Monday, December 19, 2005

The Happiest Night of My Life!

After what started off to be the worst and most difficult year of my life, I find myself wondering how it is at all possible that things have turned around to the point where I can honestly say I have never been happier. And the answer I get is the same that Michael gave me in his letter almost two months ago: God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you. Those words – the words of our song - were the backdrop to the happiest and most memorable night of my life: last night, December 18, 2005.

Michael and I ran off to the mall on foot to do some last minute Christmas shopping. We decided to split up for 45 minutes because I needed to buy him something (which, I, of course, showed him beforehand… because I am a child). After an hour, Michael and I met at our pre-determined location. I wasn’t nearly ready to go home, but was prepared to pretend given how sick he was. (Unfortunately, I still hadn’t got his cough medicine.) Fortunately for me, Michael said he needed 45 more minutes. I willingly agreed and we went our separate ways.

After nearly an hour, Michael returned and said he was ready to go home. We bought the cough medicine and headed back. I noticed that his bag wasn’t in his hand anymore but assured myself that he’d stuffed it into one of the pockets of his oversized coat. On the walk home, Michael joked about proposing (something we’d talked about many times in the past week) and kept teasing me by pretending to drop to one knee in front of the very poorly decorated spruce near the Ballston Mall. I was tired so I told him to knock it off so we could go home. Still, he stopped me once or twice to hug or kiss me or say something sweet. I started getting suspicious...

We got to the door of my apartment and Michael put down my bags to open the lock. He turned to me before opening the door and told me how much he loved me before kissing me again. My heart started racing. What could be waiting behind the door? He opened it. It was just my apartment and the little Charlie Brown Christmas tree we had decorated together over a month ago that was not even lit. I felt a little sad but was tired so I staggered over to the couch where Michael took off my boots and sat across from me. As we tried to figure out what to get for dinner, he seemed to glare at me. After he handed me a menu, he came over to my side of the couch and kissed me again and said, “I can’t wait to marry you.” I laughed and told him he was getting sentimental. I felt proud that I’d finally cracked him.

As I looked over the menu, I heard him turn our song on in my room. He restarted it 3 times and I assumed it was because I had left it on loop while jamming to my new Carrie Underwood songs earlier that day. He came into the living room and sat back down close to me. I asked him if he was ready to order, but he said he wanted to wait a little while. He continued glaring at me and looked straight into my eyes before telling me how happy I made him and my imagination started to run wild. He couldn’t possibly have done anything to my room while we were at the mall, right? We had been on foot and he surely didn’t have enough time to get back and forth. I told myself not to get carried away and risk disappointment again and just enjoyed the moment.

Finally - and after much coughing - Michael put his head down and asked if we could rest for a little while before we ordered dinner. He was sick – and asked so sweetly - so I agreed. We headed over to my room and when I got into the hallway, I could see that the door was almost closed (something I never do). From the crack in the door, behind which our song was playing loudly, I could see a yellow glow coming out of the room. I stopped dead in my tracks. My heart started racing again. I felt Michael nudge me gently, but didn’t turn around. I opened the door and….

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I stopped breathing. I turned to Michael, who started to get on one knee and take my hands and I started to cry. It was a good minute before he reached for the ring and I just hugged him so hard and listened to the music. (Given that he is 6’5" and nearly a foot and a half taller than me, he was at eye level the entire time.) He reached for the box that was wrapped up in the penguin’s scarf and slowly opened it. I don’t know if it was from the fact that the ring was so beautiful or that it was so blinding, but this only made me cry more. “I want to take care of you for the rest of my life,” he said, before popping the question. I said “yes” but it must have been muffled by my crying, so he asked again. When I’d said yes a second time and returned to hugging him and crying into his shoulder (this time looking at the ring), the song ended. It couldn’t have been staged better if it was a movie, and I couldn’t have been more blown away than I was.

