Authors: Emily Giffin
Tags: #marni 05/21/2014
It happened exactly one hundred days after I married Andy, almost to the minute of our half-past-three-o’clock ceremony. I know this fact not so much because I was an overeager newlywed keen on observing trivial relationship landmarks, but because I have a mild case of OCD that compels me to keep track of things. Typically, I count insignificant things, like the steps from my apartment to the nearest subway (341 in comfortable shoes, a dozen more in heels); the comically high occurrence of the phrase “amazing connection” in any given episode of
(always in the double digits); the guys I’ve kissed in my thirty-three years (nine). Or, as it was on that rainy, cold afternoon in January, the number of days I had been married before I saw him smack-dab in the middle of the crosswalk of Eleventh and Broadway.
From the outside, say if you were a cabdriver watching frantic jaywalkers scramble to cross the street in the final seconds before the light changed, it was only a mundane, urban snapshot: two seeming strangers, with little in common but their flimsy black umbrellas, passing in an intersection, making fleeting eye contact, and exchanging stiff but not unfriendly hellos before moving on their way.
But inside was a very different story. Inside, I was reeling, churning, breathless as I made it onto the safety of the curb and into a virtually empty diner near Union Square.
Like seeing a ghost,
I thought, one of those expressions I’ve heard a thousand times but never fully registered until that moment. I closed my umbrella and unzipped my coat, my heart still pounding. As I watched a waitress wipe down a table with hard, expert strokes, I wondered why I was so startled by the encounter when there was something that seemed utterly inevitable about the moment. Not in any grand, destined sense; just in the quiet, stubborn way that unfinished business has of imposing its will on the unwilling.
After what seemed like a long time, the waitress noticed me standing behind the Please Wait to Be Seated sign and said, “Oh. I didn’t see you there. Should’ve taken that sign down after the lunch crowd. Go ahead and sit anywhere.”
Her expression struck me as so oddly empathetic that I wondered if she were a moonlighting clairvoyant, and actually considered confiding in her. Instead, I slid into a red vinyl booth in the back corner of the restaurant and vowed never to speak of it. To share my feelings with a friend would constitute an act of disloyalty to my husband. To tell my older and very cynical sister, Suzanne, might unleash a storm of caustic remarks about marriage and monogamy. To write of it in my journal would elevate its importance, something I was determined not to do. And to tell Andy would be some combination of stupid, self-destructive, and hurtful. I was bothered by the lie of omission, a black mark on our fledging marriage, but decided it was for the best.
“What can I get you?” the waitress, whose name tag read
asked me. She had curly red hair and a smattering of freckles, and I thought,
The sun will come out tomorrow
I only wanted a coffee, but as a former waitress, remembered how deflating it was when people only ordered a beverage, even in a lull between meals, so I asked for a coffee and a poppy seed bagel with cream cheese.
“Sure thing,” she said, giving me a pleasant nod.
I smiled and thanked her. Then, as she turned toward the kitchen, I exhaled and closed my eyes, focusing on one thing: how much I loved Andy. I loved everything about him, including the things that would have exasperated most girls. I found it endearing the way he had trouble remembering people’s names (he routinely called my former boss Fred, instead of Frank) or the lyrics to even the most iconic songs (“Billie Jean is not my mother”). And I only shook my head and smiled when he gave the same bum in Bryant Park a dollar a day for nearly a year—a bum who was likely a Range Rover–driving con artist. I loved Andy’s confidence and compassion. I loved his sunny personality that matched his boy-next-door, blond, blue-eyed good looks. I felt lucky to be with a man who, after six long years with me, still did the half-stand upon my return from the ladies’ room and drew sloppy, asymmetrical hearts in the condensation of our bathroom mirror. Andy loved
and I’m not ashamed to say that this topped my reasons of why we were together, of why I loved him back.
“Did you want your bagel toasted?” Annie shouted from behind the counter.
“Sure,” I said, although I had no real preference.
I let my mind drift to the night of Andy’s proposal in Vail, how he had pretended to drop his wallet so that he could, in what clearly had been a much-rehearsed maneuver, retrieve it and appear on bended knee. I remember sipping champagne, my ring sparkling in the firelight, as I thought,
This is it. This is the moment every girl dreams of. This is the moment
have been dreaming of and planning for and counting on.
