One of the best things about working at Red Room is meeting our authors in person. Usually they look at me and say: "I know you!" They're not sure how, but they know me. Here's some responses: "You work for Red Book!" "Your hair isn't long anymore!" "You exist!" The latter was nice to hear; I exist! I am here! Yet it is still odd when my online life collides with my offline life, which is what happened Saturday.
I met Laurel six years ago at Mills. She was the TA in my Introduction to Literature class. She sat up front of the room and she was very calm and pretty in her Guatemalan dress. I soon realized that I needed help with essays, so I asked Laurel for help a lot. She was friends with my friend Lilly-Marie, so I saw her outside of class as well. We took a Bible as Literature class together, and she saw several drafts of a Ginger Rogers essay I wrote for a film class. She came to my graduation party, bringing her boyfriend Dan.
Laurel and I kept in touch through Mills events, tea dates, and emails. I call her Benjamin (We have several friends named Laurel or Laura) she calls me Gibbons. She and Dan moved in together and announced their engagement six months ago. She asked me to read at the wedding. I told her I would be honored. I practiced the reading several times, wanting it to be perfect. The wedding was going to be at UC Berkeley's faculty club on April 17.
The day of the wedding came. Lilly-Marie spent the night before at my house, and then we spent the morning getting ready. This proved difficult, for we were both running around, and Felix decided to plop down in the middle of the room. Mom offered to drive us for we had Laurel's wedding gift and Lilly-Marie's suitcase (her assistant was going to pick her up after the wedding) I got directions from Google maps.
We were lucky that traffic was light. I told Mom where to go. The first thing that went wrong was that one of the bores of the Caldecott tunnel was closed. The traffic was awful, but it was about 11:30, and I figured we could still get to the wedding on time.
I noticed something odd about the directions; usually when going to UC Berkeley I go down Telegraph, but the directions said to go down Shattuck. I figured maybe there was a possible shortcut to get to campus, so I told Mom to go ahead and go down Telegraph.
On Shattuck, we hit every red light. I wish I were making this up, but I'm not. Every single damned red light. One light turned green, but we had to wait for an elderly man to cross the street. It took everything in my power to not roll down the window and yell "Hurry up, you old coot!" I didn't want to be accused of elder abuse, so I kept my mouth shut.
Finally, we reached the turnoff, and the gate was closed. I almost started to cry. Lilly-Marie was on the verge of crying. Mom drove up to a blond boy wearing a yellow shirt. He explained it was Cal Day, and prospective students along with accepted students were touring the campus. He gave us a map, showing us where to go. We thanked him and drove on.
Finally, we arrived at the campus. We got out of the car, and I was irritated with myself. Irritated because I should've listened to my gut. Irritated we didn't leave earlier. Irritated that I didn't bring my tennis shoes. I had to hold on to Lilly Marie's hand while walking across campus (she didn't have her cane) while also holding the wedding gift, and Lilly Marie lugging her suitcase. Around this time, the Anne Morrow Lindbergh reading I was supposed to do somehow was dropped on the ground.
Finally, we got there, but we missed the ceremony. I just wanted to cry. I felt terrible, and Lilly Marie I could tell was crushed. However, I had to remember it was Laurel's day. She quickly came out and I explained what happened. She was very gracious about it. "You're here now, that's what matters." She said, hugging me. I still felt terrible. Yet what could I do? Just be in the moment, of course.
We went inside, and I got two glasses of champagne, for this was a definite time for alcohol. We sat down and started to relax. "When I get a new phone, I'm getting a GPS application," I said to Lilly Marie.
"It can't be worse than google maps," she said back.
I sipped the champagne. I saw familiar faces from Laurel's shower a couple of weeks back; I saw Laurel's mother and her brother Mark. I saw an old Mills friend of ours Willie and her girlfriend. Slowly I started to feel better, although I felt terrible about missing the reading. How could I make it up to Laurel?
After a while, Laurel's new husband Dan came up to the microphone and announced they had made a movie. The movie started with pictures of Laurel and Dan as kids. Dan as a towhead with his brothers, Laurel wearing cat's eye glasses, carrying a cat. Pictures of Dan with his children, Laurel with friends and family, graduating Mills, going on hikes. Then it showed their lives together: going camping, catching a train, at family reunions. Laurel at Dan's bedside when he was sick with cancer. Their house in Albany, and them walking near the mountains, holding hands.
The toasts came up next. Several people came up and took credit for getting Laurel and Dan together. Laughter was bountiful, and the clink of glasses echoed through the room. Finally, Laurel's uncle asked if anyone wanted to come up and give a toast, we could. Lilly Marie asked if we could. I said of course.
Lilly Marie went first. I stood behind her wondering what I should say. Thank God, I didn't have that much alcohol, otherwise I would've been the slobbering person who makes toasts at weddings: "I just wanna say I love ya, I love the two of youse kids. Hey waiter! More drinkies, please!"
