Jilted

ImageI didn’t attend my own engagement party, nineteen years ago. For a long time I’ve thought that’s the interesting part—my absence. Now it strikes me that the odder part is that they threw the party anyway. Without me.

They held it to boost M’s spirits, I suppose, to show him there would be life after Jill. They called it the Jilted Party.

But M already knew I was coming back around. I said yes and then I said no and then I said yes. He took a chance and asked me to marry him too soon, and he knew it. I said yes because it made perfect sense and was the next logical step but it was too soon so at some point I had to say no. It was the thought of that damn engagement party, knowing I’d have to fly back to the east coast with him and face all his friends and family, people I barely knew, all those exuberant well-wishers. They were decent, every last one of them, bear huggers and storytellers and people too good to face half-hearted. I anticipated their toasts, their hugs, their demands for kisses while they all watched, and I couldn’t do it, not when in my heart I was retreating to a dark corner, shrinking from the bright light of their community and love. I couldn’t join them yet.

I drove M to the airport and gave him a card, and in the card I had enclosed a small knitted square. He sat in the passenger seat and opened the envelope. He held the knitting to his cheek as he read the card. At that moment I knew I could marry this man.

At our wedding in a museum, the nuptials took place under an exit sign. I joked to the best man that M better watch out; I might slip through the emergency exit before saying “I do.” M thought the joke was Drew’s. I never told him I was the one who said it. Even now I sometimes catch M looking at me with uncertainty, as if I might walk out the door at any time. That’s okay. I don’t want to be taken for granted.

A few years into our marriage I read a tome of a book called A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s the story of Lata and her mother’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her. There were three suitors. The first one was a shoe salesman. He was decent and kind and good-hearted. Lata liked him but pushed him away. She followed her heart when she dated first one and then another man, finding herself drawn to them in ways that sounded to me like love.

A thousand pages later she consented to marry the shoe salesman. I almost threw the book across the room when I read that. What kind of idiocy is this? Why is she settling for the one she turned down? Something had struck a nerve. I put the book back on the shelf and stopped recommending it to people.

********

I am taking the job I turned down last summer. I’ve lived this year of delicious open-endedness, a time for freelancing and self-reliance, but at heart I realize I am a staff member. I prefer to be engaged, plugged in, fully aware of the ins and outs of an organization. I long to feel indispensable again.

I told myself that I would take the job that flowed to me like water. I wouldn’t pound the pavement, wouldn’t blast résumés in all directions. I’d know the job when it came lapping at my feet, unbidden. It would be so natural as to be obvious, so obvious I wouldn’t even know it was there until it was mine. And so it has been.

The employer is asking for a five-year commitment. Or, backpedalling mightily, a multi-year commitment. Like a fiancé courting the woman who once turned him down, he trains a wary eye on me, as if I might vanish at any moment. My power comes from the quiet voice in that dark, unreachable place, that as implausible as it might be, as little as I crave the drastic unknown—at any moment, I just might.

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