Kneeling across the altar, eyes fixed on the pair staring intently back at me, I forgot about the early morning pincher bug hallucination, forgot about the morning chaos, forgot about the temple worker who joked that maybe my groom had changed his mind as I waited for him in the lobby, forgot about his odd family members sharing the room with us, forgot about my own family's reservations about this union and allowed the astoundingly ardent gaze of absolute adulation wash over me and through me and around me to the point of filling the room until I thought I might drift away if I did not keep a hold of his hand. He stared at me across that altar as if he had never seen anyone or anything as beautiful as I was at that moment. He was transfixed, it was as if he was seeing me for the first time and instantly - moments before we were wed, surrounded by both of our families - fell in love with me. He was so entranced that he nearly missed the part of the ceremony during which he was required to respond and accept me as his bride for eternity.
The spell was broken as soon as we stepped outside and into the bright sunshine as cameras captured our first startled moments as a married couple.
There was some delay with my siblings arrival and my pushy photographer wanted to take pictures in the order and places he dictated regardless of whether my entire family was present or not. He claimed the group photo on the temple steps was really only for people who attended the wedding and urged me to leave my siblings out! Ultimately I prevailed in persuading him to save that photo for the end but he also managed to upset me further by complaining about my bangs and the shadows they were casting across my face. Too bad I failed to consult with him before styling my hair. I am happy to report they were simply curled in a loose roll across my forehead, although I am sure he would have preferred I had startched them high in the sky as many girls did during that era. But he was cheap and we didn't have money so we stood in the ten poses he dictated taking his abuse and then wandered around and allowed Mitch's brother to take the more spontaneous and relaxed pictures - including the one where after spinning me around under the shade of a tree Mitch stood off to the side smiling at me in his black tuxedo, almost capturing the look from the ceremony, as I clutched my stomach doubled over with laughter, wild curls spilling over my shoulders and down my back intertwined with the white ribbons streaming from the wreath of flowers crowning my head, white sneakers peeking out from under the hem of my dress.
That was the last time I laughed with such wild abandon that day.
As an aside, I must say, I have never cared for the standard wedding formula of my culture which consists of: early morning temple wedding, waiting around for pictures, family luncheon, a few hours of killing more time, reception at the church with a long receiving line followed by a cup of nuts and an eclair as guests shuffle out the other door. No offense if this was your wedding. It did not suit me and I did not want it. But it is hard to fight against tradition when one is 20 and has a pushy mother-in-law to be (my mother didn't want most of this formula either).
The luncheon, however, was something I did anticipate with excitement. I had not attended many but from my limited experience, this was the point at which the bride and groom received the most attention and adulation in a relaxed and intimate setting. At my sister-in-law's luncheon everyone said wonderful things about the couple and shared words of wisdom, the same at the wedding breakfast I attended for my sole married friend earlier that summer. I was ready for the compliments, the jokes and the teasing. Unfortunately, it never came.
The luncheon was hosted by my groom's parents in the institute gym. Things were chaotic and unorganized when we arrived and no one quite knew where to go or what to do. Several of my friends had traveled down from Salt Lake and didn't know where they belonged which quieted our giggling exuberant reunion into a few awkward hugs and our traditional "legs" photo followed by shuffling feet, standing around and me unsure where or how to direct them. My family felt awkward as well. Not just my immediate family either, the boistrous crowd of my extended family was hushed by the inexplicable tension that permeated the room.
What should have been a joyful, celebratory mood felt downcast and clumsy. I blame his family.
One of his younger brothers with whom Mitch was particularly close showed up absolutely and unexpectedly stoned. He had recently turned 16 and we had spent a considerable amount of time with him over the past 9 months. He was funny and reckless but I had never witnessed him high or even drunk and here he was sullen and glazed over. One of Mitch's older brothers was wired on the other end of the spectrum. I knew he was a heroin addict, as was his date. The pair arrived at the luncheon from another planet. But at least they injected some energy into the space.
But none of that explained or excused the ill-humored atmosphere that hung over lunch as everyone ate in near-silence. I was close to tears throughout most of the meal and desperately cast about for a conversation to lighten things up but as is often the case under such circumstances, I caught nothing but my mother's empathetic eyes. We were the guests. We didn't understand what was happening around us and felt powerless to change its doomed course.
When my new father-in-law brought out a microphone to pass around the room for my much-anticipated moment of glory, it was attached to a rock that sunk the room into even murkier waters. I don't remember what my parents said or what, if any, words of advice my friends or extended family imparted to me that day but I will never forget my mother-in-law pushing the microphone away as she said "you'll have to come back to me, I can't think of anything."
No wonder I wanted to love this boy, save this boy. His own mother could not think of a single thing to say to or about him on his wedding day. And it was not because she was shy or so overcome with emotion; she simply could not think of anything to say to her son, my husband. I still carry the shock of that moment with me.
After lunch, the familial party moved into an adjoining classroom wherein my father-in-law had set up the slideshow Mitch and I had worked so hard to assemble. We sat awkwardly in school desks in the dark watching photos of Mitch's short life, followed by photos tracking my life from birth to present, then intertwining with photos of our courtship and engagement. It was cheesy but sweet. A small bright spot in that somber lunch that felt more like a funeral luncheon except at least at a funeral people fondly reminisce about their lost loved one.
Happy to escape back into the bright September sunshine, Mitch and I had a few hours to ourselves before we needed to be back at the church for the open house. We went to our motel/apartment and as we sat on the edge of our bed smiling mischieveously at each other we tried to fully comprehend the import of what had transpired earlier that morning - we were married! We started kissing and as we fell onto the bed I sat back up and, for the first time in my life, I worried about my hair. How could I really enjoy these first precious moments of solitude with my husband when all I could think about was my friends teasing me about having "sex hair" later that night!
I will admit, as a virginal bride, I was also nervous and I didn't want our first time to be a hurried, pre-occupied ordeal in our messy apartment while I fretted about my hair, makeup (I didn't know how to redo it) and the time. Nothing about the situation was romantic. I was trying to ignore the lingering tension that I had failed to leave behind at the luncheon - it was still screaming in my head. I took it personally. I felt no one was happy for us, for me. I was spiraling into depression and looked to him to pull me out.
So I suggested that instead of skipping straght from A to Z the first time we were alone . . . or more aptly instead of speeding from the simple arithmetic that was allowed before the I dos and hurling ourselves headlong into calculus, I recommended that we test out the waters with some long divsion and perhaps a bit of algebra, if you will. With this in mind, we started making out and as things progressed the passionate kisses were interrupted by giggles and furtive "I can't believe this is okay now" exclamations as I quieted the lingering "you're a failure" voices from the luncheon. Before we made it too far but after I managed to wind up entirely nude on the bed . . .
Someone knocked at the front door.
Of course we initially tried to ignore it.
Until our intruder identified herself by saying "Are you sleeping? I brought your gift!"
It was my mother-in-law.