Rhapsody & Remorse Part 3
Originally Merci, Raven's oldest friend, asked her to sing at her wedding. In the previous chapter, she suddenly turned ice cold, and barely invited her to it.
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Like a mystery movie without an end; when you think it's over, it just begins...
~ John Denver, "She Won't Let Me Fly Away", Aerie album, 1971
Late October, I received an invitation to Merci and Kevin’s wedding, written in beautiful calligraphy. It was to be held at a non-denominational church in Fremont. I went to Nordstrom’s and bought her – I mean, them – a nice wooden bread box. Frankly, I felt funny sanctioning the wedding this way, but it really was none of my business. Once again, I had the gift wrapped in Merci’s favorite color of pale blue.
On Saturday, November 14th, 1987, I set out early for Fremont. If I had attended the Seventh Day Adventist church around the corner, they would have acknowledged my birthday, but as Merci was my oldest friend, I felt it was worth making the sacrifice.
I admit I broke the Sabbath, listening to smooth jazz music on KBLX radio station as I drove along. I didn’t know of any stations that played contemporary Christian music, and I wasn’t in a mood for classical. “The camera never lies,” sang Michael Franks. I raised my eyebrows. Either he was one good-looking guy, or a world class egotist. Few people are satisfied with their pictures. “Truth you can’t disguise / just open up your eyes / ‘cause the camera never lies…” he went on. I realized the song was about how people believe everything they see in the media.
I found the church easily enough. As I entered, I was abruptly stopped by an usher at the door. “Are you a friend of the groom or the bride?” he asked me.
“Uh, the bride,” I stammered.
“Then sit on the left side, please.”
The sanctuary was crowded with guests, but it was about half the size of Stanford Memorial Church. I thought of what Merci had said on New Year’s Day last year, about how Stanford wouldn’t be big enough to hold all her friends. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on that; instead, I admired how beautifully it was decorated, in pale blue and white.
I found a seat near the front. The bridal party entered to the song “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, with alternating organ and bell ringers. I cringed when I saw them; the bridesmaids’ dresses were turquoise! They clashed horribly with the pale blue. They were knee-length A-lines, the fabric a hideous ugly brocade. To make matters worse, one of the women had made her dress inside out! All right, so Merci lacks fashion sense, but anyone can do better than this! Though I was hurt to not even be a bridesmaid, let alone sing at her wedding, I had to admit after I saw those awful dresses, I felt a little relieved.
Merci’s father led her to Kevin, giving her a big kiss on the cheek. Was it to thank her for saving the family honor? Or was he wishing her good luck?
A woman up in the loft sang, “On Eagles’ Wings”. She totally slaughtered it, forgetting half the second verse. Again, my pain was nullified by a sense of justice.
The priest, rather than reciting traditional wedding vows, gave a modern ceremony including saying the bride and groom should please each other with both mind and body. What is this, a carnival? I couldn’t help thinking to myself.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Merci and Kevin turned to face the congregation. A look of absolute horror flashed across her face, then she remembered to grimace. The organ played the exiting wedding march, and the guests immediately jumped up and left the sanctuary. Be a good forgiving friend, I told myself. I went over to Merci and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “What a beautiful ceremony! I complimented her. She gave me a look that could have created ice bergs in Acapulco. My thoughts went a little crazy. Did she think that was a lesbian gesture? I wondered.
A photographer called the wedding party to the front, where they all posed for pictures celebrating Merci and Kevin’s new life together. I tried to take a picture, but it was too dark in the church, and I don’t have a flasher unit for my 35mm camera. So I went outside. Merci’s family was there, including her sisters and their children. I hung out with them, and took their pictures. I asked her mother how she handled being married to a cop and having all those teenagers trooping in and out of her house. She told me it took much patience and steady nerves.
Merci and Kevin finally emerged from the church into the sunshine. “Hi – may I take your picture please?” I asked. She sighed, exasperated, and they stood there scowling! I apologized, and took the picture. Maybe they were tired of posing.
