Valentine for Marcia
I make my living creating and conducting wedding ceremonies. As the marriage officiant, I usually begin by assuring the gathered family and friends of their importance in the lives of the bride and groom. I tell them in my welcoming that “although the day belongs to the bride and groom, it is also a tribute to all of you. For knowing you and interacting with you has helped to make the bride and groom who they needed to be in order to find each other and to find love.” I also generally entice both the bride and groom to secretly write love letters to each other for the purpose of creating a little mystery, for all true human ritual requires mystery as an element. So in keeping with the notion of a wedding or Valentine love letter written in secret to be shared with guests on the special day, this love letter, this story is for Marcia, all of you, and everyone who’s played a part in the story of Marcia and Eddie. In truth, the ingredients that go into the solution of anyone’s love-quest are many: the quirky twists of fate, the circumstances of time and place, the happenstance of accidental match makers, the players from both one’s inner and outer circles, the unexplained coincidences, and the act of seizing opportunity. My thirty-four year old marriage to Marcia, its beginnings, involved more serendipity and luck than winning the lotto. It also involved a wedding at which I was a last minute guest.
My biological clock was ticking. Above the clickity clack of dice skittering across backgammon boards in nightclubs, above the roar of an electric Bob Dylan on the stereo blasted through Advent speakers that filled my bachelor’s abode, just outside the psychedelic musings of LSD inspired cosmic starry symphonies composed on camping trips, through the sound barrier of fogs engendered by Heineken and Grand Marnier excessively imbibed (most days), beyond the orgasmic, satiated murmurings of the many women with whom I was involved, louder than the pounding beat of powder up my nose, there was a sorry sad song singing itself always on my auditory periphery, the dirge of a childless future. All my lovers were great companions, and more than one I could envision as wife, but none seemed right to be the mother of my children. The Irish in me disliked the thought of buying into a song of no progeny, and hence, no matter how happy or stoned or drunk or sober or sexually content I was, I was always aware that I was yet to find my mate, my anima.
Earlier I mentioned camping trips, as camping is the one of the principal reasons I live in Colorado. I had spent the summer of 1974 hitchhiking the West and had spent a couple of weeks camping at Rabbit Ears Pass and the Strawberry Park hot springs outside Steamboat. I had the time of my life and vowed upon my return to Philadelphia at summer’s end to return someday to Colorado and set up camp for good. Camping, in a very round about way, also helped bring Marcia to me.
Two months prior to meeting Marcia I had gone camping with a good friend, his girlfriend, a girlfriend of hers, and three dogs, in my 1974 Dodge Tradesman van. On I-70 barreling down Floyd Hill on our way west, the pistons of my 225 cubic inch slant six engine overheated and the engine block cracked, because, as it was revealed, the oil reservoir was bone dry. You see, because I owned a van and was part of the twenty-something generation of Capitol Hill denizens who often moved from apartment to apartment, people were always asking me if I and my van would help them move. Lugging couches and beds and such up and down the stairs of low rent Denver walk-ups was not something I enjoyed spending my free time on, and so I had devised a response to those who asked for my help that was both selfish and helpful. “You can borrow my van but not me. Just return it with a full tank of gas, and it’s yours.” The first two years I was in Denver I probably loaned my van to a couple dozen friends and friends of friends to enable them to move. Unfortunately I never realized that hauling apartment furniture in my van consumed more oil than normal. And I had not required that the van be full of oil as well as gas upon its return. And in the week prior to the demise of my engine, a former roommate had moved a house full of possessions, including a disassembled baby grand piano to Evergreen Colorado. He’d made five separate trips up the hills to Evergreen, all with excessive, oil consuming loads.
After aborting the camping trip with my friend, the women and the dogs, I had my van towed home and it sat in my garage for months. I took up bicycling, taxis and buses. I would need a thousand dollars for the installation of a rebuilt engine. Thankfully, as it turns out, I did not have a thousand dollars because my lack of a vehicle was a pivotal step in putting Marcia and I together. Who would have thought that the lack of oil would grease the tracks to love?
A casual acquaintance, a cocktail waitress where I worked, approached me after her shift one evening. “Ed,” she said, “I understand you are an artist. I’ve seen the Isis you painted on the glass of your Pearl Street front door. You might not know it, but I live but one block north of you. So I have a favor to ask. I’m getting married in three days up in the Genesee foothills and I’m hoping that one, you might attend my wedding, and two, you might create a Just Married sign for our car. The wedding is Sunday morning and the afternoon reception will be right upstairs in Brooks Tower. So, even if you have to work Sunday night, you could make it.” Now as I said, I was merely a casual acquaintance of my inquisitor, a woman some ten years my junior. But always on the look out for adventure, with the thought of meeting some one new, I answered my co-worker’s query somewhat outrageously. “Barbara,” I said, “I’d love to attend your wedding and paint you a sign. But my busted down van sits in my garage, three hundred dollars shy of repair, and I have no way of getting to the mountains. But surely, you must have a beautiful woman friend who might give me a ride. If so, I’ll dust off my acrylics and paint a sign announcing your soon-to-be new status: JUST MARRIED."
