Her Woods

This is the eighth chapter of Love Song by Julienne (ft Cancer) (another maybe working title) which is the love story that Julienne and I lived for five glorious, amazing years. In case this is your first time, the other chapters are listed below in case you’d like them in chronological order.

Chapter 1 – Meeting Julienne

Chapter 2 – Finding Julienne

Chapter 3 – A Kiss, and a Confession

Chapter 4 – Of Spaniel Day Lewis, Parents, and Dothraki Love Nests

Chapter 5 – Brioche French Toast

 Chapter 6 – Halloween with Becca

 Chapter 7 – A Ring, and a Conversation

***

The ring was ordered. The parents were in support. Now we just had to wait patiently.

I coined a phrase a few years ago. I said it lovingly, because I love them very much. It is this: “The patience of a Gede.” It is meant to be an ironic phrase, because if any of you has spent any amount of time with a Gede, you generally will notice that patience is not one of the many, many virtues they possess. A long line? No. A delayed response for an important matter? No.

And, in Julienne’s case, an extended unknown wait for an item she really, really wants? Not just no. Not just hell no. I’m talking are you fucking kidding me with this right now? Is it ready now? How about now? Now?

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She already wanted to call our jeweler Christina on the Monday after we’d ordered the ring to see what progress had been made. I knew and understood the feeling and had already reached out. After all, I was planning to take the Gede name myself. I have slightly more patience than Julienne, but it is only to a small degree. I hate going to any place with a waiting room, even if I’m there two minutes. Doctors, dentists, oil changes, hair stylists – I avoid going for longer than I should because I hate sitting and waiting more than just about anything in the world (with all of the doctor’s visits and chemo trips Jules and I did over the last four years, we eventually got a little more used to it, but not very much. Any delay was met with a rapid rise in anger and annoyance).

So for the next few weeks, we were both suffering. She would ask every other day, even though we’d originally agreed that she would be in the dark regarding its status until I presented it to her to formally and finally ask for her hand in marriage. That agreement became amended to Jules will be kept in the dark AFTER she knows it has shipped without any consultation with me, but that’s what I got for also having Julienne as my personal attorney and representative in all contractual matters.

Fortunately for us, we’d be having some breaks together soon – 5 days at Thanksgiving, then an extended break in December after her semester ended. Unfortunately for her, that meant she had finals. I gave her space to study, trying my hardest to only contact her during her study breaks. She was frantic and trying to catch up, because of the Time for Three concert earlier taking so much of her time and energy. Julienne vowed that she would step down as President of the Universal U organization that put on the concerts in December or January, since she was concerned about her last semester and how much pressure the first concert put on her. I supported her in that, because I supported anything she decided.

She was in an incredible amount of stress. She had a lot of pages to read, a lot of material to cover, a lot of shit to learn. She was grinding out 12 to 16 hour sessions, some alone, some with friends. One night in mid-December, she felt feverish and went to the emergency room. Something was wrong with her, she felt. There was pain in her side, the fever was around 100.5, and she just felt off. She brought her books and sat a hospital room as they tried to determine what was wrong. We had this conversation:

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screenshot_20191007-1436303002610610380356621.png(I think about this a lot. She had a CT scan 7 months before her diagnosis. They didn’t see the tumor that was getting ready to completely block her colon. They didn’t see, or didn’t care, about the ovarian cysts that the cancer was either going to or already had spread to. She felt like she couldn’t trust her body because it was telling her something was wrong, and had been for years, and every time she went to the doctor everyone just shrugged and told her it was stress, or being sexually active [one doctor insisted on a pelvic exam that she did not want because he was convinced she had an STI because she had the audacity to be engaging in sex], or some unknown virus, and dismissed. No one thought to look for anything else because, gosh, a person her age can’t have cancer, right? When she was finally diagnosed, our oncologist estimated, based on the growth rate and size of the tumor, that she’d had cancer for ten years and no one knew. Ten. Fucking. Years. Because no one thought to check, or dismissed her symptoms because of her gender, or just assumed it had to be something minor that would go away because she was young. Fuck.)

 

When she came up for Thanksgiving, she needed a break from the stress. For Julienne, that meant two things. The first was baths. Julienne was the Queen of Baths. Frequently, when I got home from work, she was already in the tub, we’d Skype while she was in the tub, and she would only, and reluctantly, get out of the tub when I went to bed. She could stay in there for hours. And hours. I used to joke that she was the captain of the Third Ark in the Hitchhiker’s Guide books and that she needed to invent a mobile bathtub that she could drive around like a scooter.

