October 19 was the tenth anniversary of the day we were all fired. Our high-tech company had been purchased by an industry giant with a reputation for jettisoning “redundant” employees. In hopes of minimizing sabotage by outgoing workers, the new owners went through the charade of conducting interviews as if they intended to keep some of us on, but I knew it was a sham. My director was told that not everyone would be fired; months later, he was still apologizing for repeating their lies.
Things got crazy in those last weeks. Someone sent around an anonymous e-mail suggesting we vandalize company-owned trees in the atrium. After that, we heard rumors that we would be individually escorted out of the building when they fired us. The new owners hired security guards with conspicuous side arms to patrol the parking lot. We took all our personal belongings home for fear we’d be prevented from removing anything on “the day.”
When the day finally came, there seemed to be a tacit agreement to dress comfortably. Many of us wore bluejeans. All of us wore our company pins upside down. (A vice-president’s wife had thought of that. Both she and her husband were being fired, too.) While waiting to be disposed of, we agreed to meet afterward at a nearby ice-cream parlor; the neighborhood bar didn’t open till noon.
We took turns going in to meet with the representatives the home office sent to fire us. The one who dismissed me was slightly hostile. I think he resented having to travel far from home to handle such a task. In hindsight, I can’t blame him. Working for his employer must have been pretty unpleasant.
At the ice-cream parlor, there was general hilarity and relief that it was all over. (My director never made it there; I heard later that he’d gone over to the aforementioned bar and pounded on its locked door, pleading to be let in.) There was a round of applause when the company janitor and handyman, who had worked there forever, finally arrived. At noon, we headed over to the bar.
A decade later, one of my former co-workers still refers to that day as the worst of her life. I’ve had worse, myself, but I miss the camaraderie we had there. I haven’t been that devoted to an employer since, and I doubt I ever will be again.
Edison, New Jersey
Every August, my paternal grandparents observed three anniversaries: both their birthdays were in August, only several days apart, and they’d gotten married at exactly the midpoint between the two. So each year around that time, the entire family would come to their house to celebrate.
My grandparents’ house sat on a large lot ringed with a white picket fence. The annual family get-together always involved painting that fence. Everyone, regardless of age, would be outfitted with proper painting attire, given a brush and a bucket of white paint, and assigned a section of fence to complete. Inevitably, one cousin would paint another, or Uncle Donnie would step in a gallon of paint, or Grandmother would paint her nose white as she tried fruitlessly to keep her glasses from sliding off.
My grandmother was a spirited woman who ruled her household with a delightful mix of common sense, jocularity, and Hoosier stubbornness. Her outlook was always positive, and she had a talent for making you feel that whatever you might be saying or doing was the most clever thing ever uttered or conceived. My grandfather was absolutely devoted to her, and lived to please her. He was a stoic, fiercely loyal man who believed in self-reliance and sticking to what you’d started. Together, they gave me all the love and attention my absent father and overworked mother couldn’t.
Tradition dictated that, once the painting was finished, we would all dine on homemade ice cream prepared by one lucky grandchild who got to spend the entire day hand-cranking the ice-cream freezer. The year I was thirteen, it was my turn at the crank. The job could be done anywhere on my grandparents’ property, so I selected a shady spot on a hill overlooking the yard. I hopped up on the ice-cream maker and began turning, feeling as if I were sitting on top of the world. It was important to be on top of the machine in order to create just the right amount of torque on the handle, so that the ice cream would turn out light and fluffy. I was determined to concoct the best batch ever.
After half an hour, I realized that I needed more rock salt. I couldn’t get it myself, because any disruption in the cranking might alter the ice cream’s consistency, and I could not risk making an inferior product. So I called to my grandfather and asked him to bring me some. He agreeably went to the basement, picked up two heavy bags of rock salt — he didn’t want to be interrupted again — and brought them up the hill to my perch. Just as he reached the summit, he collapsed and suffered a massive heart attack.
Throughout the next few weeks, I spent many hours at the hospital with my grandmother while my grandfather struggled for his life in the intensive-care unit. Although I was concerned about my grandfather, I was also glad to be there for my grandmother. She’d always known just the right time to give me a much-needed hug or kiss, and I was pleased to be able to comfort her for a change.
Gradually, my grandfather’s condition improved enough that he was moved to his own room and could have regular visitors. I would race home from school each afternoon and head directly to the hospital, where I would inevitably find my grandmother sitting beside my grandfather. He thrived on her attention.
