The magnolia in our front garden went crazy this Winter. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think it worthy of mention — even though it stopped me in my tracks every time I walked out the front door — but, to be honest, up until that point I had given up on it.
It had been looking so straggly the past few years, I just assumed it was past its prime and that it would be just a matter of time before we needed to make a decision re: chopping it down. The wild blooms felt like a beautiful reminder that things we’ve given up for dead may still surprise us with a new lease of life.
What surprised you this year?
On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle carrying a stuffed monkey.
I had had a bouquet constructed for our wedding, like a normal bride. However, since the age of three, when I’d dress up in an outfit made of my mother’s old curtains like I was a latter-day Scarlett O’Hara and pretend to marry my neighbour, I’d known that I wanted to walk down the aisle carrying Chachie. He had been given to me by my mother’s older brother and his wife on the occasion of my birth, and it had always been Meredith and Chachie.
When I graduated from high school, my mother made him a cap and gown as a sort-of joke, and I walked down the centre aisle of the football field with the monkey. I did the same in college and law school. It was funny, and weird, and befitting of the odd kid that I was. I have maybe always been a sort-of hard person on the outside, but maybe the monkey showed that I was just as soft in the middle as anyone else. I always thought of myself as a rational, logical person, not particularly given to whimsy, but I was surprised by how strongly I felt about walking down the aisle carrying Chachie.
My family’s going to think you’re nuts, Paul sighed, in the lead-up to our wedding. He did not mention that he also thought I was nuts.
I give zero shits about that, I told him, matter-of-factly, But if you try to prevent me from doing this, we are not getting married.
We left it at that.
I asked my aunt to make Chachie a suit that matched Paul’s, which she did, because she has known me my whole life and she is an accountant and is probably a good (enough) judge of What is Bonkers and What is Not.
It was not simply that I am attached to the monkey. It was also that I was attached to my grandfather who had died a decade earlier, and every picture of me from my childhood featured a smiling ginger (me), Chachie, and Bop. Since I could not have the old man in the flesh at my wedding, I would wear the dress he’d walked my mother down the aisle in 40-something years earlier; carrying the stuffed reminder of the many years we’d had together.
When Bop died, I was taken by surprise and I probably should not have been. He’d been uncomfortable for a very long time; he’d wanted it to end on his terms; he’d wanted some shred of dignity. But it had happened the week I was graduating from law school, and I had been expecting a phone call congratulating me on the accomplishment. I had instead been surprised by that call from my mother telling me my grandfather had died.
According to custom and for everyone’s convenience, everything happened as quickly as possible after I received that call. I’d had to finish my finals, and then depart for Florida. But I never saw my grandfather in the flesh ever again. I saw his chair, and his stuff, but I was left to grieve for another decade without ever again seeing his blue eyes, or his fluffy, wacky hair that my brother managed to inherit. I said goodbye in any number of ways, but there was no viewing; no funeral. I loved that man so hugely; so unconditionally that my heart stretched all the way to infinity for him, and the hole he left went all the way through, with no hope of repair.
Over the years, the grief has ebbed and flowed. I felt it acutely when I made big decisions, and Bop was the one I wanted to call. I was overwhelmed by it, just yesterday, when I read a New York Times Style Section piece on the importance of seeing a body after the death of a loved one.
I have written about this ad nauseam. But if you don’t hear/write/think/speak about it, where does it go? My grief is that of an urban, wealthy white woman who lost someone in an ordinary way. I am not carrying a particularly heavy burden, I know. But that doesn’t mean I am not still surprised by the depths of This Whole Thing a decade later.
On our wedding day, I posed for pictures with the big, beautiful bouquet of roses, and thistles, and dahlias. And when ceremony time came, I set the flowers down, and I picked up Chachie. I was surprised by how calm I felt; how rough Chachie’s battered fuzz felt in my hands; how unafraid I was of looking like a babyish idiot in front of my family and friends. No one else seemed at all taken aback by my decision to carry a monkey in a monkey suit. So maybe what I am saying is that my biggest surprise was that my friends knew my heart better than I had trusted them to, and that nobody was surprised at all by the girl in her mother’s white dress, with the lace not from curtains this time, clutching her monkey for that Most Important Walk.