Annie brought my coffee, and I wrapped my hands around the hot, heavy mug. I raised it to my lips, took a long sip, and thought of our year-long engagement—a year of parties and showers and whirlwind wedding plans. Talk of tulle and tuxedos, of waltzes and white chocolate cake. All leading up to that magical night. I thought of our misty-eyed vows. Our first dance to “What a Wonderful World.” The warm, witty toasts to us—speeches filled with clichés that were actually true in our case:
perfect for each other
meant to be
I remembered our flight to Hawaii the following morning, how Andy and I had held hands in our first-class seats, laughing at all the small things that had gone awry on our big day:
What part of “blend into the background” didn’t the videographer get? Could it have rained any harder on the way to the reception? Had we ever seen his brother, James, so wasted?
I thought of our sunset honeymoon strolls, the candlelit dinners, and one particularly vivid morning that Andy and I had spent lounging on a secluded, half-moon beach called Lumahai on the north shore of Kauai. With soft white sand and dramatic lava rocks protruding from turquoise water, it was the most breathtaking piece of earth I had ever seen. At one point, as I was admiring the view, Andy rested his Stephen Ambrose book on our oversized beach towel, took both of my hands in his, and kissed me. I kissed him back, memorizing the moment. The sound of the waves crashing, the feel of the cool sea breeze on my face, the scent of lemons mixed with our coconut suntan lotion. When we separated, I told Andy that I had never been so happy. It was the truth.
But the best part came after the wedding, after the honeymoon, after our practical gifts were unpacked in our tiny apartment in Murray Hill—and the impractical, fancy ones were relegated to our downtown storage unit. It came as we settled into our husband-and-wife routine. Casual, easy, and real. It came every morning, as we sipped our coffee and talked as we got ready for work. It came when his name popped into my inbox every few hours. It came at night as we shuffled through our delivery menus, contemplating what to have for dinner and proclaiming that one day soon we’d actually use our stove. It came with every foot massage, every kiss, every time we undressed together in the dark. I trained my mind on these details. All the details that comprised our first one hundred days together.
Yet by the time Annie brought my coffee, I was back in that intersection, my heart thudding again. I suddenly knew that in spite of how happy I was to be spending my life with Andy, I wouldn’t soon forget that moment, that tightness in my throat as I saw his face again. Even though I desperately wanted to forget it.
because I wanted to.
I sheepishly glanced at my reflection in the mirrored wall beside my booth. I had no business worrying about my appearance, and even less business feeling triumphant upon the discovery that I was, against all odds on an afternoon of running errands in the rain, having an extraordinarily good hair day. I also had a rosy glow, but I told myself that it was only the cold that had flushed my cheeks. Nothing else.
And that’s when my cell phone rang and I heard his voice. A voice I hadn’t heard in eight years and sixteen days.
“Was that really you?” he asked me. His voice was even deeper than I remembered, but otherwise it was like stepping back in time. Like finishing a conversation only hours old.
“Yes,” I said.
“So,” he said. “You still have the same cell number.”
Then, after a considerable silence, one I stubbornly refused to fill, he added, “I guess some things don’t change.”
“Yes,” I said again.
Because as much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was sure right about that.
My favorite movie of all time is probably
When Harry Met Sally
. I love it for a lot of reasons—the good eighties feel to it, the quirky chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, the orgasm scene at Katz’s Deli. But my favorite part is probably those little, old, twinkly-eyed couples, perched on the couch, telling their tales of how they met.
The very first time I saw the movie, I was fourteen years old, had never been kissed, and to use one of my sister Suzanne’s favorite expressions, was in no hurry to get my panties in a wad over a boy. I had watched Suzanne fall hard for a number of boys, only to get her heart smashed in two, more often than I had my braces tightened, and there was nothing about the exercise that seemed like a particularly good time.
Still, I remember sitting in that over-air-conditioned theater, wondering where my future husband was at that moment in time—what he looked and sounded like. Was he on a first date, holding someone’s hand with Jujubes and a large Sprite between them? Or was he much older, already in college and experienced in the ways of women and the world? Was he the star quarterback or the drummer in the marching band? Would I meet him on a flight to Paris? In a high-powered boardroom? Or the produce aisle in the grocery store in my own hometown? I imagined us telling our story, over and over, our fingers laced together, just like those adoring couples on the big screen.
