What God Hath Joined

Published in the anthology Debuts (Beverly Jackson, ed.; Lit Pot Press, 2002)

I’d been out with this girl a few times. We were sort of going together, though it was still in that tentative time when you’ve slept together and you know you will again, but you don’t know each other well enough to know if that means you’re, like, serious. Or just that you plan to get to know each other more. Anyway, we had a date that night in the city, but I was going to be up in Northbrook all day and Allie had an afternoon meeting at the Winnetka branch of her bank. So I told her take the train there, and I’d pick her up at this Seattle’s Best around the corner from the bank. Her meeting was supposed to end at 5:00.

As it turned out, I got there a few minutes early, ordered a coffee and sat down. I drink regular. I never order any of the Starbucksy flavors, and I always say large no matter what silly names they have for their sizes. All of them, chains or independents, falling all over themselves to feel like they’re imitating something other than each other, it’s only a matter of time before they won’t sell you a cup of black coffee any more unless you order noir or “coffee of color” or God knows what. I was early, like I said, but I had this book in the car that Allie had given me, a Leonard Cohen love song illustrated with pictures by Matisse, very romantic, and I thought … well, you know, be reading it while I waited for her. I hadn’t gone with her long enough to know if she’d keep me waiting. I mean, her meeting might not have ended exactly on time.

Anyway, I started reading this book. The words didn’t make a whole lot of sense—stuff like Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin—but it was obviously about love. Which was weird, because she’d given it to me after only our third date. I’d broken up with someone not too long ago, the woman I’d gone with since college, so I was thinking how I never got anything like that from her. A shirt, once; and a lot of CDs—she was good about that, she’d find out what bands I liked and buy their new releases before I did. But nothing that came right out and said I love you passionately, which is what I figured the burning violin meant. I never gave Jen anything along those lines, either; that wasn’t how things were between us. Finally I got this job in Chicago and I said, “Are you coming with me?” I wasn’t surprised she said no. It wasn’t a big deal, actually. I think we’d known for the whole two years after college that it was only a matter of time. I think we were waiting for one of us to get interested in someone else, if you want to know the truth. Instead of a person coming between us, it was a job, kind of made it easier. I asked her if she wanted to move to Chicago with me, and she basically just said so long.

So I was looking at the paintings in the book, which I guess inspired Leonard Cohen to write the song. His music never grabbed me. I didn’t think I was crazy about Matisse, either. But I was definitely sort of interested in Allie. So I was thinking about her, and those words Dance me to the end of love. Then I got distracted by this conversation two women were having at the next table.

I wasn’t eavesdropping; they were practically on top of me. I could have reached over and patted the one woman on the back. Both of them were about the age of my parents—fifty or so. The one across the table, facing in my direction, was kind of stocky, with short wavy hair and glasses. I probably could have guessed she was a clergy person, if anyone had asked me. Earnest, and definitely single. She looked like several nuns I’ve known, though it turned out she wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t find out what church she was from, but she was doing the Lord’s work over a twelve ounce latte. Decaf, no doubt: Our Lady of the Immaculate Cappucino.

She was saying, “Well, that’s really not up to me. Have you thought about what sort of thing you want to say to each other?” She did look like a minister in plain clothes, but at that point, for all I knew, she could have been just a friend or an unusually frumpy wedding consultant or something.

“I tried to write something after we talked on the phone the other day,” the woman who had her back to me said. She unfolded a piece of lined paper and smoothed it on the table. All I could see was her hair, mousy gray and all tucked into a silver kind of comb, tacked to her head so tightly it almost hurt to look at it. She might have been a nice looking lady, but I couldn't see her face. Her leather coat hung over her shoulders like she was cold, though the place was warm enough. “All I came up with is ‘In the presence of our children and our dearest friends I renew the vows I made to you twenty-five years ago.’”

The other lady waited for her to go on. I did, too, but that was the whole speech. “Well,” she said, “I think that’s fine … unless you wanted to say something about your faith? Did you want to say ‘in the presence of God’ as well?”

“Should we say that? Before, or after children and friends?”

Again the advisor hesitated before weighing in. “It’s really up to you.”

“Do we have to make long declarations? We didn’t say anything the first time, you know, except ‘I, Catherine, take you, Robert, ….’ I mean … are you going to lead us through? A phrase at a time?”