One afternoon in early September, I bounded into my grandfather’s room, eager to tell him and Grandmother that I had made all A’s on my report card. But my grandmother was nowhere to be found, and my grandfather, whom I had never seen upset, was weeping uncontrollably.
My grandmother had collapsed that afternoon while visiting my grandfather and had been rushed into surgery. Just before I arrived, he’d been informed that she was suffering from advanced colorectal cancer and would be lucky to survive the night. She did not. Despite having been in unimaginable pain for months, she had kept silent so as not to be a bother.
Though my grandfather lived for another ten years, our family never celebrated those August anniversaries again.
Roger E. Roudebush
My parents recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They’re proud to have made it to this milestone, but to me their marriage has looked like a fifty-year endurance test, the two of them like boxers stuck in the ring, clinging to each other, getting in jabs but really just trying to hang on till the last bell.
At the celebration I felt torn. The good girl in me thought that I should chime in with the congratulations and applaud their stick-to-itiveness. But the righteous side of me wanted to pull people aside and tersely whisper, “Did you know they can’t talk about anything except each other’s flaws, that they haven’t held hands or exchanged a kiss or a kind word since high school? And you’re congratulating them?”
The day after the party, my mom and I went through some photographs from her childhood, and I was reminded that her parents had split up when she was five. Her mother “just decided she couldn’t be bothered with raising a child” is how Mom puts it. And her father moved away to take a better job in the big city, leaving Mom with her grandmother and great-grandmother.
There is only one picture of my father as a child. His mother kicked his father out at the height of the Depression for catting around on her. With seven kids to raise on her own, she couldn’t afford luxuries like picture-taking.
So what else could they do but cling to each other like prizefighters? The alternative would have been to divorce, which I’ll bet they both vowed never to do. It’s up to me to build a marriage in which both partners are tender, thoughtful, and supportive. For my folks, staying together was more important.
Sherman Oaks, California
The twelfth anniversary of my sobriety brought with it the usual reflections about life before I stopped drinking, and what a train wreck it was. I drove a bus just to make enough money to buy booze. As soon as I got off work, I walked across Halsted Street in Chicago to the smoky embrace of the Club del Morocco and proceeded to drink until closing time, when I would drag myself from the barstool and head home. My mufflerless 1975 Pinto sounded like a Cessna flying down the city streets. I drove home the back way, past abandoned warehouses, along avenues that were largely devoid of traffic. I knew I was a menace.
Back at my apartment, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I’d crack open a bottle of Jim Beam and drink myself unconscious. Even then, my dreams were always bad. Sometimes I’d see my wife, who’d left me the previous spring, or I’d be chased by something with large teeth, or I’d be falling from a great height. Then the alarm would go off at 4 A.M., and I’d drag myself out of one nightmare and into another. Relief from my terrible hangover came with the first burning shot of bourbon. The second shot was insurance to get me through the first few hours of pseudowakefulness.
There was a special despair that accompanied morning drinking. For most of the fifteen years I drank, I prided myself on not drinking before noon. I suppose I thought it gave me a measure of control. But then my wife left me, and my drinking increased. My hands started shaking as I drove to work. I had no choice but to take my medicine early and often. With that first morning dose came the sorrow of knowing what I really was. The illusion of control was gone.
One morning in 1985, I woke to find myself lying on the cold concrete floor of my garage with a vacuum-cleaner hose in one hand and a fifth of Jim Beam in the other. Gradually, the night before came back: a twelve-pack of beer, countless shots of bourbon, bitter Xanax tablets, and a self-loathing so profound I couldn’t live with it anymore. But the vacuum-cleaner hose had been too short, and, besides, the tailpipe had fallen off the Pinto.
The next week, I took most of my three-month supply of Xanax, along with a fifth of bourbon, and woke up in intensive care with a doctor looking down at me, asking, “Do you think you have a problem with drugs and alcohol?”
In March 1986, I discovered AA and embarked upon the strange, wonderful, and challenging journey of sobriety. I’ve rediscovered sorrow and fear and joy and all the other emotions that alcohol buried. Each anniversary, I dig through to my memories and come face to face with the self-destructive other who still lives inside me. It is only by acknowledging, even loving, this dark spirit that I am able to continue living in the world of light.
The first time Errol, the maintenance man, came by my apartment to fix something, he told me a story in his scratchy, old man’s voice about a tenant who cussed him out for being too slow and how, after that, she could never get any repairs done. Finally, she caught on and welcomed him in for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. He gave me a sly smile. She didn’t have any more trouble after that, he said.