What I had yet to learn, though, is that things are seldom as neat and tidy as that starry-eyed anecdote you share documentary-style on a couch. What I figured out over time is that almost always, when you hear those stories from married couples, there is a little poetic license going on, a romantic spin, polished to a high shine over time. And unless you marry your high school sweetheart (and even sometimes then), there is usually a not-so-glorious back story. There are people and places and events that lead you to your final relationship, people and places and events you’d prefer to forget or at least gloss over. In the end, you can slap a pretty label on it—like serendipity or fate. Or you can believe that it’s just the random way life unfolds.
But no matter what you call it, it seems that every couple has two stories—the edited one to be shared from the couch and the unabridged version, best left alone. Andy and I were no different. Andy and I had both.
Both stories, though, started the same way. They both started with a letter that arrived in the mail one stiflingly humid afternoon the summer after I graduated from high school—and just a few short weeks before I’d leave my hometown of Pittsburgh for Wake Forest University, the beautiful, brick school in North Carolina I had discovered in a college catalog and then selected after they offered me a generous scholarship. The letter contained all sorts of important details about curriculum, dorm living, and orientation. But, most important, it included my much-anticipated roommate assignment, typed neatly on a line of its own: Margaret “Margot” Elizabeth Hollinger Graham. I studied her name, along with her address and phone number in Atlanta, Georgia, feeling both intimidated and impressed. All the kids at my public high school had common names like Kim and Jen and Amy. I didn’t know anyone with a name like Margot (that silent
got to me the most), and I definitely didn’t know anyone with two middle names. I was sure that Margot from Atlanta would be one of the beautiful girls featured in Wake Forest’s glossy brochures, the ones wearing pearl earrings and Laura Ashley floral print sundresses to football games. (I had only ever worn jeans and hooded sweatshirts to sporting events.) I was certain that she had a serious boyfriend, and imagined her ruthlessly dumping him by semester’s end, moving on to one of the lanky, barefooted boys sporting Greek letters and tossing a Frisbee on the quad in those same brochures.
I remember running inside with that letter to tell Suzanne the news. Suzanne was a rising junior at Penn State and well-versed in the ways of roommates. I found her in our room, applying a thick layer of metallic blue eye liner while listening to Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” on her boom box.
I read Margot’s full name aloud, and then shared my predictions in an accent right out of
my best frame of reference for the South. I even cleverly worked in white pillars, Scarlett O’Hara, and servants aplenty. Mostly I was joking, but I also felt a surge of anxiety that I had picked the wrong school. I should have stuck to Pitt or Penn State like the rest of my friends. I was going to be a fish out of water, a Yankee misfit.
I watched Suzanne step away from her full-length mirror, propped at an angle to minimize the freshman-fifteen she hadn’t been able to shed, and say, “Your accents
Ellen. You sound like you’re from England, not Atlanta … And jeez, how ‘bout giving the girl a chance? What if she assumed that you were a steel-town girl with no fashion sense?” She laughed and said, “Oh yeah … she’d actually be
“Very funny,” I said, but couldn’t help smiling. Ironically, my moody sister was at her most likable when she was ripping on me.
Suzanne kept laughing as she rewound her cassette and belted out, “I walked these streets, a loaded six string on my back!” Then she stopped in mid-lyric and said, “But, seriously, this girl could be, like, a farmer’s daughter for all you know. And either way, you might
“Do farmer’s daughters typically have
names?” I quipped.
“You never know,” Suzanne said in her sage big-sister voice. “You just
But my suspicions seemed confirmed when, a few days later, I received a letter from Margot written in perfect, adult handwriting on pale pink stationery. Her engraved silver monogram was the elaborate cursive kind, where the
of her last name was larger and flanked by the
. I wondered which rich relative she had slighted by overthrowing the
. The tone was effusive (eight exclamation points in all) yet also strangely businesslike. She said she couldn’t wait to meet me. She had tried to call me several times but hadn’t been able to reach me (we didn’t have call-waiting or an answering machine, a fact that embarrassed me). She said she would bring a small refrigerator and her stereo (which played CDs; I still hadn’t graduated from cassettes). She was hoping we could buy matching comforters. She had found some cute pink and sage green ones by Ralph Lauren, and offered to pick up two for us if I thought this sounded nice. But if I wasn’t a pink person, we could always go with yellow and lavender, “a fine combination.” Or turquoise and coral, “equally pleasing.” She just wasn’t wild about primary colors in interior designing, but was open to my suggestions. She told me she “truly” hoped that I would enjoy the rest of my summer and then signed the letter “Warmly, Margot,” a closing that, oddly enough, seemed more cool and sophisticated than warm. I had only ever signed letters with “Love” or “Sincerely” but made a mental note to try “Warmly” on for size. It would be the first of many things I’d copy from Margot.