“I can do that if you want me to. Or you could just read it, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

There was this line in the book in front of me, Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on. Of course Allie didn’t mean our wedding, it was just a poem, but … what did she mean?

“What do you think?” Catherine asked.

“Either way is fine.”

“I guess, I don’t know, I … how have other …” Catherine stopped. I couldn’t help listening in on their conversation, frankly, because of all this indecisiveness between the two of them. You wanted to just make some choices for Catherine and put her out of her misery.

“I tell you what,” the reverend said. “Why don’t you tell me what else you plan to include in the ceremony, and maybe that’ll help you decide about the details.”

“What should we include?”

“Well, maybe a reading of some kind?”

“You mean like passages from the Bible?”

“Doesn’t have to be. Could be a poem that’s special to the two of you? Or you could each choose something to read to one another?”

“Good luck! Robert’s the sort of man who has his secretary choose his Hallmark cards. Oh, gosh, I don’t know. What kind of readings do people have?”

“All kinds of things. It’s even more flexible than a wedding. I mean, that’s both a civil ceremony and a religious one. This is just kind of, you know, just very personal, between you and Robert in the presence of your friends.”

“Personal.” She pondered that, like she didn’t know what the word meant.

“Very much so. Personal and spiritual. That’s why you might want to say something about faith, you’re renewing your vows before God? … Or, I’ll say that. You can really choose any reading that you find inspiring, or something that expresses what you feel about your marriage …”

“What I feel about my marriage. Do you have any examples?” I looked at the open book in front of me. Dance me through the curtain that our kisses have outworn, Raise a tent of shelter now that every thread is torn, … I had no idea what it meant.

Again the minister hesitated. You could tell she was having to do more work for this gig than usual. She made a note on her pad. I tried to picture her in a robe or whatever she’d wear in church. All I could see was this yellow silk scarf she had around her neck. She must have thought it lent a touch of class to the outfit, but it looked so out of place with her Cornell sweatshirt that you had to wonder if she might have been causing tightly groomed Catherine to have a crisis of faith. Still, my sympathies were all with the minister, who was trying hard. She said, “I’ll email you some ideas, but really I bet you and Robert could come up with better ones. Oh! You know what one couple did last summer? This was in their home, too; in their garden. Each of their three children chose a poem that meant something, to them, about their parents’ commitment to each other and to the family.”

That sounded risky to me—what if your kids didn’t think your marriage was so hot? What if they chose that poem by Edgar Allen Poe about the crow, “Never more!” Or sang that Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird”? It started me thinking, what would I choose if my own parents renewed their vows and we each had to do a reading? Probably something sentimental like the Beatles’ “When I’m 64.” They’d love that, actually.

“Were you thinking of having any music?”

“Oh!” Catherine said, like that was an incredibly creative idea she’d never have thought of. “How long is this supposed to be, anyway?”

“I would suggest eight minutes.” Attagirl, just tell her.

“Eight minutes. That’s with the music, and readings, and all?”

“Yeah, a wedding is normally about twelve minutes but that would feel pretty long, I think, for this kind of thing.”

“Because my friend Claire did offer to play something. We have the piano right there.”

“That would be fine.”

“But I thought she meant, you know, while people are coming in. You think it should be part of the ceremony—are people going to be standing through the whole thing? I hadn’t thought of bringing in chairs for everyone.”

“Standing is fine. They won’t mind standing for six or eight minutes, in fact I think that makes it more intimate.”

I looked at my watch; it was ten minutes past the hour, and I hoped like hell my date would come so she could hear this ditz not having a clue what she wanted to do. Allie could have made some suggestions, maybe.

“Intimate?” Catherine said. “So ... six or eight minutes would be, what, a three minute piano piece and then a two minute reading by Sarah and two by Robbie, then repeat our vow and get your blessing and then everybody goes home?”

The reverend laughed, thank God. She happened to look at me just then, and caught my eye. Maybe I imagined it, but her look seemed to say Can you believe this? What she said was, “Do they go home, or are you planning to serve anything? Coffee and cake or something like that?”

