Great News - - I am this year's first place winner of The Unknown Writers' Contest sponsored by the DENVER WOMAN'S PRESS CLUB for my nonfiction essay "The Color of Love". My three year writing effort of my memoir, Back to Bali, is finished and this win will hopefully get me off my butt and shop it around to agents - a dreaded job at best. The essay is below. I would love to hear your comments.
Namaste, Quinn Reed
THE COLOR OF LOVE
By Quinn Reed
Sometime during my marriage, my bright eyes slowly cloud with cataracts of fading appreciation. My husband fades into shades of muted heather grey and the soft golden ochre of a well-worn sweater rather than electric blue and the scarlet color of pomegranate juice of our early days. I’ve become accustomed to his face, his voice, his scent, his smile… his able hands. As one year follows another, color blindness sets in, reducing the image of my husband from the technicolor of new experience to the monochrome of familiarity.
The realization that tomorrow marks our fortieth year of marriage astonishes me. Our time together has evaporated as quickly as rain water falling on the Serengeti plains where we began our married life as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa. I am so overcome by the significance of this milestone that I decide to throw a party. My decision to celebrate may be a stroke of genius or more likely, simply a stroke of luck. In any case, it is the catalyst that reawakens my appreciation for my husband.
How can a party re-energize a lazy heart and rekindle memories that sweep through the body, cleansing perceptions, and clearing vision? How can a wedding dress transform feelings like a pair of old shoes made to squeak once again with newness and shine with promise like the day they were made? What power does a scuffed wedding album hold to tell a story? Why does putting pen to paper to write a toast reveal dreams that have come true?
THE WEDDING ATTIRE
Three times during our marriage, I toss my wedding dress and veil into the trash. Each time my husband rescues it. “You shouldn’t throw your wedding dress away!” he’d say.
“Why not? It’s just a humble, handmade dress that I created on my Singer sewing machine. It served its purpose. We no longer need it.”
Believing that it still has value, each time I toss it, my husband retrieves it and hands it to me to stuff back into the plastic zippered bag. We drag the wedding gown with us into each new chapter of our life as we move from job to job, house to house, state to state. As the years pass, I give no thought to the bridal dress languishing in some dark corner of the basement. Once, at year thirty, I thought that the dress was gone – lost forever.
My allegiance to the wedding dress has long since turned to other dresses - better made dresses, like the flirty cocktail number in a fuchsia silk, with its price tag still on, waiting to be worn with the hundred inches of pink pearls at our wedding anniversary party tomorrow night.
On the eve of our party, I spot a crumpled ball of white on the top shelf of the guest room closet. Climbing onto a step stool, I pull the bag down and open it. I remove the garment and spread it out on the bed. My husband sees the forgotten wedding dress and suggests I iron it. So I spend the eve of our anniversary arranging the tired crepe on my ironing board, pressing life into the long, cuffed sleeves and the gentle falling skirt trimmed with white fur that skims the floor. Next, I tackle the veil – four tiers of tulle attached to a tiny pillbox hat. Not having ironed the veil since my wedding day, I wonder if it will shrink and burn - if the edges will curl in protest from the assault of the heated iron. It doesn’t. Rather, it returns to life and falls into beautiful cascades, just as it did during the January blizzard when my husband and I, still in college, wed forty years ago.
Returning to the guestroom closet, I take out my husband’s wedding suit. Worn only once, it is an exquisite garment. Made of finely woven virgin wool in a deep navy color, the double-breasted suit is impeccably tailored. I notice its faint pin stripes still catch the light, just as they did the day we were married.
I hang my wedding veil and the white crepe dress, with the bow at the back of the waist facing out, on a peg on the guest room wall. This is the view the guests filling the church pews saw that Sunday afternoon four decades ago. Only the priest was privy to the tears streaming down my face as I knelt next to my future husband exchanging vows.
Carefully, I hang the handsome suit next to my dress and the years between that January and this one disappear. Separately, the dress and the suit are only garments. But hanging next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, they become imbued with enough energy to reincarnate the past. They begin a dialogue with each other and the air changes color as it becomes charged with faith, hope and promise. Like a living piece of art, the diorama that hangs on the pegs, delight the guests who come to celebrate our wedding anniversary. As they deposit their winter coats on the guestroom bed, the women squeal with delight and the men grin. All who gaze at the bodiless couple hanging on the wall are made aware of the significance of the day when the lovely young woman with the tiny waist joined her life to the tall, slender man of twenty-one. All our heartbeats quicken, but none more than mine.
THE WEDDING TOAST
Wanting to toast my husband at our party, I retreat to my office with a note card and pencil and reflect on our life’s journey together. When I was a teenager in North Dakota, my aunt encouraged me to think big. On her advice, I sent intentions out into the universe as to what I hoped my life would bring. Today, I visit those intentions one by one.
***Someday, let me stand at the foot of the great pyramids of Egypt, one of the wonders of the world.
With my young husband at my side, I have stood on the banks of the Nile, visited the pygmies in the Congo, felt the spray of Victoria Falls on my face, and climbed Mt. Kenya in a snow storm. I’ve seen Buddha’s tooth, camped at the foot of the Himalayas and visited Moscow when there still was a Soviet Union. Throughout our years together we have traveled the globe and seen all the places I had read about as a child in the basement of our city library built of stone.
***Someday, let me have a family that will be my rock, a source of joy.
I think of our parenting years and our grown daughter and son, both wonderful people, and smile.
***Someday, I want a home that is uniquely me – a place where my soul can fly.
I look around my home of tall ceilings filled with light. From my windows, I see mountains, wildlife, and wide open vistas. This home provides me with privacy to feed my spirit and with space to gather friends and family. My husband was my partner in designing this home with its art studio, a labyrinth, and patios enough to follow the sun.
***Someday, let me become the woman I was meant to be.
I wanted my life’s work to make a difference - to work as a therapist with people with disabilities, to serve in the Peace Corps, to volunteer in my community and to become an artist. They have all come to pass. When the hour comes for the toast, I know what to say. I say thank-you.
Thank-you, husband, for the pyramids.
Thank-you, husband, for being a wonderful father.
Thank-you, husband, for our lovely home.
Thank-you, husband, for taking in stride all my reinventions over the years.
With you as my partner, I have become the woman I was meant to be. All my dreams have come true.
THE WEDDING ALBUM
Searching our bookshelves, I extract the Bridal Album recording our wedding day. It hasn’t been opened in years and the silver letters on the cover are dull and the plastic holding the photos in place has grown brittle. On a whim, I gently dust it off and place it on the side-table in the living room.
Throughout the afternoon’s festivities, every time I glance at the table, I notice guests, bent over, carefully examining the album, slowly turning each page. I am surprised that it is such a hit. My son-in-law approaches and touches my arm. “Those are really nice photos.”
Surprised at his comment, I respond, “Oh, you think so?” We didn’t have a professional photographer to artfully frame each shot. At our modest wedding, a kind relative with a Kodak camera in her purse thoughtfully snapped the shots, willy nilly. I make a mental note to look at the album later, alone, to discover the story it tells.
After the house is empty, while my husband rinses out wine glasses, I sit, exhausted, on the couch and switch on a light over my shoulder. I open the album and examine each photo, trying to break the code, attempting to see what my guests found so interesting. Like an archeologist, examining an ancient manuscript, I tease out the clues of the images of the couple that existed then.
Immediately, I am struck at how beautifully innocent and full of hope they seem to be. In some of the photos, the bride looks a little lost. She reminds me of a person getting off an elevator on the wrong floor, stunned, struggling to get her bearings.
As I turn the pages, I notice the groom is smiling. A wide grin of pure pleasure and happiness radiates from his face in image after image. He looks so present, so grounded. He looks so sure….about this day and the ones to follow.
A pictorial pattern emerges; in every photo the groom is holding his bride’s hand. Sometimes, he wraps her arm through his and tucks it close to his side, other times, he gently but firmly cups her small hand with both of his. But there is more. When the groom looks at his bride, his face is close to hers. They seem to be connected by a non-verbal language unique to them.
Even though, these two people in the photos share the same DNA as my husband and my present self, I feel like a voyeur. But the pictorial story reawakens my heart as I crack the code of the wedding album. He loves her very much.
This morning, the day after our anniversary, I wake with my arm tucked through my husband’s and I am filled with gratitude. Before I open my eyes to begin year forty-one, I sense the color of our bedroom walls will appear more vibrant. Yesterday, the wedding attire hanging side by side added tonal nuances to my black and white palette of appreciation. The wedding toast contributed rich jewel tones of drama and depth to my vision. The wedding album embellished my perception with shots of metallic gold, silver, bronze and copper. No longer color blind, I am once again looking at my marriage through the eyes of an artist. Once again, I see the color of love.