Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Names Without Faces

Try as I might, I could not remember their faces. I could remember certain things about each one. The dimple in April’s cheek. Gina’s smile was like a ray of sunshine. I remembered the green of Sarah’s eyes and how Michele’s laugh sounded like tinkling bells.

The door creaked open and interrupted my mental reverie.

“Hey, Colin, we’re almost ready for you man.” His name was Mike. I had only known him for two days. He looked at me expectantly with hazel eyes, his curly mop of hair spilling over one eye. Haley had curly hair just like that.

“Colin?” he prompted me. I had forgotten to answer him.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m ready to go. Whenever.”

“Awesome, dude.” He closed the door and went off whistling to do whatever it is that he was supposed to be doing. He was a young guy, just turned nineteen. So carefree. So full of life and expectancy. I envied him slightly. Not that I was old, really. Only thirty-five. Probably seemed old to him.

I ran my fingers through my thick black hair and tried to smooth it. My first wife, Alaina, had always smoothed my hair back from my face when we were alone. It was her way of showing affection. She had been my high school sweetheart. I felt a pang of remorse, but quickly pushed it away. I couldn’t change the past.

I tried to think about Courtney, the woman I was about to marry. I tried to imagine her face, thinking maybe this time I could somehow etch her features into my mind and it would be different for me. Even now, minutes away from our ceremony, I couldn’t picture it. How odd. I only knew she had long, slender fingers and played the piano beautifully.

Julie, my third wife, had also been a musician. She played the cello. I could still remember the grace and elegance of her posture sitting in a chair to play, and the way her hand moved as she pulled the bow across the strings. Again, I felt a twinge of loss that I would never have that beauty as part of my life again.

With each one of them, I had become a different person. The person that they needed, the person they wanted me to be. I had changed my personality so many times, I barely even knew myself anymore. When I told Kat I loved The Beatles, was it true, or did I say it just to win her over? Did I really like my coffee black, or did I drink it to accommodate someone else’s preferences? Did I even like coffee to begin with? was another question that flitted through my mind from time to time. I found I would rather not dwell on it.

The door squeaked again. Courtney’s mom this time. She was probably the nicest woman I had ever met. Her fluffy blond hair poufed around her head and her figure was nicely rounded. She always looked put together and was fond of wearing little scarves around her neck. Today it was pink, Courtney’s color.

“Hey, Marina.”

“Oh, now, you know you can call me ‘Mom’,” she drawled in her southern accent.

I nodded with a shy grin and shrugged my shoulders.

“Now, sweetheart,” she began, “we’ve got about fifteen more minutes. Courtney’s had a tiny bit of a wardrobe issue, but we’ll just resolve it and be right back on track.” She gave me a huge smile. “Alright?”

“Sure. Hey, if Court is happy, that’s all that matters. It’s her day,” I said with sincerity.

She came over and hugged my neck. “Oh, aren’t you the sweetest thing!” she said, giving me a squeeze. “Court is so lucky to have a guy like you. You two are going to be just wonderful together.”

“I hope so,” I told her.

“Oh, don’t go gettin’ cold feet now. You’ll be fine.” She breezed back to the door.

“Thanks, Mom.” I said as she was going out. She turned and beamed at me before closing the door again.

In some ways, it was Marina even more than Courtney that caused me to hope this marriage wouldn’t end as the others had. I had never had such a kind and lovely mother-in-law. It made me wish I was a different person, that I wasn’t compelled to act as I had always acted in the past. I briefly dared to hope, but I knew, deep down, it could only end, and end messily.

I was always careful not to tell each woman about the other wives I’d had. I knew it would only hurt my cause, and I was sure that if they did find out, I could easily excuse myself. Only one time had it been a problem.

Michele was my fifth wife, and when she found out, she was not happy about it. She came home one day and threw all my stuff in the hallway outside of our apartment. She never even gave me a chance to explain. We had been married only three months. I was sorry for it to end, but I had no choice. It was too bad, she was really such a beautiful woman. I think.

That was the problem, really. It was always only a matter of time. I had been to see a shrink about this. My seventh wife insisted. Lane was a Psychology major. She all but forced me to talk to Dr. Bell, her own psychiatrist as soon as she realized that I had been married before. Multiple times. So, I went. I was not opposed to trying to save the marriage, I just knew that it was going to be a fruitless effort in the end. In retrospect, I have my doubts about Dr. Bell being very good at what she does, because she ended up being my eighth wife. It’s a shame really. Not only did she not help me save my marriage with Lane, she was then also unable to save my marriage with her. That was Tanya. I actually moved to the other side of the country after that one. She was…bitter.

A short knock, and then the door swung open once more. It was Sylvester, my best man. Courtney’s cousin. We had become somewhat close in the last few months. Closer maybe than any other person I had called friend. We shared a love of racquetball and literature, especially Edgar Allan Poe. Two loves I knew were really mine. I was pretty sure they were, anyway.

“Col, it’s time.” He was always very direct. I think that’s part of why I like him. In the midst of all my subterfuge, here was an honest man.

I stood. “I’m ready.” I wiped my sweaty palms on the front of my pants.

“Follow me,” he said, gesturing with his hand.

As we walked down the hall, I tried to make small talk. I was nervous. I told him so.

“You’ll be fine. It’s not like you haven’t done this before.”

I shot him a look. “Where did you hear that?”

I stopped in the hall, and so did he. He stared blankly past me as he quoted ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. “’I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell…”

I kicked him in the shin. “You stop that!” It was childish, but I was feeling overly anxious already without having to wonder if he knew something, and in that case, if Courtney knew something too.

“Ow!” He grabbed his shin. “Geez, man! I was only kidding around!”

“It wasn’t funny,” I told him. “What did you mean when you said, ‘It’s not like you haven’t done this before’?”

“I was being sarcastic. Obviously, you never have done this before, or you wouldn’t be so damn touchy. Lighten up,” he growled in exasperation.

“Sorry. Wedding jitters. I…sorry.” I offered my hand. “All’s forgiven?”

He took my hand reluctantly. “Yeah. Of course.”

We continued down the hall, and I began to review my past once again. I had never had any children with any of them. I felt oddly grateful for this. It wasn’t that I didn’t like children, or even that I didn’t want to have a son or daughter of my own. But how cruel to introduce a child to a world like this, a world like…mine. There had been two close calls. Out of all those marriages, only twice did I come close to being a father. But, as God, or Fate, or whatever, would have it, both were miscarriages. I admit, at the time, I was both relieved and disappointed. Who knew but that a child might have the power to bind me in a way that even my marriage vows hadn’t? Regret felt like a cloying glob, bittersweet and choking me. I cleared my throat as we entered the sanctuary.

The pastor shook my hand and looked me dead in the eye. For a moment I felt panic, I felt he could see right through me. I stood anxiously at the front of the room, waiting for my bride to enter. Even though I had done this many times before, I still felt nervous. I think it was the crowd. My heart was beating so loud, I thought the whole room could hear it. I ran my hand over my face and then clasped them in front of me. The doors opened. There was Courtney, on the arm of her father. She looked so beautiful, I felt tears come to my eyes. Guilt swarmed me, as it always did, knowing that even while I said the vows and meant them, I also planned to break them. I would leave. I always did. It was destiny for me. I could not stop myself from getting married, over and over. Neither could I stop myself from leaving every one of them.

As Courtney came to stand beside me, and we began the ceremony that would join us, I admired the long chestnut hair cascading down her back. It reminded me of my mother. She’d had long, shining hair like that, just a shade darker. I still missed her. She had left when I was three years old. I remembered little things about her. The sound of her voice. The song she sang to me when I was sick. The color of her eyes. I remembered that she played the violin. She loved the violin. I could remember the way she flipped pancakes, and the feel of her hand on my brow when she would tuck me in at night. I remembered many things….

But I couldn’t remember her face.

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