I went into the reception area. There was a huge cafeteria table against one wall, overloaded with gifts. Across the room was the table for the bridal party. At the far end of the room was a jukebox setup where a DJ played Oldies. Looking around, I noticed there were hardly any Mexicans; nearly everyone was white, and very few of them were from Salt Shaker. Where were Merci's relatives?
Merci and Kevin entered in, and the DJ played “Theme From The Olympics”, which I found rather tacky. The bridal party seated themselves at the long table at which I was not welcome.
I wound up sitting among Kevin’s friends. One guy who seemed the nicest rambled on about how he loved going to weddings for the free liquor; the other three were already drunk and behaving obnoxiously. A double entrée was served; we had a choice of American or Mexican. While we ate, a Mariachi band wandered around, playing folk songs.
“Do you know Merci?” I asked the nice guy. He told me he didn’t. It was towards the end of the meal, and Merci was walking around, thanking everyone for coming. When she came to us, she kissed him on the cheek, but only patted me on the shoulder!
Once the meal was over, I joined the eligible bachelorettes grouped together to catch Merci’s bouquet. She stood with her back to us and gave it a good toss behind her.
I CAUGHT IT!!!
Wow - back when I was 13 and envying Merci for all she had, I never would have guessed I’d catch the bouquet at her wedding! I admired the yellow roses surrounded by baby’s breath.
But what was sweet in the mouth turned out to be bitter as gall in the stomach. Merci just glared at me and stomped off!
My last illusion was shattered. I couldn’t hold back anymore; I bawled openly and unashamedly. I didn’t care who saw me.
A few minutes later, one of Kevin’s drunken friends waved Merci’s garter in my face. “I guess this means we’re both next,” he slurred. “You’ll have to give me your phone number.”
“Not so fast, Tex,” another drunk told him. “You don’t even know what she does for a living.”
“She’s alright. I can tell by the way she’s dressed,” Tex answered, referring to my raw silk outfit.
Drunk #3 went over and put his arm around Kevin. “My pal here played it smart,” he boasted. “He may be only a store manager at Thrifty’s, but he’ll be living real well. He got himself a career woman with family money.” All three of them laughed, and Kevin joined in. I could almost hear them thinking that Kevin had it made, marrying this itty bitty Mexican bride. Apparently Merci picked up on it too, because again a look of absolute horror flashed across her face.
My last illusion wasn’t shattered, after all. Maybe there’s something I don’t understand…
I approached Merci, and she deliberately walked away from me until she could find someone to talk to!
The DJ played music, and the guests began dancing. I wound up stuck with Tex; he was so drunk, he had no rhythm and kept stumbling against me. “Gimme your phone number, Raven,” he kept drawling. How did this creep find out my name?
After the song was over, I tried approaching Merci again, but again she deliberately walked away from me.
The DJ played a slow number, and Tex asked me to dance it with him. I told him I don’t slow dance (which is untrue) and headed for the bathroom. I heard Billy Vera sing, “At This Moment”, a song about a marriage ending after 20 years. What a song to play at a wedding reception! Tacky to the mackey! But frankly, I was glad; Merci deserved it!
That point was proven when I returned to the reception hall and found Merci talking with someone. I waited until she was finished, then re-approached her. She said, “I gotta talk to someone,” and turned to the same person again!
The guests began to leave. “They’re going early,” I overheard Merci complain. I grabbed at one last straw, hoping maybe she had just been too worried about the ceremony and her folly. But even that hope was dashed. Tex asked me for a ride to Merci’s parents’ house, saying everyone was invited over. Mindlessly, I said sure. Later, Merci asked if he had a ride over, and he said he had one with me. Merci glared like she didn’t want me in her house.
I drove us to Livermore, so upset I barely noticed he was drinking in my car. “How old are you?” he asked.
“I’m 27 today,” I answered. Some birthday I was having!
“And what will you be tomorrow? Forty?” He laughed at his excuse for a joke. “I saw how you pushed and shoved to get the bouquet. I’ll bet you’re desperate to get married, being so old. You gotta give me your phone number.”
“I’m driving,” I responded numbly.
“Just tell it to me; I have a photographic memory.” He leaned, slobbering against me and I mindlessly brushed him off.
