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So in case you�ve been wondering, I married Mike after all.
Which Mike, you might ask?
And rightly so.
For a while there, it was a toss-up. But when I finally made my choice, I honestly believed it was the right one that I�d chosen the right Mike.
Only recently have I begun to question that and everything else in my life. Only recently have I been thinking back to that summer when I found myself torn between the guy I�d always loved and the guy I�d just met.
That they shared both a name and my heart is one of life�s great ironies, don�t you think?
Then again, maybe not. According to the United States Social Security Administration, Michael was the most popular boys� name in America between 1964 and 1998. Odds are, if you�re a heterosexual female who was born between those years�as I am�you�re going to date a couple of Mikes in your life. As I did.
Meanwhile, if you�re a heterosexual male who was born in those years, you�re going to date a couple of Lisas. That was the most popular girls� name the year I was born.
I�m not Lisa.
Remember that song? All about how she wasn�t Lisa, her name was Julie. It was a big hit when I was a kid. I remember singing it at slumber parties with my best friends�two of whom were named Lisa.
But I�m not Lisa. I�m not Julie, either.
My real name is Barbra. Spelled without the extra �a,� like Barbra Streisand�s. That�s not why mine is spelled that way; I was born back in the mid-sixties, before my mother ever heard of Barbra Streisand.
My father�who if his own name weren�t Bob probably wouldn�t be able to spell that�filled out the birth certificate while my mother was sleeping off the drugs they used to give women to spare them the horrific childbirth experience.
That, of course,was back in the Bad Old Days when they didn�t realize that the fetus was being drugged as well�otherwise known as the Good Old Days, when nobody was the wiser and nobody was feeling any pain.
I always figured that when it was time for me to give birth, I�d want those same drugs.
Am I a wimp? you might ask.
Um, yeah. I�ve never been good with pain�I�m the first to admit it. I stub my toe; I scream. I get a sliver; I cry. I see blood; I faint.
By the time I got pregnant, I had heard enough gory details from my friends to know that it would be in everyone�s best interest if I were knocked out before I reached the stage where it was a toss-up whether to call in the obstetrician or an exorcist.
I envisioned drifting off to a medically induced la-la land, waking up feeling refreshed, and having somebody hand me a pretty, pink newborn, even if my husband spelled its name wrong while I was out.
Alas, that wasn�t to be.
For one thing, we knew that our firstborn son would be named after my husband, who is conveniently familiar with the spelling of Mike.
For another,when�about five minutes into my first pregnancy�I asked my doctor about drugs, he recommended a childbirth class where I would learn to use breathing and imagery to control the pain. Call me jaded, but I didn�t see then and I don�t see now how huffing and counting and focusing on a flickering candle or, God help me, a favorite stuffed animal, can possibly make you forget the nine pounds of wriggling human forcing its way out of you the same way it got into you nine months�and nine pounds�ago.
As the scientific theory goes, what goes in must come out. Eventually. Somehow. And the coming-out part is never as much fun as the going-in part.
Whose scientific theory is that? you might ask.
It�s mine. And you should trust me, because I�m an expert.
If you�ve ever eaten all your Halloween candy before the calendar page turned to November�or if you�ve ever done too many shots of tequila on your birthday�then you�re an expert, too.
But if you can�t relate to childbirth or vomiting up a pound of chocolate or a pint of hard liquor, think about this: back when Mike and I were first married, he and my father carried our new couch up two flights of stairs to our one-bedroom apartment in Queens. When we moved a few years later, the movers we hired couldn�t get the couch out. No matter which way they turned it, they couldn�t make it fit through the doorway. They finally told me that the only way to get it out was to remove one of the legs.
Now, normally, I don�t balk at being the decision maker in our marriage. But, normally, strange men don�t request a saw to disfigure our furniture.
I tried to reach Mike at work to see what he wanted me to do�in other words, to ask his permission for the couch amputation�but he wasn�t there.
So the movers sawed off a leg; the couch fit through the door; they moved it to our new house up in Westchester.
When Mike arrived that night, fresh�not!�from his first train commute and ready to collapse, he immediately noticed that the surface he was about to collapse onto was tilting dangerously.
I explained what happened.
He was incredulous.
