part fourteen: Epilog
Devya looked sheepishly enthusiastic — if such a self-contradicting hybrid state can be said to exist.
It had been a year and . . . there we were: Jason and I, barefoot on his private beach, getting married, my best friend by my side — Genevieve on my other side — Devya clearly torn between being happy for me and wrestling down what I hoped was the last vestige of her anxiety of longstanding, that not-always-quiet, not-always-small, not-always-muted, voice of caution.
“If there is anyone here who knows any reason why these two should not — ”
I had actually given serious thought to asking the Justice of the Peace to skip that part; I had actually, a week before the wedding, asked Devya, point blank — I was embarrassed, but I was determined — whether or not this was a possibility about which I should be worrying: her . . . making something between a public scene and a last stand.
The pointedly low-key tenor of her response, in some ways, disturbed me more than an outburst of offended protestations would have. Clearly: she’d given the matter serious thought.
“No, my dear, dear, dearest friend,” she’d said quietly. “That is not something about which you need worry yourself. No,” her emphasis making clear that, in her view, there likely were things about which I should be worrying: but not that particular intervention at that particular time.
And anyway, we’d already done that, over the preceding months: the advice, the concern, the warnings; Devya openly grappling with the line between love and respect; the two of us tussling over what constituted being protective and what constituted being intrusive.
I love Devya as fiercely as she loves me; I had been appreciative of her ongoing, and open, concern for my wellbeing — emotional and spiritual as much as sexual and romantic; I was grateful when — clearly with no small effort and with a slight residue of grudging resistance — she finally gave me her blessing.
“Yes, yes, yes,” she had sighed, “you are — of course! — right: we find our own paths, as we must; we pursue our own, very specific and deeply personal, visions and versions of happiness; we endeavor to construct the castles — or, in your case,” she allowed herself a quick smile there, puckish if a little wan, “perhaps we do better to say the dungeons! — of our own dreams.”
“You’re quoting who here? You’re reciting from what?” I chided, subsuming my relief in teasing humor.
Devya snorted in mock derision, then a brighter, more joyous and uninhibited smile broke across her countenance.
“My grandmother, actually!” she cried. “I think I’m channeling my grandmother!”
“A wise woman, no doubt,” I said, my respect sincere.
“No doubt,” Devya echoed.
We’d clinked water glasses over this — the stature and the wisdom of the women in Devya’s family, the truth of what she’d said — a toast both clearheaded and clear eyed, across that sticky table in our favorite diner.
And then of course there was Dr. Fortinbras . . .
“Is it my professional judgment you want,” she’d asked quietly, a scant six weeks before the wedding, at the close of what would turn out to be our final session, “or is it my blessing?”
Did I need or want either?
I turned the question over in my mind as her Russian Blue cat, Gogol, paced at my feet, rhythmically butting his head into my shins in a mulish demand for affection.
It was immediately obvious to me that I wanted both — what I’d wanted from every therapist I’d ever seen: responses both professional and personal.
But — I knew, of course — that wasn’t what she was asking me to address, what she wanted me to face, openly and honesty.
Did I want her to be a rubber stamp?
That was the real question.
Gogol leapt up onto my thighs — surprising, perhaps, all three of us: a first! — gave me a petulant look of challenge, then nestled into my lap and began to purr.
“You have my blessing,” Dr. Fortinbras said, with a soft smile, “and arguably that of Gogol as well — an endorsement not to be taken lightly! As to my professional judgment . . .”
She tilted her head from side to side for a brief moment, pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, and shrugged — a less-than-definitive answer — which initially surprised and somewhat irritated me.
She wasn’t a Freudian, one of those therapists with an orthodox and archaic resistance to clear and meaningful engagement — married to the idiot idea that such genuine interaction would corrupt and skew our respective roles, contaminate her purpose, blunt her efficacy.
Was she now being coy?
But — no — it only took me a blink to understand.
She’d always been a staunch advocate of “First Do No Harm.”
And, while rarely directive, she’d never hesitated to tell me, in clear, specific — and, when she deemed it necessary or appropriate, in strong — terms when she believed I was tending in a dangerous direction.
As a personal matter: she was supportive of my decision, regarding Jason; she’d made that quite clear.
Professionally . . .
She’d raised no warning flag.
But she’d offered no endorsement, no “warranty” either.
