In 1986, when I was 39 years old, I decided to make a plan. I was not a plan maker by nature. I was more inclined to think about a plan, talk about a plan, fantasize about a plan; and on the rare occasion even get as far as writing down a plan, but more likely than not, I'd lose the piece of paper the plan was written on and that would be the end of the thought. But despite my abysmal success rate at plan-making, I persevered; this plan I wrote down.
It went like this: After I turned 45 but before I turned 46, I would meet the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I figured that in six to seven years, my daughters, Ruby and Violet, would be 14 and 16, the time would be right for all of us. In the interim, I was the single gal among all my married friends. I was living my life on my own terms and loving it. I didn't think much about the plan; it was just on the back burner of my brain, flitting in and out of my consciousness. As forty-five approached, I thought back on all that Ruby and Violet had taught me -- what true love felt like, what it looked like, how to recognize the real deal, no faux Manolo Blahniks this time around. They taught me to accept nothing less than what I knew I deserved. Their support and love had taught me what to want, what to need, what to ask for. I told myself that I wasn't asking for too much -- my daughters were the cake, I just wanted the icing. I embraced 45 with gusto. I hit 45 ½, 45 ¾, no man yet to spend the rest of my life with. As 46 neared, I started to get a bit nervous, thought maybe I wouldn't meet him until I was 50, but I imagined I'd be going through menopause by then and hadn't a clue who that post-menopausal Wendy would be. One month before my 46th birthday, I went out on a blind date with Michael. The only things I knew before we met were that he had brown hair, was an attorney, and since his divorce fifteen years before, had been raising his then-21-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son on his own. Not much information, but so far so good.
Well, was I surprised! He was gorgeous, drop-dead gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome gorgeous; he was successful, highly educated, intellectual but not haughty or intimidating. He owned his Manhattan apartment as well as a Fire Island beach house. He was perfect, he was successful, he was a dream come true, he fit into my plan as though I created him from silly putty. I realized very quickly on that magical first date, though, that he was a player, a womanizer; his moves were generic, formulaic, not particularly connected to this time and place and person, but I was attracted and intrigued. I wanted to learn more about him and sensed a challenge. It's as if I knew on an unconscious level that through Michael I could finally become the woman I had always wanted to be. Our first date was perfect. He said good night, said he'd call me, and although he sounded quite sincere and I believed that he would call, I wasn't sure if the call would come a few days later or a few years later. I made a decision to take charge of the situation, to deliver a tin of cookies to him from my bakery, Ruby et Violette, as a thank you for the lovely evening. I believed one of two things would happen. Either he'd call, mission accomplished, or he wouldn't in which case I was glad to be rid of him. He called. We had our second date on Thanksgiving evening. We saw The Piano with Harvey Keitel. Michael was blown away that I was friends with Harvey, Harvey and Clint Eastwood were his two favorite actors. I didn't think to wonder what that said about him. We went back to my house after the movie. Michael was leaving the next morning for a weekend upstate and asked if he could sleep over; my house was on the way to his destination. Ruby and Violet weren't home; I welcomed him to spend the night. We made-out on the couch for hours; I hadn't made-out in years; it was passionate and exciting and I felt like a teenager again. He thought he was running the show, he thought I'd soon be another notch on his belt; he was used to getting his way with women, of them needing him more than he needed them. He didn't say it, but I could feel it, sense it in his overconfident manner. But he was wrong. He underestimated me. He thought his power was greater than mine. He wasn't the first person to underestimate me. I'd had a lifetime's worth of being devalued, of being the victim. He couldn't see that I was the tortoise, that slow and steady would win the race. I did not sleep with him that night. I understood instinctively that if I did, I would never hear from him again. I knew that I needed to be different from all the rest. I won Round One. I did hear from him again and we continued to see one another pretty regularly.
A year after our first date, Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After contemplating his options, the wait-and-see approach, the cut-it-out approach, Michael chose to have his prostate removed immediately. He was definitely not a wait-and-see kind of guy. We learned that the potential catastrophic side effects of the surgery were impotence and incontinence, either temporarily or long-term -- a grown man in a diaper, unable to get it up, not a pretty sight, not exactly my idea of the perfect man. I admit I had moments of deep reflection, of soul-searching. How much did I like this guy? Did I love him? The road ahead might very well be rocky and maybe, at times, impassable. If I wasn't sure how I felt, now was the time to get out. But before I had a chance to decide, Michael called with rather startling and shocking news. He was having an affair. I guess he felt compelled to confess his sins, as though confessing would cleanse his soul and spare him death.
