Back in 2015, C and I had known each other for only about four months; but we were already gung-ho for whatever was going on between us. I, in a stupored state of puppy love, was simultaneously arriving a major metabolic standstill at 25, inexplicably gaining over 30 pounds in four short months. I was eating well for the first time since college; I had previously been piecing together meals made from anything I could get, from splitting takeout orders for one, raiding any backstage buffet within eyeshot, and keeping my nose to the ground for any supermarket free samples. And even when the smoke cleared, the puppy love gave way to long-term commitment, and I realized that wearing jeggings was no longer an option, but a necessity, I still saw the same sweet man smiling back at me from across the dinner table.
In late August, after meeting in May, C and I were approaching our respective birthdays, both falling within the first two weeks of September. Since our first month of dating, I knew exactly what I would get for him; it was something he had said to me in passing, a comic book idea he had dreamt up long ago. Simply put, the hero of the tale would be a kid with braces who fights crime; the comic would be called “Brace For It.”
With that vision in mind, I set to work; each day, while I was at home writing and C was at the office, I would reach under the bed and pull out my giant stencil pad and colored pencils, and work on my present for him. After going to the comic book store and selecting a few tomes I felt agreed closely enough with my premise, I traced both a cover and a three-panel sample, allowing enough empty space for my own miniscule amendments. My final result would be the cover, and an interior page of C’s comic book, starring himself, but with braces.
It ended up being more of a commitment than I thought; I was, to C’s dismay, two weeks late with his present. That didn’t play so well, despite my trying to smooth it over by slow-roasting a rack of ribs. When I finally unveiled it to him, though, he loved it. “Brace For It”, which is encased in a black-bordered shadowbox frame, currently sits on a shelf in our guest room in Lausanne, just a feet away from me.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I met C in the street outside of a government building situated between our local café, Bleu Lizard, and a couscous restaurant. He was standing with a coworker of his, one who works in HR, and who also just so happens to be fluent in both French and English. At exactly 1:30PM, we passed through the glass doors and rode up two floors inside a tiny, metallic orange-walled elevator, arriving at the door to the marriage office for the city of Lausanne.
A kind-faced woman with paling blonde hair and glasses somewhere between the ages of middle and retirement came out to greet us after a few minutes waiting in the serene, gray lobby, lit only by the outside light streaming in from the windows on the far walls and refracted through the glass partitions of each office cubicle. She introduced herself to C and I each individually by name, before turning to C’s coworker and addressing her, cordially, as “traducteur”— or, "translator”.
On a small table inside of her office were already a few forms arranged on either side, with C and I facing each other, including reproductions of our respective birth certificates for each one to validate. C’s coworker, who I will call Mary, was sitting on my side of the table, leaning over and explaining any question on the form that I wasn’t able to contextualize. Most of the questions, however, were fairly similar, if not identical, to those I had already filled out five times before on other documents, in other places, over the course of the year. It now felt like each iteration of the same form had acted like a tiny lily pad, one after the other, allowing me safe passage over.
I will now take a brief moment to add a bit more visual context to the scene taking place. Namely, the face I was occasionally staring at from across the tiny table, as we both signed and re-signed some of the most important documents of our lives.
On the Friday before this meeting, C underwent a fairly intense orthodontic surgery to implant a jaw-expanding device, as part of an ongoing crusade against his mutinying teeth. This device will prep for the braces he will wear in the next year or two. After slogging through a weekend’s worth of broths, plain yogurts, and avocado puddings, the man had pulled through, only to arrive at Monday knee-deep into his healing process looking like he’d gotten into a fight with a hornet’s nest and lost. Two days later, at the government office, the swelling had gone down substantially, but he was still visibly rocking some natural lip injections and temporary botox.
The official collected our papers, and then once again asked us whose last name would be given to our future children. We again answered C’s. And that marked the end of the list; the woman seemed satisfied with our answers, and she sat down behind her desk. She slightly angled her computer screen towards C, before rattling off a quick series of dates. The two parlayed back and forth until, after about a minute, I reached over and touched C’s arm.
“The date. Is the 27th okay?”
We were dropped into a little slot within the computer’s scheduling app for 2:30PM on Monday, May 27th.
The significance of actually having a date to make things official, however pragmatically and unceremoniously, after 3 long years of being engaged, was not lost on me. The woman traveled back around to lean on the front of her desk, facing our table, to discuss the few details that remained. The officiation would last 15 minutes, during which she would read ‘documents’. When the translator repeated this back to me, I let out a stifled giggle.