Okay, not just incredulous. He was other things, too. Including royally pissed off. Now that I�ve had almost a decade of enlightenment regarding Mike�s daily commute to the city, I can attribute his fury that night, at least in part, to an hour spent on an un-air-conditioned railroad car sandwiched in a middle seat between two large businessmen who carried on a conversation across his lap. But at the time, in my seminewlywed overanalytical self-absorption, I concluded that everything was all my fault.
Him: �How the hell could you let them cut the fucking leg off the goddamn fucking couch?�
Me: �I had no choice.�
Him: �We got the fucking couch in. They�re goddamn professionals and they couldn�t get it out? And what kind of movers carry a goddamn fucking saw around to cut the legs off people�s furniture?�
Me: �They don�t. I ran out and bought one.�
Him: �You bought the saw?�
Me: �The goddamn fucking saw. They told me to.�
Him: storms off, spends sleepless night trying to keep balance on the aforementioned�and seriously listing�goddamn fucking couch.
Me: spends sleepless night sobbing into pillow over first significant married fight.
When I say significant, I refer to the fights that stand out in a couple�s mutual memory. Not the arguments that happen along the way: arguments about the thermostat or what color to paint the bedroom or who should buy the Mother�s Day cards for his side of the family. I�m talking Fight, fights. Lying-awake-at-dawn-crying fights. Who-are-you-and what-have-you-done-with-the-man-I-married fights.
Actually, I can count on one hand the number of fights and sleepless nights we�ve had in our marriage.
After the moving ordeal, our next sleepless night�and, incidentally, our next significant married fight�was a year or so later, when I was ten centimeters dilated and pushing. Does that fight count? I mean, I truly wasn�t myself at the time.
Who was I? you might ask.
I was Lizzie Grubman meets Shannon Dougherty meets Valdemort�a temporary state brought on by the sheer physical agony of childbirth.
And Mike�who was supposed to be coaching me�was just plain stupid at the time, a temporary state I�ll chalk up to low blood sugar. I�ll admit that it was due in part to the fact that I wouldn�t let him visit the hospital cafeteria�or even the vending machines�for the twenty-four-hoursplus that I was in excruciating labor, lest he miss the big event. That�s how stupid I was. I kept thinking that any minute now, there would be a baby. I kept thinking that for, oh, sixteen thousand minutes or so before it actually happened.
Anyway, here�s how stupid Mike was: He brought up the couch story in the midst of my agony.
�You can do it, hon,� he crooned.�You can get this baby out. Unless you want me to run out and buy a saw so that we can cut off one of its legs?�
Har de har har, right? Funny guy, that Mike.
Of course, he then found it necessary to make like Jay Leno and regale the nurses, the doctor and a passing orderly with the Couch Monologue. They all had a good laugh at my expense while I writhed and moaned and cursed the epidural that didn�t work and swore that if the baby ever came out I would be a single mother because I was getting a divorce.
As it turned out, I didn�t.
As it turned out, neither did my parents, although they�re such opposites that most people say it�s a miracle they�ve stayed together all these years.
Anyway, as I was saying before I went into my longer than anticipated digression, my father�who is good at many things, including, fortuitously for us, fixing freshly sawn-off couch legs�has never been good at spelling. He likes to tell people that�s because he�s an accountant�as though an accountant requires prowess only with numbers and not with that pesky alphabet.
So when he filled out the paperwork after I was born, he left out the second �a,� and by the time anybody figured it out, it was too late. My mother woke up and I was Barbra and that was that.
My three older brothers used to tease her�and me�that it was a good thing he had left off the second �a� instead of the third one along with the first �r,� in which case, I�d have been named after the large gray elephant in the French children�s story.
My mother wasn�t amused. It isn�t that she has anything against children�s literature; she is, after all, a middle-school English teacher. She is also a fanatic about all things spellingand grammar-related. From what I hear, she didn�t speak to my father for a few days after she discovered the spelling mistake in my name. But, like I said, they managed to stay married.
Around the same time I came along, Barbra Streisand became a household name and validated the unorthodox spelling of mine. I can barely remember anybody ever calling me Barbra anyway. I was dubbed Beau early on, and I have never since been anything but.
