Friday night, I slid in through the only unlocked door at Queen of Angels Catholic Church just as the last glimmers of twilight plunged into night. Up the gleaming marble staircase, my beautiful bride-to-be friend shivered in her little black dress, a silver exposed zipper running up the entire length of the back, waiting in the entryway to make her rehearsal entrance into the sanctuary.I was late. I'd rushed home from work and changed into jeans and a sweater; I'd come alone. The Knight was at home on my love seat, warm and relaxed after a busy afternoon downtown with his three daughters. Inside the church, we all shivered. The boilers in the church were all broken, but the officiant had promised working heat by the start of the ceremony the next day. Not twenty minutes later — after a hurried run-through of the scripture passages and my reading, the Prayers of the Faithful (which is some high comedy, if you know me) — I was on my way out the door and headed back home.
In everyone's best interest, I skipped the rehearsal dinner later that night. I'd been writhing in pain all day at my desk; busy stretches of tight deadlines tend to take their toll on my back just after they've finished their song and dance number on my mood. Back inside the apartment, sweatpants back on and a scowl seemingly glued to my face, we ordered a deep-dish from Chicago's Pizza. We hopped into the Shining Camry to pick it up; I ran from door to door to hand over the money then flopped back into the passenger seat to breathe in the warm comfort of basil, garlic, tomato, buttery crust. I could have eaten the whole thing. But I didn't. Instead, I had two pieces and sort of…cried myself to sleep. I don't remember why I cried. I don't remember falling asleep. And I don't really remember loving the pizza that much. Fridays are just like that sometimes.
But here's the good thing about succumbing to the oblivion of misery: Next thing I knew, sun and a cool morning breeze were creeping in through my bedroom curtains, and the Knight's face was inches from mine, warm against the rumpled pumpkin pillowcase and just barely visible between layers of sheet, blanket, quilt and comforter. Amazing how quickly the soft scrub of a day's stubble can rub away the harsh burn of a long week. After a morning in Andersonville and Lakeview, peering in storefront windows and united in bundled-up caffeination against the Fall That Wanted to Be Winter Already, we returned to Lincoln Square to get ready for the wedding. Back to the drafty church. Hand in hand, dressed to an average of the nines — I was overdressed (12), he was underdressed (6) but still debonair — we snuck in the same door together, walked together up the gleaming marble staircase and into the sanctuary. The invisible organist played Pachelbel's "Canon in D," and my bride-no-longer-to-be friend took her rehearsed position in the aisle, little black dress traded for a breathtaking white one: silk-covered buttons down the back, train and bustle like a melting layer cake. Scripture read. Responses sung. Vows exchanged. Prayers of the Faithful not flubbed. You may now kiss the bride. Everyone's best interests aside, I was covered in goosebumps and wanted it all for myself at that moment. The church was the same as it had been the night before, but everything felt different. Déjà vu is usually this uncomfortable, "Shit, why is everything familiar? Only NOT?" feeling, so it wasn't that, but it's the closest thing I can think of.
After a glass and a half of crisp white wine — and little more to eat that afternoon than a few fresh-baked cookies and an apple — the Knight and I left the casual reception for another miraculous quick change, to prepare for the main event. The wine had been a good idea, after all. Because those three daughters? The ones I casually mentioned the Knight spending time with the day before? I met them. No, not just met them: spent the evening with them. I met them that morning, during the huddling and the caffeinating in Andersonville. At 10 a.m., they were shy and tentative with me. They were charming and adorable; putting names to shining faces and tiny bodies that morning had been exhilarating but not overwhelming. But Saturday night? We took them to dinner. At Chicago's Pizza — thin crust, this time. Just the five of us. Like a family. Oh, God.
I rode in the front seat of the Camry down four blocks of Montrose as they bounced around as best they could in car seats and seatbelts, squealing for breadsticks and root beer and pizza with sausage and mushrooms and [green] olives. Years had passed since my last babysitting gig; I was at a loss for how to act. I sat on the vinyl banquette between the two youngest of them; the 7-year-old powered through a connect-the-dots puzzle with a flattened red crayon while the 4-year-old blindly improvised a new punchline based on a joke her big sister had just told. ("I hate this crayon! It…shoots…cannons out of my head! HAHAHAHA!") An invisible stereo played generic music that was drowned out completely by our shrieking. Root beer compromised for pink lemonade. Booster seat obtained. Pizza picked at, deconstructed, annihilated. Olives eaten by the spoonful. A glass inadvertently flung against the banquette; ice in my handbag. Photos were taken. Everyone's best interests aside, I took one last piece of pizza and saw my life — the one that doesn't yet exist — flash before my eyes. (The baby thing? Yeah.) And I wanted it all, right then and there. I wanted to freeze that extended moment around us and never leave the sides of these tiny people I barely knew. The stick of the Velcro on the littlest daughter's butterfly-covered shoes, the vanishing of gravity as I hoisted her into my arms to skip across Montrose and back to the Camry, the earnest broken record of "Are we there yet?" as we drove toward Rogers Park to take them to their mothers. The shy face peering around the door jamb one last time before we walked out of the apartment building: "Bye, Tickle Monster."
The dining room where we ate that night was right where I'd picked up our deep dish the night before, my back sore and mood foul — but everything felt different. Every time I get déjà vu, I shake off the unnerving sense of repeated place and event, hoping it'll be a while before that feeling comes again. So it wasn't that. Because I can't wait to revisit that feeling. But déjà vu is the closest thing I can think of.