Thursday, July 23, 2015

Short, mostly unedited: Hard to be Human


What a terrible weekend!

Sorry, I couldn't think of a better way to start.

I was sucked up into the tornado of my emotions Saturday evening, and all this week I have been trying to find my way home from this desert in which it finally dumped me.

The funny thing is that when I feel insanity coming on, there is always the unruffled voice of reason urging me quietly but relentlessly to steady on. I try to listen. I want to listen, but darn it all, my emotions are like wild beasts that threaten to eat my heart right out of me if I do not let them carry me away into their habitat of chaos.

So here I am. It's Thursday, isn't it? And I'm still not well, and on top of that, I am fantasizing about what peaceful lives cloistered nuns must be living away from the world, in their routine of quiet prayer with their unmade up faces and simple attire.

But wouldn't you know I would probably cause havoc in a convent, too. I bet I could.

My dad posted something on Facebook a while back about trying to fight with my saintly mother. It's a hard road, because she does not fight. She stands still and quiet with faith that this, too, will pass. My aunt, Dad's sister, commented that she wished she was like sweet Karen, but no! She's a fighter! My uncle said it must run in our family. It sure does, I agreed. It runs wild.

So I have this proclivity, you see, to fight and debate and be emotionally tyrannical. It's not so bad when I'm with my own kind. We duke it out. We argue. We duel. We "debate". We're not calm or even always civil about it, but in the end, we're good. That's simply how we communicate.

It's much harder when someone like me marries a calm person who is fully in control of his emotions. I always wanted a calm man. I knew I would need a calm, steady man. And I got him, but he just won't fight! I feel like I am just wearing him down, wearing him down, and how much can the poor man put up with? I can't join a convent now, especially not with four kids in tow.

So the option, as I see it, is to mortify myself. And, no, I do not mean lashing or beating myself with whips and sticks. A spirit of mortification is to deny one's own selfish, prideful inclinations. (I have plenty of those.) To mortify oneself means to smile at and listen to that person who really irritates you, to offer others the last slice of cake, to agree to help a friend when you'd rather be lazy on a Saturday afternoon, and - this one's a kicker - to not act out your petty but powerful emotions at the expense of your loved ones so "you can feel better".

Anyway, I never feel better. It's like a whirlpool once I turn the jets of my feelings on. The more I act out and talk about my feelings, the more I am getting sucked down to it's terrible center, so I try to pull as many others as I can in with me, at least to slow my progress. It never works out. It never, ever does. So I must learn to swallow my emotions like a secret agent lady who rips up the code and swallows it before a really awful secret with international implications gets out.

My secret is that I'm half crazy. I'm not all there. Yet.

So what?

I must swallow my emotions. Honestly, I'm afraid I'll overdose.

It's so hard being human. We've all got something (except for my husband). Me? Well, I'm obsessive-compulsive. I think about everything too much, methodically, not ever really making up my mind, terrified of what can be. I've broken locks by checking them repeatedly in the throes of this disorder. I've even broken my husband's patience. I have turned my car around, slowed down, and obsessively glanced in my rearview to make sure I haven't run over anyone on bumpy roads. (And let me tell you, there is not a single smooth road in this whole blasted town!) I have driven myself wild with jealousy, with imagining what is or might be or could be under certain circumstances. Everything is worse with this disorder, for though I know I am beautiful in my way, I have always struggled with vanity and with comparing myself to others, and I HATE vanity. It's a terrible vice. It's prison. I dread being vain. But woe is me! I dread being ugly, too.

Even my vivid, disturbing dreams claw at my peace. Yet my dreams show also the beauty of my mind, for while I may dream of witnessing something so devastating it stays with the conscious me for days, I also dream of landscapes so vibrant and strange that I savor them and applaud my own imagination.

Regardless, it's getting old being the unstable one.

So I have to change. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Passion must be expelled. I used to think passionate people like myself were the only ones who were interesting, worth knowing well or conversing with on a regular basis. Reserved, quiet people were boring, flat: all cold fish with no depth of feeling. But now? I wish to heavens I was like them! They have emotions, but they don't make a habit of wreaking others' peace with the expression of them, with the blurting out of opinions and moods. Sure, crazy is interesting, exciting, but their way is a far better way.

