The Book of Love that I am talking about is the song by The Magnetic Fields which was covered by Peter Gabriel on his album, Scratch my Back.
The blonde haired girl and I had to get married. We were going to, anyway, and then we had to.
Everything changed. First, I was immortal. I was invincible. I was a hot commodity. I knew everything that needed to be known. I had a future as bright as nuclear fusion.
Then, none of it was true.
You might well say that of all of it, nothing was never real. My power was always entirely imagined.
And I would say - yeah, sure, right, whatever.
You see, truth never mattered.
Therefore it is impossible to say when we started being we. Therefore I refuse to divide truth from fiction. Therefore I no longer distinguish.
It's a physical meat dream. Walking through time soup. Imagining things and having them simply be.
I saw her picture on a website. In between grounding antennas and paying bills, maybe I had an idea. Maybe it was weakness. Maybe it's revisionist history.
I wonder what would have been, had I seen her picture, read her story, and told myself someday I'd be married to her.
It would have been incongruous. It would have been irrelevant.
Instead, I went back to soldering wires to build instrumentation for a trip to Antarctica. As if that's what normal people do.
And I was talking to a guy on the phone and I asked him where he was and he said Kansas City.
It seemed he was wondering why it made a difference where he was, so I told him I just felt better knowing he was a human being, attached to the earth by gravity the way I was when he told me they were cutting off my medical insurance.
Because it actually didn't matter what would happen after that point. What mattered was that money would cease to flow from the company that fired me to the insurance company. That's what the guy on the phone had the job to tell me.
By the transitive property of logic, that meant my children would also have no medical insurance. And also the blonde haired girl, to whom I was not yet married.
The money had stopped flowing and if anything happened, it just would and it would be the way it was.
"But," said the guy in Kansas City, probably because he was a human being attached by gravity to earth just like me, "If you got married, we could cover you under COBRA. It would cost you $900 per month."
Because I used to be young and immortal and omniscient, I intuited this remarkable deal had something to do with actuarial science and risk factors.
For the very low price of $900 a month I could keep my health insurance.
All we would have to do is get married.
Before the end of the month.
I never found out if it was Missouri or Kansas.
Now, we were already engaged, my blonde haired girl and me. But the wedding was to be in Seattle in August. And now providence required us to be married by the end of April, lest we risk fiscal ruin if any of our small and merry family were to involve herself in some sort of medical emergency.
I had survived being fired, barely. This too we would roll with.
The guy at the jewelry store had a book of wedding rings the size of the bible that we looked through page by page the way witnesses thumb past pages of mug shots. After an hour all the rings looked like the same chunk of metal that robbed our grandmother and stole her car. I got hungry and suggested we go to the Greek place for dinner and come back.
While we were waiting for our gyros and hummus platters my blonde haired fiancee said, "But you can make them."
"Wha?" I said because making rings was something I never considered, lacking the experience and the equipment to do it. Machining wearable rings was something only professionals do with very expensive computer controlled equipment. Not a fallible, mortal, washed up electrical engineer with a graying beard and bad knees. Not in a garage full of old bicycle tubes and random nuts and bolts. Not in our decrepit Owl House that needs a new kitchen. No.
"Yes. You can."
"You just come up with these things without really thinking."
"You can make them. Make them out of titanium."
"Oh. Titanium," I said. "Have you really excluded depleted uranium and praseodymium? Do you know someone at NASA who has the equipment?"
"We need them by Saturday, of course."
"Of course," because Saturday was the day and it could not be denied the way I could deny the idea of making wedding rings from molten tungsten, tungsten being the element with the highest melting point of any metal.
So I was sure we would get married exchanging rings made of dried toothpaste. I could see it. I said yes to titanium, but I was thinking of a ring backup plan that included duct tape, ten gauge romex, and loctite.
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damned thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing.
During the impenetrable Alaskan night I went to dance lessons with the blonde haired girl. She had just completed 13 weeks of Argentinian Tango lessons and needed a partner. She had been dance partnering with various men in the area, but their schedules were always erratic. I was around a lot, hiding, mostly weeping over the dissolution of my marriage.
It would be good to get out. Perhaps my mood would be helped by doing something I disliked intensely and for which I had no aptitude. My brain hardly detects such things as legs and feet below it. They have been an afterthought to most of my living. I have been existing as a head with arms. Somehow the arms and head motate from point A to point B. Occasionally one of my feet complains because it has been smashed into an obstacle unperceived by the head some six feet above.
Really. Are you supposed to be seeing things on the ground so far away all the time?
I went to learn West Coast Swing dancing in Alaska, which is pretty far west, though not on the coast.
I followed along for the first couple of weeks, finding coordination I never knew I had. But when we got into the more advanced steps I had to face my lifelong inability to guide my own lower limbs. Eventually I was holding back the class, and the blonde haired girl, and I bowed out of the remainder of the class.
To this date, I can do the first 5 weeks of the West Coast Swing dance moves.
It did not occur to me that all of that was an expression of love. All warnings about rebound relationships aside, I was in denial. We go into denial because it is a warm and comfortable place to be.
