“Oh, my God, Colleen — I can’t believe this is finally happening. Seriously, it’s just so awesome.”
The two girls in the back of my taxi were happy, bordering on ecstatic. The one who was speaking was positively beside herself with excitement. Since it was the Saturday night before University of Vermont graduation, I assumed either or both of them were graduating the next day.
“So are you guys graduating tomorrow?” I asked over my shoulder, expecting confirmation of my hypothesis.
“Oh, no, we’re both 26 — we’re old broads,” Colleen explained, chuckling. “Beth here is all amped up about my wedding. I’m getting married next week.”
“Well, that’s great. Congratulations. You having the ceremony here in Vermont?”
“Couldn’t have it anyplace else. It just wouldn’t count. I’m a 12th-generation Vermonter. We’re holding the wedding on my grandmother’s farm, outside of Woodstock.”
“Marrying a Vermont boy?”
“Nope, but we don’t hold it against him. He’s from just across the river in New Hampshire.”
“Ayup,” I said, “New Hampshire, ya damn sure.”
“Oh, yeah,” Colleen said, laughing. “My fiancé’s family says that a lot.”
“Are you and he living in Vermont?”
“Unfortunately, no. We live in Brooklyn. I’m an EMT, and John is an architect. I’m sure we’ll make it back to Vermont one day, maybe when we have kids.”
We pulled up to where Colleen was staying — a condo on South Burlington’s Kennedy Drive, kingdom of the condos. Saying goodbye, the two girls smooched and hugged. These were clearly dear old friends, and both of them seemed to be feeling the momentousness of Colleen’s fast-approaching nuptials. As much as most everyone wants to move forward in life, to grow and evolve, there are certain things — like old friendships — that we never want to change.
Having bade adieu to Colleen, Beth now needed to get back to her place at the top of North Street in Winooski. I stole a glance in the rearview mirror and saw a short, slim young woman who could easily pass for a teenager. Her brown hair was tied back except for one thick renegade strand tracing the side of her oval face all the way down to her chin. She was actually quite lovely — in an understated way — and her slight smile appeared to contain a raft of conflicting emotions. While she seemed genuinely happy for her old friend, the wedding was clearly stirring up some bittersweet feelings.
As we motored along Dorset Street, I asked, just making conversation, “So Beth — is Colleen the first of your peers to get married?”
Here’s the thing: You can never anticipate the course of a conversation. Even a seemingly innocuous question can evoke earth-shattering realities.
“Nope,” she replied quietly. “I was actually married five years ago. I have two girls — 2 and 4. My husband died unexpectedly when I was pregnant with our second child.”
Now, of course, I wanted to hear about the circumstances of her husband’s death. Like many people, I suppose, I have a morbid curiosity. But, calling on my better angels, I successfully quashed this urge. For whatever reason, this person had shared with me the central event of her life to this point, and I wanted to respect the confidence she had granted me, a stranger in the night.
“Oh, man — I’m so sorry,” I said. “How do you even get through that? I mean, you seem so full of life and spirit. You must have some amazing friends and family who are there for you.”
“Yes, I am blessed with an amazing circle of supportive people. I love my parents so much. I was, like, a horrible teenager, a lot to handle. Now, I tell them every day how much I appreciate them. The other thing is, I’m a triplet, and I’m super-close to my two sisters.”
“Holy smokes! I don’t know if I’ve ever even met a triplet before — at least, not that I know of. Are you, like, identical?”
“Yup, we sure look alike, if that’s what you mean. I’m kidding — I know that’s what you meant. When we were tiny, before we could even talk, we like, invented our own language. And you might think this is crazy, but we can still communicate telepathically.”
“I don’t think that’s crazy at all. I think it’s completely wonderful. It’s a tough world, and we all need all the connection we can get. So good for you. Are you a stay-at-home mom, or are you working at all?”
“Yeah, I’m working — just an administrative assistant up at UVM. I do want to get back to college, though. I’m seeing this great guy. He has a 3- and 6-year-old. It’s a cliché, I know, but we’re like ‘The Brady Bunch.’ Seriously, my fingers are like, majorly crossed, because I think things could really work out with him.”
I said, “Hey — never say ‘just an administrative assistant.’ Every job is honorable, and besides, you got so much on your plate and at such a young age.”
“Thanks, I know,” she said. “I do want to pursue my education, though, whenever the time is right.”
I dropped Beth at her home in Winooski, feeling tremendous admiration for the woman. She had sustained one of the worst blows imaginable for a young wife with one baby and another on the way, and emerged a better, deeper and fuller human being. I had heard it in her voice and seen it in her eyes.
On some elemental level, Beth had made a profound choice, and had undertaken the greatest alchemy of human existence: the transformation of deep tragedy into something meaningful, even beautiful. Her sheer courage moved me to my core.
?“Hackie” is a twice-monthly column that can also be read on sevendaysvt.com.