Monday, June 04, 2007

An Odd Dozen

Today, my dahlink and I mark 12 years of wedded bliss. What I really like about this photo is that it shows what a knockout Penny is. It’s a good picture, if you ignore the other half of it. Why do photos of me so often suggest a guy who pulls a groin muscle when he smiles? The seam of my t-shirt under that weird collar-up number I’m wearing makes it look like my arm has been artificially attached to my shoulder. Which it has. I’m actually one of those jointed paper dolls -- two-dimensional, put together with brads.

What a weird, winding, wonderful, alliterative twelve years we’ve had. How about a thumbnail history, year by year? Shortly after learning that I was remarrying, my ex decided to marry a guy she’d known for only a few weeks, which meant that...

Year 1: My older kids (16 and 13 at the time) moved to Idaho. This was the first big hurdle Penny and I had to clear. She wasn’t ready to be a full-time mom, and I was practically hysterical trying to keep my kids from moving 1600 miles away to live with a guy who, by the time the move was underway, I would meet once and get the creeps from. It was a mess. By the end of the school year, that all fell apart, the ex moved back here completely broke, and the kids moved in with us. Also that year, Penny took a big trip to Israel and came back a vegetarian. And we bought a new bed.

Year 2: Adjusting to life with kids in our little house on the prairie. Oliver lived in the basement, Emily in the refurbished attic, and Penny and I spent a lot of time in psychoanalysis. Don’t get me wrong: I loved having the kids with us full-time instead of just weekends. But, as Penny will attest, she simply didn’t know what she was getting into. It was a year of shattering all the illusions she’d had about marriage. And if I still had any, I guess mine were shattered, too.

Year 3: Emily off to college, and Oliver moving back in with his mom, which was a big blow for me. I’d really wanted him to stay with us. I didn’t have time to stay depressed, though, because just as Emily went back for her sophomore year...

Year 4: Penny went through the windshield of her car. This whole year was about recovery from a serious head injury, starting with five days in the hospital and Penny not even knowing who people were, to staying at home with her and walking her around the house until she could get her balance, to aphasia-addled conversations that began with questions like, “Is there a bathroom in this bathroom?” She spent months in a program at the Rehabilitation Institute, relearning how to do all kinds of things. We have pictures of her holding dozens of get-well cards from friends at Hallmark. No idea what I’d have done without all the support.

Year 5: What a weird one. Against steep odds, my brother and I make a deal on “Big Bad Love,” which I’ve been working on for several years. Against even greater odds (and just as my parents move back to town), Penny gets pregnant. Oliver graduates but decides to take a break for a year. He and I go off to Mississippi to make the movie. So I essentially abandon Penny for two months that include a brief birth-defect scare. Turns out to be nothing, but still. She still makes fun of me for ditching her. Then more scares, and total bed rest for the last month of 2000...

Year 6: and the first month of 2001, which culminates in Jonah. A two-hour labor and voom! He arrives, just barely, thanks to the life-saving work of Dr. Brenda Smith. Big Bad Love debuts at Cannes and gets picked up by IFC. Jonah gets picked up by me every night and walked around the house until he falls asleep. Penny picks up a contract with Hallmark, having quit her job to write from home. Oh, and Oliver’s off to college, the towers come down, and we’re at war.

Year 7: Still not much sleep, and as a bonus, still no sex, due to various post-baby complications, but that’s none of your business, and Penny will kill me if she reads this. Jonah already shows signs of weird genius, but doesn’t walk until almost 17 months. Oliver quits school two weeks into his sophomore year. Emily with a B.A., living in Chicago. Penny loses her grandma. Our cat dies. We get through it all. I make Penny an anniversary present that’s more elaborate than anything I’ve done before or since.

Year 8: I confess, it’s all a blur. At some point in here, I had to learn how to write a TV movie. This was “Dawn Anna,” for the Lifetime channel. Among other salient events in this story, our heroine has a brain condition that means she’ll have to learn to walk again. Like I’d know anything about that. Meanwhile, Penny is doing amazing things with Jonah, bringing him out of a social and emotional shell that seemed perilously like what we’d read about Asberger’s. Man, the kid is bright -- and now, socially engaged, picking up emotional cues, the works. I really do give Penny the credit for this.

Year 9: “Dawn Anna” is the #1 cable program (exluding pro wrestling) for its week. Wow, an actual audience... and then it gets one Emmy nomination. Other than that, it’s more blur, but if Jonah is three, this is the year he asks me, “When will all these days end?” Meaning, when will life be over? Good question, three-year-old. Welcome to adulthood.

