Tuesday, July 5, 2011
On Thursday I was at a fancypants dinner, wearing a blue dress with purple roses on it and orange high-heels. I thought I looked nice. My hair was clean and I shook everybody's hands and led over two hundred of them to their tables.
The dinner I was at is held in the ballroom of the hive of my college campus, and there were eight hundred people there. As is customary, I sat at a table near the back center of the hall with my sister, grandparents, and four strangers who are different each year but always surprisingly good at holding sincere but temporary interest in conversation with me.
I appreciate that.
My parents sat nearer to the stage--the stage where the usually threeish men and oneish women that my mother has carefully selected receive their awards.
The dinner is for recipients of an award that comes in the form of a crystal eagle mounted on a wooden pedestal, and is for freedom. It's pretty neat. The dinner was long, and good, and there was some kind of mango salsa on the salmon that was making fireworks in my mouth. Could have used another roll. I was there alone, without you, sitting next to Jenny, who sat there in a comforting way, that way that sisters are comforting in, with lacy sleeves on her black dress and a ready smile for the overstarched mothers of beauty queens that kept coming over to exclaim about and run a hand through her waist-length blond hair.
Dessert was a disappointment this year--some kind of pear with almond paste inside a pastry crust--and I hacked at it with my fork, licking the powdered sugar off the dry pastry bits that I then sucked at until they slid back into and down my throat. Jenny eyed the uneaten dinner roll of the squinting man next to me, its perfect pat of butter leaning into it a little bit as it accustomed itself to the room's temperature. I read the program three times. The awards went on, and on, and my feet found themselves aching inside the stiff brown leather of my shoes. It was suddenly unbearable to sit, and I pressed my fork into a blob of sticky almond goop and quietly moved back into the clacking hallway behind the ballroom, where I could stand next to a blue polyester curtain with my shoes off and watch the end of the ceremony with my head against the wall.
Two others were in the hallway as my red, pounding feet found relief pressed into the cold stone floor. I kicked my shoes into an orderly position next to me. A bald man stood against the wall fifteen feet away, watching the proceedings with a lolling neck, and another young man with bright blue eyes carried something as he walked back and forth, ten feet to the left, ten feet to the right. A little bundle held in front of him. My feet hurt, and they were getting stiff and swollen against the ground, and I saw red behind my eyes for missing you so much. But my head cleared from the standing and I thought once more about sitting down in my seat for the remaining ten minutes of the program, after which I'd be off to the hospital cafeteria (open all the time) for a raspberry shake with some cheshire hipsters from my freshman year who winked ironically at me from across the ballroom floor, in their unironed tux shirts and bowties and sequined, thrifted dresses.
The man with the bundle passed in front of me as my chin started to tremble and I recognized him from years previous, from other patriotic awards galas, because of his strange coloring--white skin, black hair, and bright blue eyes. He nodded at me, vaguely recognizing me too, and passed the opposite way in front of me again as the speakers in front of us blared with the sounds of old war clips. It's not like we've ever exchanged actual words, me and this strangely glowy pale man--just that we're always at the same events. He'd gotten married over the last few years, I think. But I didn't really know him or his name, just that he was always around at these things. Just that he was related to somebody on the board like I am. Just like a hundred of the other people there that night. I feel indescribably lonely at these moments.
While I bit my lip and sucked in a breath, licked my hand and smoothed the flaring baby hairs on my forehead, ready to sit back down at the table you weren't at, I glanced at him one more time, and noticed a tiny pink and white hand, wrist encircled by one of those infinitesimal baby bracelets, reach up and out of the bundle he rocked back and forth and tenderly place itself on the upper park of his neck. He smiled down at the bundle and hugged it close to him, smiling and closing his eyes as the tiny hand patted his cheek.
And my heart ached.
But at that moment, I knew things would get better. Because they always do.
at 11:03 PM