Returned from the Golden State

Mars Girl & Bride ready to walk the Walk.
(She got the beautiful genes in the family!)

I just spent the last five days in sunny California for my cousin Angy’s wedding, in which I was the maid-of-honor (can we call me a “maid” at the age of 33? Especially since I’ve been married… I’m feeling more matronly these days than maidenly). The wedding ceremony was held in front of the Sentinel giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park just outside a small mountain town called Arnold (named before the state’s governor, I’m sure). It was very romantic to me, as I am also a nature lover who held my wedding outside. It was neat to realize that despite our many differences and interests, Angy and I still have a lot in common as far as what we view as a good location for performing our nuptials. In fact, she one-upped me since I had my wedding outside the 356th Fighter Group Restaurant in North Canton so I wasn’t quite as out in the nature as her wedding. I think next time I’d like to get married outside in a vineyard. But I digress.

Mars Girl in front of the Sentinel at the rehearsal (05-30-08).

The reception was held in the main area of the Bear Valley Lodge in the very, very small little “townlet” of Bear Valley, which, it turns out, was aptly named for there were two food raids by a bear in the hotel while I was there–one occurred around 4am the morning after the reception when a bear tore up a few tablecloths trying to get at the remnants of our feast. Those people at the Lodge should really consider locking the doors at night if bears are this common in the area. Apparently, they decided this bear was becoming too brave, so he’s probably going to end up as some forest ranger’s rug soon.

Bear Valley is at 7000 feet–not quite the altitude I consider a mountain from the perspective of my Colorado Rockies past, but it was very alpine by all other descriptions and the familiar “alpine smell” I associate with mountains. The road to Bear Valley wound up the mountain and the 20-some odd miles between there and Arnold–the only real civilization–was a half-hour trek that became a burden after all the trips up and down we had to make on Friday and Saturday. Especially since I dreamed each time of riding my bike up it and had to jealousy watch a few cyclists making the ascent. Despite the frustrating half-hour drives to get to and from the rehearsal dinner on Friday, the hair appointment in Arnold on Saturday, and then the return down the mountain an hour later for the wedding, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. The park was an enchanted location for a wedding–magical in the respect that those sequoias are something in the order of two thousand (!!!!) years old. There was something so earthy about performing the ritual of marriage among these old trees. Almost tribal in a way. Especially when my aunt Gabi performed a poem in her native tongue of Spanish after calling forth the four corners (very pagan!) of the compass. Her religious beliefs are an intricately laced theology of Catholicism mixed with undertones of Earth Mother spiritualism that I find really sort of fascinating and refreshing (or, at least, not in my very UU way of viewing the world).

Aunt Gabi was very theatrical in her presentation of this rather beautiful poem which was translated into English in the program. Very powerful poetics that stirred within me some emotion as they were said beneath the big, ancient tree under which I stood. It’s no wonder I couldn’t stop shivering throughout most of the ceremony (I don’t think it was just the cold–I think I was moved).

I had a moment where tears welled in my eyes, as happens to me at everyone’s wedding these days, because I can’t help but reflect upon the romantic holiness of a union between two people who love each other greatly enough make vows to commit their lives to one another–no easy promise, for sure. And, certainly, a promise I know I meant the day I said the words myself and smiled fondly at my husband with whom I was sure I would spend the rest of my life. Of course, that was not to be, and I can’t help but think about that as I stand up for the people I love, watching them make the same vows in their own words, praying ever so vigorously in my heart that they never have to endure the magnitude of heartbreak and silent suffering I had to. When you commit your life to someone as you do in marriage–or any union where you make a covenant to another person to support them through thick and thin, sickness and health, rich and poor– you are really putting your heart into someone else’s hands and telling them that they have the right to touch a piece of it. You’re asking them to take care of it, and in return, they are giving you their heart to hold. There’s no turning back when this bond is cemented–all of the ways out end in pain of some kind. That’s no commitment to be taken lightly!

I found myself briefly looking into the distance of the forest and whispering silently in my mind to my husband’s spirit, where ever it may be, just simply telling him that I love him. Misha, I thought wildly. I know you’re out there. I know you’re watching.

Or I hope. My faith fails sometimes. Later in the evening, I broke away from the reception for a jaunt outside in which I begged the stars for a sign of God or Mike or something and, again, received sterile silence in return. It’s so hard to look for faith when the world seems so devoid of a reason for it. It was my moment of failing again, begging as I always try, to invoke the spirit of Mike or the presence of God, only to be returned with cruel silence. It’s an old routine of mine, to call forth my husband. To date, the only answers I had were early on when I heard that Eve 6 song on the radio. Sometimes I think I need assurance of his presence now more than I did then. Why has he forsaken me? I wonder.

