Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter 3: The Polyester Bride

I was so happy to be engaged. We pretty quickly set the date of the wedding as September 2, 2008, the Sunday of that year’s Labor Day Weekend. This meant our engagement would be about a year long, twice as long as we’d been dating up to that point. With the date set, I began envisioning what I knew would be an amazing event. I am the kind of person who likes to have a plan, which is a great asset when preparing for a wedding. However, I am also stubborn, so if things don’t go just as I’d planned, I can get really upset.

ceremony location

As a girl, I’d always dreamed of getting married under the weeping willow tree that stood next to the pond in my paternal grandparents’ suburban Chicago backyard. When they moved to another house nearby, and my parents moved into their house, I was thrilled. There was not even a question in my mind that we would be married there, especially since tradition dictates that couples get married in the bride’s hometown (I guess because the bride’s parents also pay). I even started thinking that Sara, who introduced us, could officiate.

When I laid out my plan to my new fiancé, he balked at the whole thing. James wanted to get married in a Catholic church in New York. To me, that made no sense.

I was set on having it in Chicago. In addition to my girlhood dreams, there were practical considerations. First, there was the cost. A suburban Chicago backyard wedding would cost significantly less than anything in New York City or Long Island. To expect my parents to front the extra money to have it in a town other than their own seemed presumptuous on his part. In addition, the cost of New York accommodations for the out of town guests could have become cost-prohibitive for them. Logistically, if my parents were hosting the event (and my mom was so excited to plan with me), it would make sense for it to all happen by them.

I have a much larger family than James does. His father does not talk to any of his side of the family, and his mother has many brothers and sisters in New York, California, West Virginia, and the Philippines. My family is full of cousins, second-cousins, step-siblings, great aunts, etc. on both sides and is pretty much based around Chicago and the Midwest. James' family only has a few members living in the New York area, so many would have to travel regardless.

As it turned out, many of James' family members did make the trip to Chicago, including his son, but very few of his friends. Most of his friends were still in school or working minimum wage jobs, so couldn’t justify the expense of the trip. Additionally, because of the drama associated with their parents, James' brother refused to attend. Yet friends of mine who I had not seen since graduation, long lost relatives, and a host of others showed up to support me on our big day. Final headcount: twenty on the groom’s side, eighty on the bride’s side.

With the venue settled in my stubborn mind as non-negotiable, the topic of officiant came up. I was marrying a Catholic man whom I had never seen go to church. Yet James was so insistent on a Church wedding. I didn’t understand why religion was suddenly so important to him. I wondered, “Is your God not going to look down over the beautiful willow tree and sparkling pond and bless our union just as he would in an edifice created for worshipping a religion that I did not believed in?” I was happy to go to church with James if he wanted, and support him in his faith. But for me to personally say something about “the Lord” or “Christ” in my vows would seem like starting off the marriage with a lie, because that is not where my faith rests. At the time I also assumed that I would have to convert in order to be married in the Church. This was something I was not interested in doing one bit. I found out later that we would simply have to agree to raise our children in the Catholic faith, but even that absolute made me uneasy.

We quickly discarded the idea of Sara as officiant. Partly because James did not think an online ordination was good enough in God’s eyes, but also because Sara was growing increasingly flakey. So I began scouring the internet for pastors with actual ministries who would be available for our backyard nuptials. After a few false starts we found a mutually agreeable pastor, and I thought the matter resolved.

It came to pass, however, that throughout the course of our marriage the location of our actual nuptials was a major sticking point for James. It was regularly brought up in arguments as an example of how I didn’t care what he wanted. Even though he selected the pastor himself, and resigned himself to the Chicago location, it was never fully forgiven or forgotten. Having the party in New York so his brother and friends who could not attend the wedding could still be part of the celebration was a compromise, I thought. But not enough of one, I guess. We are both Aries, and with that comes an innate stubbornness (if you buy into that sort of thing). As time passed, it became a battle of who sacrificed more.

