Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Living "The Dream"

Less than three weeks before my younger brother's wedding, I went swimming with my friend, Lizzie. She was house-sitting in a county north of Baltimore. The two of us swam in the in-ground pool in the properly fenced and impeccably landscaped backyard of this house, so naturally I asked for details. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Whose house is this?

Lizzie: My friend’s. We went to college together, she met her husband there, they got married and she’s pregnant with her third kid at thirty years old.

Me: Wow. Three kids, huh? She’s only thirty?

Lizzie: Yup. Three kids, a house with a big yard and a pool, a Labrador retriever and she doesn’t even have to work. Can you believe it?

Me: No – does she really want all those kids? She’s so young.

Lizzie: Yup. She’s only thirty and she’s living the dream.

Me: Whose dream?

Lizzie: Everyone’s; definitely mine.

This is about the time that I realized that Lizzie and I – bless her heart – have absolutely nothing in common. I have tons of dreams. Being a stay-at-home mother of three kids by the time I’m thirty is (thankfully) not one of them. I love labs, but prefer mutts, have never met anyone “forever”-worthy, and have never been keen on yard work. I like to pursue and participate in my dreams: I want my book published; I want to write and travel and swim with the dolphins; I want to be a better teacher every year; I want to write the curriculum for a 12th grade class that examines apathy in the face of history’s horrors; I want to start painting again and to teach myself eight of Chopin’s preludes on the piano; I want to go for a run with my dog while she’s still young, and I want – when this damn disease is cured – to coach track and ride horses on the weekends.

Some of my dreams, I suppose, are just as elusive as finding a rich husband, but they involve my own aspirations and passions; they involve cultivating contentment, happiness and personal success. This does not mean that I want to live my life alone. I want very much to share my achievements and failures with someone who I miss while I’m sleeping. I will not, however, rest the entirety of “my dream” in the hands of someone I have not yet met.

All of this led to a comforting moment of clarity, no wonder I didn’t mind being the single sister at my younger brother’s wedding: his life is closely aligned with Lizzie’s “dream”, but not necessarily mine. This doesn’t mean I successfully avoid occasional bouts of envy - I wish I had met the love of my life in college and I made more money and were as happy and healthy as my brother. Mostly, though, I’m just relieved that out of all the girls he’s dated, my sister-in-law is not only someone I can tolerate, she is someone I genuinely love.

Thankfully I made these revelations a good forty-eight hours prior to the wedding, and had sufficient time to think of a speech for the rehearsal dinner. I stopped thinking about Lizzie’s dream and figured out what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about my uncanny propensity to cry while public speaking, so my sentiments – while genuine and written with the intent to be expressed eloquently - came out as a blithering diatribe about how my brother reminds me of a dog. Below is what I wanted to say. I owe it to my brother to let him –
and anyone else – know that my intentions were good:

Since I’m a member of the bridal party, I guess technically what I’m about to say should pertain strictly to Katie, but – since the best man's in charge of the speech tomorrow – I’d better say something briefly about my brother too. I want to take some of the pressure off of Uber.

The first book I read this summer was Marley and Me. For those of you who haven’t read it or – for the groomsmen who don’t read – the book is about a badly behaved dog and its owner who comes to love him deeply and unconditionally. I bring this up because as I was reading, I saw a scary number of similarities between Marley and my brother. Marley was a little bit, well, outrageous. If he’d been a human, though, I think he’d have lived his life a lot like my brother: I imagine that he’d dress up as teen wolf for Halloween; he’d buy a brand new, enormous, gas-guzzling truck when a tire fell off his old one; he’d visit his sister in Baltimore and decide to walk to her apartment (alone and with a dead cell phone) in the middle of the night. He and his friends would shave each other mohawks in his sister’s bathroom and he would almost certainly run a marathon on the other side of the country less than a month before his wedding.

Much like Marley, my brother needs a special, patient and selfless companion in his life; he needs someone who can receive and reflect the kind of love he gives: loyal, genuine, enduring and unqualified (though absurd) love. He has found that companion in Katie. When circumstances (aka jobs) bring Pat frustration, she brings him compassion; when impulses get him into trouble (or, most recently, marathons); she offers him patience and support. She brings out the best in my brother and – most importantly – she sees and loves him for the outrageously loyal person he is.

I am proud to call you my sister, Katie, and I wish you both years and years of marital bliss.

So, while I’m not entirely sure that the dog-brother/owner-Katie analogy was completely flattering, I do know that I meant it to be. I also know that – in times that I turn into an emotional basket-case – the written word works a hell of a lot better than a tear-infested oratory.

I still remember that years ago, a close friend of mine was in her younger sister’s bridal party. For months before the wedding, I heard of the misery and humiliation that she endured as the older, single, maid of honor. I guess I just assumed that when I found myself in a similar circumstance, I too would experience such horrifying emotions. I thus modified my expectations accordingly: I prepared myself for endless wedding preparations, the inevitability of an awkwardly fitting and generally unflattering bridesmaid dress, and the potential to – gasp – not have a date by the wedding.

Except for the date part, though, none of my fears were realized. And, since I actively abhor crying in front of boyfriends anyway, my younger brother’s wedding weekend was absolutely perfect.


Campbell said...

Dude. Great post. It sounds like it was an awesome wedding. I am in a chapter of my life where I especially appreciate moments of emotional clarity about family. I feel much more attached to them, especially at things like weddings, rhan I used to. It's like my tastebuds changing.

Keep writing. Do you check these comments?

Anonymous said...

You know what, I had that dream when I was in college. And I am really glad that it didn't come true. I'm 30 with no kids and a non-rich husband. I'm really happy with how things have turned out instead.

Anonymous said...

I hate to burst anyone's bubble but I think this woman was very smart for not waiting until her 30s to start having kids. As a woman struggling with infertility in her 20s knows it's that fertility begins to decrease at age 30 and further decreases at 35. I've been trying for a year and a half and I'm being sent to a specialist. If I had waited like so many do nowadays I might never had a chance to have children - especially since I might have to rely on IVF or IUI to conceive. Having children doesn't always take one night and 9 months - it can take years and years and years. I'm just trying to get the message out because I've met way too many woman who thought the same thing and missed their chances.

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