Tuesday promised to be a busy day. Errands to run, and an engagement party that night to prepare for. There was a function going on at the local church that evening, so we timed our party with that in mind, being that a good number of family friends would be involved at the church. We invited people to begin coming by at 4PM, so we'd need to get an early start on preparations.
I awoke a little after 7AM and walked back to the bedroom doorway, cracking the door just a bit. She was sleeping soundly, and I stood there and just soaked her in for a while. She looked beautiful. More than beautiful. I woke her at about 8, and we cuddled for a bit before having breakfast. Within a couple of hours, we were off to town.
As we were pulling out of the driveway, I sensed some unease in her...
Me: Everything ok?
Her: (hesitant) Yeah, I'm just worried about tonight. What if they don't like me? They'll be judging me, and what if they don't like me? I don't even know how I should act around these people. What if they don't like me?
Me: Don't even begin to worry. The people coming tonight are coming because they care about me. They'll be curious about you, no doubt, but the only way they'll judge you is whether or not you make me happy. That's all they'll be concerned about - "Does she love him and make him happy" - so more than anything, I'll be the one under the microscope. All they want is to see me happy. You'll blow them away. Trust me.
Her: Are you sure, Lew? I'm just not very good around people I don't know.
Me: Just be yourself and they'll treat you just like an old friend. They're gonna love you. You're gonna be fine.
Her: You sure?
Me: Absolutely. And besides, even in the event that they didn't like you, I'd still love you. Nothing changes either way. They can either board the train with us, or wave goodbye as we leave the station, but either way, we're on the train.
After a few minutes of building her up, she settled, and her nervousness and insecurity gradually shifted to anticipation. This concerned me a bit (more now than then). Yes, I wanted to be strong for her, for us, but I didn't want her to perpetually adopt my strength and confidence. I wanted her to discover her own strength. For so long she'd been taught that confidence is actually arrogance and conceit, that she had to remain meek and mousy to be "godly", and socially, in human interaction, for her up was down and down was up.
We'd once had a conversation about some of our initial encounters, and she'd conveyed her impression of me as "busy, confident, aloof yet attentive" (paraphrased a bit). I told her that I probably was busy (the week we first met I had a lot of irons in the fire), but that I intentionally walk and move confidently, even when I'm not confident, because body language can be a loud conversation. Projecting healthy confidence usually drives away the people you don't want to interact with, and puts at ease those you do want to interact with. She was completely clueless to this kind of thing. Her parents had failed her as mentors in so many ways. Way back in our first conversations, I'd ask her questions not concerned at all with her answer, but with the way she answered - her body language, the sources she tapped to answer - because in doing so I'd get answers to several questions I hadn't actually asked - at least not verbally. This is what she interpreted as "aloof". She was naive, and while that was beautiful in its own way, I wanted her to expand beyond her small parameters, to grow beyond the helpless little girl who was "created to be my helpmeet", adrift in a dangerous world without her man to uphold her.
We picked up a few things for the party. Nothing elaborate. A cake, some finger foods, et cetera, and being that a lot of the people would be coming straight from work and leaving straight for church, I wanted to feed them something of substance, so we picked up about half a dozen pizzas. Like I said, nothing elaborate or formal, no gifts required, just good friends (and a few relatives) getting together to meet my bride.
I was honestly blown away by the number of people that came. They started trickling in right around 4 o'clock, and by 5, the little country house had probably 40-50 people in it, numbers that held on until probably 8PM, with some leaving and new batches arriving regularly. Some of my dear friends from the recording world drove in excess of 2 hours to attend (and the woods out here aren't on the way to anywhere), and that meant a great deal to me. Many of them would arrive, take one look at me, and immediately start crying and hugging me. Being happy, yourself, is a blessing, but seeing other people happy at your happiness is genuinely humbling.
Of course, I had her right there on my arm, proudly presenting her to my world. She looked incredible.
A couple of hours in, a bit of mental (and probably emotional) fatigue hit me, so I asked her, "You doing ok?" She answered with, "I'm fine, Lew." With that, I made my way to the sofa and plopped down. The next 30 minutes were amazing. The room had gravitated from "us" to "her", and I sat there and watched her work a crowd of strangers like a long-time pro. She had the grace and easy rhythm of a willow, moving seamlessly from one conversation to the next. I don't know exactly what was being said, what with a symphony of rapid-fire conversations going on all throughout the house, but whatever she was saying, I could see the faces on the receiving end of her words light up, sometimes casting looks of affirmation in my direction. Occasionally she'd look in my direction and mouth the words "I love you". One of my long-time professional buddies dropped in beside me and said, "She makes you happy, doesn't she?" I answered, "She does." He responded with, "Well, she loves you, and she makes you happy. That's all I care about. It's a beautiful thing, buddy. Good for you." This confirmed to me everything I'd suspected about the quality of my genuine friends. Solid people.
