Susan puts her arm around me and rubs my shoulder. We both sit there for a moment and stare at the grave, at the gravestone. as I let my eyes lose their focus on what’s right in front of me, I realize that I am in a sea of gravestones. I am surrounded by other people’s loss. It has never been so clear to me that I am not alone in this. people die every day and other people move on. If everyone that loved all of these people has picked themselves up and moved on, I can do it too. I will one day wake up and see the sun shining and think, What a nice day.
“Ready?” susan asks, and I nod my head. We pull ourselves up off the ground. the grass has made our knees wet. We walk in silence.
“Have you ever heard of supernovas?” susan asks me as we head toward the front gate.
“What?” I almost stop in my tracks.
“Ben was really into space as a kid and he had all of these space books. I used to read them to him when he couldn’t sleep, and I always loved the little chapter in this one book he had on supernovas. they shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly. a supernova is a short burst of extraordinary energy.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I like to think that you and Ben were like that,” she says to me. “that you ended abruptly, but in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.” I don’t say anything. I just take it in.
“Anyway,” she says. “you headed home?”
I nod. “I think I’m ready for it.”
“All right,” she says. “Well . . . I guess this—”
“Do you want to get dinner on Friday?” I ask her. “at the Mexican place?”
She looks surprised but pleased. “I would love that.”
“I know you’re not my mother. I know that. But I really enjoy your company. even if the circumstances are a bit strange, I like you.”
Susan puts her arm around me and kisses me on the head. “you’re one hell of a woman,” she says to me. “I’m lucky to know you.”
I laugh shyly. I think I am blushing. “Me too,” I say, nodding, hoping it’s clear just how much I mean it.
She shakes her head to avoid crying. “all right!” she says, slapping me lightly on the back. “Get in the car! Go home. If you need me, call me. But you can do this. you got this.”
“Thanks,” I say. our hands lightly touch. I squeeze hers and then I walk away. I’m only a few steps from her when I turn around. “Hey, susan?” I say. she turns around to see me. “same goes for me. If you need me, just call.”
She smiles and nods. “you got it.”
I take the coastal highway instead of the interstate. I look out the window more often than I should. I try to appreciate each moment that I have. at one point, a song comes on the radio that I haven’t heard in years, and for four minutes, I let myself forget who I am and what I’m doing. I’m just me, dancing in a car heading north on pacific Coast Highway and it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad at all.
When I pull into my driveway, my apartment looks bigger and higher up than I remember. I get the mail and search through it for the marriage certificate. It’s not there. However, in the mail is a check from Citibank addressed to me. I go up the steps and I let myself in the house.
It smells familiar. It’s a scent I didn’t even know I missed until I smell it. everything is where I left it. It was frozen in time while I was in orange County. I breathe in deeply and I don’t smell Ben here. I just smell myself.
I sit down on my couch and organize the rest of the mail. I clean up some old dishes. I make my bed. I clean out the refrigerator and then take out the trash. as I come back in, I stop and look at the envelope from Citibank. It feels petty to be thinking about how much money I’ve just inherited, but I have to open the envelope at some point. so here we go.
Fourteen thousand, two hundred sixteen dollars and fortyeight cents, paid to the order of elsie porter. Huh. I don’t know when I stopped considering myself elsie porter ross, but it seems to have been some time ago.
Here I am, six months after I got married: husbandless and fourteen thousand dollars richer.
The gazebo ceremony takes place outside in the . . . well, gazebo,” she said to me from behind the counter. she was about fifty and appeared to be putting on a fake southern accent. that or she was just from the deep, deep south. Ben was in the bathroom and had left the planning up to me.
“Oh, it’s a bit cold, right?” I said. “I think just the simplest thing you have is fine.”
“You only get married once, honey. don’t you want to make it special?” How did she not understand that this was special? pomp and circumstance meant nothing to me as long as I got to be with this man. she must not have understood how lucky I was to have him. she must have thought I was marrying just anybody and I needed a gazebo to make it spectacular.
“I think we are good,” I said. “What’s this one? the simplicity package? We’ll take that one.”
“Okay,” she said. “How about rings? do you have an engagement ring that we should match it to?”
“Nope!” I said proudly. “no engagement ring.” Honestly, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me.
“We’ll be getting her one though,” Ben said, and he came toward us.
“Oh, stop it,” I said.
“Well, do you two want silver or gold?” she asked.
“Silver,” I said, but Ben said, “Gold,” at the same time.
We both quickly swapped our answers to match and missed again.
“Baby, I just want what you want,” he said to me.
“But I want what you want!” I said.
“let’s do what you want for this because I want to eat at Hooters after this and I need compromise points.”
“You want to eat at Hooters for our first meal as a married couple?”
“If it makes you feel any better, it’s because of the wings, not the boobs.”
The woman ignored us. “okay so . . . silver?”
“Silver.” she pulled out a tray of silver bands, and Ben and I tried some on until we found ones we liked and ones that fit. Ben paid the bill, and I told him I’d pay for half of it.
“Are you joking? We’re not going dutch on our wedding,” he said to me.
“All right, lovebirds. do you want to order any copies of the certificate?”
Ben turned toward me, his face asking me to answer.
“Yes,” I said. “one copy should be fine, I would think.”
“Okay, I’ll add that to the final charge,” the woman said as she put her hand out expectantly. “do you have the license?”
“Oh, not yet,” Ben said. “We need to fill that out, I guess.”
The woman put down her hands on the counter, as if to halt everything. “you need to walk down to the Marriage license Bureau. It’s about three blocks down. I can’t do anything else until you get that filled out.”
“How long will it take?” I asked.
“Half hour if there’s no line,” she said.“But there’s often a line.”
There was no line. We were seated and filling out paperwork within minutes of walking in the door.
“Oh, I didn’t bring my social security card,” he said when he got to the question about his social security number.
“Oh, I don’t think you need it,” I said. “It just asks for the number.”
“Well,” he said, “I never remember the number.”
“Oh.” What a remarkably mundane hurdle to find ourselves up against. My excitement started to deflate as I realized this might not happen after all. Maybe we couldn’t get this done. He might need to call his mom for it, and then where would we be? “you know what? We can wait until you have it,” I said.
“What?” he said, appalled at the idea of waiting. “no, I’m almost positive I know what it is. Here,” he said as he wrote it down. “I know it’s either 518 or 581, but I’m pretty sure it’s 518.” He finished writing it and put the pen down triumphantly. He walked right up to the window, handed in the paperwork, and said, “one marriage license, please!”then he turned toward me, “We’re getting married, baby! are you ready?”