Surviving in VegasbyRisiaSkye©
"What are you doing? Can you SEE the other cars here, or is your head too far up your ass?" It seemed that David was having real trouble controlling his temper. Ordinarily, I would have made a joke about the wisdom of yelling at people who can't hear you, but this weekend, I was trying to keep my sense of humor to myself. I was tense, and my jokes get proportionately less funny according to the strain I am under.
Besides, I couldn't' really blame Dave for being edgy; it had certainly been a long night. He'd been doing everything in his power to make sure that I enjoyed my birthday. As we neared the hotel, I glanced over at him, and realized that he was smiling. What an amazing man. So far, he had been holding the entire evening together, and now he was joking with me. I had been afraid he would be angry. Truthfully, he seemed less edgy and nervous than I was feeling. I just couldn't seem to relax, even though things had been going remarkably well on our little family vacation, particularly considering the circumstances.
Several weeks before, my somewhat maritally (and mentally) fractured family had decided to celebrate my twenty-first birthday in Las Vegas, which sounded like a great idea to me. I had been discussing the comparative merits of the sacred 99 cent Margarita and the fabled video slot-machine at great length since we first began to discuss my birthday party, but had come to the conclusion that only a full scale sampling of each would enable me to make an educated and accurate assessment. Besides, what place could be more perfect for the celebration of total legal independence than the hometown of American debauchery? After only a few thousand hints, my family spontaneously picked up on the idea. I was impressed with myself for thinking of it, really, For once, my grandmother, mother, sister and myself were able to agree on something without any bickering.
So, it was decided. In honor of the dubious achievement of surviving twenty-one years of existence, we would journey into the desert to cleanse our souls and partake of the fruits of the decline of civilization. My grandmother, who rates gambling a close second-place to shopping on the great hierarchy of pastimes, had very generously volunteered to fund the little weekend get-away. Since my birthday comes mid-semester, right around the time that the college financial aid money usually runs out, I was disinclined to argue. More to the point, we gratefully, not to mention quickly, accepted her offer. But, my family had one more thing up their collective sleeve.
David, my boyfriend of three years-going-on-eternity, was being invited to go to Vegas with the family. This was a huge concession on the parts of my grandmother and mother, both of whom knew that he and I lived together, but didn't really like to think about what that might mean in terms of my Biblical virtue. This was no longer a little family get-together for my birthday, this was a monumental event. I have often joked that being invited on a family vacation with the Singleton clan is like winning a Medal of Honor; it takes years of hard work and courage in the face of impossible odds. Though it was only a joke, there is some real truth to the statement. What remains of my family is very closely knit, and definitely run by the women. Since no one in our family for the last several generations had managed to pick a worthwhile husband, my family was particularly reluctant to admit new men to their ranks. And David was being invited on vacation.
Seeing as he was the only male to be included in a sea of "once wounded, twice shy" defensive estrogen, he was sure to be under particularly close scrutiny all weekend. For David, the invitation amounted to a final casting call; he was being allowed to audition for the director, my grandmother. To his credit, he recognized the perils of his situation, and had already come to me for pointers on impressing the grams. You have to respect a person who understands the daunting nature of a task and still has the temerity to attempt it. If he could just survive this weekend, he would be home free. Once accepted into my family, I believe that assassination of a talk show host is the only offense for which you can be expelled, though the rest of the family refuses to confirm this rumor.
We seemed to be prepared for our trip to the City of Neon. My grandmother, who lives in Northern California, was flying into McCarran International, and would meet us at the hotel. My mother and younger sister were sharing a rental van with David and me, so that we could drive from Flagstaff and transport my mother's wheelchair comfortably without sacrificing space for my sister's metric ton of luggage. Recognizing my mother's belief that driving prowess comes free with the Y chromosome, David had even volunteered to do the driving. Finally, on October 24, we were ready to go. In order to make a good impression, David had donned a button-up shirt, while I had eschewed my usual red nail polished for a more subdued and grams-friendly pink. It seemed that we were prepared, but I still worried for David, facing a tiny but potentially ferocious Grandma Goliath.
"The Mardi Gras? You have to be kidding me. Only in Las Vegas would a hotel try to look like New Orleans in pink neon." Since our trip to New Orleans the year before, my sister had become the world's greatest expert on the legitimacy of New Orleans imitation.
Putting my arm around her shoulder, I whispered in her ear, "What does it matter, Lissa? Would you rather stay where there are neon clowns on the walls? It's free, which makes it perfect." She elbowed me in the ribs, then shrugged and nodded in vague agreement. She was broke too, apparently.
