We went out of town over the weekend. Not far--just about seventy miles from home, to a quaint little beach town where we and a group of friends had rented a creaky old house near the harbor.
The occasion for the trip was the yearly reunion of Dr. Mom's residency class. Together, these twelve women had endured the three-year hazing process that's a prerequisite for practicing general medicine. It was sheer coincidence that their class was made up entirely of women, and also that of the twelve women, four of them were Vietnamese-American. In addition to the shared hell of residency, these demographic flukes helped knit the ladies closely enough that they have felt compelled to reunite at least once a year in the seven years since they graduated from the program.
As the only husband or partner at this reunion, I was definitely the odd man out. But my nanny services were required since all the ladies wanted to see our babies, and there was no way Dr. Mom could have wrangled them herself and still gotten to enjoy time with her friends. I didn't protest though, because I like hanging out with this group or, when it gets too intensely gynocentric for comfort, ducking off to change a diaper while assiduously eavesdropping on them.
This reunion was special too, because one of their number was pregnant. And a pregnancy in the group means a "blessingway" is in the offing. And a blessingway means...well, I'm not exactly sure what it means because they sent me upstairs to blow up an air mattress while they were performing it. Or more accurately, they asked if I could inflate the mattress at some point before bedtime, and I thought that the point at which they started burning sage was as good as any for me to make myself scarce. I suspected--correctly, it turns out--that there would be some kind of sharing of feelings soon after that. And sincerity makes me uneasy. Also, I figured that the blessingway spell could have been broken by my manliness, especially clad as I was in camouflage, a paste of sweat and dust, and the fluids spilled on the field of battle.
You see, on Saturday morning, while the ladies were walking on the beach and discussing their hopes and fears, I had driven two hours into the desert to meet up with a bunch of guys and blast the shit out of each other with paintball guns.
The paintball party was in honor of my brother-in-law's birthday, and I only knew about five of the twenty warriors at the beginning of the day. By the end though, we shared a bond that can only come from fighting endless hours of pretend war shoulder to shoulder, relentlessly marching from one firefight to another, never resting except for a few breaks for pizza and Gatorade.
I would love to regale you with stories of derring-do on the battlefield, but it's just too soon. With time though, and maybe some outpatient therapy, I may be able to talk about it with people who weren't in the shit. Suffice it to say that we lost seven guys that day (they had to do stuff with their girlfriends in the afternoon), and no one left unscathed. I myself have some sizable welts and two broken fingernails. I may not play classical guitar for a week.
All gave some. Some gave all.
After the war, some of us veterans had a reunion of our own, at a sports bar in the nearest town. We toasted one another and talked about the strengths others had shown in battle. Then we drifted into talking about the various relationships and projects we all had in civilian life. Our hopes and fears, more or less.
So as I sat upstairs in the beach house, hyperventilating into an air mattress and hoping the twins wouldn't wake up when the fire trucks came after the neighbors reported the stench of burning sage, I realized that the differences between these bonding rituals were more about scale than substance.
The ladies had been through three years of battles together, and would probably have a lifetime bond based on that experience. We men had essentially distilled that process into the course of an adrenaline-and-welt-filled day, and opened up the opportunity for maybe two or three more beers together before we have to either do it again or just stop talking about it.
Of course, the artifacts of the two experiences do differ quite a bit. Part of the pregnancy celebration tradition among Dr. Mom's residency sisters is that they all bring trinkets signifying something about their relationship with the guest of honor, and assemble them into a mobile, to be hung over the baby's crib. We've got one in the
The souvenirs that the fellas take home from the paintball, while perhaps not as permanent, are every bit as impressive.