We all stood to leave. I felt slightly shocked that this short meeting was the culmination of such a complicated process, and seemingly with no warning, the waiting period had come to an end. This was a moment for me.
I reached across the table to grab C’s hand, and smile at him; but with his face frozen in position, all he could muster back was a slight mouth open with the corners of his lips tugged ever-so-gently upward. That was good enough.
The next morning, a Thursday, I had on my trainers and sweats and was traveling up my same northern slope, headed towards the gym. I had in my earbuds and was listening to the podcast I’m currently obsessed with—”My Favorite Murder”—rather than anything that could potentially benefit me in my quest to becoming a French-speaking individual. Rather than that, I’ve lately been choosing to listen to two valley-accented California comediennes crack me up while simultaneously recounting riveting true crime stories.
There was construction on the road this week; the workers were wearing hard hats, jackhammering up old cement, and replacing it with a new rejuvenated layer of hardened concrete. They had moved to the driver’s side of the street today, which meant that my normal route was roped off, and I would have to cross earlier. I did, approaching the top of the hill, about to pass the recently closed down Italian bistro on the corner, Gigio’s. Up ahead and coming from the opposite direction, I saw a blonde woman in black jeans and a sleek black blazer, looking slightly distracted and in a hurry. We continued drawing closer to one other, with her somewhat out pacing me. I looked at her, and at the moment our eyes connected, it happened.
I saw the wobble of her left ankle on the uneven pavement before we broke eye contact. Laughing Americans chattering in my ears, I watched everything unfold; in hindsight, I wish I could have reacted sooner, could’ve done something preventative. But instead, the woman fell.
It was horrible to see; she tumbled over her ankle, falling longer and farther due to the steepness of the decline. It happened right in front of me, so close that I could see the surprise in her eyes, her palms instinctively stretching out to break her fall. I saw her knees hit the pavement first, and heard her jeans ripping at the impact point. She then barreled forward, coming to a rest on her back. She used her scratched hands to scramble back up again; by this time I was already crouched next to her. I asked if she spoke english, she said no.
“Can I call someone?”
“No, no…it’s ok.”
She reached over to grab one of her ankles. She winced as she tested it by shifting her weight; after the pain abated again, she made a face of embarrassment and confusion.
“Really, it’s fine. It’s happened before.”
“The same ankle??”
“Yes. I will move here now.”
She pointed to the ledge of the terrace outside of Gigio’s. I tried to brace her as she used a road sign to hoist her body up, but she wasn’t having any of that. She lightly shooed me, making a hand gesture signaling “I got this”. She hobbled over to the step and sat down, letting out a huff laced with relief and resignation, looking over through the glass walls of the restaurant in the direction of her car, parked on the other side.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to help you?”
She shook her head, but thanked me. It felt wrong to leave her there, a grown woman with ripped pants and a twisted ankle on the doorstep of a closed restaurant, but she had turned me away, and there was nothing further I could do. As I again started walking, my earbuds long since stuffed into the pocket of my windbreaker, I turned back to give her one more smile of assurance. She raised a raw palm, her thankfully unscathed face conveying a committed patience, the corners of her lips tugged ever-so-gently upward.
As I was dusting the guest room on Friday, preparing for our company that would soon be arriving from France, thoughts from this week had accumulated in my head, and were swirling around in a large grey mass. Thoughts of our marriage meeting; the woman in the street; and in the other room, emanating from our wireless speaker, was the same podcast I was listening to when I watched her fall. I brushed the thin layer of dust from the shadow box containing “Brace For It” with my Swiffer, and I stood there for a few extra seconds, admiring little details on the cover, like the release date of the comic, which was modified to be C’s birthday; or the DC logo having been changed to C’s initials.
How futile it is for me to believe I can ever truly be ready for the things that lie ahead, or to worry over how to handle the fallout in the worst case scenario. Falling enough in love not to notice a drastic change of weight; a present completed two weeks too late; an unconventional, loosely planned, bare-bones civil ceremony; and a big fall, a twisted ankle and a skinned knee, and a shredded conversation with a stranger just trying to help. There’s nothing you can ever do to plan, or to change whatever the outcome may be.
You just strap on your spurs, keeping a steady eye on all of the frosted windows that loom above; and the swinging saloon doors that creak and rustle in the dusty wind. You rest your palm on the grip of the revolver, keeping an open mind as you consider the moving shadows that pass beneath the tavern signs, and edge between the abandoned meeting houses.
When something unexpected does jump out, you pull those corners of your lips gently back, revealing a smile of twisted metal and banded plastic.
You brace for it.