Katy Perry was singing “You’re hot then you’re cold! You’re yes then you’re no!” on the radio and Bear and I were driving towards the mountains on our fourth date. “I like your sunglasses,” he said, and when I glanced at his profile, it was adorably boyish. He was blushing faintly and his little smile was the helpless kind, where you can’t not smile. Everything is too good to not smile. I didn’t know anything about him except that he felt completely right and I felt completely right with him. I started singing along with Katy Perry, even though it was the first time I’d heard the song. He joined in.
We were yes! We were not even a little bit no.
I was twenty-three.
I had never made a reservation at a restaurant because I’d never, as an adult, gone to one nice enough to need a reservation.
Bear was twenty-five. That seemed well into the totally grown-up range. He’d made a reservation for our first date, even though the restaurant was not in fact very nice, and I was impressed with the casual way he gave his last name, like he was used to eating out. Eating out impressed me (I either made all of my own meals or got a slice of pizza somewhere). Taking a cab impressed me (they did that on TV but everyone I knew exclusively rode the subway). Wearing ragged New Balance sneakers paired with Cargo pants did not impress me, but I thought it was cute that he didn’t own any jeans because he thought they were too fashion-y.
“I’ll buy you jeans,” I said, indulgently. I felt lavish, magnanimous. “You’ll like them.”
I was pretty sure I could blow this guy’s mind—worldly table reserving and all.
A few days ago, we were driving on the highway in Florida, headed back to the airport from Bear’s aunt and uncle’s home, where his ninety-five year old grandmother lives, too. We finally made it down there, for the weekend, so that Eden could meet her.
Eden hates the car so much. “Babies love the car!” people say, speaking of the accomplished babies of legend whose parents are always fresh-faced and proud.
Eden started to cry the second her butt hit the car seat. And now she cries “Mama! Mama! MAMAMA!!” lifting her chubby little arms in an anguished plea for help. It’s a little bit heartbreaking.
We were running late, naturally, and there was no time to pull over and comfort her. Nothing short of freedom works.
“ABCDEFG! HIJK, LMNOP!” we sang at the top of our lungs. “THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER!! WENT UP THE WATER SPOUT!”
“MAMAMAMAMAMA!!!” she wailed.
“I can’t do this,” said Bear, his face crumpling.
“Stay focused!” I said. “Keep driving!”
She cried for forty minutes. I was hunched forward. Bear’s face had gone tight.
“So,” I said, looking at his profile. “We made a baby!”
He didn’t respond.
I am twenty-eight. My birthday was earlier this month.
I have made a few restaurant reservations in my time, though honestly, I still feel awkward doing it.
I feel mostly same. And everything is different.
Bear’s grandmother looked sweet, dressed in pink, reclining on a pool chair in Florida, sipping her daily martini.
She repeats herself a lot. She asks the same questions brightly, curiously, clearly sure this is the first time.
“Your parents must be crazy about the baby?” she asked me, maybe fifteen times, when the conversation paused. I was a little embarrassed at first, answering again and again. But then I realized I liked it. I could shade my responses differently each time, to deepen our exchange.
“Yeah, they’re so excited about her!” I said.
And then, “Yup! She’s their first grandchild!”
“They’re really good with her. I love watching them playing with her.”
“My mom gets to spend a lot of time with us, and she’s so close with Eden. Eden reaches for her the way she reaches for me.”
“My dad was sure I’d have a girl, even though I thought I’d have a boy for some reason, and he’s all smug about being right. He’s an amazing grandfather. Eden thinks he’s hilarious. He’s like the baby whisperer.”
“My mother is really passionate about developmental psychology, so watching Eden is even more interesting to her than it would be for other people. She’s a teacher, too, now.”
“Yes, they are.”
Even if I wasn’t satisfied with my answer, I knew I’d get another chance. It was reassuring.
Several times, she mistook Bear for his father, and she talked to him as his father. They are both big and bearded and gentle.
What must that be like, I wondered, to have experienced whole lifetimes, overlapping in an epic familial tapestry, fathers and sons becoming each other, generations blurring. It seemed to me in that moment, sampling sickening Campari at Bear’s Italian uncle’s urging, that there was something majestic happening here.
Age seems to have peeled away the superfluous details like names and dates and left the core of things exposed.
“She’s a precious baby,” she said, over and over. “You’re all so lucky to have each other. This is the best thing in the world.”
I have only been around Bear’s grandmother on a handful of occasions, but each time, I feel warmed by her. This time, I noticed that her eyes are blue. Eden’s eyes are blue, too, still, even though neither mine nor Bear’s are.
We were twenty minutes away from the airport when I finally thought to turn on the radio. Christian rock blared and Eden stopped crying to listen. She grew quickly irritated and I changed the station. A guitarist playing Bach. She was intrigued. The whole car seemed to expand, breathing out in relief.
“In honor of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday month, we have a special program,” the smooth-voiced announcer informed us soothingly. “Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685.”
“Can we please do more music, less talking?” I asked her.
“Bach was once quoted saying that his success could be attributed entirely to his hard work,” said the calm, classical voice, “But of course we would disagree. It’s perfectly clear from his music that he was also exceptionally talented.”
“Seriously,” I said. “You need to get to the music. Right now. I have a baby over here.”
Eden made an unhappy sound, on the verge of an unhappier sound.
“And it is a testament to his genius that his music remains relevant today,” she said.
“I don’t know that I’d use the word ‘relevant,’” said Bear.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to think about what relevance really means, automatically agreeing because Bear is often right on a technicality.
“MAMAMAMA!” yelled Eden.
“Oh shit,” I said.
“Bach composed the bulk of his music between the years—“
As much as I wanted to know, I changed the station.
“My Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa…” sang Rob Thomas, with Santana behind him.
We froze, waiting.
Eden settled again, muttering to herself. Something about a certain “mama” and how that mama was neglecting to free her from the hideous torture chair she’d been strapped into. At least, that’s my guess.
But she was not crying. Santana had saved us.
The Florida highway went straight out, forever, pointing confidently to the rest of our lives.
And suddenly we were singing: “I would give my world to life my world, to lift you up! I could change my life, to better suit your mood…”
I put my hand on the back of Bear’s neck, the way I did on our fourth date. We smiled at each other. We would give our lives, to lift each other up. And the kid in the back, too.
We have a little tapestry ourselves, already. It’s nice.
It’s the best thing in the world.
Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to me.
(cheesecake from my dad)
* * *
Happy birthday to everyone else with one in March! Any birthday epiphanies? I love those.
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a wrap dress. So simple. Yet maybe a bit elegant?
Here are my birthday posts since I started this blog:
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