Year 10: When will all these Bush-era days end? My brother and I get a couple of movie projects simmering, both of which comment on the current mess. Penny and I get swallowed whole by various home renovations and the relentless routines of work and kid. We look up, it’s been ten years, we have no idea where it went.

Year 11: I turn 50. Jonah off to kindergarten. Penny working on book concepts with illustrator friends. I convince the filmmaking faction of the family to option T.C. Boyle’s “Drop City,” and proceed to spend every spare moment trying to put this monster into the cage of a screenplay. By fall, we have a sprawlingly hefty but truly thrilling draft. Bob Berney, having moved from IFC to Picture House, loves it and is shopping it around. We’ll see...

Year 12: Jonah trajecting toward first grade. Emily still teaching in Chicago. Oliver now studying music in Fairfax, CA. Freed from her Hallmark contract, Penny's now writing for about a dozen other companies and concerns. I’m still head over heels for her. We buy a new bed. It’s about time.


Denise Chevalier said...

After reading your anniversary memoir,
it seemed appropriate to post the Springsteen lyrics you chose for your wedding day.
(hope I'm remembering correctly...)

"We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walkin a hand should slip free
Ill wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me."

We swore we'd travel darlin' side by side
We'd help each other stay in stride
But each lover's steps fall so differently
But I'll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let's make our steps clear that the other may see
And I'll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There 'neath the oaks bough soon we will be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
Darlin I'll wait for you
Should I fall behind
Wait for me

djayt said...

Dude, you can summate, that's for sure. Congratulations!

Tina said...

what a lovely little write-up about your knockout wife. could she perhaps guest-star and write her own little summary of 12 years married to you? would love to hear the other side.

Jasph said...

Thanks for the well-wishin', friends.

Penny's summation of the twelve years has been year by year, in these little bottles she makes. They contain tiny emblems and miniaturized photos and fortune-cookie-strip-sized words about the events of the year. She missed a couple of years during the Blur Period, and she's still working on this year's, but it's a cool recounting of the time. Still, where the hell does it go?

lhooq! I went to your wedding, you went to mine, and the main difference was, you guys did your own singing. Which I admire more than you can possibly know. BUT...

Remember how those three guys' voices sounded in that rotunda, singing Springsteen? Wow. And it was a great lesson for me in sticking to my guns and insisting on what I wanted. Because the three guys had me come to a practice session when they were arranging the song, and they were only doing the first verse, and then kind of riffing on this R&B thing they segued to, and it was beautiful and soulful and made me tear up... but I Wanted The Whole Song. So I had to tell them no, that's not it. And there they were, three of the coolest cats ever, having just sung their hearts out, and I felt like shit. But that was the way it had to be.

And the result was the main thing people remember about our wedding. Those three guys singing Springsteen, a capella, glorious, sublime. And I meant every word they sang.

Thanks for the lyrics. God, I love that song.

scotland said...

Dear James, If I ever turn to identity theft,I'll warn you so you can be vigilant. I'm happy for all of us, believing as I do that we share in the good that comes to each other. I have to respect the effort and love that have earned the good life you and Penny share.

Jaya-Sita-Rama, Jaya Jaya Hanuman!

coloredsock said...

oh CONGRATULATIONS Jim & Penny. wow 12 years. we're just on 3 1/2 but i want it with Patrick, as Jonah so perfectly phrased, til all the days are over.

several random comments:

1.penny IS such a knockout in the photo, but i know from experience, her look in that photo has a lot to do with who's arms she's wrapped up in. hmmm.

2.can you post photos of her yearly summary-bottles?

3.i have this little leather pouch that is empty now but whenever i unzip its zipper i'm hit over my head with this smell of sandalwood and francancense from a small vile that spilled there during the months when patrick was"courting" me and me, him. and when i smell it, my heart explodes and i see flashes of all sorts of moments of those times. don't you just love those invisible things that trigger the amazing? and you wish you could post on your blog scratch-n-sniff virtual-stickers and little mp3s of things like the 3 guys singing springsteen???

what a great entry. thanks for sharing...penny is a lucky woman.

Anonymous said...

Ar nokaveshanos apsveicu tevi un Penny.

Vieglu taku, raitu soli
Divatā staigājot,
Lai netrūkst mīļu vārdu
Visu mūžu dzīvojot

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