We stood in front of the church, our kids clustered around us. The plan had been for Max and Tre to stand on one side and Raphael to stand with Jennie on the other side of us, but when the moment arrived, Raphael pressed in between us, Max darted over to my elbow, Tre leaned in next to Clay, and Jennie peered around Max. So we exchanged vows, smiling at each other over the heads of our kids, which is what we do.
In the Name of God, I, Kira, take you, Clay, to be my husband,
I’ve heard the words many times before, at other weddings, but as I heard them and then said them, they resonated.
To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,
You know how a glass sounds when you run a wet finger around its rim? The vibrations start too low to be heard at first, and then build until a clear, high note sounds above the back ground noise of a room. Above the cacophony of the wedding day the meaning shimmered.
To love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
Then we exchanged rings. I held his hand in mine, looked at its nicks and scars, and gave him his ring and my promise.
Clay, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am,
And all that I have,
I had to catch my breath.
I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
There are moments when what is true, what is precious, what is real, sings out above all the rest.
The rest of the wedding day, and much of the week that followed is something of a blur, but here is some of what I remember.
The morning before the wedding I took Jennie and Kate (Clay’s niece) to get their hair done with me. The girls, both 13, looked beautiful with their hair pinned carefully up. Kate, ever the individual, chose a slightly spiky ‘do, while Jennie chose softer, feminine curls. Then, once we were all breathtakingly beautiful (no, I am not so delusional to think I could eclipse the dewy gorgeousness of two 13 year old girls. I was glowing with bridal joy, which just barely made me visible in their presence), we headed out.
“You know,” Jennie mused, “something needs to happen, to make this a real wedding. Some sort of…disaster! One that’s not all THAT bad, but gives everyone something to talk about. Like…like your van breaking down!” I shuddered and patted the dashboard of the van.
“She DIDN’T MEAN IT,” I reassured the van (whose name is AfterLucy).
I dropped the girls off at Kate’s house and went on my way home.
Five minutes later smoke was billowing out from underneath the hood of AfterLucy, and the heat gage needle was creeping relentlessly toward “too freaking hot for words.”
I pulled over and called my dad, who fetched me from the gas station. The next time I saw Jennie I took her by the arms, looked into her face, and implored her to THINK GOOD THOUGHTS.
She must have, because the rest of the day flowed by as though scripted. (And AfterLucy, by the way, is fine. Radiator cap, some sort of belt issue, blah blah blah. Dad fixed it before Sunday was over. Thank God. Thanks, Dad.)
Before the ceremony I stood at the back of the church, in a little room. There was a window with blinds covering it, and I kept peeking through the slats as people filed in. Over and over again I saw people arrive and tears came to my eyes to see how many of my favorite souls were there.
Then it was time to walk down the aisle, and Dad came to stand behind me. As we waited for our cue, I couldn’t help remembering the last time he walked me down the aisle.
“Dad?” I whispered as we reached the end. He leaned in to hear what tender words I had for him. “Dad, you’re standing on my dress.”
This day I took his arm and said softly,
“Dad? Thank you. Thank you for taking me back, and thank you for giving me up again.” He teared up and squeezed my hand.
“Oh, don’t start that NOW,” he chided.
“But Dad? You’re standing on my dress again.”
We laughed, and he shifted his foot.
“Huh. Some things never change.”
After the ceremony Clay and I waited in the same room I’d been in before the ceremony. We were going to take pictures, but wanted to wait until the sanctuary cleared a bit. Clay sat down and I sat on his lap.
“Well. Hi there, husband,” I grinned.
“Hi yourself, wife.”
Tre walked up to us and leaned in, not quite embracing us (he being far too old and casual for that), but just happening to brush up against our arms. He looked from face to face.
“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.” He grinned helplessly. We grinned back, and Clay palmed his head.
“Hi there, Son.”
“Hi, Dad!” Max elbowed in for his turn.
“HI, DAD!” Raphael bellowed his first try at the word.
They pressed in around us and soaked it in. From the middle of this knot of new family, Clay wordlessly squeezed my waist, and I nodded back.
All day long, during the ceremony and reception, one of my strongest impressions is the vision of faces turned to us. People who love us and are loved by us, shining at us as they shared our joy.
The reception was raucous, with food that I barely touched, dancing, and so many people I didn’t get to talk to. Over and over again I said, “Oh, thank you so much for coming, thank you for coming, thank you for being here.”
I meant it. I was grateful for each person there.
Mom said later that there seemed to be two parties going on at the reception. The adults mingled and danced and ate, and then lower down, just below elbow level, a horde of kids roamed, enjoying their own celebration.