The thing is I have to sacrifice to change. I have to remove myself from the center of my universe. I have to let go. Not bottle up. Let Go. Maybe I have to shut myself up for a few days every quarter in the bathroom. But I have to learn to control, one way or another, these out-of-control emotions I feel periodically. I have to say no to fear, to so many fears, and really cling with my whole heart and soul to faith, hope, love.

I have to love at all times. I have to listen to that voice of reason. I have to accept grace offered. I have to pray, and not be afraid of what God might ask me to do or not to do in order to change. I have to stop ignoring his nudges in order to dig myself a deeper hole. I have to give up and raise the white flag, beg for help in climbing out of my self-erected cage.

Wish me luck.


I'm gonna need it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Family Music

When Daniel, my youngest, was just over six months old, I took him with me when I flew up to Idaho for my grandmama's funeral. My parents drove up, and my sister Vinca flew in from Virginia. We all had to do plenty of commuting between two small towns in Idaho, the epicenters of both sides of the family. That road was very familiar to my parents, for it was their slice of the world, where they had grown up, gone to school and church, where they'd met. They told stories and pointed out special spots from their courtship.

But my little guy hated his car seat and therefore hated the drive. Like his big sisters before him, he treated it like a torture device and cried inconsolably for most of the time that he was strapped into it. The flurry of family visits and family business that was sometimes comforting, sometimes heartbreaking but a necessary part of saying goodbye and preparing the funeral for Grandmama was hard on him.

One night we stopped at a gas station on our commute, and I comforted and nursed my distraught baby before we headed down the narrow, paved road again. Of course, he was already crying again within moments, overstimulated and exhausted, sick of being confined. My dad felt especially bad for his namesake.

Then Vinca started singing softly to soothe my Danny. It was melancholy and quite beautiful, accompanying the hum of the car and the stillness of the passing rural environment, swathed in consoling darkness.

As Vinca and I sat by my son, holding and stroking his hand and hair, he fell quiet. We were all feeling very sad, and the songs didn't serve to distract us, but simply gave voice to our grief and let us dwell in it together. I listened to Dad, Mom and Vinca sing spiritual songs, completely captivated by their voices as I gazed at my little boy's face and out the window at the trees, fields and streams, my own thoughts hushed.

The five of us on a dark road, grieving and singing hymns to my baby and for our comfort, is one of my favorite memories from that time.

It is not the only memory encapsulated in and kindled by music.

The last night of my visit with my brother Nate this past April, my friend Holly, Natie, my sis-in-law Natalie and I sat at their dining table playing cards, eating pizza and drinking wine. We told family and personal stories, debated a little (something without which my family can't survive), and Nate had a playlist on his smartphone through which he skimmed and skipped. A Gordon Lightfoot song came up, and I asked," Natie, you still like Gordon Lightfoot?"

"Of course."

My heart swelled with familial pride. Dad raised his four kids on Lightfoot's music. I knew my sisters still enjoyed it, but to know that it was honored by Nate, too, made me feel that the years with no visits and the thousands of miles between us, the distance from our own childhoods, was not so great as I sometimes felt.

Natalie and Holly didn't feel the same. Holly said it was sleepy music, and Natalie called it Country.

Nate and I protested. "It's not Country. It's folk music."

But no hard feelings. Nate and Holly sang along to 1990s tunes and made me laugh with their vocal interpretations. Natalie told a story about discovering the true meaning of a song she used to love as a young girl. I confessed that 1980s music made me nostalgic, and Natie pointed out it should be that of the 1990s, when I was a teenager. When Holly said, "Just don't play 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'," by Deep Blue Something, Nate and I banded together again. We have always loved that song.

There are songs and albums that remind me of my parents or make me think of my siblings as soon as I recognize them. "Superman (It's Not Easy)" by Train never fails to remind me of my sister Annie and all the time we spent together when I was first married and still living close to her. Gordon Lightfoot's album, Waiting For You, reminds me of going through the Blue Ridge Mountains with my sister Vinca as she drove fast and sure on those twisty roads. "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day will never fail to make me smile and say, "My mom loves this song!", or if I'm speaking to my children, "Grandmama loves this song!" And, of course, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" reminds me of Nate and of our time in Idaho with relatives before he left for the military. As for Dad, many Credence Clearwater Revival and Gordon Lightfoot songs connect me to him. The songs that bring Dad most to mind, however, are the ones he wrote himself and the ones I sing myself with great appreciation.

