Muses, man. Mine’s been in high gear ever we saw Baz’s version of The Great Gatsby on Friday with A. and Jow. We all saw R+J when I was seventeen and it left an indelible mark on my psyche as evidenced by our wedding ceremony. Jow in his dark suit, me in a knee length cream silk dress with a sparkling pink rose corsage near my hand, married by a renegade priest in a tiny chapel that was as close to a Masonic ceremony as one could get before getting excommunicated.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
(Song of Solomon 2:10-17)
We sat across the aisle from each other with our familes as the Fr. read us this reading, not yet joined together in marriage. Shyly peeking at each other out of the corners of our eyes, blinking quickly so we didn’t have tears streaming down our faces.
It was as close to Claire and Leo as we could get without a double suicide and a million candles, which was probably for the best as we’re more middle aged than teen aged now. Still, I hear the soundtrack now and I’m immediately seventeen again in the back of C.’s white convertible with my girls, our hair is in our faces, tangling together as we sang at the top of our lungs, wearing torn jeans with striped stockings peeking out with scooped neck bodysuits and flannel blowing in the wind. The world was big and fathomless and we were fearless. Death hadn’t touched us yet, though it would soon.
It felt like Baz understood us, how feeling anything made our hearts feel like sparrows ripping out of our chests. Everything was still bigger than life all the time because we were still larger than life. It didn’t matter if our parties actually looked like a two story glitter covered masquerade with live musical performances and fishtanks to fall in love through, it felt that way to us. All the time.
I suppose it’s appropriate that we would see The Great Gatsby at the age we are now, close to the protagonists’ age with Leo (aging with us) intoning on the scene, I was thirty. Beside that realization their importunities were dim and far away. Before me stretched the portentous menacing road of a new decade, making the three of us uneasily side-eye each other as we get closer to the half way mark of the decade. The party scenes were just as big and epic as R+J, the soundtrack just as amazing and the end was a softer sadness, though just as sad in its own way as evidenced by the sobbing teenaged girls behind us.
But at 34, it wasn’t the end that made me cry as I’m old enough now to see how it’s not just about who lives and who dies but how complicated it was to get there. No one’s hands were clean in the process. No, it was a relatively innocuous set of scenes in the middle of the movie after Daisy, Nick and Gatsby have tea and they go to Gatsby’s house and spend the day together drinking, dancing, swimming and tossing hundred dollar shirts all over the place while Lana del Rey sang, I’ve seen the world/ Done it all/ Had my cake now/ Hot summer nights mid July/ When you and I were forever wild/the crazy days/ city lights/ The way you’d play with me like a child/ Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful/Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul/I know you will, I know you will/ I know that you will/ Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?
Tears streamed down my face. Feelings no longer constantly threatened to constantly rip from my body as they once did but the sparrow in my heart stirred again in that moment as it beat itself against the inside of my chest. Do you remember what it was like to feel this way all the time? Do you remember when you thought it would always be like that? Late nights, surrounded with everyone you loved, laughing and fighting and fucking and crying? It’s so finite, isn’t it? But you know that now, don’t you? You know those things are as finite as Daisy and Gatsby happy and carefree together, just happy to be near each other. Eventually, everyone wants too much.
We promised each other that we would do our best at C.+L.’s wedding the following day to try to remember what this felt like. Having fun is harder, the older you get, N. said to me once. You have to work a lot harder. You have to want it more.
It took all of us a bit to find ourselves together once we got there. We haven’t seen some friends in years, rifts between others. I felt my middle aged veil start to settle over me, clouding my eyes and heart. It’s just another wedding. You’ve been to a million at this point. What could possibly be different about this one?
We were together. All of us. My sister. All our friends. My new husband.
Jow and I wound up accidental next door neighbors to D., A., and R., so we flung our doors open between us and left them that way, reminding me of how it used to be when we would all travel together. We gathered the rest of our wolf pack on the trolley that took us to the church as we noisy fanned ourselves in the heat and took up two full pews. Somewhere in between the heat of the church and C. looking so dapper and L. looking like she could have easily been in The Great Gatsby with her glittering crystal broach bouquet and gorgeous floor length veil and the reading (My Beloved spake . . .), I took in all of us. What it felt like to watch two people so in love get married while I squeezed my husband’s hand. How this reading has bound so many couples together and whenever another couple gets married and uses that reading, each of us feel that pang of remembrance. What it felt like listening to it at the altar, what it feels like listening to it now, married for however many years. What it feels like to be in a holy place, surrounded by the history of the church and the history between all of us fifteen years later.
After the ceremony, we took the trolley back to our rooms and I took pictures of everyone in “their natural habitats”, A., texting on her phone, my sister fixing her make up, C. (so pregnant now), D., R., and Jow sprawled on the beds watching a documentary on cocaine, laughing and joking and gossiping together. We relaxed into each other and drew back our veils for the night.
We headed to the reception where we were joined by M., B. and his fiance, G. My sister took care of us like she always does, immediately grabbing big plates of cheese, fruit and crackers for the table while I made friends with the bartender. We were all staying, so I started pouring booze down everyone’s throats before they could demur. My sister hunting down the waiter with the lambchops for me, grabbing one just for me. D., C., and A. try to tell G. that they’re really nice people.
D: We are!
Me: We are not. Don’t lie to the poor girl, she’s marrying into us soon.
A.: I’m the nicest.
C: No way, dude. I’m the nicest.
Me: You know for a fact that the only one who is actually nice among all of us animals is Jow.
Jow: It’s true.
B: It is true.
D: I don’t know anything is true! You keep pouring vodka down my throat!
R: God, for real, lady!
A: Jow is the nicest.
Me: Jow have another drink.
Jow: This isn’t an after school special, woman.
We went to the dinner part of the reception and my sister faithfully recorded C+L dancing together, looking so perfect and in love. It’s always our way, I write and she photographs. Together we piece together our history. A million glass clinkings even after the waiters took away our utensils, we just used our rings and C+L kissed and kissed for us.
The DJ lit us all on fire, playing everything from our twenties and now and for a night we were bucks and maidens again, arm in arm together. I tried to explain it to Jow, how much this all meant to us. How close I was to crying only two drinks in, remembering what it used to be like in our twenties together like this, knowing how fleeting it was but I clamped it down because everyone would think that I was way drunk on booze instead of just feelings. Do you understand how this used to be, like, our religion?
He doesn’t, not really. His twenties were differently spent than mine.
But we were a pack once, moving through the night and our twenties together fueled on booze, sex and drama, smeared in eyeliner and fishnet. But for this night, in our thirties, bound by the love that C.+L. have for each other and the love we’ve all shared through the years, we could remember. My sister and I brought an offering of communion to the table in the form of French Martinis and we all drank from our chalices together and hit the dance floor. The dance floor telepathy fueled by shared booze and shared sweat kicked back in as fast as it ever did as we danced as we once did. Like no one was watching. As a manifestation of our love for each other. As religion. We danced until it hurt, bathed in sweat. We danced until we felt like we would die if we kept dancing, vodka shot through our veins in place of blood and then danced more. We danced until all we could hear in our ears, hearts and minds was the Universal Heartbeat, roaring like an ocean. We danced for everything we had and lost. We danced for the unknown future. We danced with each other in every combination possible, laughing. Just as long as we were together.
It was perfect.
Will you still love me when I have nothing but my aching soul? I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will . . .