Snow Days. They’re legendary. Mythical. Great, white unicorns or whales we chase in our sleep, wake up wishing we had caught or had caught us in the eye of their storm. One round on our axis where it seems the whole world has suspended itself, called the calendar off. Nothing to do but live and snow.
As a child, even a child who liked school, I spent every night from November to April praying for a snow day. Please let it snow enough that school will be cancelled. Please, let there be a storm coming that no one has predicted yet. Let it start now, right now, last all through the night, blanket us in for at least twelve hours. Please, please, please.
If I’m being honest—and I think few people are truly honest about this—I hated playing in the snow. Invariably, five minutes into the endeavor, snow would be inside my boots, up my cuffs, down my neck, slipped past my five sweaters and three pairs of mittens. It would melt and I would be cold and wet and miserable and trying to pretend that I was enjoying shuffling heavily after my brother, barely holding onto my avenging chunk of poorly-rolled snow. I knew that when I tried to throw it at him, it would flop down, uselessly two feet in front of me. He would get away, and I would be torn between giving up and feeling lame for it and just wanting to be able to be warm, and to move normally, and to be in control again. I lasted outside fifteen minutes, at most.
Snow days are less about snow, more about time, escape, evading the evil machinations of the real world, covering all that nastiness in a clean white blanket.
And, for me, snow was about British television.
I grew up on Cape Cod, a place that in most people’s minds only exists in the summer when it is filled with Kennedy-esque New Englanders in polos on yachts. But land is land, all twelve months of the year. And my family lived there all twelve months of the year, in a town filled with people who were not Kennedys. You knew they were not Kennedys because, like us, they were still there in November, in February, in March, the most depressing month. It’s the only wealthy who can leave, come back when the world is green and teeming with lobster again.
Winter on Cape Cod is a long and drawn-out affair, ending only in June, in time for two weeks of Spring before the tourists return. One of the most infamous snow days of childhood was on April 1st: a foot. Glorious, bright, depressing. Just when you feel like it will never end and the cold is sinking, finally, into your soul, the snow comes again. You can give up hope, or you can turn your back on the outside world, retreat to your couch, let the whole household stay in their pajamas and watch British television. Obviously, my family chose the latter. What choice did we have? No choice, our house on the Cape was our only house. And who but the British to understand silent, unmelting depression.
By the time I was old enough to remember, our established protocol for snow-storm preparedness was as follows:
- Pray for school to be cancelled. It does not matter how many snow days you have already had, or how many parties you are supposed to have at school the next day. Cancellation is always desirable.
- Check the coffee supply. No one is safe with less than two pounds.
- Check freezer for toast-bread.
- Collect library cards from all present family members. Search the rooms of all non-present family members.
- Send one representative to the store for necessary food stuffs.
- Send at least two representatives to the library to check out all BBC film productions possible.
- Park the car at the end of the driveway to minimize shoveling.
- Pray for school to be cancelled.
- Send Mom or Emma to bed with the phone.
If our prayers had been heard, the first person up—my mother or my youngest sister Emma—would spread the word, alert the household that all alarms could be silenced. This process also functioned to wake everyone up under cover of telling them exciting news: Hey, hey hey, don’t get up but SCHOOL’S CANCELLED! Before she came to my room I could hear Emma making the rounds: my mother, my brother, my older sister; finally bursting into my room to yank open the blinds show me what nature had wrought. Look! Eight inches, and it’s not supposed to stop till this afternoon! The morning sun, refracted over ten million snowflakes, was blinding. I was torn between looking out the window, celebrating, and just wanting to go back to sleep. Emma would tire of my moans, exit to go make coffee, leave the blinds open, permanently, purposely, disturbing my sleep. It was no accident: half the people in my family are joyful morning birds, the other half – me and my brother Johannes—are zombies before coffee, incoherent before 8am no matter how much coffee is involved.
