-~for Paul, 8 years later
I got married two weeks ago.
It was a simple but lovely do-it-yourself event in Hamden, Connecticut, at the home of dear friends for whom I provided childcare during graduate school.
We were married outside, in their back yard, where they had created for us an arbor replete with clematis, climbing honeysuckle and pots of fragrant jasmine on a site that used to house their vegetable garden. During the summers I worked and lived with them, I helped harvest herbs and greens—basil and butter lettuce—and accepted armfuls of zucchini, sometimes hugely overgrown and slightly bitter, to sauté in olive oil on the small stove I cooked on in my apartment in their basement. All summer, though, I waited expectantly for the best crop, the red and yellow grape tomatoes, to ripen inside their cages. The kids and I would pick them in the evening, placing them into the orange plastic colander as we went.
I remember the smell of chlorine from days at the pool mixing with the musky smell of soil and the acrid, green scent of stalky, growing things. During the week, we left them out on the counter, popping them absently into our mouths whenever we passed by. They were sweet and acidic, and my mouth erupted into small sores after a short time. It didn’t matter; I kept eating. They were so good.
Perfect, though perhaps hyperbolic, is the one word that occurs to me over and over again as I recall the details of my wedding day. The sky, a perfect clear blue. The weather, perfectly temperate. My best friends flying in from St. Paul, Ann Arbor and Tucson; family from Florida, California, Texas and Germany: all perfect. And the ceremony, a perfect reflection of our belief that marriage is not about two people giving up their selves to become one, but is instead about, as Paul, says, “admitting you are not the center of the universe,” and working to become more individual, more yourself, within the framework of loving, reciprocal support.
At our wedding, friends pitched in to spin cds and shoot candid photography. They helped set the tables under the tent with my antique teacups and the Dover Thrift editions we had selected for favors. Each guest took home a classic of literature or philosophy, titles like Frankenstein and Hedda Gabler; authors like Plato and Freud and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The kids, whom I have known since they were 4 and 7 years old, contributed as well. Michael, now 12, took charge of shooting video footage (and has subsequently asked if he can produce it to the soundtrack of Mission Impossible!), and Aleks, now 16, played all of our ceremony music on her violin.
Afternoons when I took care of them, she would stand in the music room, daydreaming out the wide-paned front windows onto the street, and fly through whatever piece she was practicing. The notes would collide and crash and speed away from her in a frenzy of pre-teen boredom. After, I would say to her, “Lovely Aleks, now do it right.” She would grumble and whine and then start over, always amazed that I, without a musical background or any ability to read sheet music, could hear the difference.
I went without traditional bridesmaids this time, asking just my sister to stand up for me and my niece to be my flower girl.
It was both an easy decision—we wanted to keep things pared down– and also a very difficult one because I had been blessed by this point with so many cherished friendships with equally cherished women that there would have been no way for me to feel right choosing between them. So I ended up with a non-traditional “Ladies’ Posse” and the gifts they bestowed upon me that day made each of them singular in my memory and in my heart.
During the ceremony, Jenn, one of my writer-friends, read a poem about insomnia and the silent comfort a sleeping partner can bring to a long night. She knew, in choosing this poem, that Paul has trouble sometimes getting to sleep. Having been the first of us to marry the summer before, she also knew how the long night of marriage stretches out and wraps us in its embrace, comforting us sometimes whether we realize it or not.
The flowers were arranged by my old roommate, Heidi, who I had met while working at a coffee house in New Haven, CT. For my bouquet, luscious blue iris and yellow alstromeria that glowed gorgeously against my deep green raw silk dress. And the centerpieces: wispy herb gardens of purple basil, flowering chives, chamomile and thyme potted cleverly and appropriately in old kitchen pots, colanders and ice buckets. Each one came adorned with a booklet of recipes to instruct the guest in how to use the herbs at home—chamomile tea; white beans in walnut oil with thyme– and a paragraph that talked about our, mine and Paul’s, love for food being second only to our love for each other. She knows us so well.
Then, there were the cakes, created by Sandra, our friend the “sexologist” (really a Professor of Communication), who also happens to be a hobbyist gourmet. (Oh, there are so many good reasons to link food with sex!) She is the woman who made the first cheese soufflé I have ever eaten. Her father had sent her a gift of cheese: three or four different kinds of varying hardness, some cow, some goat. She decided to honor this gift by creating an entire meal out of it—an instinct I understand and wholly support. That night we dined on a creamy brie soup with garlic croutons, arugula salad with candied pecans, dried sour cherries and crumbled goat cheese, and an herbed gruyere soufflé perfectly inflated and prettily browned on top. I remember I had no faith in the idea of soufflé then. I assumed I would find them too insubstantial as I am a fan of texture and chew. But this meal was itself a study in textures I had not yet imagined and I was converted in one airy, delicious bite.
Sandra’s cakes could also convert. The whole day before our 5 PM ceremony, she worked in the kitchen (the same kitchen where I popped tomatoes with the kids) to create architectural wonders with carrot cake and chocolate gateau. She had asked for cake tiers and columns, a special frosting spatula, for Christmas, knowing she planned to give us this gift. The chocolate was glorious, but the carrot cake was my favorite: dense and moist and decidedly spicy-sweet with a just a notion of coconut. She frosted not with the traditional cream-cheese icing, which might be unstable in the heat of late May, but instead with a rich, ivory buttercream that was not overly sweet the way some are. I know I wax poetic here, but again, there is no other way to say it: it was perfect.
