This morning a cardinal alighted on one of our patio chairs, his feathered tail bobbing like a lure. As a girl I would’ve held my breath, beginning a silent recitation of the alphabet. I’d read in an enormous tome of American folklore – one of many acquisitions from school book sales, where I’d find the book with the best amount of pages for my (mother’s) buck – that when you saw a red bird land, the letter on your lips at the moment he flew away again was the first letter of the last name of the man you were going to marry.
I would never have admitted to cheating, but the haste with which I spoke my As, Bs, and Cs or the languid lines of L and M and N and O and P had everything to do with the unlucky classmate I fancied and nothing with the familiar melody of the alphabet.
My romantic superstitions were not restricted to girlhood. In high school I bent the tabs off of Dr. Pepper cans while repeating the same, and kept a chain of letters on a cord around my neck, spelling the name of my beloved. Why pearls when you can have aluminum? K and I also revisited the book, our Avonlea sensibilities satisfied by the sweetest temptation of them all: swallow a thimble full of salt before bed, and dream of the man you will marry bringing you a glass of water.
I imagined, so ardently did I love at sixteen, that he would bring me whole lengths of rivers in his arms.
And so we did just that, of course, not the stupidest thing we’d ever done but certainly the thing with the farthest reaching consequences. Though I did not learn to cook for years, it was many years even after that I would consent to season anything with salt. We didn’t see anything, and none of these boys grew up to be the man I married.
No matter how much growing up I do, there are still so very many ways to be foolish about love.