I make Errol a cup of coffee every time he comes by — not just to ensure good service, but because I like to listen to him talk while he drinks it.
Today Errol came to fix the fluorescent light in my kitchen, and we talked about the weather, the high pollen count, asthma, and people who have passed on. He told me about his dad, dead twenty-nine years this month. “Twenty-nine years and I still miss him,” Errol said. He told me how his dad had taught him to “do right, treat everybody like a person, and you’ll have friends all your life” — advice that had turned out to be true. We sipped our coffee.
“He was tough on me,” Errol went on, “but I appreciated him.” His dad would stand no back talk, he said, “not like these parents today. They don’t teach their kids.” I nodded and sipped.
“He had a rupture one time, guts hanging down to here.” Errol bent down to touch his knee. “So he didn’t feel like milking that morning. He told me, ‘Milk the cow.’ I didn’t talk back; I just said, ‘Daddy, I don’t know how.’ ” Errol paused. “Well, I didn’t say, ‘I don’t know how,’ anymore after that. He about killed me.” Errol shook his head with a half smile, the way you shake your head remembering the flood, the tornado. Then he got up and rinsed his cup in the sink. “Yes, sir,” he said. “I learned all about it then.”
My paternal grandfather was crushed to death between two streetcars on a spring day when my father was only nine years old. Four years later, near that same spot, my father’s mother was struck and killed by a car while pushing her young daughter to safety. Each year, I call Dad on the anniversary of his father’s death, just to see how he’s doing and listen to him reminisce. Sometimes he brings up these losses. Mostly, he does not. Every year, he forgets that I call him regularly on that date.
On the last such anniversary, it was rainy and cold. My father answered in a subdued voice, but brightened up a bit when he heard it was me. “Well, Carolyn, for heaven’s sake,” he said. “What a nice surprise. I was just sitting here feeling kind of blue.” He talked nonstop for an hour, his mood growing lighter as he went on. He told story after story about his travels along the back roads of Maine, and all the funny characters he’d met, most of whom are gone now. He even described his old milk route: “I delivered two quarts of milk to the Johnsons on Main Street, and around the corner on Elm the Conants always took a pint of cream.” I’d heard it all before, but every year I’m glad to listen.
We were together for roughly fourteen years before I finally asked him to leave. We had never married and couldn’t remember exactly when we had first met, first gone out together, or first done anything. Consequently, we’d never had any anniversaries to celebrate. So I gleefully called him one year to the day after I’d thrown him out, and wished him a happy anniversary.
New Haven, Connecticut
Tomorrow will be my one-year anniversary of working for Child Protective Services. I am responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect in an area steeped in poverty, drug addiction, and domestic violence.
I have seen homes strewn with feces and infested with roaches. I have seen babies put on respirators, their brain stems swollen due to violent shaking by a parent. I have listened to mothers explain that the reason they smoked crack during pregnancy was that they’d heard it made delivery easier. I have seen babies wrapped tightly in blankets and left in dark rooms to detox from heroin. I have interviewed sexually abused children who’d been beaten for “leading on” their abuser. I have talked with mothers whose boyfriends had assaulted them with guns, knives, and broom handles while their children watched. I have sat across a table from a four-year-old who, to the question “What do you want Santa Claus to bring you this year?” replied, “More food in the cupboard.” I have been threatened by mothers who didn’t want to lose their children because it would mean the loss of their welfare check. I have come to regard any new families added to my caseload as a threat to my ability to serve my existing clients. I have learned to prioritize, like a surgeon in triage: the suicidal mother is not as urgent as the lacerated child.
I am changed. I am hardened, scabbed over, afraid. I am no longer wholly liberal. Medicinal marijuana? Fine. Mandatory sterilization? I’d send money. Capital punishment? Solves the prison overcrowding problem.
I have learned a lot in one year. I have learned that this world is not getting better; that we are not moving toward the dawning of a new age; that there are hundreds of thousands of people who believe it is their right to punch, kick, burn, rape, whip, and smash their children. I will mark my one-year anniversary at this job by beginning to hunt for a new one.
Pat and I have been friends for almost twenty-five years. Next January will be the silver anniversary of our friendship, and we’ve talked about how to celebrate the occasion. We could retrace the bike tour of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts that we undertook twenty-three years ago with our two-year-old sons in tow. If we had known then what riding thirty-three hilly miles carrying two active toddlers in bike seats would be like, we might not have done it. But Pat and I were equally naive and tenacious; once we got started on an adventure, we never let reason interfere with its completion.
