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The perfect wedding


Lately I've been listening to a friend fret over the preparations for her daughter's wedding: the dress, the flowers, the food, the minister, the location, the tables, the chairs, the table settings, the cost. Place cards or not? Live music or recorded? Everything must be perfect.

The notion of a perfect wedding makes more sense to me now than it did when I was younger. I watch the young women around me, smart and self-sufficient, planning their weddings with precision and clarity. They will wait until the time is just right. Their weddings will be beautiful expressions of themselves; their marriages will reflect that thoughtfulness and care.

My wedding was a thrown-together affair that, in retrospect, reflected nothing more than the chaos in my life at that time. I had been injured and hospitalized the year before and had to drop out of school. My parents had divorced and my mother was struggling to pay the bills, working in a miserable job. My soon-to-be-husband was swirling in fresh despair over the loss of his mother and grandfather in the past year. We were marrying to escape our lives. We were barely 20 years old, broke, hopeful and in love with the idea of being grown-ups.

The week before our wedding, we found the perfect apartment, the upstairs of a house in a quiet college neighborhood. My fianc moved his stuff in over a weekend, then showed up at my house the next day white-faced and sputtering. The landlords had demanded double the rent we had originally agreed upon and we couldn't pay it. They had locked him out of the house, demanding that he come up with the money. We got an actual grown-up to intervene on our behalf and we moved his stuff out while the landlord stood next to the door holding a shotgun. We quickly found another apartment, devoid of charm but priced right.

I spent the night before my wedding sleeping in my childhood bed with my girlfriend Sue, up from Alabama. We whispered all night long about our friends, about the mystery of being married, about our favorite things. It was my last slumber party. We smoked cigarettes until dawn.

Two years later, Sue married a hometown boy in a spectacular Methodist church ceremony, joined the Peace Corps with him and went to Barbados where he announced he was gay. Last Christmas I got a letter from her announcing that 26 years later, she was finally remarrying. There would be no wedding.

The day of my wedding, I helped move a piano to the garden on the college campus where we were to be married. I comforted my fianc, still traumatized over the bachelor party my brother and his friends had thrown the night before. I called my father in Nashville and told him it was all right that he was not coming to Memphis to give me away. I comforted my grieving mother. I supervised the cleaning of the fraternity house where our reception would be held, basically instructing the guys who lived there to throw all the furniture into the back yard. I spent ten minutes dressing in my $39 dress. It was 1974 and "granny gowns" were all the rage.

The hippie minister arrived in sackcloth and sandals. The August sun made the metal chairs so hot that guests had to sit on their purses. Twenty-five little girls dressed in oceans of pink, green and purple lace and taffeta, their hair plaited in thousands of perfect rows, danced around the wedding garden. My fianc was their softball coach and I was the program manager at the Girls Club where they bounced on the trampoline every day. Also among the guests was Miles, our friend, severely brain-damaged at birth, bizarre and wonderful now with a strange looking head, a speech impediment and a fixation on fire engines.

The ceremony began. A girl named Ruth Ann played the piano and sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water." My brother gave me away. The minister quoted Kahlil Gibran. The sun blistered my forehead. People on bicycles stopped by and joined the wedding. Just before the kiss, a fire engine raced down the parkway, its sirens screaming.

Miles jumped up from his seat. "Hey, let's go!" he yelled. "There's a fire!"

My husband and I kissed. The wedding was over. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.


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