The “ain’t there no more” vibe is strong in New Orleans culture, and in me. We are a nostalgic bunch, obsessed with our graveyards and our past. So much so that I used to feel a little sad each time I turned a kaleidoscope, the thought that the exact fractal image I’d just had in view would never be seen again. It held equal weight to the wonder I felt at each iteration moving the stained glass to where something new and equally eye-catching would appear. This tension and juxtaposition still abounds inside me.
I wrote in my diary as a girl that I figured my life would either be very good or very bad, because things don’t happen much in the middle for me. So far this prediction has been half reality, insofar as my life has been lacking that middle. It has been pretty full of things zigzagging between really good and really bad, often pingponging around together at a breakneck pace. At least it’s never dull, and it hasn’t ever fully returned me to what once was, even if sometimes it gets close enough to remind me.
I’m getting remarried in a couple weeks, sort of. And then the month after that. It’s a two part wedding, with a tea ceremony for his family and mine on the bayou in south Louisiana, and an even smaller wedding that my fiancé and I won in a contest at the Boston public library.
I had been trying to keep it low key, was just gonna go to the courthouse and have a few cute pictures. But now I have two weddings, one of which is going to be 1500 miles from where I now live, back at home in Cajun country, and the other of which is at the Grandaddy of American public libraries, here in my adopted city.
The Boston public library is the oldest large one in the nation, surrounded by fancy marble columns, full of frescoes and museum-like sculptures and study areas that look like they belong in a Harry Potter movie. In addition to being a historic repository of knowledge, it also seems to be one of the fanciest places to get married in New England. I tried to explain it to someone who had never been to the area by saying that Copley square is the Boston equivalent of New Orleans’ Jackson square. It’s cultural significance includes being where the Boston marathon ends. To just rent the library courtyard for a few hours alone would typically cost $6,000.
So now I have all this and five dresses. Three of them are colorfully embroidered ao dai my future mother in law had custom made for me in Vietnam, complete with traditional red wedding hat. Then I have a comfy white party dress I found at a thrift store. The other is a simple flowy off-white dress with a sequin top that I got at TJ Maxx. It doesn’t have a train and it could passably be worn to a function other than a wedding.
So my dream of simplicity still has a vein in all this tri-cultural richness. I have an engagement ring we bought secondhand, probably made by an independent jeweler and probably an antique, a closed bezel solitaire setting with a rose cut gray diamond. I picked it out myself and love it so much. The ring has a hidden seashell engraved into the underside of the bezel, and a harlequin pattern carved into the band. The stone itself has inclusions, which some might call flaws, but whenever I look at it, it feels like it came out of the ground. Like all diamonds, it is at once symbolic and aspirational – I too hope to be more grounded.
The only thing left to try to keep low key was the shoes. I was sure I didn’t want high heels any more than I wanted a train. And then I found a pair of what are essentially fancy grownup jellies with memory foam insoles. They were in a rose gold color. And I couldn’t help myself.
So my crazy hodgepodge wedding preparation is near to complete. The Boston public library one is fully catered and managed by vendors – I just have to show up dressed – and for the Louisiana one we will order boiled crawfish and a hamper of blue crabs and several boxes of fried chicken, along with cases of Heineken and gallon daiquiris. I was finalizing the menu over duck noodle and bamboo shoot soup with my fiancé and his mom this weekend. She also wants to buy softshell crab for everyone, which will be about 40 people, half his family and half mine.
I guess this all matches well with my crazy hodgepodge life. Or maybe the word eclectic would be better. It doesn’t have to match, it just has to go.
My fiancé and I live in a shoes-off apartment carved out of an old governor’s mansion. My kitchen is a glorified hallway, with a stove so small you can’t put two skillets on the front burners. But the view out of the giant arched living room window is amazing. I guess it fits with the rest of what I have. And it too will soon be changing. We move at the end of June.
I sometimes crave stability, calmness, a freezing of time. And maybe I get moments of it, or that at least feel like it, but it isn’t the norm and it doesn’t last. You can’t actually steal or borrow time that way. And as things fall into new iterations, domestic life, the thing I was always trying to escape, has become much more important to me. And different to me from what I had in the past.
