This Isn't About Now
by ANAÏS MATHERS
I got food poisoning the day before my kindergarten class’s Valentine’s Day party. I was very disappointed that I didn’t get to bring the heart-shaped Jell-o Jigglers my mom grudgingly made and that I couldn’t open my construction paper mailbox full of valentines. Instead, I stayed in my mom’s bed eating Jell-o Jigglers and complaining incessantly about my stomach pains and how I was missing the party. My mom eventually put me in the car in my pajamas and slippers and took me to Toys ‘R Us.
“You can pick anything you want,” she said. “Just please be quiet for a little while.”
She pushed the cart down every aisle but we both knew where we’d end up: the Barbie aisle. Since I could pick anything I wanted, I went for the one thing my mom would never let me get: the whole Midge bridal doll set with Barbie and Skipper as bridesmaids and whatnot. A flicker passed over my mom’s expression as she realized her mistake but she kept her word; I had them all out of the box by the time we reached the register. I loved the whole set but Midge’s wedding dress was of little interest to me. I had her in the lavender and white polka dot bon voyage honeymoon outfit for the rest of the time I owned her. And that’s the most excited I’ve ever been about bridal wear my entire life.
I think of weddings and their many details the way I think of the Real Housewives franchises: fascinating and delicious but ultimately terrifying. I tried to pinpoint exactly when I stopped wanting a big traditional wedding but I don’t think I ever had the urge for it the way many of my friends did and do. I hoped I’d fall in love and have the kind of 50+ year marriage my grandparents have but my parents’ bitter divorce when I was 14 made me understand that if I did get married, it might not last. I was wary, I was self-sabotaging, but I was definitely not deluding myself into wishing for that fairy tale day. I was so scared of marriage, so in awe of a commitment until death, that the wedding seemed to not even be a reality.
I knew I wanted to marry my husband Ian as soon as I met him. I was the girl and then woman who believed there was a relationship equation, a series of steps to prove if you were really meant to be with someone. I thought you had to live with someone for two years, that you would not know you loved them for at least a year into things, that marriage shouldn’t even be on the table until three years in. This kind of thinking led me to date my ex-boyfriend longer than I have been with my husband total so far. I don’t think I need to tell you that I was full of shit. It’s one thing to not be ready to be in a relationship with someone but when you know about a person, you just know.
Ian proposed over the summer with a slightly smaller than 1 carat grey diamond and we were thrilled. I quickly learned how weird people get about engagements and marriages. I got so many questions and comments about the ring, why I chose it, why I did not want something bigger or flashier, how “quirky” and “unique” I am. So many acquaintances stared blankly at me when I expressed that I did not really like traditional diamonds, especially ones that aren’t conflict free, and that I could not imagine asking Ian to spend three months’ salary on a ring. I could feel them judging both of us both based on this and felt sad in general about the materialism involved with joining your life with someone else’s.
Things calmed down after a few weeks and we set about planning our wedding. We call it our wedding because it is but technically, we eloped. Early on in our relationship, we were both shocked to find out the other didn’t really want a big wedding at all, what with the tendency for it to become a circus and a source of stress. We had both expected to compromise when we met the person we wanted to marry, to work out a middle ground of sorts; instead, we got exactly what we wanted. We were terrified to tell our families but they were surprisingly understanding about the whole thing. I can’t tell you that there weren’t moments when some or all of them expressed frustration at the situation but I can say that we have what are probably the kindest, most respectful parents in the entire world. They are also glad that there will be a family wedding celebration of sorts in the future.
We wanted a neutral location so there would not be temptation for anyone’s family to crash the day and I had an itching for New York City. There is no more beautiful place in the fall and the actual process of getting married there is very simple. We booked our flights and a hotel room for a week. My mom bought my $40 wedding dress and kept checking to see if I wanted something fancier; Ian’s dad bought him a $200 blazer that looked very dapper on him. We ordered a bouquet of paper roses and peonies made of maps of Florida and Ontario and pages from our favorite books, Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. We also made a blog for family and friends to keep up with our day, picked some wedding announcements for after the fact, and created a mix of our favorite love songs for our day. Other than that and asking a friend to be our witness, it was pretty much just us showing up.
I spent a lot of time explaining to people why I did not want a wedding: I could not see the point of spending the money for my second cousin to eat prime rib, I couldn’t see the point of putting myself through an expensive and stressful situation for my family’s sake, that I didn’t really want to read our very personal vows in front of my grandma, among others. People could almost understand these reasons but they stared at me blankly when I told them I wanted our wedding day to be ours, that I wanted it to be a day and memory that was about our coming together. We fell in love alone and so why wouldn’t we want to get married that way? I was fine with celebrating with family at some later point but I would not budge on having this one day be the way we wanted.
I am an emotional person but I was overly emotional in the month leading up to the wedding. I was full of expectation and joy in a way I had never experienced, crying as we filled out our marriage license application online two weeks before our wedding and as we watched Hurricane Sandy pound the city on the news; I realized I made the best choice in husband when Ian calmed me down and called our hotel and the City Clerk’s Office to make sure everything was OK. I wrote my vows in a notebook on the plane, tearing up as I tried to promise all the things I wasn’t even sure life would bring but I promised them anyways.
As we rode the E train from JFK into Manhattan on a Sunday, I squeezed Ian’s hand and realized that the last time I had been in New York was exactly two years before. I had left my ex-boyfriend after a long, difficult relationship and the death of my aunt and checked myself into a hotel to eat room service and drink away my pain. I left the city thinking I would never come back and if I did, it would not be for good reason. I thought about how I truly believed my life was over and I could not imagine anything good happening to me ever again. I thought about how I had no idea then what was coming and even if I could tell myself that then, I would not have believed it until it happened. You have no idea the rest of your life is starting when it is.
We went to the City Clerk’s Office on a rainy Tuesday morning, waited twenty minutes, paid $35, and got our marriage license. My face hurt from smiling and we tucked the license inside my purse on our way to get breakfast. That night, alone in our hotel room, we sat face to face on the bed and read each other the vows we had written. We were both emotional and held each other for a long time. As far as we were concerned, we were married right then and there, really, had been from the moment we laid eyes on each other but we went to bed for our ceremony in the morning.
I woke up early and did my own hair and makeup. I put on my short ivory dress, dove grey fascinator and veil, mustard yellow tights, and a pale grey bubble necklace. I wore jewelry from my mom, grandma, aunt, and mother-in-law and red-orange lipstick. Ian wore jeans, a Swans shirt, and the blazer; we both wore Chucks. We took the 6 train downtown and got lots of quiet grins from people who realized we were getting married. We met our friend at the City Clerk’s Office and soon they called our number. After signing the marriage certificate and paying $25, we waited in a little foyer with a handful of other couples waiting to be married, a situation of contagious joy and the comforting yet humbling feeling that you are so, so small in the big picture.
Soon we were called into the chapel. The man who married us had a booming voice that made me shake each time he spoke. I grinned the whole time but I didn’t come close to crying as much as I expected to. It was over quickly but we got the feeling that despite doing this hundreds of times a day, this man was happy for us. We texted our families and close friends pictures as we jumped in a cab with our witness and headed to Pies ‘n’ Thighs for brunch. They were thrilled for us, too, and put little hearts made of potato and tomato on our chicken biscuit plates and sent us home with free pie.
We fielded a bunch of calls and messages from our loved ones but aside from that, the day was ours. We napped, we had dinner and drinks, we went to a concert in Brooklyn. We had a pretty regular day except for the fact that we got married. It was the best, most important day of my life so far and it was easy, it was entirely us. The day went fast, the whole month since we got married has gone fast.
The thing is, I am not trying to tell you to do what we did, what I am trying to tell you is that you do not have to do anything you don’t actually want to do; the bridesmaids' dresses do not all have to be the same length and color, there do not even have to be bridesmaids. On the other hand, if you want fifteen ladies in taffeta at your side, that’s more than OK, too. It is not your job to make anyone besides you and your partner happy, what you have to remember is what you are in it for. A wedding is not a marriage, not even close. It is just the first day of the rest of your unwritten life.
Photographs by the author.
"Memories Can't Wait" - Talking Heads (mp3)
"This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" - Talking Heads (mp3)