-- Mae West
MY first wedding was Aunt Marcia's second. I wore a straw hat with a baby-blue ribbon. The church was like an old schoolroom. Before the "I do," before the kiss, I fainted away in the pew, and my mother carried me out the back door, rolling her eyes.
Queasy, I sat on the cement steps. "You'd better not do that at your wedding," my mother told me, and spat on a handkerchief to wash my face. I started to cry, because I was confused, and because I had lost my hat. My mother touched my tears with the corner of the handkerchief. "There," she said, "that's a little more appropriate." When I got home, even before I unbuckled my patent-leather shoes, I opened the big blue dictionary and looked up "appropriate."
MY friend Pamela liked to play Bride. She was usually the bride, since we played at her house. I was usually the minister.
We had wrapped her head in a bed sheet with lace doilies stapled to it. Her bouquet was green and red tissue paper. She wore her best dress-up clothes -- orange beads, and a pink evening gown that trailed behind her. The only trouble was, she kept stepping on it in front. "This stupid thing," she said as she walked down the hallway, while I sang "Here comes the bride" in my loudest, most celebratory voice.
"Hey," I said as she approached the cardboard-box altar. "Your dress isn't white."
I tried a different approach. "When can I be the bride?"
"After I'm the bride," Pamela said, adjusting her veil.
I knew that this offer meant nothing. A second bride was no kind of bride.
"Do you take this man to be your awfully wedded husband?" I said in a bored voice.
"I do." Pamela was demure, holding her bouquet lightly in her fingers.
"Kiss the bride."
Pamela kissed the air passionately.
After the kiss I stood at the altar, and Pamela looked at me. The bouquet dangled from her hand.
I suddenly remembered. "Oh -- throw the bouquet."
She threw it, and I ran from the altar to pick it up. It withered in my clutch. Pamela's ankle suddenly lopped sideways, and her foot fell out of the large shoe.
"What happens next?" I asked.
SAM visited me in September, and I drove him to Rocky Mountain National Park. Sam wanted pictures of elk, bighorn sheep; he wanted a mountain lion. I pulled the car over for every herd of animals. Sam jumped out with his point-and-shoot every time. He paused. The elk stared right at him. The bighorn sheep tossed its big head in Sam's face. One after another, the animals stood still and then finally leaped away, disgusted, as Sam lowered his camera. "Missed it."
We walked down the street in Estes Park with ice-cream cones. "My wife," Sam said, "will be intelligent, educated, and ambitious -- yet," with a finger raised, "will want to have approximately five to seven children."
"Bullshit, Sam," I said, and hit his hand as if it were a tennis ball. A penny fell from the change in his grip, and he bent to pick it up.
"Does it work the same when it's your penny?" I asked. "Do you get good luck when you pick it up?"
"No, but I'll drop it again if you like. You can pick it up and get lucky." He dropped it, and it made a cheap sound on the pavement.
I bent down to pick it up. It was shiny and new. When I straightened up, Sam held out his hand. I put my hand there, and he pulled his away. Then he held it out again. I dropped the penny into the center of his palm. He put it in his pocket.
Two months later he called and said, "I'm getting married. I'm in love. We took a compatibility test and scored way high."
She had the whole wedding planned in advance. Before she even met him. In a laminated pink notebook, with sketches and prices. All the songs, all the special readings by Kahlil Gibran. All she had to add was the initials on the napkins, the name on the cake.
So easy, so few decisions for him to make. He lucked out on a girl like that, I told him.
MY mother called me at my soon-to-be-old apartment the day that Johnny and I were moving in together across town. "The phone'll be disconnected any minute," I told her, kicking a wad of crumpled-up newspaper against the cabinet door. It bounced back to my toe, and I did it again.
"Don't do it, don't do it," she said. She was crying. "Don't do it."
"We already signed the lease. There's a big orange moving truck outside. Johnny sprained his groin trying to lift the couch with the Hide-A-Bed."
"But what will he think of you? What will he think of me?"
"Mom, he doesn't even know you."
"Put him on the phone."
I argued, but she was silent until I handed the phone to Johnny, who was sweating, holding an empty canary cage.
"Yes, I understand. Yes. . . . No. . . . No. . . . Yes."
He handed the phone back, and I asked my mother, "Okay, what did you say?"
"None of your beeswax."
After we hung up, I asked Johnny what she had said, and he said, "I couldn't begin to tell you." But he put his sweaty arm around my shoulders and told me that he would pack the rest of the truck himself. That I should sit alone for a while and contemplate. That if I had any doubts, to tell him today.
ALCOHOL was served, champagne wreathed with cool white cloth napkins, although this bride was a Seventh-Day Adventist. We knew her through Johnny's job. The day was cold and misty, but heat blowers had been installed in the tents. As I walked too close past one of them, it mangled my stockings in one hot blow. I looked down at the strings of mesh, fused together in thin snakes. Johnny laughed and offered me his pants.
A young couple stood at the cake table, drinking nonalcoholic champagne. The woman, who had glasses and a frumpy haircut, smiled a lot. She wore a long angora sweater dress with a matching cardigan draped over her shoulders. Hey, I thought, you're my age. You can't do that.
She said, "I don't know. This champagne doesn't taste nonalcoholic. It's just a little too convincing."
"I don't care," her husband said. "It is what it says it is."
I concentrated on standing upright on the wet earth. But my spike heels sank into the mud, and my shoes kept getting stuck.
"Our wedding had no champagne," the wife said. "So you couldn't get them mixed up, nonalcoholic and alcoholic champagne. We just didn't serve any. Just coffee, tea, like that."
"Are you an alcoholic?" I asked.
"Certainly not," she said.
I was thinking about the word "certainly" and how I rarely heard it in conversation anymore. Then I realized that they probably couldn't drink because of their religion, and I slapped my forehead with my palm, while my heels dove into the ground again.
"Mosquito?" the husband asked politely.
She was a marketing manager, and he was an accountant. They worked for the same company, and had been married since they were both nineteen.
"And you?" they asked.
"Oh, not much. Part-time sometimes, temporary other times."
"Who are you here with?"
I pointed to Johnny with the bottom of my champagne glass. At that moment he was showing a woman how he could click his heels together in the air. The woman laughed and applauded. Some mud splattered on her shin from the heels of his shoes.
I said, "Johnny there. I live with him."
"Ah," the husband said. "You're married to Johnny."
"No. I live with him."
They nodded. The wife said, "Well, then," and brushed her husband's shoulder. Her long nails made scraping noises on the tightly woven cloth. They moved together toward a couple under a dripping tree. "Oh, Seth, Marie," the wife said.
I stood alone again, holding my glass in my hand. After all, I was what I said I was.
is a writer who lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Illustration by Irene Rofheart-Pigott
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1998; My Weddings; Volume 282, No. 4; pages 95 - 99.