In minutes, it seemed, the day was over, and it was time for us to go. I slipped into the back room to change, and came out again to look for Clay. People talked to me as I made my way through the room, but I only half listened, searching him out. This is how it will be from now on, I thought, each of us looking out for the other.
Connie, Clay’s mom, hugged me as we made our way to the door.
“I love you,” she said, and tears filled my eyes.
“I love you too,” I whispered.
In the sudden quiet of the car, I was struck dumb.
“Are you ok?” Clay asked.
“Yeah. I…I just feel a little shy all of a sudden.”
“Oh. No need to be shy, you know. It’s just me,” he took my hand and kissed it, “your husband.”
In the deepest middle of the night I awoke with a start, shocked to find a man sleeping next to me. I half sat up, heart pounding, disoriented and panicky.
The smell of his skin came to me first and I slowly reassembled my wits. I curled back into his arms. I thought about how every night as I drift off to sleep I’m grateful again not to be pregnant, so I can sleep on my stomach, and wondered how long the warmth of my husband next to me will be a revelation.
Sunday afternoon he carried me across the threshold of our new house. Tuesday we found the key, still in the front door.
Sunday night found us working in our new kitchen. Clay taught me to use a jigsaw and a sawzall (no idea how that’s spelled), and pretended not to notice how badly I used them. I wore his sweats and a coating of sawdust and yes, it was very, very sexy.
Late that evening his brother Russ called. Their aunt Joyce, who had been sick for a long time, had passed away.
“Ok,” said Clay, “I understand. Thanks for calling.”
He hung up and stood there, silent. I wrapped my arms around him and he hugged me back and smelled my hair.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He smelled my hair.
Monday afternoon, after parent/teacher conferences, we picked up the boys at my parent’s house and took them out for dinner. We were a gleeful bunch, grinning at each other all night long. I reached out for each of the boys, petting their hair, relishing their presence. They were turned like sunflowers to the Dad-ness of Clay, and he was just as warmed by them.
At one point Max got up to go to the bathroom. While he was there, Clay left the table to get more napkins or refill a drink or something. Max returned to the table, his eyes shining, his mouth already forming an excited sentence. When he saw that Clay wasn’t at the table, his shoulders sagged. The light went out in his eyes, and he said in a monotone,
“Oh. Did he leave?”
My heart broke, but I just shook my head and pointed over his shoulder.
“See? He’s right there.”
Max turned to look, and caught a shaky breath.
“Oh. Ok then.”
Monday night, while we were in the middle of working on the floor in the kitchen, I wandered away. I was overcome by all the emotions of the week, and I sat quietly in the living room, settling my heart. Clay found me after a while, and sat down next to me, in the dark.
“What’s wrong?” I shook my head, but his voice brought tears to my eyes. “Is it the house? Are you upset by how much work there is to be done?”
“Oh no,” I leaned against his shoulder, “no, not at all. It’s just all been so much. So much happiness and excitement and change. I’m just a little raw at the heart.” He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. I leaked tears into his t-shirt.
Tuesday Mom and Dad took the boys for a small vacation, a train ride into the mountains. Tuesday night we spoke to the boys on the phone. When we hung up I cried.
Wednesday night we spoke to the boys on the phone. When we hung up I cried.
Thursday night they were on their way back, and called from the train. There was a train in front of them, awaiting repairs, delaying their arrival. They would be there soon. We hung up and I cried.
An hour later they burst in the front door, the final touches on the chaos of the construction site that is now home. They barreled into my arms for a hug, then into Clay’s arm. I smelled their hair and cried.
We settled them in to sleep, in sleeping bags on the floor. As we said prayers they peeked at Clay and subtly moved closer to him. He passed out good night hugs and kisses, and as we stood at the door, listening to them call out, “Goodnight Dad! Goodnight Mom!” I thought I may never in my life have been that happy. I breathed it in and tried to memorize the moment, certain that such a perfect one wouldn’t come again in a very long time.
Friday morning we took the boys to stay with my mom and drove up to
Wyoming for Clay’s aunt Joyce’s memorial service. We got there late, so we sat in the back. When we went up for a blessing during communion, we walked past Clay’s parents and brothers. Clay’s mom Connie (Joyce’s sister), was quietly weeping, the kind of tears that don’t quite stop all day. Larry, Clay’s dad, had his arm around her shoulder. When they saw us, they reached out for us, grasping our hands, motioning for us to sit near them. We did, and I peeked around me, at Clay’s family, my family. They were red-eyed and somber with the work of grieving their beloved Joyce. I listened to a young woman singing,
While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?
I rested my head on my husband’s shoulder. There are moments when what is true, what is precious, what is real, sings out above all the rest.