Chloe came to visit us this weekend. She's home from New York, where she lives with her partner of nearly 8 years, Ross. I met Chloe when she was a baby. Her father, Connor, and I were residents together in Baltimore. Connor and her mother are no longer together, but Connor still lives in Baltimore and practices. Her mother, surprisingly, ended up in Council Bluffs, Iowa which is just a river away from where I live. I admit that I don't stay in touch with either her father or her mother, but Chloe and I were friends from the first day that her father came over to my apartment to practice tracheal intubation (it is SO much harder than it looks on television) and brought her with him. I had a practice doll and when we were done practicing and enjoying wine, Chloe, who was about 9 months at the time, had lots of fun rolling around on the life size medical doll.
Connor and I stayed in touch for a long while after I moved back to the prairie. Whenever I was near his home place, I'd call him and we often arranged to go to the same seminars just to catch up with each other. He'd sometimes bring Chloe with him or if I was near Baltimore, I'd stop and have dinner with him and Chloe. By that time, he was divorced and had nearly sole custody of Chloe. His ex had her for the summers. I always liked Chloe. Thought she was smart and funny. When she hit her teens, she began having some drug problems, so ended up moving in with her mother and step father in Council Bluffs. Connor re-married and we lost touch, gradually our phone calls lessened and we were down to just Christmas cards and then, eventually, those ceased too. But, Chloe stayed in touch with me during her teen years and when she went to college in Michigan. And when she landed a dream marketing job for a book publishing company in New York, I was her third phone call, after her parents.
She and Ross met in college and have settled into a gorgeous brownstone in Harlem. They lead New Yorker's lives now, take the subway together in the mornings to her job at the publishing company and his at an insurance company. They both travel a lot for work and whenever I am in New York, they meet me at different restaurants, trying to broaden my food tastes. The last time I was there, we had sushi, the time before that Cuban food and before that, Brazilian fare. Liv has met Chloe and has a huge big sister crush on her. Bing likes her too, thinks she has a great wit. We all like Ross, her partner, a quiet, shy man who seems to dote on volatile, vibrant Chloe.
But, Chloe was somber when she called me a week ago to say that she would be in Council Bluffs to visit her mother. She asked if I would do her tarot cards for her, something that she's always loved and I don't mind doing for her. I said sure.
We sat in my dining room this weekend, sipping iced green tea and ate cherries, comfortably spitting the pits into a side bowl. I asked her if Ross had come with her and her face clouded.
"No," she said. "That's why I'm visiting my mother this week. I told him that I needed a little break from him. Things...are...well...not great," she admitted.
I let it go, not wanting to violate her privacy when she didn't say anything else. Later, as I laid out the tarot card spread, the cards indicated that she had some serious relationship problems to work out. We talked more then.
"I'm 28 now," she said. "I'm not sure that I want to have children, but I think it's time that Ross and I married. It would be a good way to blend our families and we've been living together for 8 years. If only for tax reasons, it works," she said. "But when I brought it up to him, he said that we shouldn't mess up a good thing and since we don't want kids, why bother?"
Her face clouded.
"I guess," she said, haltingly, "I just want to feel like we are sharing the journey together and what is so terrible about marrying? I mean, unless...he's unsure if he wants to stay with me. He says that isn't the case, but he doesn't want either of us to feel trapped. He's afraid that marriage might make him feel that way."
I finished the reading. Not sure if she was happy. The cards won't tell you what to do. They just tell you what you need to see to make a good decision.
As we continued talking about other things, Chloe smiled as I showed her some photos of Liv, who she only saw fleetingly, before she went out swimming with friends.
"When you were my age, did you want to be a mother?" she asked.
I laughed. "GOD, NO!" I blurted. "I didn't want to be anyone's mother until I was about 38 and then suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I used to laugh and roll my eyes when someone would say that their biological clock started ticking, but mine didn't just tick. It was like a fire alarm. And now? You know, parenting is so much harder than you think it will be, but I can't think of anything that brings out the best in you more. I am a much better person because I am Liv's mother. I can attest to that. "
Chloe nodded slowly. "I'm still not sure about wanting a child," she admitted.
I told her that she had to follow her heart. Some people should be parents, some should NEVER be parents and some learn to be parents.
"How about Bing?" she asked. "Are you sure you want to stay with her?"
I was thoughtful for a moment and then said, "You know, I never thought I would say this about anyone, but I just know that she is the one for me, you know? I just feel it so deeply, right here." I put my hand on my heart. "I came to love late, just like I came to parenting late, but I can now say with complete surety that Bing and Liv are my family, my life, my everything and I would not change a thing. Not one iota."
Chloe laughed. "Dad always said that you were a complete loner, that you would end up married to your work."
I smiled back. "Your Dad knew me when I was really young and really, really confused. I was such a Peter Pan back then about love. But, you know, I am really, really happy now. Settled. Content. I love being committed to someone and love being a parent. Maybe you will be like that too, maybe not. You know, it's no crime not to marry. Bing and I aren't married."
Chloe looked intently at me. "If you could marry, would you?"
I sighed. "If marriage was that important to us, we could marry in Iowa, Chloe. Bing and I are married, just not legally. Our commitment to each other is total. She and I are each other's family. Do you feel as if you and Ross are each other's family?"
She nodded. "I do."
"Than why get all bent out of shape about marriage vows?"
She nodded again, agreeing.
"Tell me how you feel about Bing, what makes you secure," she said.
Instead of talking, I got up and found my trusty Walt Whitman. I paged until I found the quote I was looking for. Showed it to her.
"Read the last paragraph," I said to her. "It says it all."
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
From Song Of The Open Road by Walt Whitman.
She read it slowly and then handed it back to me. As she finished, Bing came in. Asked us what we were reading. Chloe showed the words to Bing, explained that this was how I said I felt about her. Bing read it and grinned.
"So," Chloe said, "Do you have a quote to show me about how you feel about Maria?"
Bing shook her head. "I'm not the reader that she is. But, you know what? At the end of the day, Maria is my soft place to land. That is how I see her."
I turned Bing's palm over and kissed it.
Chloe visited with us a little longer. We talked about politics, her parents, her job and other mundane topics. And then it was time for her to go meet her mother and step father for dinner.
I walked her to the door, our arms around each other's waist. Kissed her cheek.
She hugged me at the door, keeping her head on my shoulder a long while. Finally she said, "Thanks for picking me back up and dusting me off, Maria," she said.
"Oh, honey, it was my pleasure," I told her. "Don't worry so much. Just be you and let Ross be Ross. It will all come out in the wash. My mother used to say that. That eventually, everything would all come out in the wash."
I watched her walk out to her mother's car that she'd borrowed for the day, her hair shining in the sun. She'd find her way, just as we all do. Some weeks, some months are harder than others. But, we all eventually find our destination.
I found mine. She'd find hers, either with Ross or without him.
But, it made me think. I have a question for all of you. Think about your relationship, your marriage, your love, present or past.
What defines it, makes it click, makes it run smoothly or jaggedly...or whatever.
What makes or made it worthwhile?