Could we really go back to that bike route and peddle those hills with the same clueless enthusiasm we had in 1975? Could we stand together on the Times Square subway platform, eating chocolates and laughing breathlessly about nothing until tears streamed down our cheeks and onlookers stepped away? We reminisce about the time I told Pat her water tasted funny, and she discovered there was a dead woodchuck in her well. And the time our three-year-olds made lunch out of a large jar of honey while our attention was elsewhere.
There are also plenty of moments we might not want to remember, like when Pat’s first marriage ended and she became cadaver thin with sorrow, or the time her second husband gave me an overly amorous kiss while ostensibly bidding me good night. But we do not shy away from talking about these things because we recognize them as part of our friendship.
Pat has four sons now, has been divorced twice, has converted to Catholicism, is still a feminist, is a stone’s throw away from obtaining her Ph.D. in eighteenth-century literature, and lives in faraway Ottawa, Canada. I have two sons, two grandsons, a graduate-school loan to pay off, the small house of my dreams, and a slow-to-heal broken heart from the abrupt departure of someone I loved. The question remains: how should we commemorate our anniversary? Do we go back to some memorable place, or do we stay put and relive our history through the retelling? We’ve talked about going to England and hanging out in Bloomsbury, or cross-country skiing from inn to inn in the Green Mountains, or perhaps eating our way through New York City. There are a multitude of possibilities because we are both entertained by the same simple things. Something is funny, and we don’t know why. There are no words.
Regardless of how or where we celebrate, we know we are fortunate to have each other. After all, friends like us don’t come along but every twenty-five years.
“Roses — those were her favorite,” my grandmother slurred, grasping Uncle Fred’s arm for support. “Roses were her favorite.”
“That’s right. You’re remembering right,” Fred said as he escorted her down the cemetery’s damp asphalt path toward the car.
I ambled behind them, staring at the backs of my grandmother’s slender legs. The blue straps of her high-heeled shoes slid up and down with each step, and the scuffed spike heels hit the pavement a little crooked. As we walked, she continued to cry, blow her nose, and ask Fred if he thought she’d been a good mother.
“Well, I know Judy loved you,” he said. “She loved you very much — you were her mother.”
“I loved her so much,” my grandmother sobbed. “I named her after Judy Garland. Did you know that, Fred?”
My grandmother has always intrigued me. She loves men, beer, and red nail polish. She was married eight times, but I never knew any of her husbands. She divorced the last one a few years before I was born. She raised three children “single-handedly,” she says, never having been married very long to the same man. “The neighbors considered me a pretty independent woman,” she brags. “I worked three jobs — one for each kid.”
My Aunt Judy was the oldest of the three, my grandmother’s favorite. “The fastest typist in her high-school class,” Grandma says. Judy met Fred the summer she graduated, and they got married before Christmas. He made her happy, offered her a nice, normal life.
“She got the hell out!” is how Mom puts it. Mom was more angry than sad when Judy died. “Why did God take Judy?” she said. “He should have taken your grandmother.”
Judy died at twenty-four, of leukemia. Her death was unfair not only because she was so young, but because she was finally happy — finally free of her alcoholic mother and her drunken stepfathers, some of whom liked to seek Judy out late at night in her bedroom and touch her after my grandmother had passed out.
When we reached the car, Uncle Fred, always the gentleman, opened the door for my grandmother and helped her in, then did the same for me. Once inside the car, Grandma reached for the brown paper bag near her feet. I heard the bag crinkle, then the can crack open, and my grandmother take a long gulp. Fred climbed into the car, asked if everyone was buckled in, and started it up.
Fred is always the one to bring Grandma to the cemetery on the anniversary of Judy’s death. He picks her up, stops by the market for a six-pack and some flowers, and drives her here to pay her respects. My mother never goes with them — she always finds some excuse. I used to think she didn’t go because the memory was too painful, but now I know it’s just too difficult for her to listen to Grandma ask Fred, once again, if he thinks she was a good mother.
After my father’s right leg was amputated, he came to live with my husband and me. We’d been married only eight months, but I just couldn’t sentence my father to a rest home. So the three of us squeezed into a crummy but affordable two-bedroom apartment. The plan was that Dad would stay only until he recovered; then he would move back out on his own.
Six months passed. Dad learned to walk with a prosthetic leg and got a job working a couple of days a week. He looked into getting a place with someone from work, but it was a two-story house, and he was afraid to negotiate stairs. Though my husband and I were anxious to be alone again, we assured Dad he could stay with us as long as he needed. After all, how could we be hard on a man who had been through such an ordeal? We even bought a house to give us all a little more breathing room.