With a group effort, we managed to get my mom's wheelchair reassembled, and headed for the front desk. After being check-in by a decidedly surly desk clerk, we were able to head to our rooms. Of course, I couldn't leave without saying anything about her attitude. That's me, I like beating my head against the wall, I guess. When I asked her if she had been trained at the Department of Motor Vehicles, she looked confused and asked if we had met. David and I looked at each other and laughed as we headed away from the lobby.
About that time, it occurred to me that we might want to locate my grandmother. When I mentioned this to David, my grandmother suddenly stood up from her seat at a slot machine in the hotel's small casino. Speak of the grandma, and the grandma appears. Since she wasn't having any luck, she headed upstairs with us to chat while we got settled. After dropping off our bags, David and I continued on to the room being shared by my mother and sister, where my grandmother was also waiting.
"Linda, I just don't know why you let your health get to this point. Isn't there something that you can do, something you could have done? What do the doctors say?" My sister was putting away my mother's things while Mom and Grandma talked. She was wise for her seventeen years, avoiding getting roped into taking a side in a debate that had been going on for years. My grandmother had yet to accept that my mother was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. While my mother wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, she had come to terms with the side effects of long term diabetes. However, she seemed to realize the futility of explaining Charcot joint disease to my grandmother; she had already explained it countless times before.
I was trying to think of a graceful way to make everyone less uncomfortable, but all I was coming up with were knock-knock jokes; not a good sign, besides, I was pretty sure they wouldn't be effective. With a somewhat uneasy smile, David ventured to change the subject.
"Anne, we've never officially met. I'm David." He proffered his hand for a formal shake. My mother glanced at him gratefully. Chalk a point up for Dave, it was a good start. "You are as beautiful as the other lovely women in your family." I was pretty sure he had gone too far toward smarmy Eddie Haskell-ishness. Luckily for him, my grandmother is a former beauty queen, and a sucker for an appreciative audience. She positively beamed at him. She invited him to sit so they could become acquainted. I knew that this was to be the dreaded inquisition process that so many friends and lovers had failed in the past, and mentally I wished him luck.
"How do you like living in Flagstaff?" She was trying to be casual, but I recognized her tactic; she was letting him get comfortable. Then she would start the hard questions. My grandmother is proud of her ability to spot character flaws from a mile away, apparently developed sometimes AFTER she married and divorced my grandfather. Twice. I knew she wouldn't let him off the hook so easily, she would try to test his dedication to me. After his short but polite answer, she took a pause. "Any plans for marriage, you two?" She glanced at me, but was really asking him. I couldn't help him anyway, this part of the test was entirely up to him, he had to sink or swim without my help.
"Actually, Anne, we have discussed getting married. We both feel that finishing college first is important. I wouldn't want Chris to resent me in the future for changing the course of her life, and I knew she feels the same way." Calm and collected, he gave her a rational and thoughtful answer. I mentally applauded him. Hell, I gave him an internal standing 'O,' though I was somewhat surprised by his response. We had only mentioned marriage a time or two, and never seriously.
"What are you plans after graduation?" Another tough question--who really knows their life plans and has them orderly and arranged when they're just heading off to get blitzed for the weekend? But, I was gaining confidence in his ability to field even her whoppers.
"Actually, I would like to spend a year working in a new city. That will allow me to get residency in a new area, hopefully one with a good state college graduate program. I am hoping Chris will move with me, so we can begin planning our future." I was now totally dumbfounded. He had always been a considerate and caring boyfriend, but I had not really considered the possibility of spending the rest of our lives together. I was too afraid of ruining a good thing by pushing it too far.
Glancing at her watch, she smoothed her silk jacket and stood. "I don't know about you, but I am terribly hungry." Chris, since it's your birthday, where would you like to go to dinner?" Was that it? Had David really passed the test? Could it be this easy? I was afraid to believe it; even my mother and sister looked both relieved and surprised.
Turning to David, my grandmother nodded her head and said, "You're a remarkable young man David. I can see why Chris is so taken with you." I nearly jumped for joy. If she liked him, everyone else in my family would hear about it, and they would go out of their way to accept him. If she was flirting (and frankly, she was playing quite the Blanche DuBois) with him, he was in--good as gold, baby. I winked at him when I caught his eye.
As we all headed out for dinner, Lissa was pushing my mom's chair and my grandmother and mother were deep in conversation again. David walked over and put his arm around me. I looked at him with a mixture of awe and love, and told him "I don't know what you did, but she loves you. I have NEVER seen her accept someone so quickly. I didn't expect dinner until at least morning." He just smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder.