Well, Saturday late nights in the life of a twenty-nine year old bachelor getting off work can easily involve excess. And on the eve of Barbara’s wedding, mine did. A midnight hour plus at The Lift in Glendale was followed by a couple more hours at Muddy’s in The Highlands. Thankfully I had painted Barbara’s sign on Saturday morning. So when Sunday morning came, quite unintentionally, I overslept even though the day was to involve a blind date with Barbara’s friend, a college student attending The University of Wyoming in Laramie, name of Marcia who Barbara assured me was charming. I was exceedingly hung over and showering when I barely hear the do-ray-me of my doorbell chimes over Bob Dylan singing “I married Isis on the fifth day of May.” Out of the shower I practically stumble and throw a threadbare bath towel around my waist, hoping to exploit the sexual charge that is germane to the day of a wedding. Through the translucent painting of Isis that adorns the beveled glass of my front door I see my date for the day, Marcia, and immediately I wish my faculties weren’t so fuzzy.
“Come in. Sorry I’m not ready,” I mumble as I gesture for her to enter. “Give me a few minutes to shave and dress. I hope you like Dylan ‘cause that’s what’s stacked five high on the turntable. All I ever listen to. Oh, and if you like, there’s some pot on the dining room table. Roll yourself a joint.”
While showering and dressing I look in the mirror but my memory of the woman in the other room is what fills my visual cortex. Blue eyes, light brown hair, a smile as welcoming as my mother’s. A body to lie for. A look in her eyes, a sparkle, to die for. And when I join her in the dining room her catalogue of charms only gets better when she tells me, “I, too, love Bob Dylan, and here’s what I prepared for the day,” as she hands me six perfectly hand rolled joints. My entire consciousness smiles at her tastes for Dylan and intoxicants. And later my hangover disappears completely when, on the way to Genesee, she suggests I eat some of the Brownies she’s made for the potluck reception. The fiber is Michoacan. The chocolate: Girardelli. The pecans are from Georgia.
Well, it’s a pretty happy Eddie who spends the day with Marcia. Many are the gentlemen at the wedding and the reception that follows who have an interest in my blind date, especially when they are informed of her baker’s skills. She invites many to partake of the joints she rolled for me. Marcia and the bride’s brother, Robert, seem to know each other well and I’m hoping not intimately. He has no trouble putting his arm around her when everyone is posing for photos after the ceremony. I realize that of all the subjects of our conversation on the ride up, her status (in a relationship or not) was not one of them.
Not one to put all my eggs in one basket I half-heartedly interact with other women after the wedding ceremony. Barbara has a couple unattached sisters from both the East and West coast who are closer in age to me, but I have already buried my heart in Laramie. Thankfully, when it’s time to depart the ceremony, Marcia distances herself from Robert and the other young bachelors sniffing around, and takes my hand as we head back to her Pinto for the return trip to Denver. I cannot remember when holding a woman’s hand was as exciting. I hope this gesture is as meaningful as it is casual, that it is not to just gain better purchase on the rocky trail we walk.
Back in Denver at the reception, again I am faced with competition for Marcia’s hand. Many men ask her to dance and she dances with a knowledge of country dancing that frightens the 60s dancer in me. I never could lead like Robert leads her, but I could Bristol Stomp, slop, mash potato, and free style with the best of the best; Hell, when I was sixteen I was chosen to dance on stage at the Concord Roller Ring in Philadelphia as fourteen year old Little Stevie Wonder played his Motown rhythm and blues hits Fingertips and Uptight (Everything is Alright). But leading a woman at country two-step swing was out of my comfort zone.
When it was time for me to go to work downstairs at The Boston Half Shell, I was thinking about calling in sick, for fear that Marcia might end up dancing the night away. But when I told her I had to leave she asked me to escort her to her car as she had to drive back to Laramie. She had school in the morning. Before getting in her car, she bussed my cheek with a quick kiss and whispered something along the lines of “If you’re ever in Laramie, come play with me. Here’s my address.” To be truthful I had no idea where Laramie was, other than somewhere in Wyoming, and my van was a month or two away from being repaired. Not knowing how long the window to “come play with me” would be open, that evening at work I arranged with the relief waiter to cover my shifts for the next five days. In the morning I hitchhiked 155 miles from my South Pearl Street home in Washington Park to Marcia’s student apartment in Laramie. It was the longest ten hours of my life, involving the good will of a half dozen drivers whose names I never knew or don’t remember but whose kindness played an essential part in my thirty-four year old marriage, ten hours that ended with me spending my first night with my mate. A mate I found because I painted Isis on my front door, because I freely loaned my van to friends, and because I did not have the money to fix a vehicle. Because a co-worker played matchmaker. Because I wanted kids and the moment I met Marcia I saw the Madonna within. Had I contact info for the people who originally turned me on to the Strawberry Park hot springs, and to the short term, long forgotten friends on Capitol Hill who borrowed my van and did not check the oil level, and for my benefactors who offered me rides on my way to Laramie that September Monday morning in 1977, I most surely would have invited them to my wedding in 1979, at which, coincidentally enough, like at the moment I met Marcia, I was shirtless. Similarly, I would share with them tonight this ritual love letter that I’ve written. For without them I might not have been able to find love, to find Marcia.