As the years passed, my father forgot about living on his own. To make matters worse, his health was deteriorating. As his body failed him, he grew angrier and more bitter, and began taking out his frustrations on my husband and me. Then Dad was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and emergency trips to the hospital became routine. The doctors told us he would die within a year, then six months, then any day. Certainly, we couldn’t ask him to leave now.
In the meantime, my husband and I had been trying unsuccessfully to have a child. In a way, our infertility seemed just as well: who would want to bring children into this household? I forgot about finishing my college degree. My husband worked long hours. Dad was holed up like a bat in his darkened room that smelled of body odor and the unwashed plastic of his prosthetic leg. His TV was always on so loud you could hear it all through the house. He’d started telling everyone that the house was his and that we were dependent on him for financial support. Any time my husband or I made a request of him, he would refuse to talk to us for days. His criticism was unending.
Finally, I’d had enough. One day in early August, I went apartment hunting on my lunch break and found Dad a studio apartment in a seniors-only complex. That night, we sat him down and told him he needed to leave. Dad exploded at my husband, accusing him of being selfish and egotistical. “How can you say that,” my husband asked, “when I’ve given you a place to live for more than six years?” Dad refused to answer.
In a childish display of anger, Dad left behind all the things we’d given him: a robe, a humidifier, some books and cards. My husband and I immediately rearranged our furniture in an effort to erase his presence. Despite my sadness, I felt as if I had just been released from prison. That night, we made a point of running through the house naked.
A year to the day after Dad left, I found out I was pregnant.
T. H. M.
Las Vegas, Nevada
I dreaded July 5, 1979. Exactly one year earlier, two of the people I loved most in the world had committed suicide. My brother had killed himself after an exhausting and losing battle with multiple sclerosis, leaving behind a wife and two young children. And my friend Lester, the most excruciatingly sensitive person I have ever known — a man who heard everything, felt everything; who could get lost peering into a flower — had leapt from a window of a downtown hotel. Lester had been on mind-altering prescription drugs for years and had finally gone off his medication, only to find himself unable to bear the world of sounds and sensations that came crashing in on him. He was in a coma for a few days and died before I returned from my brother’s funeral.
As expected, the first anniversary of these deaths was painful and depressing for me. And all July fifths since then have been dark days, though less so now, after twenty years.
Soon after that anniversary, my mother died unexpectedly of internal bleeding caused by medications she was taking. Then my close friend Michael’s mother died. The following year, my father died. Then Michael’s father died. We both became afraid to answer the phone.
In 1981, the first of my friends succumbed to a mysterious pneumonia no one had ever heard of before. It was the start of the AIDS epidemic. Within a year, my calendar was marked with more death anniversaries than birthdays. Between memorial services, I was caring for the sick and dying: changing soiled bedding, cleaning up blood, feeding someone by hand, driving someone else to the emergency room, getting dressed up to go to yet another funeral, stopping at the drugstore on the way back to pick up medication.
Eventually, it occurred to me that I knew more dead people than living, and that this might not be an altogether good thing. I stopped noting death anniversaries on my calendar. I stopped going to funerals and memorial services unless I knew someone would be hurt by my absence. I stopped reading the obituaries page. I bought a new address book and entered only living people in it. (I’d have to do this three more times in the coming years.)
Now the only anniversaries in my calendar are of people’s births. My standard birthday greeting has become “I’m glad you were born and happy you are still alive and part of my life.” I have little terror of death now. I know that everyone I love will die, and that I will die, too. What terrifies me much more than death is not being truly alive while I’m still here, not partaking in all the opportunities for delight, love, friendship, and joy that land in my lap. Illness and death have taught me (perhaps sooner and more brutally than I might have wished) to live in the present. I am also less squeamish about bodily functions than I used to be. When people I love are on the way out, I want to be with them every possible moment. I do not let go of loved ones easily, but neither do I urge them to fight death when they are exhausted with living. And I want to be there to watch the life leave their bodies — an experience as profound (and often as messy and terrifying) as watching a child being born.
When I die, I want those who loved me to miss me terribly. I want them to be keenly aware of my absence because I was so real and vital and so much a part of their lives while I was alive. But I do not want them to mark the anniversary of my death on a calendar. Rather, I want them gradually to forget me, remembering me less and less as years go by until all that is left of me in their lives is the way I touched them deeply when I had the opportunity.