We sat on the floor for a while and drank the wine that he had poured. I couldn’t believe how happy I was – nor could I imagine how he’d managed to get back and forth to the mall 3 times in 45 minutes to set all this up – or how he’d been able to get away with putting a 7 foot tall Christmas tree in the middle of my room without my knowing it. In every way, it was more than a dream come true – just like Michael – and one that I will never EVER forget.

The most comical part, which I feel too compelled to share, was this morning - when I woke up and realized that I was engaged and discovered that in Michael’s rearranging of my room the night before, he’d made it virtually impossible for me to get into my wardrobe. I looked down at the most beautiful ring I’d ever seen and realized that it was mine, that Michael was stuck with me, and that this was the beginning of the best time in our lives.

And - for the 55th time since I'd become Michael's fiance- I cried…

I could not have been happier... It's hard to imagine I could ever be.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Decades Later, Kong Still Rules!

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What great force exists -- at least in the realm of cinema – that could make me end my two-month long hiatus from movie reviewing on this blog? You’d better believe that a 25-foot tall gorilla could do the trick! Yes, after more than 70 years, King Kong rules. And this time, he is bigger, better, and more consistently-sized than ever!

Set in the same time period as the 1933 original, Peter Jackson’s highly-hyped and well-intentioned remake introduces a score of new and impressively revised characters. The best of these – aside from the beloved, but equally doomed simian – is Ann Darrow, played by a haunted Naomi Watts who brings a tenderness to the role that the late Fay Wray wasn't able to convey. Rather than screaming loudly - which she of course does throughout the film - Ann interacts with Kong, who is able to express a great range of emotions, thanks to Andy Serkis who provided the emotions for Lord of The Rings' Gollum. No longer is Ann debased to merely being a blonde-bombshell and the object of desire for the great ape, she comes to be a loving companion and through the captured gazes exchanged between them, they seem to have a quiet understanding of each other.

But this would not be a Peter Jackson movie without masterful special effects, CGI, and loads of action scenes. In that aspect, Kong more than delivers. Though a lot of the scenes occur at break-neck speed, and in spite of a few seams in the special effects (such as when the crew slides down the leg of a brontosauraus), this movie delivers some of the best and most dizzying action sequences ever put to film. A breathtaking battle between the giant gorilla (who holds Ann in his grip) and three T-Rexs puts the special effects in Jurrasic Park to utter shame. I'd see the film again just for that one sequence. And of course, Jackson throws in some (in my opinion, unecessary) creatures on Skull Island to stir things up. If you don't like bugs or fear them half as much as I do, consider closing your eyes for this part, ladies.

The storyline itself is much more thoughtful than the 1933 film, though there are many throwbacks and nods to the B-rate original. Still, I can't help but feel that this is a case of the artist being a little too close to his work. Jackson's affection for Kong is evident - especially in the buildup to the fateful final on top the Empire State Building - but at times, it borders on being too much. Though I agree with keeping the audience in suspense waiting for over an hour before catching a glimpse of it's star character, there are a lot of instances where details could better have been cut down (such as the extensive footage of the creepy, white-eyed natives who capture Ann as a sacrifice to Kong -- and, of course, the bugs).

Still, this is the stuff that great movies are made of: heart-pounding action, non-stop drama, and a romance that runs deep (on so many levels). And yet, it is also able to tug at the heart-strings (and tear ducts, in my case) quite a bit. To try to say more would be pointless. I highly recommend that you see it for yourself. Decades later and Kong still reigns, in the jungle and surely, this time around too, at the box-office.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

There Really IS No Place Like Home...

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Given the tumultuous turn-out of our first holiday celebration back in Brooklyn, “New Yawk” together, it’s a wonder that M has not yet suggested bowing out of our traditional “7 Fish” Christmas Eve Celebration. Having brought my Virginia-born and raised beau to meet my loud Italian family last month was nothing short of a soap opera in which voices were raised more often than glasses – though admittedly, everyone, including M, seemed to be drinking more than is usual at our family gatherings!

