of the warm, dry grass sweet. He kissed her and they lay down. He tried to feel her boob so the girl stood up. Time to go. The next day the girl heard that the boy had told all of his friends that they had flattened out the grass together. She pulled her shirt out in front of her as someone told her, trying to make her boobs disappear. Then she broke up with him and went home and listened to her UB40 tape, "Don't Break My Heart" on repeat. Fast forward to seventeen. A different awkward. The girl is ready to flatten out the grass. They get back together. And then break up. And then get back together. And then break up. The girl's father tells her that all she has to know in life is 3 things, the order of which is of paramount importance: 1. What You Want To Do, 2. Where You Want To Do It, and 3. With Whom You Want To Do It. The girl knows her father does not mean do it do it, but still, she has already messed up royally. She only knows the answer to one of those questions, and the answer is The Boy, which is, of course, the answer to the last question, and thus not the right order at all. The boy and the girl get back together and break up for a few more years. Again with the fast foward. Legally the boy and the girl are now a man and a woman, but they still see each other in the warm, sweet glow of a grassy hill. His knees are still knobby, her hair still wiry, although a straightening iron helps with that. They have now been together off and on for 15 years. They live together, buy their first house. All around them their friends have married. Conversation gets awkward at Thanksgiving dinner. The boy does not believe in marriage. The girl agrees, sure, yes, totally, and she pulls the front of her shirt out to hide. Because of course she does believe, but she also does not want to be that girl, the girl who believes in unicorns, the girl who fastidiously follows the Glamour magazine recipe for Engagement Chicken. One morning in early February the girl is leaving for work. She has PMS, a zit. She is cranky. Bye, I love you, and the boy, he grabs her in the hallway. Let's get married, he says. Fuck you, she says. No really, he says. Fuck you, I'm late for work. She remembers a trip they once took to Costa Rica, how they had stayed at a place called Casa Romantica, how she had slipped on the slick wet tiles during a rainstorm, bending back a toenail. How walking on the beach one day the boy insisted she pick up a certain seashell. She had thought then, this is it! And her heart raced as she bent to flip over the seashell only to find yet more sand, wet and flat, sand and more sand surrounding her bloody toenail. That was not it, but this was: a random Wednesday morning in the hallway with cramps and a fuck you as the answer. Yes, she thinks, this is it. Engaged on a Wednesday, the boy and the girl get married that Friday. For two days she calls him her fiance and giggles, and then: her husband. There is no ring but forever after the boy and the girl carry the switchplate cover from the light in the hallway. It is made of brass, circa 1972, like them.
Friday, February 4th, 2005: The girl wore a dress she bought on sale for $39 at Anthropologie. The boy wore his grandfather's shirt. There is nothing I can say that will truly marry you, the justice of the peace says, it is what you say to each other that unites you. Afterwards, they meet their friends at The Tonga Room to toast themselves with drinks shaded by bright paper umbrellas. They dance.
Better than any Once Upon a Time, the girl feels timeless, the order of things of absolutely no import. Her cheeks hurt from smiling. At the end of it all, as they take halting happy steps down the steep street to catch a cab home, the girl slips on the sidewalk.
That summer they host a huge reception for their family and friends. The girl wears a white dress that is technically a bathing suit cover up simply because it has dingleberries on it and she loves dingleberries; the boy wears shorts. They do not know it, but the girl is two weeks pregnant, and soon this:
Once Upon a time there was a girl with hair in the shape of a mushroom. She loved a boy with knees like rickets. Theirs is not a fairy tale of tulle and the perfect tick-tock time kept by a metronome, but it is magical all the same, filled as it is with sand, the sweet smell of grass, sun flat on their backs, fuck you, slips and yet more sand stuck in the cracks. To my husband who is forever The Boy: I still don't know what I want to do but I know I want to do it with you, Happy, Sad and Everything in Between, Ever After. Happy Anniversary. Love,