The second, and most important thing, was Her Woods.

screenshot_20191008-1203044379469944459911065.pngHer Woods refers to the wooded area behind her parent’s property (Our Woods are the woods behind our home on Derenemyn). When we first got together, she was telling me about them and how much she was looking forward to showing them to me. My introduction to them was the Dothraki Love Nest, but I had only seen a small portion of them that night. Those woods had been her playground, her source of comfort, and the place her imagination went wild since she was a child. She walked and sang through them, ran around with a sword in them, and got caught on her uncle’s deer cam doing both of those things (tragically, there is no remaining footage of same).

Jules showed me all of the special places there: the fern valley, the middle gate, the path down to the pond, and the stream. We walked there a lot, nearly every time we were at her parents’ house, holding hands and talking about problems, or telling stories, or just quietly loving each other’s company. She had a route she would take, through the woods, down the hill, past the pond, to her very favorite place of all. It was an area by the stream, and she told me that she’d fantasized about getting married at this one spot where a pair of trees seemed to frame the perfect spot to her. It was the most beautiful place in the world for Julienne.

(Of course, this became a very special place to us both. The short story I wrote for her, The Brave Girl, takes place in those woods. After we wed, as the guests returned to the house for the reception, Julienne, the photographer, and I walked the path as we always did and took a huge amount of wedding pictures there. They are my favorite pictures in the world. I still walk there almost every weekend, when I’m feeling my worst, and I remember all of the times we were there. I take pictures of the places she loves and I cry as the dogs run around happily. It breaks my heart to be there without her, but she’s also there, in those woods. We talked often of one day trying to buy the portion of the land that holds the woods and the stream and her favorite place, but we didn’t have the money or get the time. I haven’t let go of that dream. Maybe one day. The dream is a comforting one, no matter how unlikely.)

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Cracking each other up in Fern Valley.

Luckily, we had a lot of things to keep ourselves occupied as we waited interminably for the true One Ring, besides stress and studying. Julienne wrote her next two blog posts, about female and male sexuality in the current day, and those really set the tone for what her blog would become: open, honest, and passionate. My own blog came back, but was less focused on things I hated and more about things I loved (that was her suggestion when I said I was struggling to blog again. My “voice” had been pretty sarcastic and bitter and hopefully amusingly antagonistic towards things that didn’t matter much. I was having trouble regaining that voice and Julienne told me not to bother regaining it, but to instead use the voice I have now. She taught me a lot, and continues to do so).

I also had the opportunity to introduce Julienne to larping. Now, if you don’t know what I mean by LARP (live action role-playing), then go watch the movie Role Models starring Paul Rudd and that other guy. It treats larping better than any other piece of pop culture and shows the absurdity, passion, joy, and hilarity of the actual larp experience. Based on her stories of playing in the woods with swords and her imagination, plus how well she did role-playing as Becca, I knew Julienne was a born larper.

So, at the time, I was involved in a movie based on A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and the conceit of the film was that the events of Shakespeare’s play takes place at a larp in the modern day. The filmmaker wanted to shoot a larp battle scene, and Julienne was in town, so we went together. It was her first opportunity to swing a foam sword at someone for “real” (we’d practiced a little before so she’d be used to it). Most of the time I was the one fighting her.

Julienne took to attacking me with a sword instantly. She was already a way better fighter than any newbie I’d ever encountered – they tend to be tentative and try to defend themselves more often than attack – and was on the offensive the entire time. I was struggling against her, and I’d been doing it for years. I literally had to pull her aside and tell her to take it easy and she was making me look bad, because in the movie I needed to beat her and I was having trouble doing it. I was so fucking proud of and for her. She earned high marks from the veterans (Allie referred to her as a “vicious” fighter, and Allie is the best larp fighter I know) and had an absolute blast. She even agreed to go to a game for real, proving for the one-trillionth time that she is absolutely perfect for me in every way. We share our nerd hobbies.

Of course, the holidays gave us some distractions as well. We spent Thanksgiving at her brother Nathan’s house, where I get my first opportunity to hold my future niece Lunete. I mean, she was there, so it’s not like I mean I hugged her mother Michaela, but I wasn’t yet part of the family so I wasn’t an uncle yet. You get what I mean. Anyway, it was my first holiday with her family, the whole lot, from grandfather to uncle and aunt to cousins to Michaela’s family. It was fun, although I didn’t do a whole lot of talking. Luckily, I didn’t need to. There were four attorneys and one more in law school at the table.

Our Christmas prep was in full swing too. I mentioned earlier that we’d gotten a Christmas tree advent holder thing, our first joint Christmas decoration, and she’d filled it for me as something to have while she was gone. Each day of December I got a little piece of candy and a handwritten note about different things she was looking forward to sharing with me over Christmas (I still have most of them. I looked through them about a month ago. Christmas is going to be very, very difficult).

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It was a fun little project, staining and painting it together. I have no idea what I’m going to do without her.