Several heated arguments, one Soprano-style sit-down, much clicking of my heels to Dorothy’s “There’s no place like home,” and a partridge in a pear tree later, and I was ready to pack up and enlist us both in some sort of familial witness-protection program. And now, barely a month later, the time to return is at hand. Whoever coined the phrase “You can’t go home again” certainly knew what he was talking about on one level, but in my case was sadly mistaken. When you come from an Italian-American family whose roots have forever been in Brooklyn, NY (and worse still, "Little Italy"), you MUST go home again – if only for the handmade manicotti (a redundancy that no self-respecting Italian-American would make, but that I’ll use to demonstrate my point here).

Nevertheless, the time to return is fast approaching and as I reflect on all the cooking I’ll be doing over next weekend, I wonder what dramatics this year’s get-together could possibly bring. What could trump watching one of my sisters’ dates to Thanksgiving flirt incessantly behind her back (literally!) leaning over her as she ate to glare at the other? What could be more entertaining than watching my uncles Lou and Tony usher my father into the next room as though they were ready to make him "an offer he couldn’t refuse" when he spoke out of turn about a private matter? It’s hard to imagine - though I know better than to hope - that the holiday will go off without a hitch, but I suppose that as long as no dishes are intentionally shattered (as in years of Christmas past) – or that a certain someone doesn’t harass my grandmother to no end about the calamari being overcooked, the linguini and clams being too oily, or the artichokes being too dry – we will somehow survive.

Sadly, for my family, the true meaning of the Christmas Season has been reduced to post-holiday arguments about who bought who a cheap gift, who gluttonously took all the leftover olive salad, and who ate most like a "gavone." For all its humor, it’s still somewhat disheartening. And try as I might, I can’t help being reduced, year after year, to a disappointed child on Christmas morning as the sum of each year’s “celebration” amounts to little more than coal in my proverbial stocking.

But - all griping aside - this year, I’m well-aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Aside from the most important gift of His precious Son, whose birth our celebration should in all ways revolve around, God has given me a second chance, and in bringing M into my life, the hope of a family and someday, a home of my own.

"There’s no place like home for the holidays." – Perhaps, someday I’ll hear that song while leaning over my grandmother and a bubbling pot of sauce and we won't laugh and shake our heads in quiet resignation, but smile.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Waiting for God, Hoping for M.

Over the time that’s passed since my last post, I came to realize that a lot of my doubts and frustration have stemmed from my obvious impatience with God. A lot of them also stem from the complications that M has been facing with regard to being able to see his daughter. Four months have passed now -- and God only knows what an eternity that must be to a five year old child.

For those four months, M has been waiting, and despite the fact that he is 24, this time has been no less excruciating. My prayers, seemingly unanswered, have begun to decrease, though the urgency of the situation has increased all the more. I keep telling myself that I have to believe that with God all things are possible. Yet, a solution to this nightmare seems so far off. I pray anyway.

Tomorrow morning, the court in Fauquier County will hear M’s petition and I will come face to face with the “ex” that so far has been little more than a name to me (aside from being the faceless girl who stalks my nightmares). After more than a month of waiting in hope of a pro-bono lawyer taking M’s case, and with little more than 2 hours left to the work-day, my hope that M will secure counsel before our 9:00AM court appointment is waning. It’s not that I doubt that God can do it, it’s that I doubt whether or not He will.

Although I realize that a lot of what is happening in M’s life is the result of his actions in the past, I also realize that M is the very sort of person one might describe as being “unlucky.” He just cannot seem to catch a break.

I’m fearful of tomorrow, though I know it would be better to enter into it with more hope. How long will we wait before God changes his ex’s heart? (If He chooses to.) How long will we wait before God moves in this situation? (If He chooses to.) At this point, even one more day seems like too long. But sadly, even if we put this all on God, it’s not, because it involves other people. For all we know, God may already have moved, but that doesn’t take us past the element of his ex’s free will to decide – or, in this case, the judge’s. It makes it a little difficult to believe that this is all in God’s hands when it seems that there are so many players who will determine M’s – and his little daughter’s -- fate.

I have to believe that all things will work together for good for both of them. But, when? Hopefully soon, when it seems that only a miracle will fix this situation... I ask anyway.