I could not name all the songs that remind me of special people or specific times in my life. It's a gift that keeps on giving. Music powerfully binds people together, weaving our memories into its melodies and lyrics by capturing our emotions, embracing, even enlarging our experiences, and expressing our culture. It transports us back in time and keeps us forever young, reminiscent of time with family and friends.

I, for one, am grateful for the memories.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Lady Jane of Devizes

She was a small, older woman in simple clothes. She had short, grey hair and unwavering eyes behind glasses. I startled her only momentarily when I yelled for her help on a deserted Devizes street after dark, and she invited my friend Holly and me in immediately, trying to prevent her two cats from getting out, one who wanted to storm our laps and one who observed us nervously from a good distance.

As we sat in her warm cottage, grateful for the help and rest, Jane told us of her travels to Kentucky, Canada and Italy and of how her amorous, temperamental cat was one she had rescued from an Italian street. Maybe that was why she wasn't put off by two strange American women who accosted her on her own neighborhood street. She was used to rescuing foreigners, and as Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..."

When we explained how we couldn't figure out the lock box to our vacation rental, she graciously offered us her phone and lap top to contact the cottage owner. When at first we couldn't get a hold of her, Jane offered coffee with cream and sugar.

On the way to get the coffee, she paused, "Do you want wine instead?"

She knew we had had a frustrating night. What hospitality!

Finally, we found out what we had been doing wrong, and we thanked her repeatedly and continually asked what she wanted us to send her from Arizona as a thank you, but she wouldn't accept the offer.

Before we left, I said, "I don't know what we would have done without your help, Jane!"

Holly added, "Yeah, we would have been sleeping on the street!"

And Jane replied, "I have an extra room. I would have just put you up in there."

My friend Holly and I would later refer to her as Lady Jane, and we, who are so keen on English literature, could not think of a more auspicious name than Jane (except for maybe Anne, Elizabeth or Margaret).

I tell the humorous side of our ordeal here: Left to our own devices in Devizes.

Despite the fact that we were temporarily out of our wits, Lady Jane will always have a fond place in our memory, and it's about time we sent her something from Arizona, even if it's just a simple thank you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

England Anthology: Of All the Trees I've Known Before...

My friend Holly wanted to have her picture taken in art havens and historical spots while in England. I loved those, too, but I also wanted to pose with trees.

I went all over England hugging trees. It wasn't planned really, but I fell in love - not with one but with several of them. Being a bonafide tree hugger and whisperer, I haven't really noticed that my whispering or hugging makes a difference to them, but perhaps that's because, except for a few special trees in my life, I tend to love and leave them.

I couldn't really get my arms around this burly guy, but immune as I am to most forms of self-inflicted embarrassment, I tried. He was on the beautiful grounds at Leed's Castle. I had a terrible virus that day. I feel sorry for any human who came along after me to hug him. I'm sure there were several.

These trees seemed a bit delicate, like elven trees. I didn't embrace them. But this picture? I'm no photographer, but I am in love with this image for some reason, technically good or not. There were a fair amount of people touring the castle grounds that day, but this memory takes me to the English countryside all by myself, soaking in the peaceful sounds of nature, possibly taking a nap in the sunshine, and waking up to play with wild rabbits.

There were other trees that had a superb sense of place in a different sense, city dwellers. They were a little bit like Londoners, though: aloof.
Big Ben artfully obscured - by the tree, not the photographer
The three guardians of Westminster Abbey

The below tree was in Bath. That alone was reason enough to hug it under its towering canopy. I was ebullient that day, savoring the passing moments, fully cognizant of my good fortune, appreciative of my glorious surroundings.

It was perhaps the friendliest-looking tree in arguably the loveliest spot, Royal Victoria Park with views of the majestic Royal Crescent. I would live there if at all possible.
And speaking of the Royal Crescent in Bath, Somerset, there was a very old magnolia tree adorning the front of the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa.
I could not afford to stay there, but I could admire the tree.
Another tree of Bath, simultaneously down to earth and majestic
Ah, the simple and priceless joys of nature.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ghost No More, my review

This is my journey back from fear and hopelessness, and how I went from feeling like a ghost, to realizing my voice and value.

I once hated my past. It had broken and twisted me, but now I appreciate all the beauty and redemption God has brought from each broken area.

Those words are from the introduction to CeeCee James' powerful memoir, Ghost No More, in which she details her life as an only child not valued by the parents who manipulate, abuse, and hold her hostage to their whims because of their insane selfishness and brokenness.

