The first time Charming told me he was taking me to the mall after a tour of The Pentagon, I imagined one with stores in it. Like The US Capitol Building in the D.C., The Mall in the nation’s capital is singularly significant. Capitalization and spelling matter more, it seems, when situated amongst matters of Congress and Senate. I’ve witnessed it now in several seasons, this grassy lawn between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, the Capitol, and the White House, but it didn’t feel like winter, nor does it now, where writing on the porch with twinkling Christmas lights and no blanket or hoodie seems contrary.
It doesn’t feel like December at all. Realizing I’d be traveling frequently this holiday season, Charming encouraged me when I suggested I forego the typical, tangled mess of questionable icicle lights and all those labeled tubs with hosts of treasures that would normally erupt and cast a Christmas spell stretching halfway down the block. I’d just get a tree, though waiting until my fiance’s next Hampton visit would limit its time and my choices. Though it’s difficult to explain why this concession struck me as a personal failure, the blow was significant; perhaps in my own eyes alone, I’d fallen from grace.
I mix these metaphors and clichés indiscriminately, understanding the universal message spares my readers at least two hundred characters per post. It wasn’t even a week ago when I hung up with Home Depot in the gym parking lot after my workout. Upon receiving confirmation that a new shipment had just arrived, and I headed my Honda straight toward the parking lot searching for the fattest of the seven foot Frazier furs. Alliteration unintentionally creates a sound effect mimicking the rustle of the pine branches as I found him, the perfect tree. I didn’t need a coat. I didn’t take a picture. They don’t tie it to your car anymore either, but I’d watched enough times to challenge my rehabbing shoulder to the task.
Snagging the perfect tree, mounting it in the stand, stringing lights, hanging ornaments… it is the perfect tree, perhaps more beautiful than any before, but even with my Pandora Christmas tunes coaxing me along, I never got caught up in the cherished cheer. I’d taken that predictable decorating pleasure for granted, unaware that without Charming in the frame of all those traditions, the memory portraits would be incomplete.
We’re engaged, so we’re not quite one yet; still, we’re committed to that merger, a transformation where grammatical impossibility occurs and two persons come together to result in one life. The singular significance is stifling, unsettling my spirit despite the soothing breeze tickling my butterfly wind chimes. Last week, I tried unsuccessfully to conjure the holiday spirit, where discontent with the tree itself tempted me to back that Honda up to my shed, transfer some bins, and compete in hallway decorating contest for Yearbook and the door decorating one for the teachers.
The theme came to me easily, my staffers helped, and we were mostly finished with the hallway by the weekend, saving the theme reveal for today. My door was quite literally a blank slate, with precision-cut white butcher paper saving the creative place once inspiration struck me when I locked up the room and turned off the twinkling lights for the weekend, smiling at the snow mountain we’d managed to create but somehow still not getting wrapped up in all my bows and snowmen. I did a lot on my own to usher Christmas in, but I’m not a single woman anymore fighting for her passions. Absent Charming, everything up until Saturday was just decorating.
With temperatures reaching fifty last Saturday, The Mall was the only place I needed a jacket. Hand in hand navigating the Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, I could finally believe it was December. As if to remind me how we’re better together, an unexpected cold replaced the comfortable front porch of an hour ago, and I put on Charming’s hoodie, sniffing it even though I know his scent wore off two years ago at least.
Though it had been too long to remember the last time I’d donned a pair of ice skates, when Charming suggested the afternoon excursion, I was hooked. We enjoyed food truck lamb and rice while we waited in line for tickets, laced our skates up tightly, and watched the Zamboni smooth the ice in anticipation of our turn. We took lots of pictures that day because we were making our first holiday memory as an engaged couple. Christmas came somewhere around a curve with the Capitol’s dome inspiring an unnatural sense of pride and confidence opposing my cautious and clumsy movements as we joined in the counter-clockwise movement of people.
They were every shape, size, and color, and the skill levels varied from falling every two feet to floating backwards effortlessly between awkward pairs, romantic and familial. We were two, and there were times I tried to skate alone for a second or two, but we were just better together. Strange muscles ached, and in retrospect I understand that as we skated along together, I was still always bracing for the fall. The efficiency in the shared and transferred energy, propelling us forward with bonus torque and other concepts I won’t pretend to understand. We had fun, and we laughed, and I loved being with Charming.
Nevertheless, I still skated on Saturday in The Mall like how I have lived every day of my life for a very, very long time. It had also been too long to remember the way my shins and feet ached with rental skates, but that hurt less than the current realization that I skate how I live, independently. Had I trusted Charming to be there to catch me, I’d have relaxed into those skates and benefited from gravity’s natural laws that make our movements more combined than independently.
That’s my problem, I’m afraid. I’ve been living on my own so long, piling up my own cherished traditions and having my world the way I want it, my house in order and maintained clutter-free, my preferences for brands of coffee creamer and chip dip, so long that I’ve become truly independent. Circumstances forced me to handle life’s challenges alone for the vast majority of the last fifteen years. My problem becomes our problem when our competitive spirits enter any conflict. I realize that every memory shored up since meeting Charming is richer when he’s in the picture, literally or figuratively.
He keeps reminding me we’re on the same team. My fierce independence has me skating from grace on thin ice with Charming and in my daily walk in simple ballet flats. At thirty-four, I can take care of myself; the fancy drill on our Amazon wedding registry is one of my top adds. Were he present in this blog post as in recent conversations, Charming would take this mention as an opportunity to encourage you to contribute to the charities on our The Knot wedding website: Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Teach Beyond. I can do it all, but it’s exhausting. Charming and I are more effective as a team, on or off the ice.
If I gave Charming a voice even though he’s not here on the wicker love seat beside me, does that evidence the ability to think like a team player? That even if I don’t know how to be on the same team as him right now, that he can counter my icy independence without being in opposition to me? In view of the Capitol in the capital, Charming and I skated together and Christmas arrived.
The ice wasn’t thin. I’ve just lived a long while bracing for the fall, and the gift of a teammate – a partner, a best friend, a spouse – that’s grace restored, renewed, reclaimed. I’m aging gracefully, after all, so wrap me up with a final abuse of figurative devices, maybe Charming and I can choose to believe in a quick Google search that it actually is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Or I can trust in the promise of the union in July where God will join us in a singularly unique way worthy of capitalization. Our Marriage: the Capitol of our life with the power to tactfully disassemble grammatical syntax.