Fortunately, the minister of the ceremony was good natured and light-hearted. Just when I thought I was about to actually visibly cry, he said something that made us all giggle. My cousin and betrothed laughed and it broke my silent reverie and moments of shameful self-pity. I’m ruined for weddings, it seems, as they will always cause me to think of Mike and my brief first marriage and then cause me to pray fervently that I never have to help a friend through the misery of loss. Strangers for the hospice are one thing–friends, no, something else. I pray no friends or family require me to talk with them about their grief. Let me be the only statistical failure in my immediate group of relationships. Please let all my friends enjoy long lives with their spouses and let no child fall to an untimely death. I know I’m praying in vain; what will happen will happen. Sometimes I think I’m just waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The ceremony was only about a half hour long and ended with smiles and a huge movie star kiss that turned my new cousin-in-law into Don Juan, sweeping his fair maiden off her feet. Very nice. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone really indulge on sealing the oath of marriage with a hearty kiss (I’m getting tired of the polite pecks on the lips! This is love, man–ignite the world with it!). It wasn’t gross or perverted or publicly lewd. It just looked very spirited and I realized with envy how much I missed that kind of wild, silly love. Why didn’t Mike and I have a display like that on our wedding day? We were so reserved…

I rode back to the Lodge with Angy’s sister-in-law to whom I had to explain my widow situation (which wasn’t the first time I had to explain it to someone that week). I still hate dropping that bomb, but somehow it had slipped that I’d been married and the question “Was Angy your maid-of-honor?” quickly led to “Do you have any kids?” and “Where’s your husband?” and the cat had to be thrown from the bag in the aftermath of a blissfully happy event. Awkward silence ensues at some point, even when I try to explain that my wounds are no longer openly bleeding, that it was a long time ago, that I’m not sitting in a dark room wearing a black dress and lamenting the loss of my husband all day. Of course, the obligatory sentiment of “Well, I hope you meet someone else someday” had to come out. I think that kind of remark makes me the most uncomfortable simply because this well-intentioned comment always smacks to me of a desire to replace the current black cloud allegedly following me with a brand new basketball (one being unrelated to the other). I know it isn’t meant to be insulting or diminishing, but I still can’t help but feel it that way when the words inevitably come out. It must be because someone said that to me as I stood over my husband’s casket at his funeral. No matter how much less callous those words are said now–further and further from that moment–they still sting when they are said to me under any context.

I have never longed more for another person to be in the car. I just wish I could say, “Well, I’m a widow” and everyone can say, “that sucks” and change the subject. I don’t know why I’m always bothered by everyone else’s discomfort in learning my situation. I shouldn’t even care, but I always do. I’m still working on a crafty response that I haven’t used yet that basically states, “Hey, if I find love, I find love; if I don’t, I don’t. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it or stop living while I’m waiting.” I always forget to tell people that. It sure makes me sound a lot stronger than I often feel.

Mars Girl & Mars Mom at reception.

The reception was very classy while still managing to have that rustic feel to it. A big stone fireplace headed the common area of the hotel. You could look down on the reception from any of the floors in the hotel. I completely forgot to take pictures from above, though I’m not sure they would have come out because the room was really only lit by candles and white Christmas lights. Once I did my toast, I could enjoy myself whole-heartedly. I guess my uncle had been experiencing some anxiety of his own, for when he stood up to do the father-daughter dance, he fainted.

I was a little panicked when that happened. My uncle is older than my mom and, for a flash second, I hoped to hell that it wasn’t a heart attack or something more serious. Uncle Mart, affectionately nicknamed “Uncle K-Mart” by me, is one of my favorite uncles, and I guess my own past causes me to jump quickly to worried conclusions when something happens to someone I love. Turns out, though, he’d just gotten himself worked up about the dance and maybe he was a little overwhelmed by the emotion of his only daughter (only child, in fact) getting married. He says he doesn’t know why it happened. He hadn’t had much to drink yet. The room was a little warm. I guess for someone like me who faints at the sight of blood I can understand completely the illogic of a fainting spell. Sometimes it just happens. And when it does, it is inevitably embarrassing. (I’ve never fainted in an empty room, dammit!)

Mars Girl & her two favorite men–
Mars Dad (with flower crown) and Uncle “K-Mart”.