CeeCee's mother loves animals and values friends' company but isolates and torments her own daughter. Seemingly jealous of any attention her daughter receives from the people in their lives, even relatives, she compels her daughter to jump through hoop after emotional hoop in order to be rewarded with some attention from her, mostly negative. Usually she confines her daughter to a room or space out of her way, viciously uses the denial of food as punishment, and only welcomes the caresses of a little girl desperate for acknowledgement and love when she finds herself too ill to cope. The contrast between the mother's habitual neglect and CeeCee tender care of her ill mother is painful.

CeeCee's dad and mom are an unhealthy combination. Their own distrust of and disdain for each other fuels the mistreatment of their only child. Early on we read of the bizarre incident of the Easter candy, and how CeeCee's dad punishes her for sneaking it. Later we must witness her mother's response to a complaint by hitting her daughter across the jaw with a wooden spoon. As with many other cases of child abuse, the "discipline" that CeeCee's parents choose for her is always extreme and harsh without any loving effort to correct behavior. More heartbreaking still is the fact that often there is no behavior to correct, only an imaginary offence that seems concocted as an excuse for doing harm.

Despite the lack of love and respect in her life, CeeCee has a powerful awareness of God's presence. However, because she is consistently fed the idea of her worthlessness, her first prayers are for God to make her "a good girl".

"Please God, let me start over...I will be good this time. I will be a good girl."

This is always a horrific effect of child abuse: the child feels they are somehow to blame for how they are treated. They are punished merely for being human, and they suffer because of their parents' inhumanity.

When the mother finally leaves the father, she tells CeeCee it is her fault that she stayed with him so long. She also childishly tells CeeCee not to talk to her friends and demeans her little girl anytime others praise her or even acknowledge her. Or she ridicules her simply for breathing funny. The mother places inhumane pressure on CeeCee to not "shame" her, the definition of such shaming defined entirely by the woman's utter self-absorption. She smothers her pet kittens and emotionally starves her daughter, leaving others to offer her the phantom of a mother's care.

Each slapping and spanking is gut-wrenchingly painful in its cruelty, as is the mortification that CeeCee suffers as she grows older. Each fleeting, small kindness is painful, too, because the reader learns to recognize the patterns of eventual abandonment.

When people enter CeeCee's life with some understanding of what her familial life is like, recognizing her mother's nature despite the false persona she chooses to present, the reader feels relieved that CeeCee has encountered kindness. When CeeCee spends time in nature away from her mother, a weight is lifted momentarily, but as she grows older, the outdoors becomes just another form of isolation enforced by her mother.

There is a term, "throw-away children" that describes not what the children are but how their parents and others treat them and what misfortune finds them because of the lack of parental concern for their welfare. CeeCee suffers abuse not only at her mother's hands but also at the hands of others, particularly her grandfather. When her mother discovers it, her response is a self-centered one, and she only addresses her daughter's psychological scars when forced to do so by Child Protection Services.

Unfortunately, in all this CeeCee cannot turn to her father, because their relationship, reestablished in her teenage years, is made awkward by distance and the memory of past intimidation and neglect. But when she visits him during summer and holiday vacations there's at least more peace, more care and more food.

There are more glimmers of hope in this memoir as CeeCee is shielded from her mother and aided and encouraged by neighbors, her friend Sandy's family, and the school librarian who recognizes her gift with words. CeeCee also experiences unusual consolation in prayer, an embracing and calming warmth, during desperate moments when she fears for her mother's health or fearfully prays for protection from her mother.

As CeeCee develops into a young woman, we walk with her as she faces her demons. Part of that entails confronting her grandfather and refusing to let him harm her again. How she copes with the continuing abuse, derision and neglect of her mother, although not surprising, is heartbreaking. It is only after she is removed from that woman's poisoning influence and meets a young man who loves Jesus and loves her that she eventually stops harming herself and begins slowly healing while learning to value and love herself.

I am always amazed by the power of the human spirit when I read such testimonies as that of CeeCee James in Ghost No More. I am always awed by how God can sustain and bolster us in the bleakest and most disordered circumstances and environments, environments alien to His love and mercy. Love does not suppress our pain. It does not erase it. It does not blind us to its causes. But it can renew and strengthen us while bringing something achingly beautiful and startling clear from our experience, and by doing so gives us something enlightening to share with others who know little hope and hardly any comfort in confronting their own history or present circumstances. I think this is what CeeCee James has done with Ghost No More.

That is invaluable. That is realizing your voice and value.