My parents gave me the nickname because it�s short for Beaulieu, as in Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Elvis�s wife. They thought I looked a lot like her. Which I do. In fact, complete strangers have come up to me and said that over the years.
I never mind when people do that. I mean, it�s not like they�re telling me I look just like Cyndi Lauper or something.
Priscilla was, and still is, beautiful.
Three pregnancies and a lifetime ago, I was also beautiful. Now I�ve got a seven-year-old, a preschooler and a baby. I�ve also got flab, stretch marks, varicose veins, dark circles under my eyes, sagging breasts that have nursed three children, with nipples that hit my belly button, and a childbirth-traumatized crotch that leaks pee if I laugh.
Which I don�t, lately.
That, I suppose, is a blessing. But it doesn�t feel like one.
Damn, it used to feel good to laugh until tears streamed from my eyes instead of my bladder.
Things that used to make me laugh that hard: being tickled by my dad. The scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin and John Candy are in the car that catches fire. Seinfeld�even the reruns I�ve seen a dozen times.
Oh, and my husband, Mike.
He really cracked me up back when we were dating. When we were first married, too, even after we moved up here to the suburbs.
He used to do this dead-on imitation of our crotchety old neighbor, Mrs. Rosenkrantz, that was hilarious�and, I suppose, cruel, if anybody but me had ever seen it. But nobody ever did. It was our special thing.
We�d be doing some mundane task�folding laundry or grocery shopping�and I�d say, �Do Mrs.Rosenkrantz for me, please,� and he would. He�d be Mrs. Rosenkrantz folding laundry or Mrs. Rosenkrantz grocery shopping, and I swear I�d be on the floor gasping for air.
Mrs. Rosenkrantz died right before I gave birth to our second son. I was in labor for the wake and in the hospital for the funeral, so we didn�t go. We came home with our tiny blue bundle to find a rented wooden stork on our lawn and a For Sale sign on hers.
Once or twice after that, I asked Mike to �Do Mrs. Rosenkrantz,� and he obliged, but it wasn�t the same.
A lot of things haven�t been the same since then. Some are better, some are worse�but nothing is the same. Lately, I find myself missing the way things used to be.
I don�t miss Mrs. Rosenkrantz, though I just miss laughing at her. Or, rather, laughing at my husband�s impression of her.
A young family from the city bought her house. Where we live, in the leafy northern suburbs of New York, young families from the city always buy dead old people�s houses. This was a nice family, the Carsons. They have a daughter my older son�s age and a son my second son�s age and twins on the way any second now. The mom, Laura, is a lot of fun when she isn�t eight months pregnant with multiples in the blazing dead of July, and the dad, Kirk, coaches Little League with Mike.
On hot summer days we grill and drink beers on their deck or ours while the kids play in the sprinkler, and on cold winter days we shovel while the kids build snowmen. The Carsons pick up our mail and Journal News when we�re on vacation and we pick up their mail and Journal News when they�re on vacation, and we keep saying that one of these years we should vacation together.
It sounds good, doesn�t it?
Yeah. Suburban bliss.
Three kids, a raised ranch, an SUV and a 401K.We have everything but a dog, but the boys have been begging for one, and sooner or later I know I�m going to give in and we�ll have the dog, too.
They, like I, will have everything they always wanted. I was born under a lucky star. That�s what my mother always said, shaking her head and laughing. Things came easily to me from day one. Friends�contest prizes�school elections�boyfriends.
If I wanted something, I got it.
This life is what I�ve always wanted. Isn�t it?
Well, isn�t it?
Back when I was young and single and dating my husband�along with the other Mike, the one I didn�t marry� I dreamed of the life I have now. I figured it would be mine for the taking, because most things were.
Be careful what you wish for�or so they say.
They being the same they my grandmother is always quoting; the they who say beauty is only skin deep, and when the cat�s away, the mice will play, and love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
Or was that Frank Sinatra?
Not that it matters. Grandma Alice quotes him, too.
The thing is, there�s truth in all clich�s that�s why they�re clich�s.
So here I am, a living clich�, on the cusp of my fortieth birthday, reminding myself that I have everything I ever wanted and trying desperately to remember why the hell I wanted it in the first place.
Copyright � 2005 Wendy Markham