4: Hello, My Name Is Clueless

4: Hello, My Name Is Clueless

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Hello, My Name Is Clueless

Some folks are wise and some are otherwise.

~Tobias Smollett

Not many people can boast that complete strangers come up to them in the grocery store and say, “I was there when you got engaged.” I can.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me introduce myself. Hello. My name is Clueless.

On that gorgeous Sunday morning in August 1998, I had a wretched cold — and I was mad at my boyfriend. His family was in town, and although I thought the visit had passed very pleasantly, Christian had been short-tempered the whole weekend.

He picked me up for church that morning, his manner edgy and uptight as we zigged and zagged around campus to the Newman Center for choir warm-up. The air inside the church hummed with excitement. A fellow choir member was celebrating her fortieth wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows. Everyone anticipated a great morning with great music.

But my nose was running, my throat was sore, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sing the two solos for which I was slated. Meanwhile, Christian’s emotional state was deteriorating. Rapidly.

He pounded the piano keys with more than his usual energy, then leaped off the bench. “What is he doing?” asked a fellow alto, watching bemusedly as he dashed away from the piano hauling a clunky, hard plastic case.

I rolled my eyes. “Setting up a video camera,” I said. “He promised he’d record the renewal of vows.” His mood was rubbing off on me. This was turning into one of those days when I had to remind myself that love is a choice. My medicated brain felt fuzzy, and my throat hurt. And I had so wanted to sing well!

Christian darted moth-like around the church, worrying whether there was enough room on the videotape, whether his mom and his brother knew where they were going, and whether they would get to church before Mass started. He barely made it back to the piano in time for the opening song. “You okay?” he mouthed at me over the last chord. I gave him a look. Considering his mood, wasn’t it kind of backward for him to be asking me that?

My obvious annoyance did little to settle his behavior. But church has a way of moderating bad feelings. By the time I had cantored the psalm without my voice cracking, both of us were feeling better. After the homily and the renewal of vows, the service progressed as usual. I was standing beside the piano, playing flute over Christian’s shoulder as Communion wound down, when I glanced out over the congregation and saw my mother sitting in the back row. I was so surprised that I stopped playing. My mother lived forty-five minutes away.

“Christian,” I hissed. “My mom’s back there. What’s she doing here?”

He shrugged and kept playing.

(In-laws in town. Video camera set up. Boyfriend freaking out. Like I said: Clueless.)

Communion ended, and I perched on the step beside the piano while Father read the announcements. Christian reached for my hand. His palms were ice cold and clammy.

“That’s all I have,” Father said, “but… I think Christian has an announcement?”

This was not on the agenda. Bewildered, I helped him disentangle a microphone from its stand. He stepped up onto the platform and promptly dissolved into a gibbering, incoherent mess.

All thought of being mad at him fled. It was agonizing to watch; he sounded so awkward, and he’s usually so well spoken. I wanted desperately to get up and comfort him, because I knew that whenever he got to the point — whatever it was — he was going to be kicking himself for his blithering performance. Clearly, he needed moral support. But what was that he was saying?

“When I came to Newman,” he said, “my life changed… because I met Kate.”

Blame it on the cold medicine: My only thought was, Now what is he up to?

“Come up here, Kate,” he said. I obeyed, and he rambled on while I stood beside him, holding his hand, offering mute encouragement while I tried to figure out where this whole monologue was headed, and what it had to do with me.

“And, um, Newman Center’s been really special to us, because you all are kind of like a big family to us, so I kind of wanted to ask this in front of all of you….”

And that’s when I figured it out.

Did I mention my name was Clueless?

He went down on one knee, and the whole community of people, 800 strong, rose up whooping amid a roar of applause.

I wish I could say that every moment since then has matched the romance and euphoria of that day at church. It hasn’t. But any time a random stranger approaches me on the city bus, in the grocery store, or on the street and says, “I was there when you got engaged!” I realize all over again: I got a good one. And if I ever need proof, all I have to do is pull out the video.

~Kathleen M. Basi

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