“Romance is not a well-regulated stock market,” she’d once told me, at least once, perhaps two or three times — her words memorable, in part, for how far they diverged from her normally more formal diction, her precise and staid examples. Her punchline: “It rather more resembles a garage sale. We take our lovers ‘as is’.”
“And do you Maura — ” the Justice of the Peace intoned, over the soft sound of the surf.
Jason and I had less written than edited our own wedding vows: an attorney and a businessman, after all; we were attuned to the details of contracts, the nuances of language, the foibles of human behavior — and the inevitability of human misbehavior.
Forsaking all others.
“I want us to think about that very carefully,” Jason had said — which at first something between put me on edge and offended me.
I was not going to be shared; I had been clear on that point.
Was he planning on having affairs?
“Affairs?” he’d said slowly, tone thoughtful, as though he were contemplating a unique objet d’art, examining it, turning it over in his hands, hefting it, stroking it, assessing it. “Am I planning on fucking around?” he’d said, tone mild. “Is that the question?”
“Planning? No. Are you sure — Based on a Preponderance of the Evidence Extant, Counselor; let us be clear about the standards we are applying, both to each other and to ourselves, a civil matter, not criminal, yes? — that you will never sexually touch, or be touched by, another human being unless we divorce or until I die?”
“Yes!” I’d said immediately — only then pausing to think.
I’d looked away, flustered and frustrated; Jason had waited until I met his eyes again.
“Genevieve?” he’d asked gently, brows arched, head at a slightly quizzical angle, tone teasing, eyes twinkling, the question sincere.
“Well but that’s — ”
“I — ”
That he’d interrupted me so quickly was a good thing: I really wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say next anyway, unprepared as I was for there to be much of anything to discuss regarding that particular point.
“Does the marriage ceremony matter?” Jason asked, seeming to shift gears, his tone becoming almost academic.
“Of course it — ”
“It’s not just a ritual?” he pressed on, seemingly in the role of a cultural anthropologist.
“Well, it is but — ”
“Is it something you recite by rote?”
A didactic parent now; not my favorite tone.
“Of course not, it — ”
“ — means something?”
“Yes! It means — ”
Jason took a step toward me, lightly touched his fingertips to my cheek, spoke softly but with urgency and sincerity.
“ — means what we say it means?”
“Yes, it — ”
“Exactly what we say it means, Counselor? Exactly?”
“Okay,” I murmured, feeling foolish and deflated, feeling — really? — as if I had been something between emotionally careless and professionally irresponsible. “I’m sorry. Let’s — let’s get it right.”
“Yes,” Jason smiled, brushing his lips gently against mine. “Let us do that!”
So . . .
We made no promise to forsake all others; we were as careful in our wedding vows as we had been in defining the boundaries of our sexual relationship; we loved and respected each other too much to be imprecise — or, perhaps worse, heedlessly automatic — in the words with which we pledged ourselves to each other.
If the Justice of the Peace — or anyone else among the dozen or so guests standing with us on the sand for that matter — noticed or cared, mention was made neither regarding that elision nor any of the other minor tweaks and adjustments upon which we had decided.
We each wore but a single article of clothing: white, linen, drawstring pants for Jason; a snowy white sari for me — my bare buttocks warm and rosy beneath, Jason having lovingly and diligently pinked them right after I showered that morning.
“In India,” Devya had said with a slightly pained expression — eyeing but not commenting on the temperature and hue of my bottom — as she’d wrapped and prepared me for the ceremony, “we have a word for a garment of this sort.” I’d raised my eyebrows in question. “We don’t call it a ‘sari,’” Devya said, pursing her lips. “We call it a sheet.”
I’d smiled at that and stuck out my tongue.
“Rather saucy for a bridesmaid,” I chided. “Aren’t we?”
She’d ducked her head in response and I couldn’t quite tell whether or not that signified apology or dismissal.
“Cheeky, my grandmother would have said,” she murmured, unwrapping and re-wrapping me for the third time. And then, her tone slightly tinged with resignation, her eyes both warm and a little wet, an ambivalent smile twitching the corners of her mouth: “She would say as well that we are bound always to respect the decisions of our sisters.”
“And do you?” I asked, surprised that my question had come out in a slightly creaky whisper, surprised at the instant quickening of my pulse, surprised that I was still nervous about the judgment of my best friend.
And I found myself holding my breath.
Then her smile warmed.
Stepping in closer, a hand on one of my cheeks, she kissed the other tenderly.
“Yes,” she said with quiet conviction, “I do.”
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Excerpted from Zoë Zelig’s:
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