I worked up the courage to phone her the next afternoon, clutching a pen and pad in my hand to be sure I didn’t miss anything, such as a suggestion that we coordinate our toiletries—keep
in the pastel family.
The phone rang twice and then a male voice said hello. I assumed it was Margot’s father, or perhaps it was the gardener in for a tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. In my most proper telephone voice, I asked to speak to Margot.
“She’s over at the club, playing tennis,” he replied.
We belonged to a club, technically speaking, but it was really just the neighborhood pool, called a club, which comprised a small, rectangular pool flanked by a Fritos-serving snack bar on one end, a diving board on the other, all surrounded by a chain-link fence. I was fairly certain that Margot’s club was a different sort altogether. I imagined the rows of clay tennis courts, the dainty sandwiches served on china plates, the rolling hills of the golf course spotted with weeping willows, or whatever tree was indigenous to Georgia.
“May I take a message?” he asked. His Southern accent was subtle, only revealing itself in his
I hesitated, stumbled slightly, and then shyly introduced myself as Margot’s roommate-to-be.
“Oh, hey there! This is Andy. Margot’s brother.”
And there it was.
. My future husband’s name—which I would later learn was short for Andrew Wallace Graham III.
Andy went on to say that he went to Vanderbilt, but that his best friend from home was going to be a senior at Wake Forest, and he and his buddies would be sure to show us the ropes, share their insight about professors and sororities, keep us out of trouble, and “all that good stuff.”
I thanked him, feeling myself ease somewhat.
“No problem,” Andy said. And then, “So Margot’s going to be excited to hear from you. I know she wanted to discuss bedspreads or curtains or something … I sure hope you like the color pink.”
I replied with an earnest, “Oh.
It was a fib that would be recounted for years to come, even working its way into Andy’s toast to me at our rehearsal dinner, much to the delight of Margot and our closest friends, all of whom knew that although I had my feminine side, I was far from a girly-girl.
right,” Andy said. “A match made in pink heaven.”
I smiled and thought, no matter what else unfolded with Margot, she had a very nice brother.
As it turned out, I was right about both Andy
nice, and she was just about everything I wasn’t. For starters we were physical opposites. She was a petite yet still curvy, fair-skinned, blue-eyed blonde. I had dark hair and hazel eyes, skin that looked tanned even in the dead of winter, and a tall, athletic frame. We were equally attractive, but Margot had a soft, whimsical look about her while my features were more easily described as handsome.
Our backgrounds, too, couldn’t be more different. Margot lived in a huge, beautiful home on several acres of gorgeous, tree-lined property in the wealthiest part of Atlanta—an estate by any measure. I grew up in a small ranch with Brady Bunch–orange kitchen counters in a blue-collar part of Pittsburgh. Margot’s father was a prominent attorney who also served on the board of several companies. My dad was a salesman—selling unglamorous goods like those projectors for mind-numbingly boring filmstrips that lazy teachers made you watch in elementary school. Margot’s mother was a former beauty queen from Charleston, with a Babe Paley–esque fashion sensibility and fine, elegant bones. Mine had been a no-nonsense junior-high pre-algebra teacher before she died of lung cancer, even though she had never smoked, the day before my thirteenth birthday.
Margot had two older brothers, both of whom adored her. Her family was the Southern WASP equivalent of the Kennedys, playing touch football on the beach at Sea Island, taking ski trips every winter, and spending occasional Christmases in Europe. My sister and I spent our vacations at the Jersey Shore with our grandparents. We didn’t own passports, had never been out of the country, and had only been on an airplane once.
Margot was a cheerleader and former debutante, brimming with the brand of confidence that belongs to wealthy, well-traveled WASPs. I was reserved, slightly neurotic, and despite my strong desire to belong, far more comfortable on the sidelines of things.
Yet despite our differences, we became best friends. And then, years later, in what would make a perfect documentary-style couch story, I fell in love with her brother. The one I just
would be as cute as he was nice.
But a lot of things had to happen before I married Andy and after that letter from Margot arrived in the mail. A
of things. And one of them was Leo. The one I would love before I loved Andy. The one I would grow to hate, but still love, long after we broke up. The one I would finally,
get over. Then see again, years later, in a New York City crosswalk.