All told, I indulged quite a bit on the free wine. I ended up staying up with Peter’s (the groom) friends and family and Angy long after the reception had officially ended, helping them down the last of the alcohol. It was my duty as the maid-of-honor, after all. Didn’t you know that? Of course, I awoke from a coma on Sunday morning with a dull headache and when I stretched, I got a horrible cramp in my calf. This happens sometimes when I’m wearing high heels on a night in which I drank too much. It also happens the next morning after a long ride. The pain is excruciating. For thirty seconds, you’re just laying there in absolute horror as your muscle contracts fully and you can’t get it to stop. You can’t move without more waves of pain shooting through your leg. I hate these things and have tried to take potassium pills to ward them off, but it’s not entirely working. I started getting these cramps over the last couple of years so I’m starting to think it’s something that came upon me with age. Yay.

After the post-wedding brunch, I checked out of the hotel and headed out to Lodi–a lesser known wine area south of Sacramento. My friend, Sarah from Seattle, was in California visiting her in-laws and we’d agreed to meet up while I was out there. Her in-laws chose a great meeting place for us–Berghold Estate Winery. The landscaping at this place was absolutely beautiful. While the outside of the building looked rather Tuscan, the inside was decorated with antiques reminiscent of the Old West. The wine was pretty good as well. We tried them all and I ended up buying the merlot and the zin. I probably would have bought their only white–a viognier–but I wasn’t sure I would have enough room in my luggage. Ahh, decisions, decisions. I have a very real feeling that if I ever got the opportunity to visit Napa or Sonoma, I’d be sending cases of wine home. I’m pretty sure if I lived in California, I’d go broke on wine purchases.

It was really cool to finally meet Sarah’s little boy, Max. The little bugger has mastered walking and gives you a run for your money if you try to chase him down. Even when you try to thwart his attempt to get some place by stepping in front of him, he quickly calculates an alternative route around you and just goes. His little walk just makes you laugh even as he’s running away from you. Sarah says he didn’t crawl much, reminding me of my godson Dylan who also skipped the whole crawling stage of his development and went right to walking.

Max is pretty smiley. My favorite stage of childhood is anything before the age of 13. I always say that if I had kids, I’d sell them off to slavery at 13. Remembering what a complete farthead I was between the ages of 13 and 18 is what makes me want to never have children. I’d probably enjoy the little kid part. I suppose one has to go through the teen years to gain the independence required later in life; however, I just don’t want to be the parent who has to feel the fury of a teenager’s wrath. That’s five years of pure hell. Hopefully Max, being male, won’t be as much of a pain in the butt as I was! Right now, he seems like a lot of fun. Though, I am sure, not being around him all day, it’s not the fun and games it looks to be.

Anyway, the time with Sarah was not nearly enough. It’s too bad neither of us could stay out longer. I guess that just means I have to make another trip out to Seattle in the near future. It’s kind of nice having friends in other states–gives me plenty of excuses for travel. Seattle is a pretty fun city, especially when seen from the point of view of those who live there.

Mars Girl, Max, and Sarah at Berghold Estate Winery in Lodi, CA.

Unfortunately, I had to leave California at 6am on Monday. I would have loved to spend a few more days out there, but my job does not give me nearly enough vacation time for my desires (whose does?). I also think it was really hard to leave because California harkens to my western soul, inviting me gently to stay forever in the land of sun and mountain playgrounds. Throughout this trip, my heart was singing, Return to the west, child! You know you want to live out west. Someday, perhaps. I can only go when I’ve promised myself that I will stay for good. I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that yet. I have to make my peace with Ohio.

Of course, my return to Ohio was at precisely the right time. It seems like since I was gone, everything got greener, and I’m not totally sure that it was because of the golds and yellows I spent the last five days looking at in California. No, it seems Ohio blossomed into the start of summer while I was gone. The humidity kissed my skin as I deplaned, the familiar smell of watery air filled my nostrils. I have to admit that Ohio is beautiful in its green glory. This is the best season, our summer season. Fall is second best. You can have winter and spring in Ohio–these are painful seasons. Still dreaming of my half-Ohio/half-Colorado “snowbird” life. Perhaps someday.

Anyway, the trip was wonderful. The wedding was beautiful. Max was cute. Sarah looked great! Life is good on Mars Girl’s piece of the planet.


4 thoughts on “Returned from the Golden State

  1. I simply placed the crown of flowers on his head, and he left it on proudly. What? Dontcha think my dad has a “goofball” bone in him? Where do you think I got my weirdness from? My mom and her family doesnt bear the burdon of ALL of my weirdness… ;)

  2. I am not fond of weddings, but I am glad you had fun. I am a bit jealous though; I have not been to my native state in several years. As a Boy Scout for 11 years, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness. I used to live close to the Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve ( It is beautiful country; I miss it.

  3. My cousin grew up in California (thus why the wedding was there). I sure wouldnt mind living there…if it didnt cost so dang-blasted much!!I am trying to get my uncle to climb Mt. Whitney (the highest point in California) next summer. He’s the one who got me into hiking many moons ago. So it seems fitting.

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