My husband and I are trying to get out and meet new people, to try to make some friends. “We’re putting ourselves out there,” I said to him as we discussed it the other night, “so to speak. It’s kind of like dating. We’re trying to find another couple to be besties with so we have to be more social and put some feelers out.” He looked a little annoyed, or maybe mildly disgusted. Sort of like the face you make when your stomach is slightly off and you’re trying to figure out if it’s going to pass or if it’s the beginning of a full on GI issue.
I took the first step for us (just as I did back when we first met) and found a get together for us with other 30-something couples with kids at a nearby pub. It’s other Catholic couples so I figured I could pique my hubs’ interest with it and I was right (this is, in fact, even more complicated than dating as it turns out. It’s like I’m a matchmaker *and* I’m dating. This analogy is getting a little cumbersome). I checked with our babysitter and she was free the night of the cas’ soiree so I entered it onto our family scheduling app and we were all set (It wasn’t actually that simple because nothing in our chaotic life is that simple, but we’ll leave it at that).
A few days later, we were driving home from our Saturday evening marital therapy appointment where we’d spent an hour making a family genogram (don’t ask), and my mind began to wander as my hubs drove the minivan down 376 as Soldier Boy made explosion noises behind me and the Baby tried to decide if he was going to cry or fall asleep. I started thinking about what I would wear when we went out to the pub in a couple weeks. I’ve been losing weight lately and I thought of the clothes I haven’t worn in a while that will now fit. I mentally assembled an outfit from med school and paired it with a pair of boots I recently bought. I pictured my hubs and I alone in my car (not the damn minivan, thank you very much) heading out and what nice compliment he might pay me. And then I thought of what I might say to him.
“Do you remember this outfit? Remember the last time I wore it?”
The answer is not our honeymoon or our first date or anything other such romantic thing. The answer is actually that I bought this outfit at the Millcreek Mall in February of 2011 while we were in Erie for the trial of Jeremy Noyes. The man who put me through my Ordeal.
I did not think of this moment, of telling him this, with sadness or anger. I actually thought of it with a slight small on my face.
Jeremy’s trial started on February 14th. It was my hubs Eric and my first Valentine’s Day as a couple. We spent the week up in cold snowy Erie. Jeremy had fired his attorney and chosen to represent himself. He subpoenaed me to testify. I’m not sure which is worse: having to be questioned by your rapist in federal court, or all the time before it that you spend imagining what it will be like. We spent the whole week in Erie, waiting for it to be my turn to testify. Eric was allowed to sit in on the trial but I was not since it could affect my testimony when I was called to the stand later on.
I only packed one suit but I thought I might need a second if my testimony took more than one day. So, as Eric sat taking in images and words at that trial no person would ever want to, evil hard to imagine, I went to the mall. I bought more than I needed, more than I should have. I bought a really, really pretty top. A flowy translucent top with corals and browns and turquoisie blues in a muted floral design like the impressionists, Manet and Monet and all that. It was so pretty. The trial was so ugly. So I bought it even though I was broke. I’m not sorry I did.
We stayed at a nice hotel that the government said they would reimburse us for. We went down to the nice restaurant in the nice hotel one night. I don’t remember which night. The night before I testified? The night after? The night in between? (I was right, it was two days of testimony so I really *did* need that second suit. Not everything else, but, the suit yes)
I don’t remember which night it was but I remember getting ready to go downstairs and making him laugh. I remember sitting there in that nice restaurant in that nice hotel in that pretty flowy top eating a lovely meal with my lovely fiancé. I remember he ordered us dessert and we shared it with two forks and it tasted better than I thought food could. I remember laughing. I remember his eyes. His mouth when the corners turned up. We were still there. In Erie. At a horrible stomach turning trial of a sociopath child predator. We were still there, but for a night, it was a little less. A little less there. There, but better.
And so, almost six years later, when I sat in the mocha colored minivan, a wedding and two kids and a hell of a lot else later, I thought of wearing that top again with the corners of my mouth turned up. It didn’t make me think of my trauma or sitting in that courtroom as Jeremy said the worst things imaginable to me. It made me think of that night. Of that respite, of the soft lighting and the attentive waiter and the clean linen table cloth on the little round table we sat at together. It made me think of all the years and all the hell he’s stood by me through. Of this most unusual life we’ve had together. Of the sweetness that comes with the bitters.
We had watched a documentary about a Holocaust survivor the night before. Made by a man Eric had made films with in another life. And the survivor in the movie told a story of starvation, of being moved from camp to camp. And on one train ride they all looked so malnourished these village women threw food onto the train, whatever they had with them from the market. And so, they had things like flour and sugar and lemons. And at one stop, a man got snow off the ground and brought it on and they made lemon ice with the lemons and sugar. The survivor in the movie said how much he loved lemon ice for the rest of his life. How could that be, I’d asked my husband. Eric had made a lot of films with survivors and he said, yes, he’d heard that many times before. He said, the lemon ice was the first thing he’d eaten after starving for so long, why wouldn’t he love it now? I said, “I guess if I was more like him I could take fish oil capsules.” But I can’t.
Jeremy made me take fish oil capsules. I can’t take them now. I can’t even take vitamins. The body remembers. The esophagus remembers. Remembers the other things he forced down my throat, remembers not breathing, not knowing if he would ever let me breathe again. Eric says I should try to overcome my aversion to fish oil and I say, No. I have overcome a fuck of a lot in the past eight years. I’m just gonna take fish oil as a loss. I’m gonna pass on conquering that one.
But sitting in that mocha minivan, I see the fish oil capsules are not my lemon ice. The flowy top is my lemon ice. I see now how he could love lemon ice. The joy and the beauty and the bodily memory of quite a different kind.
Life is not simple. Is not, yes or no. Good or evil. Would that Eric and I hadn’t spent our first Valentine’s Day together in gray snowy Erie at the trial of a madman. But there was beauty there too. There were lemons and sugar in that snow too. There too.