I have a Sherline lathe. It has a 3" swing. It's the size of a loaf of bread.
It was made to be used on soft metals by aging codgers to build model trains and table top steam engines. I originally acquired it to machine parts for pocket watches. I didn't tell them that's what I was doing when I ordered it. The Sherline people presumed I was an arthritic retiree trying to satisfy a deep seated yearning for the American railway system of the past. So they sent it to me.
It had not been designed for machining refractory titanium. I would be stressing its intended usage parameters.
I acquired pieces of solid titanium bar from online-metals-dot-com. Using some rings that already fit, I sized up the bars and decided what needed to be done. I needed to rough out the center on the drill press, smooth out the inside and get it to size with a boring bar on the lathe, and then take a few thousandths off the outside as a finish. I would have to bevel the edges so the rings be comfortable and not dig into the flesh.
Carbide tooling would be needed. I had a bunch of carbide tools I'd never used fixing railroad pocket watches.
I mounted the tool in the holder. Chucked up the titanium bar. Turned on the lathe. And started cutting.
After an hour, I had a nice big pile of titanium chips in front of me and the first ring was taking shape in the chuck. I was really proud of my progress.
And then, because I am subject to the same forces of chemistry and physics as you, reality took over.
What you may know - and if you don't I'll tell you now - is that once cut into shavings and heated to the proper temperature,
This is not some kind of pussy - sixth-graders-sticking-match heads-into-a paper-cup kind of explosion.
This is an adult * holy-shit * I'm blinded and I've just taken down my house* kind of explosion.
The metal chips went up in a blaze as bright as a magnesium fire. It was a cutting white light that pressed painfully against my eyeballs accompanied by a flame several inches high that engulfed my Sherline, and set fire to the bench I was working on. I could not turn away fast enough. I reached for the fire extinguisher mounted on the garage wall but tripped over my own feet and went down onto the garage floor.
When I got up I fumbled for the extinguisher seeing nothing but huge purple and green afterburn blobs on my retinas. By the time I got the safety flicked off I realized the fire was out. The desktop was smoldering but no longer in flames.
The lathe was still spinning. The last cut I had made in the metal looked pretty good.
Because I was not completely disabled and had failed to destroy my expensive silicon valley residence, I continued making the rings.
Some of it's just transcendental. Some of it's just really dumb.
I don't know why we picked "The Book of Love" to be "our song." The whole thing of having a "song" is superfluous to the process of living that succeeds the wedding. I like so many songs I'd have been happy with no song in particular.
We didn't sit down one day and say, "Let's pick a song that will be OUR song."
The album "Scratch My Back" showed up in a shipment from Amazon and I had it on my iPod. We had got ourselves engaged just before Christmas, and then I had been released from my company just after the New Year. It was a very emotional and turbulent time. I have been a Peter Gabriel fan since I was in high school, and listening to him reminded me of days when all I had to worry about was teenaged angst and whether or not Jackie Delbecq would go to the movies with me on Friday.
The way he sang The Book of Love with a string quartet accompaniment was clearly the old guy version of the same tune by The Magnetic Fields. Listening to it made me feel ever so marginally better.
One day my three daughters were having dinner with us. We were planning the wedding. It would be small. Five of us plus my son-in-law would make six. All of us could fit in one car.
My youngest daughter had come with us to the courthouse and registered as the minister who was going to perform the ceremony. She had been sworn in by the clerk and thus was a minister of the religion of random belief for ten entire days. As such she was granted authority by the state to perform the service. You can do that in California.
My older two daughters would act as witnesses. So our wedding would be officiated and sealed by the signature of my three children, which felt to me as if a great circle in the sky would be closed, and ignited like solid titanium.
As we discussed wedding logistics The Book of Love popped up on my iPod, which I was playing through the house sound system.
The blonde haired girl said, "Oh, and this is our song."
It happened like that.
We got married between rain showers at the Japanese gardens in Saratoga, California, about four miles from the house I had nearly burned down. My wife wrote all the vows, including mine, which is a damned shame given that I write so much otherwise. Yet I was absolutely flummoxed at coming up with something as meaningful and eternal as wedding vows.
My youngest daughter read some beautiful poetry my wife had assembled, and also some of her own. My wife had made her own wedding dress.
We exchanged rings I had made in the garage on my Sherline lathe out of solid titanium bars.
I have not removed my ring since.
Many months later, a friend of mine said of my wedding rings and the multiple explosions I endured making them, "...rings made of love forged in pure white fire, like the Vikings."
I wish I had thought of that.
There are scant few pictures of the service. My daughters took pictures with their cell phones.
We enlisted the help of a group of Asian women who took the only shot of all six of us together, under a gazebo woven with flowers.
Now I am reemployed and I spend many hours per month sitting on airplanes. To tune out the engine noise and crying children I play my iPod through my Bose noise cancelling headphones and not all that often The Book of Love will show up on the randomized playlist.
Then I am not an aging middle-management businessman. Then I am plying the waves returning from my conquests of the lands of green and ice, back to my woman and the home fires with a ship load of bounty and a head full of stories.
Like Leif Ericsson.