There was no compromise that seemed to work. If we spent one holiday with his family, it seemed fair to me to spend the next with mine. I only see my family once or twice a year (usually for July 4th and/or Christmas), so it’s not like we were jetting off to Chicago for Thanksgiving, Easter, Arbor Day and Flag Day. His parents and brother lived locally, and we saw them with some regularity. The Fourth of July James told me he was leaving me, we had gone to Chicago. I really wanted to go since I hadn’t been since the wedding, had asked if he wanted to join me, and he said yes.

James' friends in New York had been talking for months about driving out of state to pick up a trunk full of fireworks to set off that weekend. But much like him, they were not the kind to plan anything in advance. No set plan by mid-June, in my mind, means nothing that requires planning will be actualized (such as an out of state drive). So when James said he would go with me to Chicago, I thought he was excited to go and didn’t mind missing whatever shenanigans his friends got up to. Once again, it turns out I was wrong, and he viewed it as me forcing him to go to Chicago and not caring about what he wanted to do for the holiday. This was just the last in a laundry list of ways James felt he had put in so much and received so little.

In the beginning of our relationship, perhaps James gave more than I did in terms of commuting time, with his long drives from Manhattan to Long Island. Then after we were married, we moved to Queens which doubled my commute to an hour and a half each way, and cut his to five minutes. When we were living in the city, we would see my friends with some regularity as a couple. With him living and working in Queens, and with his weekend job in Long Island, he would rarely be interested in coming to the city to see my friends. Yet every Friday and Saturday night we would both head out on the town in Long Island with his people. James worked an extra 10 hours at the restaurant on the weekends, for pocket money, and lorded that over me as being a much harder worker and therefore somehow better (no matter that the salary at his 9 to 5 job was about half mine)

The division of chores was a battle. When James would cook dinner for me, it was my responsibility to the dishes (which I accepted as an even division of labor). Never once did I see him mop the living room (“The only messes in the house are caused by your cats, so it’s your job to clean up”), scrub the bathtub (“I clean the bathroom floor by sweeping up my hair after I give myself a haircut”), or wipe up the grease splattered around the stove after preparing another one of his fried meals. The clothes in his closet spilled out into the middle of our bedroom, and his receipts, change and other miscellaneous detritus gathered during the day littered our dresser-top.

I am no Suzy Homemaker to begin with, but having someone else in the house who expected to be some sort of perfect wife, mother and maid all in one just frustrated me. When we were living in my old bachelorette pad, it was a bit of a different story since it was first and foremost my place so mine to take care of. Plus we had Sara living with us for a time, who equaled the two of us in messiness, so it diffused the situation some. But back then I was so excited to be settling down into engaged life and tried to play the good wifey.

The wedding planning continued blissfully for me. James had pretty much lost interest in the whole affair when he didn’t get his way with the location, but I didn’t see it that way. I just chalked it up to the fact that he was a guy and not the kind of person to plan things. He would weigh in on various options I presented him with, but was only really concerned with what he would wear, the DJ and the food. I needed to have my ring resized to fit since my Gram must have tiny fingers or have the stone reset in a new ring. I dragged my fiancé into a chain jeweler, and he looked around with me. When I found something I liked, he bought it for me, begrudgingly. It was probably the least romantic moment of my life. We spent much more time browsing online to select his ring, and in the end his cost about the same as having my stone reset. Seemed fair.

I was happy to do all the planning work with my mom, it was fun for me. I was on constantly searching for creative ideas. I designed my bouquets and centerpieces, created all the paper goods (menus, program fans, place cards, etc), decorated votives, and shopped for candy for the old time-y candy buffet I was planning. Mom was busy shopping, spray painting decorations, sewing slip covers for the lawn furniture, and trying to put up with my exacting bitchiness. My dad visited vendors, prepped the grounds, built an archway to be our altar, and kept my mom sane after dealing with my exacting bitchiness.

