April 29, 1989– That cake! Those glasses!
There’s something thrilling about having a secret anniversary rendezvous with your husband. After all, why can’t Same Time Next Year be about a love affair that started twenty-eight years ago with the man you married? Too much change, too little mystery? Here is how you arrange it:
- The Setting and How to Get There— It can’t be anywhere too close to home. This is vital because you can’t run into people you know, so you have to make an effort to get there. It has to be in a big city preferably. London is ideal, you melt unnoticed into the crowd, and you have to go there by train. All great love affairs involve trains–cue Rachmaninoff theme from Brief Encounter. The vastness of train stations, the architectural grandeur where the glories of the past meet the present, the adrenaline rush of departure and arrival are essential elements of the bygone era of romance that must accompany your journey. You cannot imbibe this kind of emotion sitting in your car on the M25 or jumping through security hoops at airports. Sadly, the Casablanca days of “Here’s looking at you kid” and prop planes whirring in the background are gone forever.
- A Bit of History— “We’ll always have Paris” adds another emotional aspect–the importance of history in your relationship. When I arrive at King’s Cross Station, alone, I am one of thousands of unnoticed faces and unknown lives surging in all directions. But London is no longer a city that overwhelms and bewilders me as it did over twenty years ago when Chris and I first lived here. We have a history here together in this larger than life city. We only lived in London two years, Chris was involved in a stressful research project and I was pregnant and nauseous half that time, so it was hardly a romantic, starry-eyed history. But we lived in the centre of Bloomsbury at the William Goodenough House, a residence for post graduate students from around the world. Our London was a colourful United Nations of doctors, musicians, academics and theologians studying and playing together as a unique international community. We were happy living there. Other people like us, far away from home, were also having babies. Everything was new and exciting from the latest baby to Chinese New Year celebrations to royal visits. We learned the meaning of Commonwealth, of shared values and language while embracing each other’s cultural differences. That was twenty years ago, but the London of those Goodenough years will always be the London I love best, where we started fresh, began our family, and encountered the world together. There are bridges here.
- Be On Time–As I thread my way through the underground, a stranger among strangers, the names of the tube stops have a comfortable familiarity about them—Russell Square, Holborn, Covent Garden, Piccadilly… It’s important to know where you’re going. Getting lost is not an option. Do not be late. It only creates anxiety. You end up spending those precious first moments of meeting with frantic excuses. I get off at Green Park and am swept along in a sea of anonymity as I look for an opening to cross Piccadilly Street. The Wolseley is on the opposite corner from The Ritz. I see Chris through the blur of faces. He is standing just outside the grand Art Deco entrance with his back to the wall, looking in the opposite direction. He isn’t looking at his phone; he is looking for me. After twenty-eight years, he still watches for me, and I fall in love with him all over again. I see him again for the first time the way I did on top of the Ubombo hills in Northern Zululand, a young doctor who loved Africa and flying and was gifted with healing hands. I never tire of his profile, of the way he enters a room, of his stillness in the midst of a jostling crowd. There is much to learn from observing how someone waits for you. I sneak up on him. We are surrounded by hundreds of people, traffic, and city noise, and yet, we are deliciously alone. He smiles and kisses me. It is 5:30. We are exactly on time.
- The Venue—And so we go inside. The Wolseley was originally built as a showroom for The Wolseley Car Company, but it’s hard to believe that its double-story ceiling, marble interior and linen-clad tables set amidst white columns was ever intended to be anything but the perfect place for a high tea rendezvous with your lover. I wish I could have worn a jauntily angled little hat, long white gloves and pearls. But no matter. We are still treated by our impeccable waiters as if we’re Lady Mary and one of her dashing amours escaping from the confines of Downton Abbey. We order the champagne tea, of course. Twenty-eight years ago, we uncorked our first bottle of champagne in the limo on the way to the reception. Champagne is an essential. Just nothing else will do. Ever. We clink glasses. Cheers, my darling. Perfectly chilled! I am in heaven! Soon, our three-tiered silver tea stand arrives with freshly cut sandwiches on the bottom, hot scones to follow under the domed top, and exquisite mouth-watering little cakes and pastries causing a mini sensation in the eye-level middle. Our wedding cake itself was a sensation, a tiered extravaganza of cake and cream and strawberries a la American style. I am still in love with cake, and the man who loves it with me. The Earl Grey leaf tea is steaming in its silver pot and we sip it slowly, not wanting this sumptuous feast to end. But it’s a moveable feast, one that began so many years ago. It is a feast that changes, of course, as we have and do. But it continues. After all, that’s what a rendezvous is for.
A recent article in the New York Times (“To Stay Married, Embrace Change”, April 29-May 1, 2017, International Edition) stated that change is inevitable in any marriage, and learning to adapt to different versions of your spouse is key to an enduring relationship. The author said she became concerned when she and her husband transitioned from being an urban couple to a domestic country-life couple. The fact that her husband was able to frisbee a plastic bowl across the room and land it on top of a fleeing rodent renewed her admiration and respect. Seriously? My husband once took hold of the back end of a giant python as it tried to escape down its hole in the African bush. Even our children were impressed by that one! He doesn’t play tug-of-war with pythons anymore. He just eradicates giant spiders instead. We all change. Life changes us, for good or bad. I’m not sure that the ability to land a rodent with a fling of the wrist signals anything much. Chris and I have experienced a lifetime of change together, leaving behind family, home, and countries. You have to learn to meet change halfway. It’s like getting on a train and travelling through time and space to a large, bewildering city in search of that one familiar beloved face and finding it waiting for you outside The Wolseley. Then, you go in–together.