We arrived at Merci’s house. The construction was finally finished, and it looked great on the outside, with a brick border around the front lawn. The kitchen had been rebuilt the same as it had looked before the fire, but the living room was fancier, and the den had been split in two. It looked very nice.
Putting up a brave front, I talked some more with Merci’s family. I told Mrs. Lopez that I hoped my marriage would be as good as hers. She said that was the highest compliment she could ever receive.
Merci sat in the living room, among an enormous pile of presents. She opened one, admired it briefly, thanked the giver, then moved on to the next. When she got to mine, she merely tossed it aside. I burst into tears again, and ran into the bathroom My oldest relationship shot to hell – I can’t keep anybody, can I? What’s wrong with me?!!!
Tex banged on the bathroom door. “Raven, what are you doing in there?”
He was still standing by when I exited 10 minutes later. “You know, I was really touched when you cried at the wedding,” he slurred. “Gimme your phone number, ok?” I walked past him into the living room, where Merci was still opening presents. Kevin’s sister Denise gave me a concerned look, then approached Merci. “She’s very upset,” she told her, pointing to me.
Merci came over and reluctantly asked what was wrong. It didn’t seem right I should point out her cruelty to her on her wedding day, in front of all those people. So I told her I’d had a little too much to drink (even though I don’t drink). She suddenly got very friendly, and took me to her room and said I could stay there as long as I wanted. Then she went right on ignoring me as she opened her presents, yakking with everyone else.
I must have drifted off to sleep, because when I looked at the digital clock through my swollen eyelids, it was 45 minutes later. I could hear limited conversation in the living room. Horrors – what if I’d slept all night, to wake in this house without Coco the Cat, and Merci long gone?
I went out into the living room. Kevin was asking the few people left how to get to Olema, where he and Merci were to spend tonight. Since I’d been to Point Reyes many times, I knew, so I volunteered the information. Merci responded with an icy glare, but Kevin was civilized enough to thank me.
“Raven, Raven, gimme your phone number!” bellowed Tex.
“NO!” I shouted at him.
He shot me a disappointed look, then turned to Kevin. “Will you give me a ride to Alameda?” he asked. Kevin glanced at Merci, who nodded.
“Yes,” he answered. Tacky to the mackey!
Kevin went out to bring the car around. Merci hugged everyone in the house except me, saying good-bye to them. I thought of standing right in her way, but I didn’t. Why should I? Clearly it was over; forcing the issue wouldn’t change that. I watched as she ran to the car and jumped in, knowing it would be the last sight of her I would ever have.
It was time for me to get out. Soon as the car disappeared, I headed down the stairs.
“Wait a minute,” called Merci’s father. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” I answered, without turning to look at him.
“You haven’t had anything,” he insisted. “How about some coffee?”
“No thanks.” I continued to my car.
“Sure you can make it home ok? Why don’t you stay awhile?”
I climbed in, fumbled with the ignition, and screeched off. Dimly, I wondered if he had gotten my license plate number and would notify his police cohorts.
Somehow, I managed to safely make it home.
You lured me into something I should have dodged; the love I saw in you was just a mirage.
~ Smokey Robinson, 1967
“From Merci, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, to Raven, who is loved by God and called to be one of His holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is the way Merci would often start her letters. It was popular for the Salt Shaker gang to use the same greetings as those of Paul in the New Testament of the Bible. While living in the grim atmosphere of inner city Oakland, I gained strength from those cheerful, encouraging messages coming out of Livermore. Now, they played over and over in my mind as a mockery.
The day after Merci’s wedding dawned bright and clear, in direct contrast to the dark and stormy way I was feeling. I arose, got dressed, and headed not to Stanford but across the bay to Coupled Christians Church. Maybe something really is wrong with me. I hardly ever date; maybe Merci was ashamed of me because of that. My intention was to grab a boyfriend there; then Merci and I could be friends again.
I had turned the radio off last night, so this morning’s drive was made in silence. However, various Elton John and John Denver songs kept playing in my mind. Whenever I visited Merci’s home, Oldies were usually playing on the stereo; those two singers were pretty much the only modern ones. “Your Song” and “Follow Me” were especially chafing; Merci had originally asked me to sing “Follow Me” at her wedding, and “Your Song” was my favorite by Elton John.
