Top Tier

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Unexpected // During the year, we all have had unexpected surprises that have thrown a wrench into our plans.  What was one of yours and how did you get through it?

I closed the box and put it in a closet.
There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.
-Joan Didion, Where I Was From

It is late, and I am placing the top tier of our wedding cake in the refrigerator to thaw before our anniversary dinner. We have been married a year, the cake has been frozen for a year, and our fury is simmering to a boil.

I have spent months trying to adjust to a new reality – one in which I am no longer a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient; one in which the problem is my genes – and Things Have Changed. For instance, in April and May, when this all came about, I sat in the austere, open offices at Cornell’s fertility clinic Reviewing The Options When You Have a Genetic Disorder. I had gone through the other, more complicated and solitary pieces of the Disease Journey on my own, quickly, and what was left was the part we were supposed to handle together.  The test results were not encouraging.

Fertility clinics, in my limited experience, are grim places. At Cornell, the main waiting room was divided into The Part for Newer Patients, and The Part For Ongoing Treatment and there was a palpable divide in the anxiety in the room.

It reminded me of the one Orthodox Jewish wedding I went to fifteen years ago, where there was no mixed dancing. But I didn’t know until I got there what I was in for, and much to my surprise and horror, I found a screen separating the men from the women. My then-partner and I were ushered to separate sides of the room, and I was left to sit in the mortification of shuffling through an evening with strangers in wigs. Cornell’s clinic was a bit like that, except there was no physical screen; nothing keeping the men from the women; just a metaphysical line separating the couples who still thought they could do this on their own from the couples who were in for a long and wild ride.

It is now The End of The Journey, and the options have been exhausted – primarily because I am exhausted; after four major surgeries in three years, I cannot tolerate any more Medical Procedures – and the anger is no longer Pit of Stomach, but Back of Throat, and here we are, preparing to share a cake that neither of us wants.

In the white, Christian, upper middle-class culture in which I live, you are meant to save the cake topper to serve on your first anniversary, or at the baptism of your first child – whichever comes first – a tradition that was slightly less gross in the Days of Yore when wedding cakes were fruit cakes and could survive a nuclear holocaust. Now, if you’re the Right Kind of WASP, you’re expected to freeze your cake for twelve months, and choke down the freezer burn, and pretend that it tastes just like pear and hazelnut, not open packets of niblets corn and vegetarian meat substitutes.

(If you’re really the right kind of WASP,  you’re smart enough to simply have your baker make you a replica topper, but I did not have that kind of foresight.)

I didn’t eat cake on my wedding night. I openly dislike cake; I always have. I forgot to order a cake until days before the wedding, and then the baker laughed at me; indulged me by topping the thing with fresh flowers and the fortune cookies I’d hauled in from my ever-present stash at home. We decided against making a spectacle of cutting the thing, too. I never saw it – cut or uncut – it just appeared in slices on the tables, and in photos in my email. Someone wrapped up the topper and presented it to me at the end of the party, then it sat in my freezer for a year, nestled in beside the Morningstar Farms “meat” and the endless packets of frozen veg.

Before I put the cake in the fridge, I changed out of my contact lenses and into my glasses, which I keep in the drawer of my nightstand when they are not on my face. There in the drawer, I keep my weirdest treasures – a handful of seashells from the North Sea shore; a volume of Kahlil Gibran poetry someone gave me when I turned 13; a scrap of fabric from some old trousers and sliver of an old dress. I also keep some bits of my wedding gown – my dressmaker had preserved them because she’d made my gown out of my mother’s, and she’d said Since this is an heirloom, you’ll want these to make baptismal gowns instead of cutting up the dress. At the time, I’d laughed a little – both at the idea of my mother’s silk-jersey 1970s wedding gown being an heirloom, and at the thought of ever needing baptismal gowns. It all seemed ludicrous and far away.

And now? Now what?

Now we will go and have that dinner, and we will eat the cake and it will be gone, and I will remember to take the scraps of dress and put them away – out of sight – in a box somewhere, so they can become a memory of a thing that never was instead of a hope for a thing that was going to be. Because there is no real way to deal with everything we lose, is there?

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