Friday, June 20, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

“We’re the Mothers of the Brides”

Marty’s mom swept through the double doors of the sanctuary, and scuttled up the aisle, one mother of the bride ready for this day. She left Marty’s dad at home; his wandering sense of place had become a challenge. Terri’s family was far away; her nine brothers and sisters scattered across the country, her parents in Wisconsin, no one near enough to come. Her mother, Norma, is always with us in spirit, though; as a nurse and mother of ten, she has a rule for everything (you’d have to), and sometimes we borrow them. We say, “It’s a Norma rule,” and the kids know it’s law.

Jannine’s friend, Liz, came in: her eyes wild, her short graying hair standing on end, curly after her recent bout with cancer. She had the stunned look of a two year-old on Christmas morning —How did this happen?! She got down to the business of giving Jannine a hard time, “What do you mean calling me like this, with no advance notice? How can you just get married without planning ahead? It’s not how it’s done! Are you crazy?”

She was, I think, quite tickled to be Jannine’s witness.

My mother made it in time, peeking around the door, unsure she was in the right church at the right time. She waved at us, came up silently to sit in the next pew, and handed me a folded antique lace handkerchief she’d remembered to bring, mouthing, “Something old,” while the Minister, Tom, explained to Jannine and me what he’d come up with for vows. I tucked the handkerchief into my jeans pocket, figuring that’s two: something old, something blue…

Terri came back with the mother-load: half a dozen sandwiches, chips, cookies, a rainbow balloon, flowers, and a story.

At the grocery store, she’d cleaned out the ready-made sandwich bin, gathered some edibles, and taken them to the check stand. The clerk said it looked like she was going to a party, and Terri said no, a wedding. “Actually,” Terri told her, “Three weddings.” The clerk looked doubtfully at the sandwiches, the chips, and the four bouquets, “Are you the caterer?”

“No,” Terri replied, “One of the brides.”

Jannine took the bouquet of red roses she’d asked Terri to pick up, and presented it to me with a grin before it was whisked away by the church women taking action all around us, thinking of ways to make our ceremonies special even on a moment’s notice, while grinning up to their eyes. One of them quipped, “We’re the mothers of the brides!” They absconded with all the flowers, including the bouquet presented to Terri earlier with the champagne, and turned them into beautiful bridal bouquets wrapped with ribbon, a thing I’d lost hope of holding in this lifetime.

The church pianist, Signe, arrived with a bucket of long-stem red roses she bought on the way so they could be part of the wedding ceremony, symbols of our romantic love. She asked us all to pick music. Marty and Terri chose first, and by the time it was our turn to leaf through the options, it was becoming almost too complicated; Jannine and I had no idea. Under normal conditions, we’d have spent months deciding, as I made one snap decision after another, and Jannine debated the options ‘till she was blue in the face, our decision-making styles highly incompatible. We let Signe surprise us.

Chris and Lisa arrived with Katie, Jacob, and more flowers. They were dressed nicely, and didn’t look like they’d spent the night waiting to marry in the morning. Lisa looked sophisticated and pulled together in black pants and sweater (which she later told me was merely “work drag”; she was ready to sprint off to work if Multnomah County stopped the marriages at the last moment, and relieve the co-worker who’d stepped in to deliver babies so Lisa could marry). Chris looked like an Eddie Bauer ad in corduroy trousers and sweater, ever the absent-minded professor.

Marty and Terri had worn attractive vests under their mid-western winter wear, so they were festive and bright once they’d peeled off the top layer of Gore-Tex and goose down. Jannine and I were in jeans: she in a grey sweater, me in a black cotton top (one of dozens in my closet), which was fitting because we’ve never done well with fancy. We are jeans people and will likely die jeans people, and it was appropriate we should marry this way.

It was as I ate my long-awaited sandwich and guzzled a Diet Coke in the hallway, that I looked at our friends: Chris and Lisa, Marty and Terri, and Jeanna and Ellen, who had arrived to witness our weddings before prepping for their own that evening; and realized that Jannine and I would have a new anniversary date, one that we shared with our best friends.

We’d had a new anniversary date before, but it didn’t stick. Eight years ago, Jannine and I had the good fortune to celebrate the big 1– 0 together. I say “fortune,” because after all this time together, we know it’s nothing we’re doing consciously. We understand that all couples are just one wrong sneeze, wrong word, or wrong mood swing away from divorce, and that we are no exception.

Yet, with that depressing thought tucked away with both our individual and collective baggage, we still intended to go out and celebrate our decade together. However, any large scale plans were sort of circumvented by the fact that we weren’t even sure what date to celebrate shortly before the event.

You’d think after ten years we’d know…

We’d had a date in the past, and it was a perfectly good one: Boxing Day. It’s just that we’d had one of those heavy, deep, and real conversations months before when we were discussing my endless desire for a wedding, the lack of celebration in our lives, and the meaning of anniversaries, and we’d decided to up and change our anniversary from the day after Christmas (which would be the “first kiss” anniversary) to September fifth, when we exchanged our first set of rings.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. September is a better time to get friends together, we’d been more committed to each other by then (she’d decided she could come out of the closet, and I’d decided to stop sabotaging the relationship so I could get life back to normal and date people who were bad for me), and so, during that fateful conversation that lasted until three, we changed our anniversary date.

Thus, it was a bit late in the day for elaborate plans when I approached Jannine in mid-December, tears trickling a mute plea across my face, and announced, “I want to keep our anniversary!” To Jannine’s credit, even before I could pour out my litany of reasons why December twenty-sixth was a more romantic occasion, she agreed to switch back.

So, we decided to go out to dinner together, alone. As the parents of small children, being able to complete a sentence and our meal without a child in someone’s lap or a five yard dash for a sponge was a thrilling event.

The evening was not without challenges, starting with where to go. One of my pet peeves is “stupid food” or what some call nouvelle cuisine: tiny portions of conflicting flavors artistically arranged for ten dollars an ounce. However, after receiving recommendations and sworn statements from three witnesses that the restaurant we’d selected served adequate or large portions, was known to include lettuce in a salad (as opposed to arugula, sorrel, rocket, or endive), and would not require that I sit cross-legged on the floor without shoes, we were good to go.

Of course, on the night itself, we had to drive smack dab into the middle of an ice storm.
OK, not smack dab in the middle, but practically. The roads were clear and unfrozen, but everything else was coated in ice. One could say that it added romance to the occasion: the sparkling leaves, the gleaming blades of grass, the endless downed trees, but it wouldn’t be true. That we had to drive under a power line supported by two road signs ripped out of the ground and propped against cars is something that still makes me shudder. What were we doing leaving the house in that weather?
We did make it to the restaurant, and it was lovely (and far from empty, so there were other romantic fools on the road as well); it had a nice interior, warm air that blasted my frozen extremities, and a waiter who practically threw himself at our feet, so eager was he to please.
I was nervous, though. We didn’t get out much, then. It was like going out on a date again. And like those early dates, I made vital strategic errors, the worst of which was discovering the hard way that anniversary night is not the time to remind one’s spouse of a mutual pledge toward posture improvement. But in the end, Jannine had the grace to forgive me, and we had a good time.
In the candlelight, we held up our glasses of non-alcoholic beer, and toasted to another decade of the same: to mutual respect, to the memory of our first love for each other, and to the gleam in our children’s eyes when they see us hold one another—and to not having any wrong sneezes.

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