Eating Salad with a Spoon
You’re a gorgeous bride at forty-six. Your third marriage, the one you never thought you’d never do, suits you. And your husband-to-be, ten years older, handsome in his cute, little boy way, is beaming like a school kid. This is really it, you think, my true love. You found someone (well, he actually found you, convinced you—forced you—to love him) who accepts your quirks and demanding ways.
It’s a glorious April day. The wedding is outside like all your weddings—no let’s not say it that way—your other two weddings were outside. On the beach that is, one in Hawaii, one in Destin. But this one, this one, is above the water, on a deck of a banquet hall, formerly a restaurant funded by smuggling money, in the fishing village of Cortez, Florida. How’s that for a lucky start for a later-in-life union?
It’s windy, the teal toile is flag-flapping along the railing leading to the alter. Which is the entry to the little hexagon of a wooden tiki bar. Later, a friend tells you that during the ceremony while your tan self and your husband’s shaky voice repeated after the pastor, and you couldn’t wait to say I do and kiss your hubby and get to the mojitos, a crab boat motored by sporting a sign that said “Got Crabs?”
You fiddle with the ring, your still-smooth hands moisturized, nails manicured and painted a frosty orange. (Something you’d only do for a special occasion, such as getting married. Again.) His hands, sun-gnarled from all those years of shark fishing.
And you think of a long ago night as a little girl, driving home from a Hawaiian wedding with your grandmother, so dark inside her giant Buick, when she told you that tin ring you’d gotten in your gift bag would bring your true love if you put it under your pillow that night. He would be handsome, and he’d sweep you off your feet. You believed her, so you did, hoping a prince would come and save you, but no one came. Until now.
After the wedding you start saying,” I married for love, not money.” And this becomes 150% true. You don’t know it yet, as the seagulls congratulate you in the salt air this spring of 2007, that the house you just bought together—“The Brady Bunch Mansion,” you like to call it—will soon take a deep dive in value. And your current house will finally sell at a short sale, and you’ll lose your retirement home in Apalachicola, and your other two rentals will also be underwater, and it will be hard to keep them rented, and your income will go down, and your new husband will lose his hourly wage job.
The sun is your friend for pictures after the ceremony. You have your mojito and a wide grin, you have your man. Everyone remarks how beautiful you are, and you actually feel beautiful, for a change. Your musician friend plays parrot-head and beach-rock music while everyone mingles. Happy, sunny, hopeful.
You had to get that big ole house because you both own teenagers. Also, this overblown house has two living rooms to house your two TV’s and two stereos and two sets of books. Both of his blue-collar boys have stinky cats (you hate indoor cats) and will be upstairs. Your thespian-lesbian daughter will be downstairs. Enough separation for the two different species of teens. Your husband’s oldest son is on his own, either living with a tattooed girl or in jail or on the street. There will be bail and attorneys in your future. Because you’re the one with the money. Sort of.
As the sun sets, you all repair to the windowed dining room for pre-dinner toasts. You point out to your friends the fake bales of pot among the nautical décor: “square grouper” this is called. Your husband’s brother, a racist-homophobic-alcoholic of the worst sort, spews an awkward speech. Your daughter repairs the mood by singing “When You Say Nothing At All” by Alison Krauss. You cry. It’s now time for your husband to sing to you.
You’re in that monster house for ten years, five years longer than planned, three years of it as empty nesters. You hate that house. But you enjoy the pool and your orchids, and your writing, and outings with your sweetie whom you love even more than the day you said, “I Do.” So it’s worth it.
You’re leaning back in a metal folding chair, exposing a baby blue garter, and your husband kneels down before you with the microphone. He looks at you with so much love and you know everyone is staring, and it is so quiet until your musician friend starts strumming and your husband nervously sings “Making Memories of Us” by Keith Urban.
There is not a dry eye in the house, including yours.
Ten years later, you shake off all the dead real estate and with enough equity you buy a 1923 cottage by Sarasota Bay. In an area of town both you and your husband have always wanted to live long before you met. You nickname the house The Love Shack and get to work making it your own. You garden, entertain, build an orchid house, hang out on the porch and drink wine and laugh with your love. (There is always a lot of laughter in your marriage.)This, you both agree, is your happily ever after.
The setting sun creates orange ocean murals in the windows of the banquet room. Dinner of mahi, black beans and yellow rice is over, and the colorful, sea-themed, three-tier cake is presented with fairy lights. You do NOT smash such an elegant (and expensive) cake into each other’s faces. Your first dance is to “It’s a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and, as your husband lightly rubs your bare back with his warm, retired fisherman’s hand, you think, Wow, is this really happening?
You stare at the overflowing laundry basket. Dishes are piling up in the kitchen, and dead oak leaves cover the driveway and back patio. You think about those who have asked over the years, “What does he do all day while you’re at work?” Laundry, dishes, leaves, make the house nice for me. And now your love is in the hospital for the second time in two weeks. Because of the pandemic, you cannot be there with him. The Love Shack feels dark. The floors creak too much. You have basked in his abundance of love, and the happiness he showered upon you for fifteen years, and now he’s not here. You don’t need this reality check, that someday— hopefully not now— he’ll likely be gone, and then what are you going to do? Go on as usual? Quit your job, travel the world? Move to Hawaii? Die?
You remember a day a few years after your wedding. The two of you were at a tiki bar with live country music playing, cold beer flowing, and a warm sun smiling. You danced, held hands and nuzzled each other, and with a rush of love-emotion, you told him, “These are the good ole days, you know?” You realized you just quoted a song but you don’t care because you do things that you thought cheesy before, like tolerate country music and actually enjoy chick flicks.
And you’re thinking of those good old days now. The Love Shack is so silent without the television on. Without conversation. Without teasing. Without cuddling. You grab a T-shirt from the basket with the force of grabbing onto your own life and start to smooth out the wrinkles. You’ve worked hard to be happy, successful, kind, friendly, but sometimes you feel like you’re just eating salad with a spoon. You cannot actually control things. Isn’t that the thrill of life? Not knowing what is going to happen next, and will you be prepared? A stress bubble infiltrates your stomach. You feel like you’re falling.
You lie diagonally across the bed with all six pillows to yourself and think of old married couples, which you believe you are now. Your mom, who ran through three marriages, always told you, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” You think about how your husband knew what happily ever after was when you did not. When he asked you, “Don’t you want to share your life with someone?” Not really you recall thinking but thank god he convinced you. Thank god you’ve had these last fifteen years with this man. Finally, you drop into sleep, a vision of his boyish face in your dreams. And you take this as a sign that there will be more years to come.
Marisa Mangani is a former chef, and now designs commercial kitchens and bars. She is one of the featured chefs Thrill List’s July 2015 article, “Why 8 Top Chefs Quit the Kitchen.” https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/why-8-chefs-quit-the-kitchen. Her fear of snow landed her in Florida, where she still works hard but lovingly tends to her orchids and her husband. Her essays and fiction have been published in Hippocampus, Skirt!, Aji, Borrowed Solace, Sleet Magazine, Punchnels, Sandhill Review, Adelaide Magazine, and others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. Website: www.misenplacememoir.wordpress.com