Friday, March 07, 2008

(This continues the weekly posting of chapters of The Brides of March)

Just When I’d Given Up on Marriage

It is ironic that this window of marital opportunity opened just when I’d finally become at peace with closing the door to being a bride (though I will never be at peace with being a lesser couple in the eyes of the law). I was even able to attend a wedding last year without batting an eye.
Previously hyperventilating and needing therapy every time another friend or relative headed to the altar, I turned the corner three years ago when my cousin, Leah, got married. We arrived home unscathed after a whirlwind tour of St. Louis and Relative City, complete with Hebrew, high heels, beautiful, but basically inedible cake, and the obligatory negative experience with a distant relation.
Luckily, it was the groom’s distant relation, not mine, and just a ghastly faux pas that only Jannine was privy to.
We arrived at my Aunt’s house after eight hours of relentless parental vigilance over our then six and nine year-old children during taxi rides, air flight, airport shuttles, car rental paperwork, and hotel registration confusion—“You want two king beds? But where will the children sleep?” I’d had an hour’s sleep the night before, and not enough food, so I was useless. Therefore, it was Jannine who sprang upstairs to check on our children, who were being treated to the delights of Playstation Two by my cousin, Dov, just to make sure they weren’t seeing any decapitations. As Jannine walked by, she heard this callow young man talking on the phone about what a drag it was when you have a wedding and you’re obligated to invite all these distant relatives, when you’d rather have those invites for friends (apparently clueless that the gathering downstairs was arranged specifically for the extended family members who had come into town for the big event).
My spouse, travel fatigued and the keeper of the family budget, managed to not turn on him savagely, rip the phone from his insensitive hand and tell him that those distant relatives then felt obligated to spend a thousand dollars to get there, in order to wish the couple well. She showed great restraint in the circumstances.
And really, we wanted to go. We are very fond of my cousin, love her mother dearly, and our children danced into the wee hours, played with candle wax and ate multiple pieces of cake.
They like weddings.
It was nice not spending the whole time yearning for my own wedding. I didn’t feel even the slightest hint of envy for the bridal role, nor did I want my weight in toaster ovens, or even a honeymoon in Hawaii.
All right, maybe Hawaii.
I’m sure Jannine was relieved. I’d wanted a wedding for years, needed it, it was a cleaver in my heart. But it was gone. Maybe, I finally believed that she loved me.
Not that attending weddings has been all pain, no gain, we’ve gotten a lot of emotional mileage out of family weddings. Because of them, Jannine knows my unique and preposterous extended family, including my Great Aunt Joyce, who writes humorous poetry about, among other things, multiple piercing; and I’ve been enveloped warmly by the Eastern Washington branch of her family, who accepted me as a breeding mare of exceptional quality.
It was at my other cousin Maddy’s wedding, a few years back, that my mother and I had an emotional breakthrough. We were in that seeming eternity between ceremony and reception that is meant to be a mix, mingle, and drink time, but for me, was a panic attack waiting to happen, since I don’t drink and my mingling needs work. My mother and I found ourselves standing together in the garden court, smiling as Maddy blew kisses from rooms above, running from window to window, radiant and joyous. Turning, I saw Maddy’s mother chatting with her new son-in-law’s parents, her ex-husband by her side, an affectionate hand on her back. They were there for their daughter.
“That’s my wish,” I told my mother, “I want us to be family, for you and Jannine’s parents to come together when there are moments like these. To let differences not matter, and just be happy for us.”
Our mothers hadn’t had a good start as in-laws, partly because they were a lesson in opposites: Republican versus Democrat, married versus divorced, stay-at-home mother versus working mom, high school graduate versus University of California, Berkeley, graduate program. They met at our baby shower, when both of them weren’t most at ease: my mother because a baby shower for her lesbian daughter wasn’t quite within her original frame of reference, and Jannine’s because her first grandchild had disappeared with his father the day before during a visitation, and Grandma was crackling with anxiety, awaiting his eventual safe return. That had been six years before, and the mothers had been politely distant, and sat at opposite sides of the room if they had to be in the same room at all, ever since.
My mother didn’t say anything then, at Maddy’s wedding, but she soon worked to make my wish come true. Jannine’s mom and dad met her halfway. It was a memorable evening when the two moms sat in our living room regaling us with stories about being poor in the fifties, the cheap crinolines they wore under their dresses, the humiliating lessons in posture they had to endure, and the ways they managed to be fashionable on nothing. The highlight was when both grandmothers told us we should get on with it and have more kids.
So, we had Graeme.

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