I was sitting on my bed at the Paramount Hotel in Manhattan on the night he asked me to marry him. Complicated and addled New York woman sitting in a complicated, addled New York hotel, ice available whenever needed or appropriate, is as usual talking on the phone, Vogue on lap, when his words etched the air.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered without hesitation.
There were clues. The five-hour phone conversations. The crucial and palpable need to call him during a family wedding to say, “You’re not going to believe this, but there are rich people in Scottsdale who don’t like Jews.” The odd coincidences that we won’t go into. The way my insides would puddle when I read anything he wrote.
But it took us so long to meet. I had been looking at my watch, humming and tapping my foot for an entire decade. There were two Mr. Wrongs in quick succession. I had given up. I knew he was the right one, but I didn’t want to meet him because he would be the wrong one. We would look at each other and say, “And who are you?” All that writing, all that talking, and we would look at each other and say, “Heh-heh, gotta go, left the iron on, let’s have lunch maybe never.” But I finally said I would meet him at a bookstore in Long Beach, two pals going book shopping, and I pulled into the parking lot and there he was, one look and I was fucking dead. I was dead fucked. I knew it and I didn’t care.
And it was hours, agonizing hours later when he spilled two quarts of iced coffee on me and I knew, I just knew he wanted to grab me by the hair. And pull.
By the end of the evening we were finishing each other’s sentences. By the end of a week we were on a runaway train slamming blindly through stations at a hundred miles an hour. Then I had to go to New York, and the chic metallic Philippe Starck chairs at the Paramount came to life to try to dash cold water on my heat, my heart. But I said yes to him without hesitation.
Those passengers waiting on the platform for the train, arms akimbo, mouths agape, started yelling, “Wait! Stop! Are you crazy?”
S. said, “I don’t want you to have a boyfriend. I want you to be always available to me.”
L. said, “Oh please, you’re being just so ridiculous. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
B. said, “I am so jealous, what about me? Will I be the last one alone?”
K. said, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”
I watched their mouths move as I sped past them.
I remembered M., whom N. wanted to marry. But M. was frightened.
“Do you love her?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“What’s stopping you?”
“I’m afraid, it’s such a big step.”
“M.,” I said with the singular conviction of the single, “you have one life. This is the whole deal. You have to jump in it. Go ahead, both feet. Waiting and watching on the sidelines is for suckers and yellow-bellied fools.”
The next day my friend Lily, who had just got a life-changing job, and I ran amok. We bought rings and dresses and ate mashed potatoes at the Royalton and sped through Manhattan with the arrogance of the Chosen. The streets were hot and thick with complicity, urging us on.
I flew home. At the airport he was waiting with a dozen red roses and a blue box from Tiffany. He led me to a chair. I stumbled and stared into my lap. I opened the box and found an engagement ring. He got down on his knees.
“Will you marry me?” he asked again. “Yes,” I answered, and he slipped the ring on my finger.
Later he said, “I want to get married very, very, very soon.”
“Wait at least six months,” said my shrink. “Okay,” I said.
“No, wait at least a year,” said my son. “Okay,” I said.
Then one night, quite suddenly, the love of my life and I got into the car with a Thermos of coffee, a loaf of sourdough bread, and a small dog and headed north on Interstate 15 toward Las Vegas.
Bad Mexican food changed my life. I hadn't gone to Long Beach hoping to fall in love. When we met in the bookstore parking lot, what my wife-to-be had on her hands was a sweat-stained, disheveled, no-longer-young man whose pants were too tight at the waist. I was certain of only one thing: I was aroused by the sound of her voice.
But when I first saw her, watched her hop from her car rosy-cheeked and merry, I thought to myself, “You might very possibly be able to love this woman forever."
And then she started to make me laugh. Laugh hard. Dry quips, witty asides, wry anecdotes about life's little horrors. While we prowled the bookstore, so much humor poured out of her — not all of it gentle, some of it sharp — my heart began to beat differently. I felt a kind of excitement I hadn't known before. Still, I didn't know that she'd ever want me.
I knew I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to kiss her in the bookstore, and I wanted to kiss her after I spilled iced coffee all over her, and I wanted to kiss her in the awful Mexican restaurant where we ate just before it was time for her to leave.
It was the worst Mexican food we'd ever eaten, but we both pretended it didn't matter. And at one point during our meal, I looked at my wife-to-be and she had a tortilla crumb stuck to her chin. And that small crumb—its sweetness? Her vulnerability? Who knows? These things are essentially mysterious —did something to me. I was in love. I thought, “You will marry this woman."