In the fifth grade, I somehow managed to inadvertently charm the hearts of 10 starry-eyed girls, which meant that, before I even turned 10, I had in both my metaphorical and literal lap 10 potential candidates to be my first ever girlfriend.
Helga was Russian, like her name suggested, and every time I saw her she’d wave at me, even if it was the second, or third, or seventh time our eyes had met in the past twenty minutes.
Tricia lived right behind me, and sometimes when I went through the back to take out the trash she’d see me from her room and bang on the window. Sometimes I wouldn’t look up.
Carol sat next to me in class and guffawed every time I told a joke. I told a lot of jokes, but most of them were probably elementary at best (ba-dum-bum).
I don’t remember the rest of the girls. I suspect there weren’t actually 10, maybe four or five at the most. If there were 10, then some of them didn’t reveal their identities. I still call it the “Year of the 10,” but as a joke, really. I also tell people that this, unfortunately, was the highest point of my woman-wooing career. Also as a joke.
Twelve years later, it still gets laughs.
Laughing is the only thing you can do sometimes. I find myself laughing when I pray. Not because the concept of praying is laughable, although to some people it may seem like nothing more than making a ball with your hands and talking to yourself (a pretty funny image actually, if it is true). For me, it’s more or less because the things I ask for are ridiculous.
I have prayed for a scooter. I have prayed for my dog to bite me less. I have prayed to grow up, or at least look grown-up, to maybe get some acne or something. I have regretted that prayer.
I have prayed to get into Stanford. I have prayed for a good roommate. When I got drunk, I prayed for forgiveness. I was drunk while praying.
I have prayed for a job. I have prayed to not get fired from that job. After getting fired from that job, I prayed for McDonald’s breakfast to still be open or so help me God.
I have prayed to meet someone mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved. I have prayed for someone that could actually understand the crap I write. I have prayed for my soul’s recognition of its counterpoint because yes, Wedding Crashers actually had a profound effect on me. Pray, pray, pray, it was all I did for a while; for pillow talk and an excuse to be vulnerable and the freedom to stare into someone’s eyes without speaking; for a friend that is a girl, for a girl that is a friend, and for safe passage across the cruel, lexical bridge between the two.
My friends have girlfriends. As if that is some kind of persuasive argument.
Steven and Jamie are my friends. Here is a wedding toast I wrote for them:
Hey y’all, I’m Simon. The best man.
Just wanted to say a few words.
I met Steve on the very first day of my freshman year at college. I needed a screwdriver to fix my bedpost, so I walked the three steps to his room and asked him if he had one. He did. Steve’s been fixing everything in my life since. From my laptop problems to my girl problems to even my teeth problems (he wanted to be a dentist, you see), I would not be standing here right now so upright and handsome if it wasn’t for him.
But I never got to return the favor. See, there was only one thing Steve ever needed, and it was that special someone in his life. Someone who could make him work. And play. And go to sleep with a smile on his face and wake up with a bigger one. And he found that girl, Jamie, who is sitting right there next to him now, sitting there with the biggest smile on her face, just a couple months into the school year.
Steve and Jamie, when I look at you guys, I see two people, hearts beating as one, breathing as one, living as one. Loving as one. There’s nothing to fix here. I know it will work just fine for the rest of your lives. Congratulations Steven and Jamie on your beautiful wedding.
I wrote that toast my freshman year. Now I’m living in a suburb of Connecticut and working a full-time job at a collectibles company. On weekends I take the Metro North to the city to see Steve and Jamie. Scrunched up on their living room couch, I fall asleep to the sound of their giggling. I have witnessed them date for four and a half years, and as far as I know, they have never gotten in a fight — or married. Yet.
There are many things that are uncertain in life, but this isn’t one of them: I will be giving this toast at their wedding.
They sometimes pray at weddings.
During a traditional Christian wedding ceremony, there is an opening and closing prayer; the first is an invocation, the second, a blessing. The kiss comes immediately after the blessing.
Muslim weddings follow ceremonies with lavish dinners, where the newlyweds read prayers, a Qur’an placed between them. They can look at each other, but only through mirrors.
In a Buddhist wedding ceremony, the bride and groom handle the preparations. At a certain point the bride will bow down and pray to her ancestors as a way of saying goodbye to her family.