I arrived at the church. A middle-aged woman gave me a profuse greeting, and pinned a yellow rose to my lapel. A yellow rose – just like Merci’s bouquet. No no no, I protested in my mind, but was too overwhelmed with grief to remove it.
I entered the sanctuary. It was almost as large as Stanford Memorial Church, and was full of men and women, many in their 20’s and 30’s. I couldn’t follow the sermon. I doubt anyone there cared what the minister had to say, anyway; that’s not what they were there for.
One day, I received a letter addressed in fancy handwriting I didn’t recognize. It was from Merci. “I’m learning calligraphy. It’s so ugly. Your address.” Yes, I had an ugly address, since I lived in the inner city of Oakland, as opposed to her suburban residence in Livermore. “What is calligraphy?” I had asked her, in my answering letter.” “It is a study of artistic handwriting,” she had told me. This explained her beautifully crafted wedding invitation.
After the service, I entered the church recreation hall. It contained two long cafeteria tables, both covered with fliers. A man who appeared to be in his mid-30s stood at one of them. He had a desperate sense about him. I wondered why; I thought it was women who were supposed to be eager to get married.
“Please look these fliers over and see which seminars you’d like to attend,” he told me. I viewed them while walking the length of both tables. Every other one was about divorce recovery.
“Which one do you want?” the man asked me.
“Uh – none.”
“Take some fliers with you, and you can decide later.”
I fled the building before he could urge me any further.
“I’m finally getting settled in Fremont. I joined the bell ringers at my local church.” It was those bell-ringers that had performed at her wedding. She had also listed several other social clubs she’d joined, the names of which I couldn’t remember. “What are you doing for fun? Have you met any guys yet?”
I paid the dollar toll and drove back across the bridge to Stanford campus, heading for the library to look at pictures of Pico. I’ve never even had a boyfriend. The way it looked, this activity was the closest I’d ever come to having one.
“Excuse me,” the security guard said at the door. “Have you been in the library this year?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then I cannot let you in. Visitors can come only once a year. It’s a new rule we established, because we recently had a problem with someone being stalked.”
Now, even Pico was being denied me!
I couldn’t bear to return to my room to see that bouquet on display there, so I hung out at Stanford all day. Since it was Sunday, there were hardly any students, and no classes for auditing. Church services were over. So there really was nothing to do. I wandered around the campus aimlessly, wondering, WHY???
What had I done? Had I said something? I couldn’t imagine what! After that one brief warning, I had kept my mouth shut about this whole marriage deal, because I knew Merci was not going to listen, so I wasn’t going to waste my breath and possibly risk our friendship. And how could I say anything against Kevin? I didn’t even know him! So it couldn’t possibly be that!
Maybe she was upset because I hadn’t helped her in her time of trouble, when she had hurt her knee? But she hadn’t told me anything! Why hadn’t she called? Did she think I would be too cheap to drive to Redwood City and help her out? Why should she think that? Dammit, I worked in Redwood City! I wouldn’t even have had to go out of my way, though I gladly would have!
Perhaps it was racism? I realized I was grasping at straws here, because how could Merci be racist as a minority herself? Though she had made some comments once about a bunch of loud black girls on her floor in college…
A couple walked by me, hand in hand. The woman was wearing a white crepe blouse.
“I just got the coolest t-shirt. Only problem is, you can see my bra through it.”
I had recommended she wear something under the t-shirt. I didn’t know about skin-colored bras back then.
I wandered over to Lake Lagunita (little lagoon in Spanish). It was just an empty pit. They fill it in January, and let the water evaporate the rest of the year. Meanwhile, students and staff members can use the beach and sail boats on it. Guests can use the beach after 5pm. That only matters when there’s water in the lake, and the weather is warm. On a cold day like this, all I could do was stare out at the desolation.
“Today, we made our own tortillas, instead of buying them at the store. They turned out to be the best burritos. I’m so proud to be Mexican!”