The most exciting thing, of course, was finding the perfect dress. I tried on every dress on the market, or so it seemed. I had an idea of what I wanted, a vintage number inspired by a dress worn in a famous scene in a Marx Brothers movie. My groom had requested to wear the style jacket sported by Groucho, so it seemed like it would be a good fit. I shopped with my mom and aunts in Chicago; I shopped with my friends in New York. I shopped new stores and second-hand, ran with the brides at Filene’s, and met with a woman who could do a custom design. I went into a high-end Atelier in midtown Manhattan and found a gorgeous Italian-made silk dress that made me feel so amazing. Its $5,000+ price tag however, did not.

I settled on a dress that was one of the first I’d tried on in Chicago and that when purchased online would cost one tenth that of my dream dress. In the end I really loved it. It was lace, and had a long skirt with a train, which I would wear for the ceremony. Then for the reception, I could remove the long skirt portion, and the lace would hang down, about to my knees in the front and a little longer in the back. The lace was not fine, the beading not Swarovski, and the lining was, in fact, polyester. But it was fun and flattering, and I made it mine by adding a sash pinned with an heirloom brooch and swapping out the plain buttons for more interesting antique ones. I teased my poor fiancé, showing him lime green, turquoise, teal, or blue dresses (our wedding colors) in the stores and saying that was the color of my dress. I actually think he was shocked that in the end I walked down the aisle in white.

It may be cliché, but the actual day of the wedding was a blur. There was so much to do in the morning and early afternoon that I ended up being the last one showering and dressing, quickly doing my own hair and makeup. There were a number of small dramas. Sara, a bridesmaid, had to take a train in because of a chronic ear infection, and was not sure she could even pull that off for awhile. My father’s best friend came in from Arizona, and on the eve of the wedding, his mother passed away which he would have not been present for had he not been in Chicago that weekend. My dad had to walk me down the aisle on what turned out to be a broken ankle, after tripping a few nights before the wedding. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were hooking up left and right after the rehearsal dinner. But on the scale of dramas go, these were small and anecdotal. For me to have put so much into planning this day being able to just let things go and enjoy my day was critical. So I think for the most part, I did.

The ceremony was beautiful; with perfect weather, a lovely sermon, harp music filling the air, a poem read by my brother, a favorite hymn sung by my bridesmaid, and the man I loved holding my hand throughout it all. I surprised James again by reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I had learned for the ceremony. We said our vows, mine which I had been thinking about for weeks and his which he winged in the moment. We kissed, and then we were Mister and Missus.

The reception too was a great success. One of my biggest compliments were from my grandma’s cousins, who said they hadn’t danced at a wedding in forever, and had so much fun dancing at ours. The other great comment was from my aunt who works at a photo studio and sees way too many weddings. She said generally she hates weddings but was surprised to have really enjoyed herself at ours. Dancing with my friends, family and especially the little boy who was now my step-son was such a blast. It was a whirlwind, but I remember the food was good, the candy buffet was a hit, bridesmaids and groomsmen were still hooking up left and right, I had a cigar with my brother and dad, my little cousin fell into the pool “accidentally,” and everyone got eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

The only thing that upset me that night is that my new husband was running around with his groomsmen, drinking heavily, and not (as I envisioned) arm-in-arm with me all night. I had to drag James to the dance floor, drag him to the table to eat, and drag him around the room to say hello to each table of guests. It seemed he would have been perfectly content hanging out by the martini bar we had set up in the “cigar lounge” by the pool rather than dancing the night away with his new bride under the tent where most of the guests were.

At the end of the night, as we prepared to return to our honeymoon suite in a local hotel, I had the guests all light sparklers as a send off (instead of throwing rice). For some reason my inebriated husband decided to stick a few lit ones in the outside breast pocket of his brand new Groucho Marx jacket. Seeing as it, like my dress, was polyester, it started melting and burning and was immediately ruined. James thought it hilarious, I, less so. But he was my husband, so I shrugged my shoulders, climbed into the car taking us back to the hotel, and set off into married life.


Dan said...

"Bridesmaids and groomsmen were hooking up left and right after the rehearsal dinner." I've always wanted to attend a wedding like that.

Daniel Hyde Wentworth, III said...

I've always wanted to be a groomsman at a wedding like that.