As things wound down that evening, the crowd thinned out to just a few of my long, longtime friends, and along with my family, we talked about the old days, back when we were younger and a heck of a lot prettier, with few cares other than when we could get the next basketball game together out back. It was a good visit. Once all the visitors had left, and it was just my folks and brother (and his family) left, we sat around and talked even more about our childhood, and she soaked it all in attentively - even if she couldn't relate to all of it, laughing at times, elbowing me in the ribs at times, and blending in as part of a family that would love and accept her - good, bad, or ugly.
By the time we'd visited, as a family, and then cleaned up the residuals of the party, it was nearing 11PM. We were exhausted, and had another busy day ahead of us on Wednesday. I walked her to her bedroom, where we had a few minutes of "us" time, cuddling, kissing, and exchanging "I love yous", we said a prayer together, I tucked her in, and then once again settled in a chair beside her, stroking her hair and forehead until she fell asleep. It was, to that point, the happiest day of my life - something I'd be able to say a few more times during her stay.
In a period of no more than 8 hours I'd seen her full spectrum - the frightened, insecure, helpless, naive child she'd been raised to be, and the bold, confident, vibrant yet graceful woman for which I'd always seen the potential. I wouldn't rest totally easy about her until the day when that might even out, and lean toward the vibrant and confident, but I was content and determined to love her without relent no matter what stage of her journey she might be in, even if she were consistently a different woman, or a lesser woman, as she was when the people from her world were in her ear.
Wednesday morning found us saying farewell to my brother and his family. It had been a good visit, having them celebrate our happiness with us. Later that morning, we headed to the jeweler to get her ring resized. We had wanted to wait until after the engagement party (naturally), and while we were there, we spent some time looking at wedding bands for me, finding two or three prospects we really liked. We also spent some time strolling through the shops and stores around the jewelry store. She'd grown up with little of anything, and as I watched her looking at various items, I decided that at some point in her visit, the girl was gonna shop. I wasn't exactly wealthy, but I had enough that I was absolutely gonna take my bride to town and say "have at it".
Once we got back to the house, we scarfed down some leftover pizza, and then got dressed to go to a wedding. A younger cousin, who'd always looked up to me like an older brother, was getting married about an hour away, and there's no way I'd have missed it, or have missed the opportunity to present my own bride to yet more people of significance to me. My ex (it really sucks to use that term this deep into the story) looked incredible, wearing a blouse/skirt combo (I don't really know the right terms for women's clothing - J.Edgar I'm not), but was concerned that she didn't look "dressy" enough for the occasion. I told her, "You look great. Look at me." I was wearing jeans, a long-sleeved dress shirt, and Rockports. Not exactly formal. The dress code was "casual dress", as it was an outdoor event.
Me: Would you feel better if you put on a dress?
Her: I don't have a dress.
Me: Didn't have room to pack one?
Her: No, I don't have one. I've never owned one.
If nothing else, I knew what I'd take her shopping for. At some point, soon, she was gonna be the proud owner of any dress she wanted.
The drive to the wedding was beautiful, through a small mountain range, apple orchards, and spring in full bloom. She was soaking it all in. Happy. Breathing. The ceremony was held on the porch of a little, rustic log cabin, with the sun setting over the Blue Ridge mountains, just beyond a rugged log fence, behind us. Quite a romantic setting. She squeezed my hand and snuggled warmly against my arm all throughout. After the ceremony, as we all lined up to greet the wedding party, my cousin broke down in tears when I got to her, telling me, "I was doing ok until I saw you. I'm so glad you could come." I love her, sweet gentle soul of a beautiful young woman she is, and I was thrilled to share in her happiness, and share a bit of mine with her. When I introduced her to my ex, my ex embraced her deeply, warmly, once again demonstrating almost a chameleon nature, taking my condition upon herself as her own, almost as if she were communicating my feelings to my cousin on my behalf. I think some of it came from a healthy connection to me, a genuine connection, or at least I'd like to think it did, while some of it probably came from her own gravitation toward whatever she perceived as the nearest "strength", whether it was strength or not.
She willingly and happily joined in with some of my other relatives in prepping for the reception, which was happening there under the porch of another cabin. When it reached the point where the bride shares a dance with her father, my ex and I stood to the side, watching my Uncle very awkwardly, but lovingly, dance with his daughter. That was a difficult moment for my ex, and that difficulty manifested in tears. I just held her close and told her, "We're gonna be ok."
On the trip back home, I took a winding mountain road that weaves its way up to the top of a ridge. For a stretch of two or three miles, you can look below at the town lit up like a Christmas tree, and see the lights of half the county beyond it. She was at the same time pensive and at ease. She enjoyed the lights. It was a great night, with beautiful weather, to see them. Through the rest of the trip, little was said. It had been a busy and exhausting three days. She'd occasionally lift my hand to her face or to her lips, and she'd tell me "I love you, Lew." I really thought my heart might burst. So in love with her.
The next day would finally give us a chance to rest a bit. The three days since she'd arrived had been wonderful, but rest was needed and welcomed.