Eventually, individually, we began the slow progression downstairs. By the time I made it, Emma and my mother were already on the second pot of coffee. The third pot. There were many of us. Then toast. More coffee. The day began as it should, with ritual and no pomp or circumstance.
I am the third of four children. One boy, three girls, as close to two years as possible between each of us. My brother, Johannes, born first and into his birthright. Then my older sister Sophie, then—me, I am Lydia—then Emma. I am, if you’re wondering, the one true middle child in my family. I am, if you’re wondering, nothing like Austen’s scandalous Lydia Bennet, just as my Emma is nothing like Austen’s spoiled youngest-child Emma. That we happen to share their names is truly unrelated to my parents’ plans or what is to come. You would not accuse a boy called Harry of being named for Harry Potter, would you?
Also among the family in my childhood house: my cousin Esther. Esther was from Arkansas, and fifteen years older than me. She moved in with us when I was twelve, after my father moved out, officially tipping the scales in favor of womanliness. For the rest of my childhood, we were a house full of women. We called my brother The Boy because that’s what he was: Our token. But he was one against five, and by the time I hit high school, and the smack of puberty, he was in college.
On snow days, after coffee and breakfast toast and a round of showering and re-entering our nightgowns and bathrobes and slippers, we would turn on the television and begin the formal procedures.
I am not yet thirty, but my childhood was before the age of binge-watching. It was back when Netflix was a mail-order subscription, and each episode of a series came separately. Pride and Prejudice—the five-hour, six-episode, 1994 BBC Pride and Prejudice which I now own on a single DVD—came on six individual tapes from the library, the faces of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet sliced across them. Hence, our snow day preparations included taking multiple cards to the library. There were maximums on how many movies you could check out, and it took at least two cards to get all of any series.
We watched Horatio Hornblower, a swashbuckling Napoleonic-Era Royal Naval officer on his oceanic adventures. Sometimes we watched The Two Fat Ladies, two aptly named British chefs who rode around on a motorcycle and sidecar, smoked, and made things with aspic. Sometimes we watched Upstairs Downstairs, or Poirot, or Miss Marple, or The Vicar of Dibley, or Monarch of the Glen. We just had a VCR and a screen and it seemed that British television was all the television there was, and I was completely happy with it.
More often than not, we watched Jane Austen adaptations. Partially because we loved them and partially due to prevalence: there are enough adaptations and interpretations and variations of Austen’s six finished novels to fill weeks of snow days, hours upon hours of casually intense debates over who makes the best Emma – Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Beckinsale? Which of the mediocre Mansfield Park adaptations is the true worst? Who is Pride and who is Prejudice, or are they both both? We would sit in the living room, our Emma sprawled across the rug; Johannes reading a book and offering constant commentary from his private rocking chair; the rest of us on the couch: my mother knitting, Esther dutifully helping keep track of her stitches and balls of yarn, Sophie searching through her bathrobe pockets for a hankie, me in my cat nightgown, quilts over everyone. Behind us, the heat clicked through the baseboards. In the corner, the fireplace – a metal box we shoved wood into – snapped along. Outside, it snowed and the ocean whipped its waves, the wind, everything whistled and spit as we hunkered into our home together.
It’s easy to be reductive about British period dramas. The characters are stuffed into simultaneously tight and tent-like costumes. No one says what they mean. The intrigues are all romantic, stereotyping, re-enforcing a gender binary. The plot moves too slowly, always ends in marriage. Is there a plot? There are definitely too many characters to keep track of. These films are escapist creations, just for women who want to dream of a different world. They have nothing to do with our world, the real, present world is nothing like Victorian England.
Except that it is. I am quite certain my world is very much like Victorian England.