When Lilly Marie was done, I went up to the microphone. Took a deep breath. Felt nervous Remembered eye contact, and that the words would come to me. I started to speak:
"I met Laurel at Mills six years ago in a beginning literature class. I thought she was the teacher, because she was so prepared. She was the teacher's aide, and I came to her many times when I needed help with my essays. She was Ruth Ruthless about critiquing my stuff, and I appreciated that." Laughter. Okay, I wasn't making an ass of myself. This was good.
"I can tell you this: I had nothing to do with getting Laurel and Dan together." More laughter. "But when Laurel brought him to my graduation party, I thought they looked good together.
"Laurel asked me to read today, but life and Google Maps happened, and I am so sorry I missed the opportunity to read. The reading was by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, but it's flying around the UC campus which I find oddly appropriate." More laughter. "What I will say is this: Benjamin, I love you. You know I love you. May your life with Dan be a miracle fair. Cheers."
Applause. I resisted the urge to say "Thank you! I'll be here all weekend!" We sat back down and listened to the other toasts, and then we ate. I made Lilly Marie eat salmon. Then I leaned back in my chair and saw that Marilyn Sachs was at the other table.
Marilyn Sachs not only a Red Room author, she was one of my favorite authors growing up. It was a good library day if I could get a Judy Blume, a Beverly Cleary and a Marilyn Sachs, plus a Nancy Drew. I had emailed Marilyn several times with Red Room business, yet I felt shy. Should I introduce myself? What do I do?
Finally, I approached Laurel. "Marilyn Sachs is here!" I exclaimed.
"I know. I invited her."
"You have to introduce me. Please Laurel."
"Gibbons," she sighed, "of course I'm going to introduce you. Let me go find her."
I stood in the hallway, nervous. I've met authors before, authors I loved. I just didn't want to make a jackass out of myself. Before I knew it, Marilyn and Laurel were walking towards me, along with a beautiful girl with curly black hair, holding Marilyn's hand.
"Marilyn, this is Jennifer Gibbons. She loves your books..." Before Laurel could finish, Marilyn said, "Aren't you the girl from Red Room?"
"Oh my goodness, it's so good to meet you!" She held on to my hand. I wanted to fly. I was so honored. So so honored.
"She's read all your books, Marilyn. And she owns some of them too," Laurel finally finished.
"What books do you have?" Marilyn asked.
"Oh, Class Pictures, Laura's Luck, Fourteen, Amy Moves In, A Summer's Lease..."
"My God, you've read all of those!" I smiled, and then looked at the girl with black hair. I knew she must be Marilyn's granddaughter. "Excuse me, I hope you don't mind me asking," I started to ask, "but are you Anne's daughter?'
Anne Sachs was Marilyn's daughter. She did drawings for Dorrie's Book, a book I loved growing up because it was set in San Francisco and the drawings were so charming. When I found out Anne died seven years ago, I was so saddened, as if I lost a friend.
"Yes," the girl said, smiling, "I am Anne's daughter."
"I loved your mom's drawings in Dorrie's Book," I said.
"You remember that," she said, "oh wow. She was around my age when she did those drawings."
She then introduced herself as Lena, and then we explained blogs to Marilyn. Marilyn held my hand and said "Jennifer, you have to meet my husband Morris." She walked me to the table to a gentleman with gray hair and said, "It's Jennifer Gibbons."
"I knew it was her!" Morris exclaimed. "I knew it when you gave the toast. I told Marilyn that's Jennifer from Red Room!"
I almost started to cry. Marilyn kept holding my hand and they both told me how much they loved reading the newsletter every week, talking about the blog topic and the mini essays Huntington wrote for them. "Give her your card, Morris," Marilyn encouraged. "We must have her for tea."
Around that time, Laurel and Dan were going to cut the cake. I walked Marilyn back and introduced her to Lilly-Marie. Laurel being Laurel, she had five cakes; Tiramisu, Amaretti, Black Forest, Lemon, and Puncs Torta (a special Hungarian cake).I had two pieces of cake, feeling weightless.
After we ate, Lilly-Marie and I sat in the hallway, drinking wine. It was around fourish and people were leaving. Lilly-Marie was talking with a friend while I sat for a while, thinking about Laurel, Marilyn, my life. God knows my life has taken rocky sharp turns, yet somehow the turns I made were the right ones. If I hadn't been sick one summer, my mother wouldn't have brought Laura's Luck home to me. If I had gone to college right away from high school, I never would've met Laurel and Lilly Marie, never gone to Mills. If I hadn't been looking through the recycle bin that night at BART, I wouldn't have known about Red Room. There have been times I have yelled at God "Why am I going through all this junk? Haven't I learned enough Very Special Lessons?"
Yet right at that moment, on that Saturday afternoon with little girls running around in dresses, and Laurel and Dan posing for pictures, I realized I was where I was supposed to be, without question. I took another sip of my wine, listening to Brenton Wood sing "Give Me a Sign" while outside the wind blew, the trees looking bottle green in the late afternoon light.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries