I did not grow up dreaming of my future wedding. In fact, I swore that I’d never marry. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, one where my parents seldom spoke civilly to each other and to me, my impression of marriage was quite bleak.
On top of that, I didn’t read romance novels or buy teen magazines that offered dating advice. Wearing a fancy one-use dress didn’t appeal to me. Walking down the aisle while everyone watched terrified me.
I didn’t want to be beholden to someone like my mom was to my dad. She had to beg him for money and then turn in receipts to show where the money went. When I got older, I understood: my mom would have spent every dime. My dad had that privilege.
If he wanted a “new” car, he’d buy it. When stereos appeared on the market, he bought one of those. He replaced car after car, stereo system after system. Too bad if my mom needed new shoes. I was embarrassed the first time I saw her wearing shoes she’d retrieved from a dumpster.
Arguing was a sport in my house. My mom yelled at me. My brother and sister did as well. Mom reported any behaviors she found disagreeable to my dad. When he came home from work, he’d yell at me or beat me. And then he’d lecture my mom for being such a poor parent.
My mom chased Dad with cast iron skillets, trying to whack him on the side of the head. My brother kicked me in the stomach and squeezed my arms so tightly that he left bruises. My sister would swing her legs back and forth, over and over, striking my legs with her corrective shoes. Between them all, I had bruises over much of my body.
Why would I marry? Why would I ever bring children into the world? It was the furthest thing from my mind.
Until I met Mike.
When my eyes connected with his, my world turned upside down. His face lit up, his blue eyes sparkled and his body posture, casual, not stiff, drew me in.
We became work partners and often accompanied each other out on cases. Both of us were shy and quiet, so there wasn’t a lot of conversation. His calmness, his quietness, was a relief. Every moment spent with Mike was a joy.
Within a month of dating, we were engaged. Six months later we married.
In the interim I had to plan the whole thing, and not knowing anything about marriage etiquette, I was in way over my head. I also had almost no money to buy a dress, veil, flowers, rent a hall and buy food for guests.
Mike helped, thank goodness, but he knew about as much as I did.
I was terrified the entire time, afraid that I would make such a hug mistake that he would change his mind.
I visited a few bridal shops and soon found out that I couldn’t afford a store-bought dress. My mom was an excellent seamstress, so off we went to the fabric store. We picked out clearance fabric and trim, then a pattern that met my requirement’s: simple in style and that covered my upper body. Not too long, not too short.
I discovered a bridal shop in a lower-income area that had a veil that would do. I wanted nothing long and dramatic. No pins to hold it in place. No frills around my head. Pretty much a duplicate of what I wore for my First Communion.
Finding an affordable hall was a challenge. I made call after call until one fell into my price range. It was a dismal place. Very little lighting and a million dust motes. A plain slab floor. Scarred and scuffed pretend wood walls. But it was available and affordable.
I bought flowers; the smallest bouquets possible. Just enough for the altar. Nothing grand or glorious. Food was either made by my mom or purchased in bulk. We sliced salami and bologna, roast beef and cheeses. Made tiny meatballs and spread crackers on cheap tinfoil platters. Deviled eggs filled the refrigerator, and the day before, we diced fruit for an army.
Plastic tablecloths and bland napkins, plates and utensils.
During my free time, I copied songs from the radio onto Mike’s 8-track tape player. That was the music for our wedding.
Mike’s family helped out. His brother bought watermelon to serve as fruit bowls. Jell-O salads were made by his sisters. I know that they bought more, but I was too scared to pay much attention. Oh! And our guests brought food as well.
The reception was more like a family potluck.
Mike and I decided which vows to memorize and attended mandatory pre-marriage classes given by the Catholic Church. He knew Bishop Cummins from his school days at Bishop O’Dowd High School, so Mike asked him to officiate. We both knew Phil Josue, a good friend with an excellent singing voice. We paid for the organist, but it was Phil who brighten our marriage.
I forgot to mention that I didn’t know what kind of fabric bridesmaids wore, so I picked out the most god-awful green taffeta with white polka dots. At the time, I thought it was pretty, but the main reasons I chose if was because it was cheap and there was plenty of it.
Then I made them wear white wide-brimmed bonnets with green ribbons. The best part was that Mike’s sister Pat made the bouquets. They were beautiful.
Prior to the wedding ceremony, Mike told me repeatedly that no one would care what he wore: they’d be looking at me. So I made his side wear white tuxedos with frilly shirts. Poor guys!
When the day arrived, I was a nervous wreck. The evening before my family had descended on the hall, decorating what little we could, and dropping the food off in the hall’s refrigerator.
Standing in the vestibule, seeing how many had come to see us wed, my heart pounded. I grew faint and felt like I was going to topple over. The march started and off I went, fingertips brushing my dad’s arm. He had reluctantly allowed me to marry Mike despite my mother’s objections. I would have preferred to walk myself down the aisle, without the guy who’d ridiculed me and beaten me, but convention called for Dad.
Seeing all those eyes on me, made things worse. By the time I was handed over to Mike, I was seeing spots. Breathing was hard. My mind froze. I didn’t understand a word Bishop Cummins said. When Mike recited his vows and they weren’t the ones we’d agreed on, I tried to memorize the syllables as they came out of his mouth. My turn came, I did my best. We were married. I could breathe.
Walking with Mike down the aisle brought tears to my eyes. My fears receded. I was no longer property of the people who’d mistreated me. I was not Mike’s property either. That was something we’d discussed. I was married to a man who loved me for who I was and who I would become.
While getting married was one of the most terrifying events of my life, when it was over, I was the happiest person on earth.