Growing up, and even now, I loved Jane Austen because she was a shared love, a communal couch-sit with those nearest and dearest to me. And also because—or perhaps because of this—she writes stories casually dominated by women. These women are confined by gender and wealth and social rules and yet they are still, to me, so relatable, so familiar. Men come on stage and make snippets, single lines at dances and parties and then leave the women to make sense of things. Like all the friends and boys my sisters and I whispered about in safety of our own home, Jane Austen’s men are incidental, only relevant in relation to the main characters, never important on their own merit. Sisters love and look out for each other, talk to each other, crawl into bed together at night, feet cold even within the yards of their nightgowns. In my family, my sisters and I spent the winter in flannel nightgowns made by our mother, given to us on the Christmas Eve I was thirteen. Emma’s in toile, Sophie’s patterned with tea cups, mine pastel pink with cats. They were voluminous and warm, loose enough that when it got truly cold, I could put pants on underneath, a sweater over the top. I have no memories of my mother in a nightgown. She certainly did not make one for herself.
In Jane Austen’s books, the mothers too are complicated. They try to marry off and protect and defend their daughters. Like many living mothers, Jane Austen’s mothers are competitive with their children, they measure beaus and proposals and accomplishments against their neighbors’ progeny. They want stable, safe lives for their daughters, want their offspring to live better lives than their parents. Even when the fictional daughters are embarrassed or annoyed with the efforts of their mothers, these mothers are always—misguided or not—trying to do right by their children. There is a generational shift between what mothers want for their children and what children want for themselves, but this schism pre- and post- dates Victorian England.
More immediate, like all those Victorians, my childhood was lived in an old, drafty house. Creaking, century-old staircases, cold mornings and whistling windows and foggy winters, foggy springs, foggy summers. We crawled into rickety bedframes at night, slept under mounds of blankets, woke up to sprint across cracking wood floors to turn the heat up; my mother turned it down every night, implacable even in the face of her children’s most dramatic shivers. We carried hot water bottles around to stay warm, used cloth hankies embroidered with flowers and my mother’s maiden initials, her mother’s maiden initials. We all read, ravenously, went for long seaside walks to air ourselves out, had a dress-up box full of gloves and felt, feathered hats. The music we listened to, before my siblings and I discovered the radio, was classical: pianos and orchestras and strings playing concertos. We even had a piano everyone kind-of played, and I truly played the harp, my sisters the flute, the violin, my brother the horn. In terms of Victorian ladylike refinements, they were all represented: needlework, knitting, drawing, musical abilities, reading and writing letters. This was no finishing school but—with the large exception of our manners and dancing skills—we all could have successfully been presented in St. James’ court.
None of us were in love with Victorian England or dreaming wistfully of it—everyone in my family is too headstrong and self-directed to wish for a time with stricter rules—but nevertheless, Victorian England was always with us and we did love it. We loved it because we love each other.
Life is full of small excitements and heartaches and mundane walks.
Back then and even now, in my experience of the world, familial love has always been the most powerful force I know. Not romance, although it can be wonderful in its way, but family: true, unreserved and unconditional love that has nothing to do with wit or finances or glittering eyes. My family has always seen me in the complete way that no one else has: when I’m fourteen and learning what it is to break-out, when I’m seventeen and accidentally, permanently dyeing my hair purple, when I’m twenty full of the world, home from college, when I’m twenty five and lonely in my first job, when I’m twenty-seven and still, still wearing the same cat-covered nightgown. Only they know how many snow storms and cold winters and months of long head-colds and personal traumas that nightgown and I have been through together. Only they have the right to point out all of its coffee stains. They can probably claim at least half of them.
The most powerful, most permanent, most unreserved kind of love. The most stable thing in my life.
In our family we also had the other hallmark of an Austen heroine’s struggles: precarious finances. We had worries about our futures, and how much college for four children was going to cost, not to mention a never-ending list of minivan repairs and then clothes and winter jackets and all that coffee and toast for six mouths. We had expensive taste in cheese, sometimes too expensive for my mother’s liking.
In the books, for the women, to marry is to gain economic stability. To marry is to gain a social position: someone’s wife is more powerful that someone’s daughter. These Victorian women, with all their discussions of marriage and eligible men and desirable dancing partners are just talking business with each other. They are trying to figure out if they can be happy with the business choices available to them. They are, in fact, very practical. They do not want to be poor. They do not want to marry someone they cannot respect. They are hoping there will be a third option.
We in the modern era had the third option: the end of entailments, property ownership for women. But most importantly, we had each other. Stability and love and family, they don’t always come so well attached to each other, they don’t always stay so well attached to each over. But despite all the external messes and stresses of my childhood; all the angst and arguments of puberty; all the worries of old-house and old-car ownership; we had each other in as unwavering a way as possible, and we knew it surely and silently.
When I watched these Austenian scenes with my mother and my brother and my sisters and my cousin, marriage was the farthest thing from my mind. Sure, it was happening on screen but I never translated that to an internal narrative, a future prediction. I was a teenager, I was still skittish around boys, I did not want to leave my house and owe energy, emotion to someone else. I didn’t want anyone in our house to leave it, I feared the day that that would become the natural order of things. People leaving, marrying, getting snowed into other living rooms. The splintering of tradition. I felt a great, looming weight when I remembered the future.
I think it is a great disservice to everyone when a movie ends in a wedding, but it is not nearly as evil as calling every movie that ends in a wedding a romance.
Now, I am married. It happened nothing at all like it does in Victorian dramas, no forbidding aunts or shocked socialites, no nervous submissions for parental permissions, no trunks of wedding clothes to be ordered. But it did happen. Life changes, even as I child I knew I couldn’t stop that. Most importantly, when it happened, the film kept rolling. Everything changed and nothing, nothing changed. But that is still in the future.
Beyond a kinship with the women of Jane Austen’s world, I also fell in love with their language. Of course, Jane’s legendary wit. All hail Jane Austen, Victorian comedienne extraordinaire! I toss my hat to her. But also, the use of language to speak and not speak. For many people, indirect prose is a cudgel they beat their heads and Jane Austen’s legacy against. But for me, as a deeply private and internal teenager, there was nothing so wonderful as an understatement. They’re all saying exactly what they mean, exactly how they mean it.
A translation exercise:
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you, means: This is going to get awkward, but I love you. You’re not expecting this, I know, it’s uncomfortable, I too am deeply uncomfortable right now, I hate having to say any of this. But I needed to tell you or I will explode. You must allow me to tell you.
He may live in my memory as the most amiable man of my acquaintance, but that is all. I have nothing either to hope or fear, and nothing to reproach him with. means: I know you want me to not love him anymore. I wish I could, but I can’t quite say that, so I’m just going to say: Isn’t he the best?
Save your breath to cool your porridge, means: Shut up!
It’s all there, all so clear if only you’re taking time to listen.
I, too, talk for people to listen, leave my meanings in what I consider plain sight. I don’t like wearing my heart on my sleeve, my feelings on my face, blurting out my soul to the first person who doesn’t know me well enough to realize something is wrong before I say it. It’s a matter of self-respect, social decorum for the benefit of all parties.
Outside of me, silent communication is still not a thing that died with the annihilation of the reticule. It’s well alive in all relationships, all healthy and unhealthy families. When my sister went to school in an old t-shirt and her hair in haphazard bun, it meant she was unhappy about something, dreading the day before her. When she stole my favorite sweater and crimped her hair, it meant she was hoping something exciting would happen, something specific I would spend all day trying to deduce. When my brother sat on the couch with a book while we watched TV, it meant he wanted to hang out with us, the book was just a prop to pretend not to be enjoying Oprah. When my mother called on her way home from work to tell us to put the coffee on, it meant she had had a tough day. When she started washing all the floors early in the morning, it meant she was sleepless, and worried about her capabilities as a mother.
It’s the same as when someone says I’m fine and from afar, it could mean so many different things. From nearby, it usually only means one thing.
Even beyond the silent, there is so much conveyed in language, so much history and meaning in private, re-used phrases, so much that the words are remembering that can’t be spoken.
When Emma shouted up the stairs on Christmas morning Make haste! everyone knew what it meant: The coffee is done, you have five minutes to get up before I come get you up! And: Something exciting is about to happen and I want us all to lift up our nightgowns, expose our calves and our petticoats to the winter air as we leap down the stairs and fly to it! It is completely different than Hurry up.
Once, in a deep fit of winter boredom, we decided our house needed a name. The Bennets have Longbourn House and Mr. Darcy has Pemberly and the Dashwoods have Barton Cottage and Fanny has Mansfield Park and we had 70 King Street. It’s good address, but it’s not a good name. I have no memory of a name-selecting process but verdict was unanimous: La Casa Del Rosa.
I don’t think it makes sense, linguistically or grammatically or logically. Our house was cedar-shingled, two and a half stories, rectangular with all kinds of eaves and bay windows sprouting out the sides. It’s not what you think of when you hear casa.
In the spring, when roses bloom and the black spot is in recession, there are a lot of them in mother’s garden. Other than that, no rose associations either.
But it stuck. At least in private, our home had a name. When do you arrive at La Casa Del Rosa?, I asked Sophie and Johannes on their way home from college for Christmas. Wilkommen auf La Casa Del Rosa! We greeted each other at the front door. Even now in my cell phone, the landline at my mother’s house is La Casa Del Rosa. She is calling me, but so is the house, the phone on the table in the corner of the kitchen where it has been for my whole life.
Once, I came home to find that Emma had taken an old log from the basement and—I don’t know how—carved our home’s name into it: La Casa Del Rosa. We put it on the front step, next to the mailbox where it stayed for several years until the weather finally destroyed it. For those years, it looked like a log had been abandoned out there—maybe someone dropped it while carrying wood into the house and never returned? –but every time I saw it I thought of Emma, thumping away in the basement, marking our territory, keeping La Casa Del Rosa safe and ours.
When I left my family, moved out of our house full of hankies and went to college, I learned something heartbreaking: classic British television—and Jane Austen in particular—is not a thing or a person you can casually mention, at least not where I went to school, in the clean Chicago suburbs. Apparently people don’t just watch 90’s BBC series like they’d watch Friends. And they certainly don’t just like Jane Austen like they would any other author. I can talk about Harry Potter for hours, but it’s not until you mention dear Jane that the judgments begin to unroll.
Another translation exercise:
Oh, you’re into Jane Austen? means I’m trying to figure out if you’re a snob, or a romantic, a or a woman, but I’m guessing that you’re all three.
Jane Austen is for lonely women, or intellectual women, or repressed women, or feminine women.
You can’t respond to what people aren’t saying, and so these conversations were always infuriating and silencing. I was a woman, and I was sometimes lonely in college and I did find solace in Jane. But it had nothing to do with men or romance or womanliness, and I did not for one minute believe that I was a rare, non-romantic exception within Jane’s reader-base.
People like to talk about what it means “feel like a woman”, to “be a woman in the world”, to be “feminine.” I don’t know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t feel like anything, anything besides what it feels like to be a person, to be alive. Not all “females” love the same “feminine” things, if they love any of them. When people use that word, the F Word, it’s always a code for something else. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT BLOUSE IS FEMININE? Floral with ruffles? You mean it looks Victorian. WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE’S “VERY FEMININE?” She has boobs? She knits? She wears make-up? Oh, you think that high-pitched giggle is annoying. Me too. WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S “TOO FEMININE” for you? You don’t like pink? Or is it the little ovary pattern that bothers you? LET’S BE SPECIFIC HERE PEOPLE. It is a word without meaning, a word that is too vague to carry any weight, that means just enough to imply judgment, censure.
I didn’t grow up feeling like a girl. Often, that sentence is a segue to something else. Remember, I’m cooler than all the other girls, remember? I run and fish and wear dungarees. I hang out with all the boys. I never cry. I hate dresses. I hate bras. NOT A GIRL, right? It’s a defense against getting accused of being the F Word, the kind of defense that shoots before you get shot, usually shoots anyone and everyone indiscriminately. Feminine. NOT ME, RIGHT? I’m cool, so cool.
I didn’t grow up feeling like a girl, because in La Casa Del Rosa, gender was essentially neutralized. Five women, one brother, no present father. Patriarchy dissolved. Women had the upper hand and so to be a woman was just to be a person. We watched Jane Austen and carried in wood and shoveled the driveway and mowed the lawn and tore off our own bras when the pre-period boob pains descended. We were not different people, we just were. I felt human.
When I learned in college and life outside the safety of my childhood home is that I liked certain things—chocolate, floral print, Jane Austen, Oprah, Taylor Swift, cheese—because I was a woman. There I was talking about something deeply personal, something that meant family and connection and belonging, and it translated to a longing for a romanticized patriarchy and a proposal. I was so shocked to realize that my opinions were invalidated by my gender, to realize nothing I loved had its own, independent merit. To be unable to communicate. I shut down.
It was in college that I learned not talk about Jane with strangers, or even casual acquaintances, it was too painful, too private to risk the pain of misunderstanding.
What we need is a word for the inverse of verisimilitude. When—whether on purpose or by some unknown machination — the real world resembles the book world. Not fiction resembling real life, but real life feeling like a specific moment from a specific book. What is that word for when you have read too many books or the same book too many times and you start to see it everywhere, perhaps start to make it everywhere?
I had a friend who, in all the eight years I have known her, invariably finishes every story with “It’s like that time in Bridget Jones/Pride and Prejudice/Harry Potter, when . . .” Everything has a fictional equivalent, a book-world mirror life.
We need a word for this, perhaps several with distinctions for when the book is so good the parallels draw themselves and when you are going out of the way to make the parallels exist, when you only know how to understand reality through the lens of novels instead of the other way around. Sometimes, in moments of great stress or sorrow or joy, we need a book to lend us its words.
A year ago, I got married. As I’ve said, it was a thing that came to me, a thing that I was surprised to find myself doing, though I had been planning it for months.
We got married in old, Cape Cod church. Wooden pews and a red carpet and opaque windows and salt air, just a block from the beach. I hadn’t lived in Massachusetts for almost ten years and getting married there meant almost everyone had to fly in—me, my fiancé, friends from college in Illinois, family from California and the Midwest, friends from North Carolina where we were living at the time—but I couldn’t imagine myself getting married anywhere else. It felt horrible to think of drinking coffee on any couch but my mother’s the morning of my wedding, waking up in a bed that I hadn’t woken up in so many spring and summer and fall and winter mornings to my sister yanking the curtains open. I shall be married from La Casa Del Rosa, I whispered to myself, a promise. It was the only place I have lived that has ever truly felt like home.
And, in a show of even greater private sentimentality, at our wedding, I had the minister read the classic Anglican wedding speech, the same one that appears in the final scene Pride and Prejudice, the miniseries, because it’s only on screen that such a thing would make an appearance. It is, to be fair, an opening as old as Jane Austen, and probably would have been in the book if any officiating ministers were quoted.
When we were planning our wedding ceremony, the minister gave us pages of things to choose from. Songs and marches and prayers and vows and invocations and opening addresses to the masses. They all essentially came in three versions: traditional, semi-traditional, non-traditional. For most of them, we picked and pasted things together, refusing to have wording our wedding that might mean something about our marriage that we didn’t. But when I started reading the open addresses, I got that shocked, adrenaline feeling that comes from getting a glass of water thrown in your face. I WANT THIS ONE. I blurted to my then fiancé, Just like this.
Maybe because he was tired, or maybe because he knew from the finality of my tone that something was happening he didn’t yet understand, or maybe just because he wanted me to be happy, my fiancé agreed. The traditional version, in its entirety.
It was a weird speech filled with antiquated language. Beautiful language, that I could tell, as I was standing at the altar months later, that the minster felt odd telling our guests about: an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union betwixt Christ and His Church. . . not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly. She tried to say it informally, but those are hard words to breeze through.
There I was in the front of that church, a tense, uncomfortable mess in white. A face and hands sticking out of a snowball, a cold and impenetrable blizzard of emotions. There my almost-husband was, trying to look casual as we stood in the center of attention.
I had not told my sisters—my bridesmaids and my co-maids of honor—that I had picked this speech, The Pride and Prejudice wedding speech. I was worried it would feel sentimental, Romantic with a capital and lowercase “R/r” and ridiculous as soon as I said it out loud. And in that moment, as the minister was reading it, I was too emotional to look my sisters or my mother or my brother or my cousin Esther, sitting behind me. I wanted to see their faces, to see them hearing it, but I was so close to falling apart I didn’t dare risk it. Instead, I stared at the minister and I felt, in my heart, that we all heard those words and knew instinctually what they meant.
Not that I wanted a Victorian marriage, or that I wanted to pretend I was Lizzie Bennet marrying Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, or that this was all going to be deeply traditional from here on out, or even the opposite—that I was making a big historical joke of all this wedding nonsense. Nor was I truly asking the pastor to warn us against wantoness and fornication. I was asking for something comforting, something symbolically meaningful in the way that everything in a wedding should be, ripe with the unspoken.
Those words were older than my relationship with my husband, prehistoric inside the realm of my life. They declared years of spoken and unspoken family love, decades of family belonging and tradition and I needed them in that moment. I needed my husband to hear them and look at me, I needed my sisters and my brother and my mother and my cousin, all in that room, to know I knew what I was doing, or rather, that I didn’t know what I was doing—something dark and scary and strange that would irrevocably change the shape of our family. Getting married felt like leaving home in a way that moving across the country, repeatedly and in multiple directions, did not. Getting married was a thing that I wanted and yet I did not, not, not want to hurt what I already loved, so much. I only wanted it if I could still have strange Victorian speeches at my wedding and someone would know what they meant, if I could do it and not lose any of them. If I lost them in this marriage stuff, it and I would become a strange, broken thing. It was a promise to my mother and to Johannes and to Sophie and to Emma, the most powerful and ancient and stable forces in my life, that I was still theirs, and they were still mine. It meant that I was getting married, and we were all going to be family. My husband, too, was going to be a part of my family. We were going to love each other with the strongest of all loves, the hardest to shatter bond, the love of family.
That speech, those words, were unchangeable, the same in my wedding as they had always been, would always be. A symbol of what cannot, has not, will not, be broken.
I love you, all of you, and these words and all of you so much, so much that I can’t quite make eye contact with any of you right now without bursting at the seams. It is too much to say, too much to let you see, but I am letting you hear it in this antiquated wedding introduction I have known by heart since childhood, that we in my family, now one person larger, we have all known by heart since our first snow storm. And now it matters to you just as much. I love you, family, and I think you know. It is going to snow in our marriage and our family and I am always, always going to revert to language to say what I can and what I can’t. Welcome, welcome, welcome everyone to my family and to my home and to La Casa Del Rosa. I love you with all the strength, all the borrowed words I have.
This is my solemn vow, made in the sight God and in the face of this congregation.
Lydia C. Buchanan has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in NoWhere, Talking Writing, and neutrons/protons. She currently lives in Boston.
If writing defies “common sense,” if it seems to go against traditional modes of thought, norms, and histories, the idea of that common sense no longer makes sense, or might make sense if we’re allowed to reinvent ourselves. That’s what I’m looking at with the literacy narrative. I want to hear yours: when you first “clicked” with a language, whatever it is; why you questioned the modes of your Englishes; how you wrote “poetry,” but looked at it again and called it “lyric essay.” I want to see your literacy narrative in its scholarly, creative, and hybrid forms. Send your literacy narratives to Sylvia Chan at email@example.com. Stay tuned for more literacy narratives from yours truly and others.