With special thanks to Theatrikos Theatre Company and Angele Anderfuren for requesting an original essay as a companion piece to the live performance of A Christmas Story 10 December 2016
Marc and I were sitting on the sofa opening our Christmas cards and presents, having a “private Christmas” a few days before my parents came to stay with us for the holiday. We had saved our Christmas cards for last. Marc had been hard at work since Thanksgiving hand-making and drawing all of his Christmas cards. Each card was a miniature art piece. I ran my hand over the bumpy watercolor paper card he gave me, noticing the beautiful drawing he made—a pine tree in a snow-covered field at sunset. I opened the card, closed it, and put it on the living room table.
“Thanks!” I said.
Marc looked at me closely and asked, “Did you read the card?”
“Sure, honey, it’s beautiful.” He wrinkled his eyebrows.
“Really? You read it?”
"I love it!” I exclaimed, noticing his face getting redder by the minute. I had a sinking feeling that I had said the wrong thing.
- - -
My husband, Marc, and I have never had a traditional relationship. We decided a lot of things a long time ago, without ever really discussing anything. It came instead in waves of realization. There we were, drawing each other in our community art class, even though we never spoke to each other. The same way we found ourselves on Friday night at his apartment or mine watching X-Files instead of going to loud parties with friends. And, on our wedding day, we found ourselves dressed up at a picnic with a small group of friends, a justice of the peace, and the Vice-President’s dogs running under the buffet table.
I should start with how we met—at a community art class. The class involved meeting at different coffee shops every week to learn how to draw by studying the people around us and trying to capture them on paper with charcoals, pastels, and pencils. At the end of every class, we sat in a circle and showed our drawings. I always drew Marc and he always drew me.
It took the better part of two months for us to move beyond drawing each other, but when we did, we made a plan to meet at the local art supply store. Marc was going to show me what charcoals to buy. Instead, he bought them for me. I treated him to dinner. I wasn’t even sure that it was a date, but realized several weeks later when we had seen each other almost every day since that first shopping trip and dinner that, in fact, we were dating.
I found myself looking for his next apartment with him because, he told me, he hoped I would join him there in a few months. I did. A year later, we found ourselves relocating to another city. We weren’t married, or even engaged, and all of this moving and moving felt like we were moving toward getting engaged and married, but it never happened. I had been engaged once before. It ended sadly, as those heart-heavy relationships always do, and honestly, I was afraid to jinx whatever Marc and I had by asking too many questions.
But then it came time to make a decision—our rental house in the new city came on the market and the landlords were giving us first dibs on buying the house. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the real estate office with two realtors, two attorneys, and the landlords, signing and signing what seemed like a mountain of documents. The only thing that made me panic was the term of the mortgage. Thirty years. Thirty years? I was only 28 years old at the time, thinking I would be old and dead in thirty years. I might not even be with Marc in 30 years! Everyone paused to look at me. Apparently I had said this last thought out loud. Marc told me it was okay, and put his hand on my knee. I believed him and kept signing.
- - -
Well, let me get back to the Christmas card. Marc picked up the card from the coffee table and handed it to me again.
“I really need you to read the card.”
“But I did!”
“No, I don’t think you did.”
I was mad. I was already nervous about my family coming to our new house for Christmas. Was he trying to make me more upset about something?
“It’s beautiful!” I said again.
“Read. The. Card.”
I opened the card. Marc had written
“Merry Christmas, Stacy. Will you marry me?”
- - -
I no longer felt worried about my family coming for Christmas. Or worried about signing 30 years of my life away on the mortgage. Instead, we put on our coats and walked out into the December dusk. We walked around the neighborhood holding hands, watching Christmas lights come on house by house. When we came home, I looked through our living room window at the happy tableaux. A Christmas tree. Wrapping paper on the floor. Marc’s Christmas card on the table.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the Vice President and his dogs, the dogs at least were uninvited wedding guests. We got married in a park adjacent to the Vice President’s residence in Washington, DC. As Al Gore jogged by on that beautiful October day, his two dogs thought the wedding picnic looked pretty fun. They ran across the park and decided to chase each other around and under the buffet table. The two Secret Service agents eventually captured the dogs, but not before my mother yelled across the park, “Hey, Al! Come have a beer with us!” He gave us the best Vice Presidential wave he could, but he did not take my mother up on her offer.
And, one last thing: don’t forget to read your Christmas cards very, very carefully!