We also built our first gingerbread house. Well, it was my first gingerbread house; it was something they’d done a lot when she was growing up. That day with her, putting together the house from a kit, decorating it, having fun and listening to Christmas music as we drank hot cocoa – it was something that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid, just a sheer expression of joy and togetherness and love and excitement.

 (See, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Christmas. By the time I was born my family had become Jehovah’s Witnesses. That meant no holidays, no birthday celebrations, no reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, all that stuff. There was no Christmas in my life until after my father died when I was 7. After he did, my mother, who had loved Christmas growing up, decided, I think on the Christmas Eve after he died, that we were going to have Christmas. As a seven-year-old, I couldn’t have been more for it.

For my mother, Christmas was everything. Birthdays still weren’t a thing for us – you got a cake and a card – but Christmas was my mother’s jam. She’d start singing carols from November forward. She’d wake us all up Christmas morning with this midi-playing bell that chimed out the loudest and most obnoxious versions of holiday songs that ever existed. Every year the presents grew in number. Hallmark ornaments were her thing, and each of her three kids got a few every year. She made the season a very special time.

So when my mother died when I was 27, Christmas became a very melancholy time. I still loved the holiday, but much of the joy went out of it for me. I missed her most acutely then (and still do) and it mixed in powerfully with the seasonal depression I normally have to make December a trying time. With Julienne, the pain was lessened so much, and the joy of it all returned in full force. I still got sad, thinking about my mom, but Julienne would hold me and comfort me and listen to me talk about Mom every year. I can’t think ahead to this upcoming Christmas, because it’s too much, and I’m very much still in one-day-at-a-time mode, but when I do, it’s a very dark and sad thing looming on the horizon.)

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Gingerbread house break. We had so much fun doing this.

After Thanksgiving, she had to go back to the study-and-finals grind, but we knew the ring was going to be coming soonish (they said 8 to 10 weeks or so when we ordered it). We saw each other the following weekend, where I had to tell Julienne that if she asked me again about the ring and when I might propose that I would delay it until she stopped (talk about hollow threats). Remember last chapter when I talked about Julienne and surprises? Well, Jules had a thing about having to wait for things she wanted, especially presents (patience of a Gede). The tales of her snooping out hiding places where her presents were kept as a child (and older) are legendary. So her anticipation and longing for the dream wedding ring she’d always wanted was driving her crazy.

On December 16th she was coming back up. Her finals were done (she felt good about none of them but did fine) and it was time for an extended break together. It also meant that I was going to be proposing soon. A couple days before, I got a call from Christina – the ring was on the way. I was a little panicky now. I’d been wondering when to give it to her. I wanted it to be special, obviously, thoughtful and loving and memorable. I didn’t want to do it on Christmas, nor her birthday in January. Should I do it on New Year’s Eve? The next day?

I hadn’t quite decided yet, on December 17th. I was on my way home from work and she was on the way there, after spending the previous shopping and hanging with her family. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple weeks, so I was excited to kick off our holiday break. I stopped at the store to pick up some food for us, and as I checked out, my phone rang. It was Christina. The ring had been delivered. It was at the apartment at that very moment.

My fingers tingled. My heart was beating so fast that it just became a whirr without discernable individual beats. I felt sunshine pouring out of my eyes from all the joy and excitement and anticipation. It took me five minutes to finish scanning my groceries because my hands were shaking. I was going to have to keep this is a secret from her, and I was literally trembling, and she was going to be home just minutes after I got there. I raced home, got the box, opened it. Inside was the ring box, a little bow tying it shut. I left it as is, not having time to do anything else. I hurriedly stuffed it in a little zippered pocket in my backpack before she arrived.

When Julienne walked in a minute or two later, I turned and smiled happily at her. The light pouring out of my eyes may have given her a clue that something was happening. I can only imagine what my face looked like, because whatever look I had made her literally stop in her tracks. My voice was in a register that only bats could hear as I squeaked out a hello. She just looked at me and said after a few seconds the ring came, didn’t it?

All thoughts of keeping it a secret were futile. I exploded from joy and unleashed a babble of excited speak amid a frenzy of hand-waving. I was going to keep it a secret but it literally just came and I can’t believe it I’m so happy oh my god there is no way I could have kept this secret baby theringishereandIcan’tbelieveitI’msoexcited. We just freaked out at each other. I wanna see it she said, then no I don’t wanna see it yet, when are you proposing, oh my god. We were giddy and so much in love and just so excited. It was probably around this time that I learned about Julienne’s angry happiness. She’d become so happy about things that her fists would clench and she’d make joy-noises through clenched teeth.

We celebrated that night, practically vibrating around the apartment like demented Electric Football players. I had to go to work the next day, which I always hated when she was visiting (and every other day at that job, honestly). Anyway, I missed her like crazy, but I also decided something important while I was there. I was going to propose on Christmas Eve. I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to wait any longer than that. I wanted her to have that ring and wear it and see her wearing it and scream out to the entire known universe that we’d be spending the rest of our lives together.