At first I was terribly injured -- my first thoughts were along the lines of "I want him dead," "I hope he doesn't survive the surgery," "I hope he is rendered impotent and incontinent for the rest of his life," But I quickly realized I was not broken; I was, surprisingly, empowered. It was a new way of thinking for me. I had lived my life believing that I was to blame for being sexually abused by my father when I was a child. It was exhilarating to finally begin letting go of the chains of victimization. When I was able to calm down, take a few, okay maybe more than a few, deep breaths, I saw clearly that Michael's behavior was damaging to his soul, his psyche, not mine. Don't get me wrong, although it was a novel experience not to blame myself for another person's evil-doing, Michael's behavior was still repugnant and unacceptable. I realized that although I was willing to bide my time, try and help Michael find his way towards the light, I could not and would not tolerate infidelity indefinitely. I understood that as much as I liked (maybe loved) him, I loved myself more and that was a revelation. Incontinence (temporary, thank heavens), impotence (temporary, thank heavens, remember this was pre-Viagra), humbled Michael. It forced him, for the first time in his life to feel vulnerable, to express the vulnerability, to need a woman, not just want a woman, to trust a woman. Although Michael continued to struggle with his demons (a mentally ill mother, the death of his 4-year-old young son, Joshua), to struggle with love and loss, trust and faith, I knew more intensely than I'd every known anything that we would endure.
On the afternoon of May 19, 2002, nine years after our fateful first date, eight years after Michael's prostate cancer surgery, seven years after Ruby's traumatic brain injury, six years after my mother died, Michael and I married in front of over two hundred of our family and friends. At 54 and 61, there was really no compelling reason to marry which made it all the more honorable and virtuous and romantic. My bakery catered the afternoon celebration -- Ruby et Violette's chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate-dipped marshmallow sticks (recipes below), cupcakes, chocolate-dipped Rice Krispie squares with sugar charms and other sweet treats and Prosecco carried the day.
Michael's toast to me spoke of redemption and devotion: "Wendy seems to have known from the beginning who I was, what it was that was deeply missing in my life, and how to help me find it. We have, on rare occasions, tried the limits of each other, but Wendy has always had the great strength and confidence to know that somewhere deep inside we were right and to help us to find the ways back from the difficult spots. Wendy has the self-confidence and, most importantly, the sense of humor, to ride out the storms and silences of my various demons and to help bring us back to the place we want to be. We have been through life's trials together and seem each time to emerge with renewed strength and appreciation for each other. There are persons that alter forever who we are. Being with Wendy has brought me joy and, surprise of surprises, happiness. There's a phrase in a novel by Alice Walker where a man describes his '20 mile woman,' the woman he walks 20 miles to see, as 'a friend of my mind' -- Wendy is a friend of my life. I am blessed by her presence."
And my words to Michael spoke of healing and faith and strength of spirit. "It would be easy to list all the reasons I love Mike, but it is what I cannot put into words, how his smile makes me feel, what I feel when I hear his voice or see him walk through the door -- that is where my love lies. Mike is perfect (with all his flaws), he is my knight on a white horse (or maybe a white single rowing scull) and he has made all my dreams come true."
Michael and I are going out to dinner this evening to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date! Our twelfth wedding anniversary is a few months away! We have just welcomed our sixth grandchild! Who woulda' thunk!
Ruby et Violette's Marshmallow Sticks (courtesy of Jonathan Reynolds, N.Y. Times Magazine, October 27, 2002): 12 oz. candy wafers, any color; 48 marshmallows, 12 8-inch lollipop sticks, 1 cup or more edible decorations (jimmies, sequins, sprinkles), plastic foam block or another support to dry sticks covered in aluminum foil, wax papered covered baking tray.
Simmer candy wafers in top of double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Thread 4 marshmallows on each stick. Hold marshmallow stick over double boiler and spoon melted coating over it, covering all or part of stick. Tap side of bowl to remove excess candy coating. Hold stick over wax paper covered tray and sprinkle with edible decorations, the zanier and more colorful the better. Insert stick in foam and let harden in refrigerator. When hardened, remove from refrigerator and store in airtight container. Yields 12 sticks.
Ruby et Violette's 'Perfect' Chocolate Chunk Cookies (courtesy of Jonathan Reynolds, N.Y. Times Magazine, October 27, 2002):
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, ½ cup granulated sugar, 2 large eggs, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. salt, ¾ tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, 4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks (preferably imported).
Place butter in bowl of mixer and cream at high speed until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until completely mixed. In separate bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add to the butter/egg mixture at low speed until just combined and add vanilla extract. Do not over mix. Add chocolate chunks and mix until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate batter until cold. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop heaping spoonfuls of batter 2 inches apart onto lined baking sheets and bake until golden brown around edges and soft (but not bubbly) about 9 minutes, Cool on wire rack. Yield: 36 to 72 depending on size.