A Jewish wedding day is also a private day of atonement. The bride and groom include Yom Kippur confessions in their mincha, or afternoon prayers.
Modern Hindu wedding ceremonies require the couple to walk around a fire as the priest prays for their happiness and health. Traditional Hindu weddings can last up to five days.
I have only been to one wedding. My thin and small-framed, native Chinese, God-loving aunt got hitched to a tall white man who believed only in the value of nutrients and daily exercise. During the reception, Aunt Katy led my confused grandfather to the dance floor, as deemed by tradition. He stood stiff, never smiling the whole time. This, too, was deemed by [his] tradition.
There was no prayer at that wedding, though.
“Dally, let’s get married and get three puppies and two—”
“Noo Dawn — four puppies. And three kids. And I really, really, REALLY want to name one of them Dante.”
“Okay that’s fine. But can we also get an alpaca?”
I remember watching Dallas and Dawn on the El during a chilly winter evening ride to downtown Chicago. The wind would seep through the train every time it stopped. I remember watching Dallas take his glove off his right hand while Dawn did the same with the mitten on her left hand, just so they could hold hands, so they could feel the creases on each other’s palms and the thin bones on their fingers.
Many Sunday mornings I have heard my pastor say, “There is nothing like the warmth of God’s love.” Or: “Love, because God loved us first.” Or: “Pray, because to pray is to love.”
It has also become apparent to me that one should sing in order to worship God. (Or: to love God). It turns out I have never been a good singer.
I remember reading the words on the projector and thinking about a girl instead.
Your love is amazing, steady and unchanging
Your love is a mountain, firm beneath my feet
Your love is a mystery, how You gently lift me
When I am surrounded, Your love carries me
Hallelujah, Your love makes me sing
Hallelujah, Your love makes me sing
Tim Keller, author, speaker, and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City once told me that the very concept of love is best explained by God, for God is love. Sitting among a crowd of 500, I interpreted it as a question of perspective. Which one is ultimately better? What a believer sees, or what a non-believer sees?
I suppose it is nicer to associate love with a higher power, rather than with a chemical reaction.
(This is not to say all non-believers use science to explain abstract concepts like love. It’s just that in this case, love — without science, without religion — must be harder, maybe even impossible, to explain. And maybe no explanation is necessary. Love is love. But then I find myself thinking about what Keller said: “Who is really taking the leap of faith here?”)
“What are you thinking?” she asks me.
Love, love, love. Love for my dining hall pasta.
It is Tuesday afternoon, which means for dinner they will be serving made-to-order pasta. I am a big fan of that pasta, probably because the year before I lived in a dining hall with far inferior food, to the point that every day, I was forced to endure the same bland, over-cooked combination of noodles and marinara sauce. I am looking forward to 6:00 pm because this is when I will go downstairs and tell the cook that I would like some delicious ribbon pasta with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, basil, garlic, and Alfredo sauce.
We hide beneath my dark blue checkerboard covers, just the two of us, and her eyes, coffee-colored in the lambent light, keep pulling me closer. So I stop looking.
“Nothing,” I tell her.
Nothing, I think, staring into darkness, Nothing must sound better than the most delectable pasta in the world.
I hardly ever pray with people. I wonder what my prayers would sound like to them. Or to God.
I pray for many things, most of them trivial, material, even selfish — things you ask Santa Claus for, not God (unless the two are actually the same). Would they judge me for it?
I pray and often end up telling a story that nobody wants to hear, rambling till it becomes ranting, and then I mutter a quick “Amen” and am done with it. Would they fall asleep?
I pray and plead (more or less just plead), try and try and try to convince God that not once was I ever in love, not once, that sometimes things just happened and it was nice and also not nice, and if it was nice, it always turned out to be not nice when it ended.
And I ask him if these things were just a form of preparation, because I have never been in love and I needed to be prepared for love, but now that I’ve had nearly 23 years of preparation, maybe it was time to test it out, to see if all the difficult preparation has been worth it.
Would they laugh and call me a hopeless romantic?
Would God answer?
There isn’t really a formula. No step-by-step directions. Just knees sinking to the floor, hands clasped together, and eyes buried behind wavering lids. Throw a word or two into the wilderness and you might get a reply. But God, like that girl you charmed while walking up four flights of stairs when the elevator broke, doesn’t always call back.