Don’t Blink

Norman Rockwell Triple Self Portrait
Norman Rockwell, Triple Self Portrait,  1960 

“It feels like your wedding was ages ago,” my cousin said on the phone last night.

It does and it doesn’t. We’ve been stumbling back into real life, the first week a blur thanks to jet lag, and now, three weeks in, the muted “oh…” feeling has fully settled in: the realization that, after the wedding, nothing really changes about you or your spouse or your life unless you make it so. 

I suspect this is why people often have children so quickly after marriage. That and, any way you look at it, Tom is going to be an old(er) dad.*

There’s a certain momentum that comes with engagements and wedding planning and the wedding itself – or, if you’re like us, weddings. For two days after, I had no appetite. I was tired, but the adrenaline of always being “on” still ran through my surprisingly alcohol-free veins. I didn’t drink much throughout and slept even less, and I remember wondering when I would crash. The night of? The night after? The night after that?

The crash never came. Just a steady dissipation of anxiety and fatigue (98% happy, 2% tense irritations – a holdover from various last-minute stressors, e.g. when the welcome dinner restaurant called thirty minutes before the party started, to say that the wine had not arrived). All of which was replaced by the more relaxed contentment of biking around Sun Moon Lake and then seeing our friends in Hong Kong, where I replenished the alcohol missing from my veins and where my appetite slowly returned.**

Anyway, all this confirms what every married woman told me: that the wedding is over in a flash. Actually, it went by in a series of flashes both figurative and literal – I doubt we’ll ever get photographed that much again, unless we become involved in a sensational murder trial – interspersed with moments that seemed like still life paintings, if only by contrast.

Friends and cousins advised us to enjoy every moment. We tried, and we did, but still.

Blink. You’re packing your bags and saying goodbye.

Blink. Your plane is taxiing and Manhattan is just over there.

Blink. You’re back at your desk. Coworkers are asking, “How was the wedding?”

And what other vocabulary is there, but the same one you use to describe a-more-fun-than-average weekend?

“It was great, thanks! Have a pineapple cake.”

A month after our New York nuptials, we celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in Orange County. After the holiday, my father drove me and Tom to the airport.

I sat in the backseat, probably checking Instagram. By then – by now – I trusted that Tom and my dad could have a conversation without me being there to make sure they weren’t unintentionally – or intentionally, on my father’s part – offending each other.

From the corner of my eye I saw Tom nodding along. And then he said, “Yeah. I just want to retire.”

I looked up, pursed my lips. Smooth, Tom.

At the time, we’d been legally married for barely a month and had been at our respective new jobs for about the same time. And while my parents really liked Tom (Chinese people of that generation tend not to know how to “love” their son-in-laws), they really liked Tom for me. He was from a good, wholesome family, had a happy upbringing, and was used to – and good at – supporting himself since college. Being a data analyst, he also had a clear, straight career path and higher earning potential compared to my spotty history as a “freelance writer” (something my dad would say with air quotes if he knew what they were) and strong track record as a loaf-about.

I thought my dad would scoff his disapproval and say more loudly than necessary, “You are too young to think about retirement! You need to elevate your career or, even better, figure out how to work for yourself.”

And leave unsaid, “My daughter is a known loaf-about! She possesses no true modern-day survival skills! Also, I have only just recently pawned her off to you, so please do not also turn into a loaf-about.” 

Instead my dad laughed, nodded.

“Just close your eyes,” he said to Tom. For a moment I thought he was making a flat dad joke about the power of imagination.

But he was revisiting a memory.

“When I was nine,” my father said, “I visited my uncle’s house and my uncle told me it was important to do well in school. But I wanted the time to go by quickly. I wanted to grow up so I can start making money. And then I opened my eyes one day, and I was forty.

The airport was just a few minutes away and hearing my father say this I suddenly felt a little sad.

“Just close your eyes and count to thirty. Open them and you’re forty,” my father continued. “Blink again, and you’re sixty.”

“Yeah,” Tom said. “That’s how it is.”

“Sixty!” my father turned his right hand upward, before returning it to the steering wheel. “Even that was ten years ago.”

In his late fifties, he found himself at the airport in Shenyang with a delayed flight. He went up to the desk agent and began to ask her about other flight alternatives when a pushy man elbowed his way up to the counter next to my dad and interrupted him.

“The lady was very stern to the man,” my dad said, “She scolded him, ‘Mister, mister, please don’t be so rude and interrupt me! Can’t you see I’m trying to help this old gentleman!'”

My dad turned left and right, looking around for the “old gentleman” before he realized she was referring to him.

“You know,” he said now to Tom, “I don’t feel my age. Even now at seventy, I don’t. But sometimes it doesn’t matter. That’s just time.”

And then it was time to go. We pulled up to the airport and said goodbye, “See you in Taiwan.”

A blink later we would be up in the air, with Manhattan just over there.

*Though judging by some of these tired silver foxes I see pushing strollers around the city, in New York he might still be a young-ish dad.
**Though to be honest I really could have used a similar loss of appetite in the weeks leading up to the wedding; the dress was much tighter than I had anticipated it would be.
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