Mark A. Hetts
San Francisco, California
Today is the thirty-third anniversary of my arrival in this country from England. My parents had not wanted me to come. It would be a step down, they said. I had been working as a secretary at a firm next door to Harrod’s department store in Knightsbridge. In America I would be working in someone’s home, doing housework and caring for their children.
My employers, Jerry and Camille, met me at the terminal in Los Angeles, and we had a beer while we waited for the luggage. Though I was only nineteen, the bartender didn’t hesitate to serve me. I must have looked quite sophisticated in my beige-and-white double-breasted suit with black patent-leather pumps and matching handbag, my hair held back in a ponytail by an Italian silk scarf.
Jerry asked me for my first impression of Los Angeles. It was just as I had imagined, I told him: the tall palm trees, the balmy night air. Later, I would tell Camille that I had seen their house in a dream: the road winding up the hillside, the steps leading past stone walls.
What I didn’t tell her was that I’d left home to save my life. I wasn’t escaping war or persecution, like so many immigrants before me. I’d lived in a little house on a country lane of fields and hedgerows and Elizabethan cottages with roses over their garden gates.
In those days, if you were under twenty-one, you had to have a parent sign your immigration papers. My father had refused to sign mine, saying he wouldn’t let me go. I said if he didn’t sign I would tell everyone about his affairs with other women. I didn’t, however, threaten to tell about the affair he had been having with me for fourteen years, because I could not yet put that experience into words.
I have some black-and-white photographs taken on the observation deck at Heathrow Airport on the day that I left. It must have been windy, because my father’s hair is ruffled. He and my twelve-year-old brother squint into the camera. My mother wears a flowered hat that matches her pink wool coat. She does not look directly at the lens.
I am not in these pictures. I am in the DC-10 taxiing down the runway in the background. I am gone.
I was six months pregnant on our first wedding anniversary. No doubt that’s why my husband decided to take me fishing. I guess he figured I’d enjoy sitting in the car while he stood on the bank of the river, fly-fishing with his buddy Mike. Mike brought along his three-year-old daughter, Katie, so I wouldn’t get bored. For nearly two hours I read Katie Dr. Seuss and the Brothers Grimm as I listened to the rain plinking on the roof and to Katie’s growing complaints of hunger, tiredness, and general toddler despair. Watching them walk back to the truck, I forgave the wet, smiling anglers for their lack of understanding on my “special day,” though I was relieved when Mike declined my husband’s invitation to come home with us.
On the way home, we stopped off at my folks’ house and picked up the top of our wedding cake, which Mom had kept for us in the basement freezer. There were the bride and groom beneath a frosty, heart-shaped plastic trellis, their little red smiles imperfectly painted but seemingly sincere. I carried the cake box carefully to the truck and held it on my lap — my knees, actually, as my lap was pretty much taken up by my expanding middle.
We pulled into the driveway, and I sat for a few minutes with the cake balanced on my knees, waiting for my husband to open the door and help me down. Instead, he grabbed his tackle box and the one small fish he’d caught and headed for the house, disappearing through the back door, forgetting about his pregnant wife sitting in the truck with the wedding cake. He must have suddenly remembered, because he reappeared, ran to the truck, and opened my door.
“Let me take that, honey,” he said, lifting the cake box from my hands. He set it down on the bench of our picnic table while he helped me down from the truck. It was then that our one-year-old golden retriever, Poppy, bounded out to greet us, all tongue and tail and wriggling enthusiasm. Poppy and I both saw the cake box at the same time. “No!” I yelled, but it was too late. Poppy’s keen nose had detected the thawing vanilla icing, and she jumped up for a closer inspection — knocking the box off the bench and onto the wet walkway. My husband picked up the box, but the cake remained on the cement, lopsided and smashed, the bride and groom tilted precariously sideways. As I stood there watching my wedding cake slowly dissolve, a devastating sadness came over me. I reached down to rescue the bride and groom from the earthworms, and that’s when he laughed. My husband laughed.
That was twelve years ago. Now I can laugh about that first anniversary, too. I can see the humor. I’ve forgiven him.
Yet once in a while — after an argument, perhaps, or another anniversary celebration that didn’t quite live up to my expectations — I open my cedar chest and pull out the tissue-wrapped bride and groom. There she stands, bouquet in hand, smiling crookedly with painted red lips, her arm linked with the groom’s. He would be smiling, too, only his head is gone — lost twelve years ago in a tragic accident involving a dog, a wife, and a fishing trip in the rain.