At that point I stood up, a little abruptly, I guess, because the woman was making me so nervous. My chair knocked over and Catherine looked around, thinking she had blocked my way. We both said “sorry” at the same time and then I said, “no problem” and tried to give her a reassuring smile, like, perk up lady. She looked older than I’d pictured her, not burned out exactly, more like fatigued, and even though she was wearing a lot of makeup what I noticed most was her eyes. They were such a light blue they had almost no color in them. It was spooky.

I walked up to the window and looked out toward the bank. It was early May, but they already had flower plantings around the trees on the sidewalk, everything all quaint and perfect. It’s a small place, so I still couldn’t help hearing Catherine: “I was going to ask you what you’d suggest. Just coffee and cake or should we offer drinks? Not champagne, I don’t think. Or do you? Do they usually serve champagne at these things?”

“What do you and Robert envision?”

I went back and sat down and tried giving Leonard Cohen and Matisse another chance.

“I doubt if he had in mind dinner. The whole thing was his idea, and then … he’s just leaving it to me, as usual. Dinner? My God, no. No, no. No, this is what? Four o’clock? Cake, cookies, punch—what about two punches, one with champagne and one without? Or do you think we should have a bar, give them gin and tonics or whatever … just a minute. Could we go back to the music question? Sarah plays piano—my daughter? I could ask her if she wants to play, that is if she’s got something appropriate, maybe her Ravel piece. Or should it relate in some way to marriage? Oh, gosh. I don’t have a clue what …” She must have been hearing my thoughts. Clueless was the word, all right; totally indecisive. “But then if she plays, and also reads something, that would be two things for Sarah. Maybe the music should be her thing, and the reading Robbie’s?”

“That would be fine. Do you think he would care?”

No way would Robbie give a shit. Really—give me a break. But Catherine agonized about that for awhile, and if she had her friend Claire read something what about their friend Joanne, or should it be a man and a woman, and then she started asking what she should wear, which was kind of like asking for fashion advice from a gym teacher.

“It gets complicated, doesn’t it?” the expert said.

Catherine murmured something about “complicated”. I could imagine how complicated it would be for Catherine if her poor daughter ever got married. Which she probably would never do, unless she ran off in the middle of the night with a man from the motor trade.

“Is Robert meeting us here from the train?”

“I mentioned I was going to get together with you. He didn’t seem to feel a need to join us.”

“Oh. So, then … you and he have talked about what you want to do?”

“He said all he had meant was why didn’t we do ‘something’, he didn’t care what.” She sighed then: “Ohhhhhhh”, a great big sigh that said this whole exercise was just one more burden the son of a bitch had laid on her.


“Yeah, um, yeah, our friends the Donohues did it—they had it in their home, too, but see they’re Catholic, their priest actually did a whole service and the guests, those who were Catholic I suppose, went up and took Communion, so I don’t know how much would fit our … “

“Did Robert have something similar in mind? Without the Eucharist, of course?”

“Who the hell knows? He always does this to me!”

I couldn’t take much more. It didn’t sound like this union was going to be blessed for another twenty-five days, let alone years. The reverend must have been thinking the same thing, because she said, “So he wants you to know what he wants without talking about it.”

If I’d stayed any longer it sounded like we were going to be having a therapy session. Or else I was going to move to their table and say something, like why don’t you just get a fucking divorce? That was why I left. Allie was only fifteen minutes late, but I couldn’t wait around. I took Dance Me to the End of Love and got the hell out of there.

I was so irritated, I almost just drove home. But I was still there when she opened the car door a few minutes later and hopped in. “I thought you’d be in the café.”

“Why did you give me this?” I snapped, pointing to the book. “What’s this about a wedding? Don’t you think that’s a little premature? What the hell is this burning violin supposed to mean?”

First she was startled, but she didn’t yell back at me like she could have done. “Gee,” she said. “Sorry. It’s only a poem.”

So I told her all about Catherine and the minister. It made her smile, but I said, “You can go in and pick up a coffee if you want. I’m not going back in there. It’s too scary. Trying to renew her commitment to … eternal misery.”

She just laughed. “Maybe we shouldn’t even date, then, huh? Look where it could lead!” It was me she was laughing at, and of course she was right. Whatever happens, we couldn’t wind up like that.

Could we?

© 2007, Ken Kaye

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