My fiancé has a Boston accent and much better fashion sense than I do. He enjoys basketball and golf and me and anything related to cooking or eating good food. He takes pictures of everything and owns a selfie stick. He works as a legal clerk and halfheartedly studies for business night classes. He is sarcastically funny, childishly silly, socially opinionated, and wears a collection of hats that I used to be embarrassed by and now just roll my eyes at. He has the cutest face, not just because his face is cute, but because it reflects his heart. And he doesn’t stink. Like seriously. The man doesn’t even need deodorant. He smells like strong coffee and good aftershave and sometimes fish sauce (which ok, can be a little stinky) and after three years together, I like having him around even more than I did in the beginning. He is a good egg.
He came here as a refugee from Vietnam when he was five. His whole family live in the same neighborhood I will now live in, come summer. His parents are helping us buy a house, which happens to be right around the corner from them and right next door to his aunt. It’s a little fixer upper from the 1920’s and we’ll be spending a lot of time this summer removing wallpaper and stripping linoleum.
Part of me imagines that by the time Fall rolls around and we are settled in with marriage and home, this will all bring stability, happiness, the sense of belonging that I used to seek. And part of me laughs and shakes my head at that idea. The Heather who thought she’d eventually find a fixed spot in this kaleidoscope ain’t there no more. I’m along for the ride.
Marriage is a bit more intimidating this time, and also more humbling, even though I’m in love and feel equally loved by him, because I know that it is a commitment, not an accomplishment, and promises of forever are at best aspirational. Also, I know myself well enough to know that I’m asking someone to put up with habits that can be difficult and annoying. And he is asking that of me. We are not so young that we assume the other will change, improve with age. And yet no doubt we will change. Might the 60 year old me like the 60 year old him? It is scary to admit that those are two total strangers and you can’t possibly know. That all this promise can be is to try our best to learn and grow together.
Also, I’m not by any means disloyal, but if there are leavers and stayers, I know I’m not a stayer when staying isn’t working. Marrying is different when you’ve left and been left already. I harbor no illusions and know where I stand on that divide. And it goes beyond that. So much so that if there are tribe people and bridge people, I bridge, belonging in between worlds, never both feet planted in one or the other. A lifetime of living in spaces that have never fully accommodated me, weren’t set up for people like me, didn’t take my experiences into account, has in the past left me feeling insecure, out of place, or like I am a perpetual outsider, imposter, interloper.
But the truth is I feel just as much at home and not at home among my future in-laws, eating an Asian family style dinner with chopsticks and rice bowls, as I did in my former in-laws’ family over buffet style chicken a la king, or in my own, ladling out the gumbo I made.
I have spent time wondering what my beliefs and preferences are. What my values look like. Where I belong. What labels are me. I try to take stock, but it’s like counting the freckles on my arm or grains of sand as they fall through the hourglass. Eventually you realize that this answer means it isn’t the right set of questions.
So there is the “ain’t there no more,” and the dreams I had that never were realized, and a few ongoing and intermittent not-to-be-downplayed struggles I carry with me, but reality is pretty damn decent right now. And even when it isn’t, hasn’t been, that doesn’t last, time passes, and you get to the next unexpected iteration. It’s something you can have faith in and allow yourself to be fully present for rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I have found that if I am a firm believer in anything, it’s in the idea that life is an ever-turning kaleidoscope and that serendipity is real. In fact, this may be the only thing that makes me think there might be a God. It’s amazing the way things can happen while you’re out searching for and working towards something else.
If you’d ever told me my life might come to resemble the Vietnamese version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” or that I’d be making a symbolic new start in 2017, honoring the elders and ancestors with this guy on the bayous of Louisiana, formalizing our relationship in the courtyard of a prestigious American library, then moving into a little two bedroom New England house with a wood stove, I’d never have believed you. But I really wouldn’t have minded either.
That’s how this kaleidoscope seems to work. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning.