We took the Greyhound bus from Louisville, Kentucky to Virginia Beach, Virginia last week. What was supposed to take 23 hours took 28 hours - those last five were pretty miserable. However, Mick & I helped buoy each other's spirits. We'd tell stories and make jokes, talking about other passengers and travelers. There were the kids that left trash everywhere - the boy creepily sleeping with eyes open, both of them asleep as soon as possible after every stop. There was the druggie we nicknamed Consuela - when we arrived to the bus station in Louisville, she was sitting just inside the first hallway. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her suitcase open with the contents strewn about and weeping. We watched a police officer walk over to her to ask her a few questions. She kept crying that someone stole all her money - she was missing $300 from her suitcase. She had no money to buy food on her trip - she was headed to Orlando. We talked softly about her from a distance. We agreed that her distress was genuine but perhaps it wasn't a completely honest representation of her situation. She was talking on the phone with someone, and yelled at him that she didn't have any drugs, and if she had she would be arrested by now! She kept telling everyone she was hungry - I asked Mick softly if I should give her one of the apples I was carrying. He replied he'd already given her five dollars. We kept watching her wander the bus stations, leaving her suitcase unattended to wander out into the back parking area. She was on the bus to Nashville with us - after the lights went one and we got onto the road, she started walking up and down the aisle whispering to people. When she got to us, she leaned over and asked us to give her snacks, did we have anything to eat? Mick told her no - I guess giving her $5 to buy her own food is acceptable, but when she spends it elsewhere and asks for more food anyway, his limit is reached!
On the leg out of Nashville, our driver got lost three different times. He was asking people on the bus if they knew how to get to the next station. At one point, our Greyhound bus was lumbering through the suburbs! His poor sense of direction and lack of maps or GPS put us behind schedule, so we went about 12 hours without a break. Finally, when the people on the bus were ready to revolt, the driver made a twenty minute stop at a McDonald's. I've never been so happy to have one of their burgers in all my life.
For the last leg of the trip to Norfolk, traffic was a parking lot. What should've been 45 minutes was nearly three hours. I was just glad they held a bus for us - we were over two hours late to the station. I think they set up a second bus for all of us coming in late - no one else got on that bus with us. Dixie met us in Norfolk - both of us stinking and exhausted, my feet and legs painfully swollen from sitting for so long. We found out that his brother was waiting to meet us for a drink when we arrived. All I wanted to do was collapse in bed but we rallied - when we arrived at the hotel, we cleaned up and changed into fresh clothes, quickly headed back downstairs. Less than an hour off the bus, and we're sitting by a fire pit on the beach, having a late meal and drinking cocktails. We both agreed that it made everything feel that much more decadent and sumptuous after that extended bus ride.
The next day, most of the day passed in a blur. We drove to pick up the kids in Norfolk - about a 40 minute drive one way. When we returned to the room before lunch, Stella gave us both gifts - she knitted us hats. Mine had an accompanying note - she told me she was glad I made her dad so happy and she was looking forward to having me as a stepmother when we married. Until then, she already thought of me as such. I was floored & very touched by her words - I teared up a little and hugged her tightly. We met for a wonderful meal at a restaurant called Catch 31. It was Mick's whole family there - his mother Dixie, his brother Brian, sister-in-law Johnna, nephew Colin, daughter Stella and her fiancée Will. I tried raw oysters for the first time - I was a little apprehensive but found them sweet & briny & appealing. We had a great time - it was the only time during the trip that we were all together.
Later, we headed to the church for the rehearsal. I sat in the back of the sanctuary to keep out of the way. Dixie assured me that the next day, I'd sit in the front with her. It didn't take them very long to run through the ceremony - we walked back to see the reception hall. Stella's stepfather kept making jokes to Mick and I could see his posture stiffen every time Jake spoke to him. Later, Mick told me how he hates when Jake tries to act like they're old buddies. As an example, Jake pointed at Will and said, "So I guess all the bills go there now, am I right?" Mick didn't acknowledge it but later told me he doesn't understand how you stop being a parent. Jake kept making jokes to him about what a relief it is, having her married off. Mick was miserable but he held his tongue. We'd agreed to keep the peace until after the wedding but I could feel the anger coming off him in waves.
We headed to the rehearsal dinner afterward - a Chinese buffet her mother selected. There was a room in the back reserved for our party. Dixie paid for one of the bridesmaids as well as Mick and me. Brian and his family didn't join us - they went on a boat ride instead. Stella and Will sat at the table with us; her mother had her other children all sitting with her. It felt very divided.
Saturday morning, we had to go back to the mall to get the vest to Mick's tuxedo - it was missing when we picked up the rest of the tux and they ordered it from another store. We spent a low key morning together, giving ourselves plenty of time to shower and get ready to go - Dixie was coming later with Brian and his family. We had to be there by 5pm so Mick could put on his tuxedo there. When we arrived, I walked back to find everyone else. Stella was in curlers and her mother was bustling around the reception hall. I asked if I could help, and Stella asked me to help out with her hair. We made our way back to a choir room she was using to get dressed. Her friend Nicole was up there helping out a bridesmaid with her hair, so we talked and laughed while I used a blowdryer on her thick hair in curlers. Her mother walked in to tell me that Mick was getting himself wound up in the sanctuary, I should check on him. As I left the room, she said loudly that her time to wind him back down was long past. I saw red for a moment but I remembered our promise - keep it civil until after the wedding. I checked on him - he was having difficulty getting the vest adjusted but he wasn't agitated in any way. I took care of it and headed back to the choir room. Stella's mother kicked everyone out of the choir room, and one of her sisters was "standing guard" outside the door. I left and headed back to the sanctuary to sit and wait until the ceremony started.
Her two brothers were ushers and groomsmen both, walking some people down the aisle but letting others just make their own way. I was nervous until it was time for the ceremony - it felt like it would fall apart at any minute. When it came time to start, though, it came off very well. Stella asked both her mother & father to walk her down the aisle - I'd never seen that before. Considering that they have both had very different lives with her it made sense. The ceremony was brief - only 13 minutes - and we headed to the reception in short time.
I danced some with the kids (Will & Stella's friends, mostly) and had a good time. I was touched by the father-daughter dance. Stella buried her face in Mick's shoulder and cried a little. I didn't ask him what he said to her - I know whatever it was, it was perfect. As the night neared end, I walked over to speak to Stella's mother.
Despite my bold talk, I truly didn't want to pick a fight over everything. I don't always like the way that Stella is treated by her mother, but there are a lot of things you can set aside for a wedding. I told her I knew she was the driving force behind the reception, and that she'd done a really good job. The kindness cost me nothing, and her face lit up to thank me.
Anna said she was glad I was with Mick, I clearly made him really happy. "We were oil and water, he & I. I could never make him happy, and any time when I could've calmed him down is long past." We spoke a little longer before I headed back to my table. Her earlier comment didn't seem so rude now - I was glad I made the gesture. Someday, there will be grandchildren. We all won't see each other socially, but there is always a good reason to seek peace.
Sunday, we picked up the kids and headed back to the hotel. I thought we were going to the beach - I packed a bag with a ground blanket, towels, sunscreen, snacks & bottled water - but the kids were mostly happy to sit out on the balcony and people-watch. Later, we hung out at the infinity pool on the roof, and later all had dinner at Catch 31 again. After dinner, Mick pulled his mom aside and asked her to drive the kids home - he wanted to take me for a walk on the beach. She eyeballed him hard, but she agreed to drive them home. He & I walked down the boardwalk a ways, then took off our sandals and walked onto the sand. It was the first time that week I'd made it to the beach.
The night was warm and misty, clouds obscuring most of the stars. The beach was full of people in the dark, but we all passed without a word to each other. There is something of the shore that feels like a thin place - where the corporeal world and something otherworldly meet and collide. The wet sand gleaned under a sliver of moon - we held hands and let the cold shock of waves lap over our feet as we walked. We made our slow way back toward the hotel. We were both exhausted and dropped off quickly.
Monday, we got up early and packed, then headed to the beach for a couple of hours. We met up with Dixie and drove back to Kentucky that day. We all three took turns driving and even with stops, it only took about 11 hours. It was a great improvement over 28 hours on a Greyhound bus, I can assure you!
Since I was off Tuesday as well, we took the afternoon and headed to the Falls of the Ohio. I got a mild sunburn - funny, since I barely freckled after a week on the beach! It made for a great vacation. We are still unloading suitcases and washing everything up, but already the beach feels a million miles away. We have to drive Heather home this Sunday back to Vanceburg - nearly three hours, one way. We have it planned out - we'll start roasting a chicken in the crock pot before we leave, and cook green beans in the pressure cooker when we get home. After a long winding drive on two lane roads, we'll be ready for a good meal!
The infinity pool.
At the wedding reception. She gave me a mother corsage to wear - I was honored.
A quiet moment on the balcony. It was a shot I accidentally took right before we kissed - my favorite of the lot of them.
The knit hats Stella made. I had this made into a postcard to send her a thank-you note!