May God bless her for it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rare Family Meals and A Cooking Brother

When my siblings and I gathered in San Antonio more than three years ago, I had the opportunity to eat some breaded trout my brother Nate had pan-fried. It was so delicious that I moved past my comfort zone of poaching or baking, and I tried to replicate it in my own kitchen. My experiment didn't turn out nearly as well.

When I got home in April from visiting my brother's family in the UK, I told my husband all about the dishes Nate had conjured up for my friend Holly and me, how he had spoiled us rotten. I can still recall the aroma and taste of the huge bowl of shrimp fried rice, the golden potatoes and bright onions, the stir-fried vegetables, and the banana bread. Ah, that banana bread! It had cranberries and walnuts and I'm pretty sure a fair amount of liquor, too. Every morning I went to carve myself a thick slice off the fragrant, moist loaf. I didn't need anything else for breakfast, though of course I couldn't say no to Natie's hash browns and sausage.

The first night at my brother's house, I helped Nate prepare supper, showering chunks of salt and spices that I have since forgotten onto the skin of some lovely little fish. Later that week we went to Borough Market in London, and Nate dashed around gleefully, collecting several of the bountiful culinary delicacies we encountered there. Another night he introduced me to prawns. I've never seen such ugly little buggers before. I tried my best to allow the least amount of skin from my fingers to touch them as I attempted to peel apart their hideous, whiskered bodies. The others laughed at me and shook their heads at my hesitation in clawing for culinary heaven. Then they caved and helped me peel a couple creatures, so they wouldn't have to watch the unattractive contortions of my face while enjoying a fine meal. Nate didn't have the prawns. He asked us how they were. When Holly and I began to gush, he laughingly halted us with, "Not you! I know you'll just tell me they're good. Her!" And he swiveled his pointed finger from us to Natalie who confessed, "They're a little dry but still very good." Nate cried, "Ah!"

Great chefs are always seeking perfection, I guess.

When I told Matthew about all the dishes Natie created, I may have been a bit heavy-handed in my hints that men can cook, too, and love it. Though Matthew gobbles up cooking competition shows, he has no passion for attempting their products, and I have always wondered, why watch them then? I love neither the reality cooking shows nor the reality of cooking, so we are a forlorn pair, eating steamed broccoli, canned beans, grilled chicken, and spaghetti more than is decent. However, gallant as my man is and eager to pacify my pleas (or demands) for him to cook sometimes, he did promise to prepare a few of Nate's recipes if I procured them.

His delectable food isn't all I remember about my time with Nate, but not being an accomplished and merry chef myself, I appreciate that gift in others, especially my big sisters and brother. They all claim to have learned at Mom's side growing up. I wonder how they learned, and I didn't. Where the heck did I, the baby of the family, wonder off to when the cooking started? A weird child, I probably spent those minutes telling myself and my stuffed animals stories in the bathroom mirror. At least I have taught myself to bake tolerably well as an adult, but one cannot survive on cake and scones alone. I wish I could! Instead, I think I'll ask my big brother for some recipes.

Just not the prawns.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Charlie Chaplin, Meet the Love of My Life

This is the story of when Matthew and I first met in person. I dug it out from the archives to share with you in honor of our wedding anniversary this week.

Yesterday, I was watching my husband's face as he listened to our good friend. She was telling us lively tales about couples she knew, and his smile in response was broad. Of course, a true smile, as opposed to just a contrivance of the features, ignites the eyes, has magic. My husband's smile is a million watts; it could illuminate the city of Phoenix in a blackout. It could exert a superhuman power to influence people if he unleashed it fully. I am mesmerized by his handsome face when he smiles, and I wonder sometimes if he can see my blatant admiration and therefore wonders why I don't act upon it more often.

Seeing his smile yesterday made me desirous to share a story of the September evening we met in person eleven years ago. I brought Charlie Chaplin along for the occasion, and Matthew smiled.

Maybe it was because we had only spoken on the phone for a few short months with a few thousand miles between us. Or maybe it was because he had implied during one of those friendly conversations that he was unimpressed with the picture I had sent to him, my very own Mr. Darcy (she's tolerable, I suppose...but not handsome enough to tempt me), but I sure as heck wasn't going to show up to our first face-to-face meeting alone.

