Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fairy Tale

Taryn Baxter was lucky. Well, at least that’s how it looked. Ethan was her childhood sweetheart, and even the Grand Canyon couldn’t contain the depths of their love for each other. Marrying each other was as natural and expected as learning to run once you learned to walk.

The wedding was beautiful, of course. Taryn wore white, and was probably one of the few girls left in town who could. Her sister Samantha wore a shimmery lavender dress. Sam was engaged to the best man. The mothers cried for the beauty of the whole thing, and the fathers cleared their throats a lot. As the newlyweds left the church, Taryn’s kindergartners formed a color guard on the sidewalk, tossing politically correct birdseed. Lots of photographs were taken, even though this wedding was beautiful enough to be unforgettable. The whole thing was like a fairy tale, and you just knew they’d live happily ever after and have the right number of kids and write cheery newsletters every Christmas about the family’s major accomplishments of the year.

It really was supposed to be that way. Taryn did everything right. She saved herself for her wedding night and surprisingly enough, so did Ethan. They went to the pre-Cana wedding classes to meet with the priest and learn about themselves and each other. They went on an Engaged Encounter weekend with other couples from St. Eva’s. They were devoted to each other without being disgusting or clingy. They loved each other enough to enjoy each other’s company; they loved each other enough to spend time apart.

Taryn and Ethan didn’t fight much. Ethan had lived alone long enough to handle Taryn’s allergy to ironing boards. Taryn had enough brothers to get over Ethan’s inability to put the seat back down. When the honeymoon was over, they discovered that they genuinely liked each other. All the same, one night a week, Ethan hung out with the guys, playing cards or bowling or doing whatever guys do, and Taryn spent that same night with the girls, or her sister and mother, mostly talking, and usually talking about guys in general and their own in particular.

It goes without saying that it wasn’t long before Taryn was pregnant. The guys razzed Ethan that now he was going to smell of peanut butter instead of Aqua Velva, and that he’d know more about the Berenstein Bears than the Chicago Bears. The girls teased Taryn that instead of having one husband and one baby, she’d really have two babies. And of course everyone mentioned what leaky things babies are, and how Ethan and Taryn would never again sleep through the night. They laughed and bought cute baby stuff whenever they had the chance. Boy clothes, girl clothes – they bought both. Better to be ready for anything than to just have a bunch of generic stuff lying about the house.

They were on their way to the Lamaze class at the hospital when Ethan went back into the apartment building to get the coupon book; they always went out to eat after class. It was a way of reminding themselves to be a couple in addition to being parents. That was one of the things they’d learned in the many parenting books they’d read.

When Ethan went back into the building—that’s when Taryn stopped being lucky. So did Ethan. As much as Ethan loved Taryn, apparently that’s how much Vince Sassenberry hated his own wife, Grace. Unfortunately for Ethan, the first shot Vince fired at Grace missed, and went through the hollow door. The second shot fired at Grace made it a double homicide. That was no consolation for Taryn.

Taryn moved back into her parents’ house right before the baby was born. That was their idea, really. Taryn was so withdrawn that they feared for their grandchild’s well-being. Shortly after Julianna was born, Taryn went back to teaching kindergarten, but her spark was gone. She was lost without Ethan, and she was mad. She’d done everything right, everything the way she’d been taught. For what?

Slowly, slowly, Taryn began to recover. Julianna was a delightful child, with a sense of humor and an innate charm that she probably wouldn’t outgrow once she was too old to be “cute.” Taryn made sure that Julianna got to spend time with Ethan’s family. At first she merely dropped the baby off, but after a while she stopped in to tell them the latest cute thing Julianna did. By the time Julianna was talking, Taryn stayed for the whole visit. It was no coincidence that the visits happened more often than not when Ethan’s brother Ted was home.

Somehow, spending time with Ted wasn’t the same as being disloyal to Ethan, since the two men were so much alike. Ted had that same half-smile that Ethan had when he wasn’t sure about something. They even sounded alike on the phone. Since Julianna liked everybody, she was naturally pleased to see her Uncle Ted. Sometimes, seeing the man and toddler together, Taryn would imagine that they were really father and daughter rather than uncle and niece.

Even though Taryn started to become attached to Ted, he made sure that the relationship didn’t progress in the direction that Taryn was starting to aim for. Well, they did have sex one night, but Ted was really, really drunk, and Taryn wasn’t any more sober than he was, and afterward they were never quite sure whether or not it had actually happened. After that, though, Ted spent less and less time with his family, at least when Taryn and Julianna were there. By the time she noticed Ted and some bearded guy at the mall one day, Taryn had already begun to wake up and start looking at Mr. Tighe, the fifth grade teacher.

Julianna was four when she was her mother’s bridesmaid. This wedding was much more subdued. A few photographs were taken, a small notice was placed in the newspaper, but Julianna was the only one in white. Taryn’s dress was eggshell, which very much fit the mood of the event.

Mr. Tighe and Julianna never quite became attached to each other. Then again, apparently Mr. Tighe and Taryn didn’t either. After two children were born to the couple, the marriage died. It was a fairly painless death; neither Taryn nor her husband had enough passion for each other to even fight. Mr. Tighe brought in the divorce papers, Taryn signed them, and he left. She could have been signing a field trip permission slip for Julianna.

It was a while before Taryn noticed that she was actually in love again. By now she’d given up on the whole thing, actually. All she actually wanted was a friend, someone she could talk to. Well, really, she wanted someone to cry at the end of West Side Story with, and someone to talk her into going on the scary rides at the fair. Jasmine turned out to be a little bit more than that. By the time Taryn and Jasmine became lovers, it seemed as natural to Taryn as loving Ethan had been.

When they moved in together, Jasmine brought her son Caleb to the family mix, making them a nice couple with four perfect children who were, conveniently enough, two boys and two girls. There was no pre-Cana or Engaged Encounter this time. However, the commitment ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church was actually just as beautiful as Taryn’s wedding to Ethan had been. Of course, this time the crying and throat-clearing of parents had a different meaning, but at least the parents came. Although the newly wedded couple couldn’t legally register as domestic partners, Jasmine’s company was enlightened enough to consider them a family and carry Taryn and her children on Jasmine’s insurance.

It would be really nice to be able to say that Jasmine and Taryn and the children all lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, Mr. Tighe had a cow when he found out and there was a huge custody battle over the two children he had fathered biologically, although not emotionally. Eventually Taryn won, but it was a nasty situation for a while. Jasmine’s ex-husband stayed out of the whole thing. He was OK with Caleb living with his mother; that was better to him than having everyone find out that his ex-wife was a lesbian.

Taryn and Jasmine were devoted to each other without being disgusting or clingy. They weren’t militant about being lesbians or married to each other. They were a family, not a political statement. They went out to eat twice a month without the kids, and Tuesday nights they had breakfast for supper. They argued about whose turn it was to take out the trash, and whether or not the kids should be playing with Barbie dolls and guns. The women did eventually agree that there was no correlation between a life of crime and whether or not a child put the lid back on the toothpaste, and saved their parenting battles for important things, like whose turn it was to do the dishes. They wrote cheery newsletters every Christmas about the family’s major accomplishments of the year. And although they didn’t live happily ever after, they came pretty darn close.

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