A few years later, on a postcard from Mexico City;
“I’m becoming fluent in Spanish. It really helped, taking it in Livermore High School.”
Merci had spent a semester studying in Mexico City. I’ve been to Mexico only once; that was when Golden Gate Academy’s choir went to Tijuana while touring Southern California. It’s also the only time I’ve left this country.
It was starting to get dark, which meant it must be approaching 5pm. I headed for the International Center. They serve meals featuring a foreign country every Sunday evening, and it only cost $5. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast; I’d forgotten all about it, because I lacked an appetite.
The country tonight was Portugal. I paid the $5, and was served. We all sat at square tables, and I ate without tasting anything. At Merci’s house, people were always cooking feasts. Her brother Norman once made his own beef jerky; it was much thicker than the store brands. Most of the time, we baked a variety of fruit pies, creating the crust from scratch.
“My friends got me with whipped cream, so I was grounded for a week. I spent that time watching The Jacksons TV show. That is one talented family!”
Merci greatly admired musicians. Since she was tone deaf, it puzzled her that I could figure out the chords to songs so easily. At least this didn’t keep her from enjoying the dancing and singing at Salt Shaker. Being in Livermore, she – unlike me – could do this to her heart’s content.
A few minutes after the meal began, I heard the sound of a guitar. I looked to the front of the room to see a musician serenading us.
“By the way, thank you SO MUCH for teaching me guitar! It has really helped me meet people. That’s how I was able to get together with Phil.”
In exchange, she had taught me a bunch of Christian songs – rather difficult, since she couldn’t sing. Usually she’d teach me the lyrics, and I’d pick up the melody at Salt Shaker later. One way I learned the lyrics is that she would sign off her letters with excerpts from songs, along with drawings of the Christian fish.
“What does IXOYE mean?” I had asked her once.
“Those are Greek letters which mean, Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior”, she had written back. I had bought a hair barrette from a Christian bookstore in Berkeley in the shape of a fish, with those letters on it. It was leather, with a stick through it. I had since lost it... just like Merci’s friendship…
Sobbing, I jumped up and ran from the room, my meal unfinished. I dashed across streets without looking, and through a courtyard, finally arriving at the back of Stanford Memorial Church. I flung myself up against the wall.
I HATE YOU, MERCI!!!
What a thing to think, leaning against a church! And of a Salt Shaker member, no less!
It was 6pm. In an hour, the International Center would be showing a free movie. I could hang out until then, or go home and face that bouquet sitting on top of my sewing machine on my desk. I chose to hang out, even though Stanford isn’t a safe campus to wander alone after dark.
The movie showing tonight was Educating Rita. It was about an English woman who audited university classes because she wanted to be educated, while her husband protested; he wanted her to have a baby. He eventually divorced her, married someone else, and immediately had a baby with her. Meanwhile, a university professor works with Rita, helping her get the education she wants. It ends when she simply tells the professor, “Thank you” and walks down a hall alone.
The movie obviously held great significance to my situation, but I had a hard time concentrating. I should see it again, when I’m in better shape.
Now it was 9:30pm, and the campus, for all points and purposes, was closed. I had no choice but to return to my room and that bouquet, serving as a nasty reminder. How I wish I had taken it out of the car when I was in Livermore, so I could have left it there!
I woke at 5am Monday morning. It was too soon to prepare for work, but as I felt more sobs coming already, I figured I needed the extra time. I got into the shower, and let the water hit my face full force. My brother Jacob told me when he was a freshman in college, he often felt terrified and lonely, and he had prevented himself from crying this way. Since I’d been weeping steadily for 2 days, I needed to do something to stop; this was no way to show up on the job.
The shower trick worked. As I dried myself in the bathroom, I heard my phone ring. Wait – it was only about 5:30. Who could be calling me at this hour? Perhaps it was Merci? Maybe she felt concern for me after all, and telephoned from her honeymoon suite?
I dashed into my room and grabbed the receiver. Trying to sound calm, I answered, “Hello?”
Even if Merci called Raven from her honeymoon site, what decent explanation can she give for her abysmal behavior? To find out, please visit this link:
© 2013 Yoleen Lucas