The day I married for the first time is still with me in photographic flashes almost forty years later. I was a girl of twenty who rushed headlong into marriage with a young man I’d known for less than two months.
The day of the wedding is gloomy. Overcast skies with the threat of rain. A bite in the air on this October day in 1973. I am having second thoughts but am too stubborn to admit it, even to myself. My parents have travelled for the ceremony. They look uncertain, a little worried. They don’t know the man I’m about to marry. I called them a week ago, the day after we got engaged, and invited them to the wedding. In a week. Said I hoped they would come. How foolish I am. To their credit, they haven’t tried to talk me out of it. My little sister is here too. She’s just 13 and had dreams of being a bridesmaid when her big sister walked down the aisle. I tell her, rather callously, that I’m not really having bridesmaids but she can be one if she likes. It means nothing. There’s no plan, no rehearsal.
My dress is a bit of a disaster. I am working backstage for a small professional theatre. I purchased the shiny blue fabric a week ago (about the time I called my parents) and asked the theatre’s costume designer if she could make me a gown. I picture something romantic, medieval, with long flowing sleeves and dropped waist. She has done her best but a dressmaker she’s not. And the fabric is too stiff.
As I get dressed, I’m unhappy with the gown and more doubts creep in. What am I doing? My mother asks me what I’ve done about flowers. I look at her blankly. My beau dashes to the corner store to buy a bouquet out of a bucket. He finds someone who sprays the white carnations blue. He drops them off, then heads to the church. My family and I get into my roommate’s car. As I climb in, I mutter something about wondering if I can change my mind. She shoots me a look, raises her eyebrows. Shall she take us somewhere else? She doesn’t like the man I’m about to marry.
The church is a blur. My whole body has begun to shake, my stiff dress is visibly vibrating. I stumble through the vows, jam the ring on my new husband’s finger, giggle at his wince. Suddenly, I am standing on the church steps, surrounding by an odd collection of friends, acquaintances, co-workers from the theatre and my family. I don’t really know most of them. I have just met my husband’s brother. His mother couldn’t make it. A photographer is taking a few pictures. He’s done quickly. Wedding photography isn’t really his thing. He’s a fashion photographer who also does head shots for actors. That’s how I found him. The small crowd wanders off.
The family gathers at a restaurant for lunch. My mother brings out the small home-made wedding cake my sister-in-law has sent. An hour later, everyone’s gone and the new Mr. and Mrs. are making their way to a fancy downtown hotel. I have two nights off work so we’ve booked ourselves a room. It’s small, cramped, not romantic at all. We have acquired six bottles of cheap pink champagne. We drink it all over the two days, venturing out of the room only for dinner and dancing on the first night. It’s all rather awkward, uncomfortable. I am filled with panicky wonder. How did I get here? My heart is screaming. My head refuses to listen.
25 years, two children, many battles and power struggles later, we split apart. The end is very bad. Were we good to each other? For each other? No. But I do not regret the marriage. My children are my world now.
The day I married for the second time is still fresh in my mind. It makes me smile even as I write. I was a woman of 55 who took her time learning to live with and love a very good man before standing before family and friends and committing herself again.
The sun is shining. The promise of this October day in 2008 is bright. My mother, sister and brother, son and daughter are with me. We wake in an old mansion where we have all spent the night. Breakfast is giddy, there’s much laughter. We head to our rooms to begin preparations. My new daughters – my partner’s girls – arrive along with the hair stylist and makeup artist. There’s a flurry of hair spray and curlers. Two of the girls are in one bathroom, giggling while they paint their toes. The photographer flits about, catching candid shots. The grandchildren are scampering everywhere. The men – my son, brother and brother-in-law, are sent on errands. They pick up coffee. Try to stay out of the way. My sister, my matron of honour, orders the owner of the house about, making sure everything is ready for the ceremony downstairs.
We pull out the dresses. The daughters have decided to dress alike, even though I assured them they didn’t have to. The dresses were selected during a hilarious trip to a wedding dress store. Except for mine. I’ve had it made, this time by a dressmaker. It’s deep blue silk velvet and it fits perfectly. For once, my thin fine hair cooperates.
The two musicians we’ve booked arrive and begin to set up. My Sweetie is right behind them. He stayed at home, honouring the tradition of not seeing the bride before the ceremony. I can hear his laughter downstairs as he greets our guests.
I have a moment of panic. I’m wearing contact lenses, something I never do. Because I wear progressive lenses and the contacts are anything but, I realize I can’t read the vows I’ve written. My sister pulls me into her room.
“Give me the paper,” she says, “and say them to me now. If you can’t remember, I’ll prompt you.”
I begin to say the words I’ve spent hours over, telling the story of how my new husband and I met. I stop. I gulp. And start to cry. Then she cries. Somehow we make it through. I’m calm again.
I hear the music begin downstairs. Then the clear voice of my beautiful daughter as she sings the processional. I can’t stop smiling. It’s my turn. I start down the aisle, taking my son’s arm half way there. Sweetie’s eyes are filled with tear as he watches me come toward him.
I remember my vows. Sweetie forgets his amid much laughter. His emotions have got the better of him. I glance around and I feel blessed. Our children, all adults now, are with us, part of the ceremony. They are happy for us.
The party is a smashing good time. Each of our five children speaks at dinner, with humour, love and welcome. I am so proud. My sister tells a story about our travels in France and my search for the best t-shirts to take home to my children, warning my Sweetie about the perfectionist he’s just married. He smiles. He already knows. My son shows up briefly as Elvis and serenades the crowd. My honourary daughter and her husband show up as giant bugs – a story for another time. There is much laughter. People dance well into the evening.
Sweetie and I retire back to the mansion. He’s asleep before I’ve got my makeup off. My daughter, who is staying down the hall, bangs on my bathroom door. Her feet are on fire – bright red, swollen and radiating heat. She’s had an allergic reaction to her shoes. She’s full of apologies for bothering us on our wedding night. I glance at Sweetie who’s now snoring softly. I smile. My mother and sister are in the hall, doubled over with laughter. Do I have anything that might help? I smile again and dig through my travel kit for ointment and antihistamines. None of this matters. I am filled with radiant wonder. We’ve had a beautiful day. And I know we have many more ahead of us.
Four years later, we are happy and settled. I’ve married a good man. A man with strong morals and values. Who stands up for others. Who’s generous to a fault. Who has taken my children into his heart. Who accepts me for who I am, neuroses and all. And who makes me laugh. We are good for each other. And I am blessed.