"It's going to be alright, Chris, you'll see. I like her too. Actually, I like all of your family. Relax." Not moments after surviving a task many others had succumbed to, he was comforting me. Unbelievable.
I had chosen the Cheesecake Factor in Caesar's Palace for dinner. Not only do I like the cake, I think Caesar's is probably the most entertaining casino on the old Strip. Everyone had agreed to the plan, with varying degrees of reluctance. In the van, we chatted about school and politics, and how different members of the family were faring in their various ports and prisons. Grandma had all the information on the family, everyone always kept in touch with her. After a short but absolutely jammed drive, we arrived at Caesar's.
Once settled in the restaurant, my mother picked up her handbag to take out her insulin. As she searched the contents, her face became very serious. Glancing with apparent embarrassment around the table, she spoke. "I can't find my insulin. I must have left it in the carrying bag." Not good. I was just about to offer to run back to the hotel for it, when David beat me to it. She was mortified, and kept apologizing. He graciously brushed aside the apologies, insisting it was no problem. Turning to me, he asked if I would join him. A strange look passed between my mother, sister and grandmother. I wondered briefly what it meant, but finally assumed it was surprise at his eagerness to help. Usually the complications of mom's illness put outsiders off.
We headed back for the Mardi Gras, but became mired in the thick traffic caused by a working road crew. Amazingly, he still hadn't lost his cool. Again he glanced over and smiled. I turned on the radio, and caught the start of a Janis Joplin song, which David began singing in a quite terrible falsetto imitation. That did it; I broke up laughing. By the time I had wiped my eyes and composed myself, we were moving again. When we reached the hotel, we headed straight for my mother's room. I knew I would be able to recognize the travel medicine bag, and offered to go up alone, but David came with me. As I opened the door to the room, he caught my hand.
"Chris, can we talk for a minute?" I was certain he was going to express his eagerness to get away from my family, and into a more comfortable environment. He stepped into the room, and pulled me in after him. When he sat down on the bed, he patted the spot next to him, and I sat down as well, closely examining his face for a clue as to what he was thinking. "Chris, you know that I love you, right?" Oh no, he wasn't going to break up with me because my grandma asked a few nosy questions, was he? And on my birthday! 'That's not fair!' my brain chanted, in pessimistic anticipation. I had heard the "I love you but I can't be with you" speech before. Unable to say anything, I just nodded at him.
Sliding off the edge of the bed, he reached into his pocket. Amazingly, he took out a small box, and got down on one knee near the foot of the bed. I thought 'I must be dreaming.' The whole moment was both completely unexpected, and somehow totally fitting. I didn't know how to react, my mind was racing. Opening the box and holding it up toward me, he spoke again. "Will you marry me?" For once, there were no jokes in mind, no witty bits of repartee to lighten the mood. In fact, it seemed that there were no words in me at all. The silence began to stretch out, and David looked scared. Trying to force words out of my tightened throat, I answered from my heart.
"I thought you'd never ask."
After we embraced, I began to think again, that hug unlocking my frozen responses. I started to look for my mother's insulin bag. I was excited and eager to tell my family our news. Again, David caught my hand and spoke. "You don't need to look for it, Chris. Your mom has her insulin." I just gaped at him, the implications of his statement were too much for my overloaded brain to process.
"You mean..." I began. He just smiled at me, and started to explain.
"I've been talking to your mother and sister for a couple of months. I hope you won't hate me for this, but I wanted their blessing before I asked you. I know how important they are to you, and that you'd never agree unless I could be part of the family. Once we got to know each other, your mother suggested that I call her mother to break the ice. She and I have been talking for several weeks now. I hope you aren't mad; I know how old-fashioned this all sounds, and I wasn't trying to take it out of your hands or anything like that. I just wanted the chance to be part of the real family, not just in on a day pass, and I kn.."
I cut off his words by kissing him, again unable to speak.
Though under normal circumstances, I would have appreciated the irony of being set up in this way by my overprotective family, I was more eager than ever to return to the restaurant. There was so much to talk about, and I didn't have to be afraid anymore. I particularly wanted to ask them how David had gotten them to keep the secret, since I hadn't even had a Christmas present that I didn't know about in advance for years. Holding hands, we left the hotel.
Back in the restaurant, the three generations of women at our table examined our faces for signs of my answer. I smiled at them, and my grandmother signaled the server to return. "A bottle of champagne, please. There's going to be a wedding in our family." She smiled at David and I . My mother took my hand and squeezed it briefly, and my sister came over to sit next to me, already planning her maid-of-honor dress. My little family scooted around to make room for one more, and David joined us.
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