I got home, excited about my plan and determined to stick to it. This time it was my turn to come into the house, see my love, then stop. Instead of the normal noir swank, a long slinky dress and a glass of scotch in her hand, Julienne looked sheepish. She seemed so guilty, like she was squirming and apologetic and uncomfortable and completely unable to keep whatever it was a secret. Before I could even ask what had happened she burst. I searched the house for the ring until I found it and I opened it and I put the ring on then I put it back where I found I’m sorry please don’t be mad.

I had to laugh. She’d already told me about how bad she was about secrets and surprises, so I wasn’t shocked. I had even thought about taking it with me that day to work. I was just happy that the ring fit. After that, she swore that if she mentioned the ring again or asked me about anything that I was to put my hands over my ears and sing All About That Bass (a song I hate more than I hate most things, which can be a lot) and ignore her. We would have to spend just a few wonderful days together, shopping, wrapping gifts, making cookies, watching A Muppet Christmas Carol (which I’d never seen), and generally soaking in the Christmas spirit. It was joyous. It was like I was mainlining Christmas spirit and I was loving every second of it. I was excited for the presents I had for her, but I was way more jazzed about the ring.

On the 23rd, she picked me up from work. We were going to a party that night where a big group of her friends were, folks I’d heard a lot about but hadn’t met (I think I met a couple of them briefly at the faire while I was working, but had no real conversations with them), and then we were heading to her parents to stay until Christmas. She wanted to be able to wake up Christmas morning in her house, like she had every year that she could remember (a tradition we continued, even after we bought a house 5 minutes away. The first year we were in Derenemyn I asked why we couldn’t just wake up in the morning and drive over instead of cramming two dogs and two people in her little childhood bed. She just told me that waking up in her room Christmas morning was important to her. That was that. We did it every year. I really have no fucking idea what Christmas will be like, and I’m scared to find out).

The party was fun and almost everyone was very nice to me. Unfortunately, sometimes it just takes one person to ruin things. A “friend” of Jules made several incredibly rude comments towards Julienne, just uncalled-for shots at her (like when I was introduced to this person, she said something along the lines of Oh I can’t keep up with the names of all the guys Jules brings around. A real fucking class act). This person made a comment that contradicted something Julienne had told me about a previous relationship, so we got into a stupid fight on the way to her parent’s house about it. It really fucking sucked that night.

I was mad and moody about it the next morning still. We weren’t talking much. I felt like the whole proposal had been ruined. The day was crappy too, overcast and drizzly. Here we were, Christmas Eve, all the fun of the holiday far away from us, sad and unhappy. She took a walk alone in the woods that morning, and I sat there, miserable, unsure what to do. It was then that I realized something important. No matter what we were bickering or upset about didn’t matter. She mattered. That’s it. Of all the things in the universe, only she truly mattered.

(Later, our mantra during fights, or more accurately, the stage just before a fight starts when things get snippy, became what’s my endgame? Like, how far am I willing to take this disagreement? Is this something worth fighting about? The answer is always no. It isn’t. So we’d apologize to each other, talk about how we were feeling and what was bothering us, and face it together. We never fought about anything important (our biggest fights were about Martha Stewart and a larp we were trying to plan, neither of which mattered in the slightest. We were drinking red wine both times), not once.)

So I needed to make this right. I was being a broody little moody shit. I needed to find her. She got back from the woods, and I asked her if it was ok to take a walk in the woods again, this time together. To my relief, she agreed. I ran upstairs, grabbed the ring and something to kneel on since the ground was wet. I was in a hurry and excited so I grabbed the first thing I could find. We walked and talked, healing the stupid emotional bruises (tiny and insignificant) we had from the night before.

We walked down to the pond, and the stream, and then at her special place I turned to her. I pulled out the pair of boxer shorts I’d stuffed in my pocket (I said I was in a hurry), put them on the ground, and got down on one knee as she held her hands clasped at her mouth and stared at me, already tearing up. Julienne, my Tinúviel, will you marry me?

To my everlasting relief and joy but not actual surprise by this point, she accepted. Then we laughed at the absurdity of me using a pair of boxers to kneel on. I slid the ring on her finger, and we hugged and kissed each other in her favorite place of all, the place I would later marry her, the place we came whenever we felt bad, the place that means more to us than any place on Earth. We were engaged, completely and finally, and we could now tell the world about it.

And we did.

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It was mine, too, right up until the day she married me.

 

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on October 9, 2019, in The Real and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. What you are going to do is paint Gede on the star of the Advent Calendar, and celebrate Jules’ love of Christmas and family with your family. You will walk in your woods and think how lucky you are that Jules gave you not just a second chance but a reawakened sense of joy and love…

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