My sister Annie had orchestrated our meeting by asking Matthew within moments of seeing him for the first time, "Do you like brunettes?", meaning me. Having introduced us via old-fashioned telephone network, she was coming along to officially introduce in person, of course. In fact, a legion of curious friends, family, and people I did not know were coming on my blind date - a chance to go out for Mexican food in a Tex-Mex town, enjoy margaritas and watch the spectacle of two young people getting to know each other at no risk to themselves.

I needed additional support, though. Dumb support. I needed Charlie Chaplin, that talented, lighthearted fellow. So I took him with me. I didn't ask; I just cut him out of a magazine, dressed as that lovable tramp, folded him up and carried him out to my sister's car where he lay on my lap during the drive downtown to San Antonio's River Walk. When we exited the vehicle, my sister cast me an incredulous look.

"Don't bring that," she said and pointed in disapproval.

I hesitated, but nope. Though 20, I would be a child. I needed my talisman. So we walked into the restaurant, Mi Tierra across from Merchant Square, with Chaplin all wrinkled and sweaty in my hands.

Through the double doors, and there he was by the bakery cases. Matthew who I knew by voice and by a dark picture of him in ball cap, standing by a grill with a barbecue utensil, smiling. Matthew, the Catholic to my Protestant, the Hispanic to my whatever-the-heck-I-am, the young professional to my bum writer.

He had on the worst long black shorts. He was very casual actually. Chaplin was more dressed up than he. I, on the other hand, had something to prove after the picture I'd sent of myself - hair mussed, holding my pet rabbit, and my cousin behind me with red glaring eyes and a wicked smile. My folks jumped to the conclusion that I had sent that ugly picture of myself to sabotage all hope of a relationship with a normal guy. Honestly, I don't know if I did or not. I had certainly said as many stupid things as possible to sabotage it. But whether I had subconsciously done myself in or not, I had my pride, and I was not going to be found lacking in the flesh. That night I was going for the make-him-weep-and-apologize-for-implying-you're-ratty look. With my short printed summer dress, dewy face and basket-weave heeled sandals, I hoped I had succeeded. If Matthew's million-watt smile was the indication, I had - though I could discern no signs of remorse for earlier implications. We stepped toward each other.

I don't remember what was said in those first moments. At least not until I shifted Chaplin from one hand to the other in order to shake his hand.

"What's this?' said Matthew.

I regretted my company then, but I held it out and said nervously but with chin pointed, "A talisman."

It was my misfortune that on the other side of Chaplin was an advertisement for southern whiskey. Jack Daniels to be precise. It was this that Matthew saw first, and he and his friend Nathan began to tease me.

"So you bring a picture of whiskey to our first date? I guess you like your alcohol."

I flipped it over.

"No, Chaplin. I love Charlie Chaplin."

"Oh, sure," he said with that smile. I was too flummoxed to appreciate it.

We soon made it into the bar to wait for our table. I lost track of Chaplin after that. I don't know where he went or what he did. Maybe I shoved him into the depths of my purse with just the Jack Daniels for consolation, but I no longer worried about him. Nor did I need him except perhaps to distract one of my sister's coworkers who turned to me and said genially, "If things don't work out with this, maybe you could meet my son. You two would hit it off."

Matthew was right there across from me. I glanced at him and back at her and mumbled a polite response.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I made sure, very gracefully of course, that Matthew settled on my left, my best side. It would have been very unfortunate if he'd taken a seat on my right; you can see how crooked my nose and mouth are on that side, and I try to surprise people with my flaws little by little, so there's a better chance of acceptance. I remember worrying about my profile, and also worrying about whether I was pronouncing the entrees right from the menu of "authentic" Mexican food. I didn't know then that, although his pronunciation was good, Matthew didn't actually speak Spanish at all. Ah, well. I got splashed with the light of his bright smile every time I got nervous over my words, so all in all, my embarrassment was worth it.

When the evening wound down, and we strolled slowly out of the restaurant, our tongues momentarily tied, Matthew guided me over to sit on a bench beneath the gloam of a tree. Shielded from the flourescent glare of the street lights, he asked me out on a date for that Thursday night, just the two of us. I didn't say no. Perhaps I had a premonition that all was going "to work out with this".

It was less than a year later that I met him before the altar and was greeted by that smile I love so well, at its most brilliant. The photographer caught the moment and gave me my favorite wedding photo. In that picture and in moments shared between us, Matthew's smile is destined to make me feel like a day-dreamy schoolgirl for years to come. Nothing's better than that.

Not even Charlie Chaplin.