That night, I barely ate. Though Paul and I had meticulously planned a menu of our favorite Mediterranean foods, I forgot entirely about the bowls of olives, the platters of stuffed grape leaves and the flaky layers of spanikopita passed by the catering staff. I was only vaguely aware that the dinner buffet had begun, and by the time I got there, there were only small plates left—enough space for either the chicken thighs with walnut sauce or the roast lamb, not both. The minted orzo salad was almost gone, so I heaped lemony tabouleh onto the plate next to the chicken, and then picked absently at all of it over the course of the night. I think I drank one glass of Shiraz, and ate two bites of wedding cake.
I was not, as one might assume, too nervous to eat. Rather, I felt peaceful and satisfied the whole day. I knew the food was excellent, but I was just not hungry. Plus, there was really no time to eat: my niece wanted me to watch her breakdance, and I wanted to be sure my mother’s mother-in-law had a warm sweater for her shoulders in the chilly night air. I needed to talk to Jeff and Janet, my friends who had come directly from a Bar Mitzvah 2 hours away to be with me, and Mark, who I had not seen in 2 years and had made the trip all the way from Arizona. We used to meet for falafel at Mamoun’s on Howe Street in New Haven while I was going through my divorce. He would talk to me about Buddhism and poetry and the current independent music scene. I would sit there silent—I had lost, forever, I thought, my ability to synthesize or react or contribute in any way to conversation. I was in so much pain then. It didn’t matter though; Mark carried me, carried the conversation for both of us while we ate: my sandwich dripping with extra tahini, his with no tomatoes.
Paul, too, forgot to eat that night. He talked with his German relatives and caught up with college friends he hadn’t seen for 10 years. At some point I realized this and forced him—he is hypoglycemic—to sit down, shut up and eat something.
At 33, I was the bride I swore I wouldn’t be at 23 when my first husband and I sat at a table for just us and waited for our guests to attend. It was my night, after all. I wasn’t going to miss out on eating the way so many brides do. Wasn’t going to let the experience pass by in a blur. But ten years can make a big difference in a person’s perception and expectations, and the ten years between my weddings, especially, were peppered with generous acts by friends and family who had buoyed me through the sad, hard time after my divorce. I knew the chicken would be great cold from the fridge the next day, so I let the food go, let it act as backdrop, and focused on spending time with my guests, blur or no.
My dear friend from graduate school, Danielle, a woman who drinks whole milk unapologetically, gave the toast at our reception. Having moved back to Minnesota just before I met Paul, she had not had the opportunity to see our relationship develop and take root. She had only, to this point, met him once, and I knew she was nervous about him, about us. Her toast recalled the years she and I spent cooking together, grilling salmon on her tiny hibachi on the scrubby lawn in front of her apartment building and drinking creamy white Russians while watching ER re-runs on her green velvet couch. She talked about how she and her boyfriend had encouraged me to try online dating; how she, in fact, had partially written the profile I would eventually post online, the one Paul would see and ultimately respond to. In it, I am a lover of food and wine and sex; all things tactile and sensual. She told the story of how I called her in the early weeks of dating him to say, “He’s eaten jellyfish; I think I could love him!” She commented then on his adventurous palate and about his great respect for women– for me. If she had been still unsure about us at the start of her toast, she was, by the end, convinced.
That Paul eats jellyfish salad slick with sesame oil and homemade hot and sour soup every Christmas Eve with his family is one thing I know would have made him interesting also to my father. There are other things, too: his passion for philosophy; his love of books and science; his introverted, contemplative demeanor.
His great respect for women— for me.
Just after Danielle’s toast, I walked to the microphone and balanced myself in my silver heels on the slanting dance floor. I looked out at the crowd of faces and asked everyone to raise a glass to the memory of my father, “who would surely have enjoyed such sumptuous food and drink, and who, I am sure would surely have loved my new husband.”
My father also would have loved the pizza truck. Parked on the side of the driveway right next to the tent entrance, it was the showpiece of our wedding day. The pizza truck was a renovated antique pickup that our caterer, Doug, had equipped with a generator to run the espresso machine and sorbet maker, and an authentic brick oven in which to make on-the-spot pizzas. Painted a dark, glossy green, it had wooden side panels that unlatched to become serving tables.
Doug stood there behind rows of plastic basins full of fresh toppings, spinning dough all night while our guests waited in line to place their orders: artichokes and onion; feta and fresh tomato.
The pizza truck prompted one guest to exclaim, “Of course, all cars should make pizza!” It was a hit and had been a gift to us, along with entire catering package, from my friends Cindy and Sostena, at whose home the whole event took place.
Paul and I had been initially overwhelmed by the offer, thinking we couldn’t possibly accept a gift so grand. But people don’t offer, I’ve learned, unless they want to. And it’s best in such cases to be gracious and allow them, in turn, to be kind.
At one point, I walked up to table and asked Doug how it was all going. Well, how I thought it would go was like this…” Though he smiled, I knew from his tone that something was amiss. He explained that his plan had been to simply make a variety of pizzas from which guests could choose. Instead, people assumed the food was make-to-order and he was having a hard time keeping up with the demands of the oven on top of the rest of the dinner. Said he tried to explain it to the first few people, but they just didn’t seem to understand so he gave up and just went with it.
The next day, my appetite returned in spades. The chicken, eaten out of hand from the fridge, was indeed perfectly delicious–moist and cold.