Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. It’s the third one I’ve had to spend apart from my husband. I’m trying very hard today not to tally up all the days that the Army has kept my husband away from me. It’s not fair to blame the Army since military service is my husband’s choice, but it’s easier to be angry with the Army than with Ian. I can’t think of a moment of my life that I’ve been genuinely mad at Ian. I may disagree with him at times, and there are certainly moments when I just don’t get what he’s thinking, but I trust him more than any person on earth. I love him, and days like this one make me miss him more than usual.
So instead of focusing on what I don’t have today, my plan is to pull out my wedding album and gather the kids around for a story. It’s a story they’ve heard before, but only in bits and pieces, and this is the first time Quinn is old enough to identify people in the pictures himself, even though I’m shocked at how much younger everyone looks in them. Want to hear a wedding story?
Now, I’m not much of a wedding person, which is funny since I have been involved in more weddings than anyone else in my entire family. I have been performing music for weddings since I was in high school. I give advice to brides all the time on how to make their weddings run more smoothly and be more personal. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. But I am not otherwise particularly interested in weddings. I was never one of those girls who used to imagine her ‘big day’ or even think I needed to be married. It wasn’t important to me.
Ian and I lived together for several years before we decided to get married. There were a couple of reasons we decided to take that step when we did. The first was that we knew we wanted to start planning to have children. I think the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was their love for one another. It was unquestioned and the most stable thing I knew. If I raised my children in an environment that caused them to ponder my relationship with their dad long enough to ask why we weren’t married, then I would not be giving them that same gift I was lucky enough to receive. Even if the idea of being officially married didn’t stir anything in me at the time, it does matter to many kids. It bothered some of my violin students that Ian and I weren’t married, so the potential impact on my actual children one day couldn’t be discounted.
The other reason sort of snuck up on me. We were attending an event with some relatives, and my aunt introduced us to someone as, “My niece and her friend.” My aunt is one of the sweetest people I know and she certainly wasn’t trying to be disrespectful in any way, but the word ‘friend’ in that context struck me as deeply inadequate. The word ‘husband’ may not have the same connotations for everyone, but it was certainly closer to reflecting the true nature of our relationship than any other I can think of. Suddenly a marriage certificate didn’t seem so trivial. It created a shorthand by which we would be able to present ourselves more accurately to the society we lived in.
I learned a lot planning my wedding. It’s an invaluable rite of passage that teaches you about yourself, your family, what’s important and what isn’t. This was not something I believed before I went through it for myself. Now I have a theory about how much a wedding reflects elements of the marriage as a whole. You can tell a lot about a couple and their future by the choices they make surrounding a wedding. It’s the only event I know of that forces you to examine the worth and meaning of every personal connection in your life, if only to decide whom to inform, whom to invite, and who sits with whom at the reception. I can’t think of another time I made party arrangements that included cousins and old high school classmates, work colleagues and grandparents, college buddies and my parents’ friends.
I didn’t want my wedding to look like a lot of the cookie cutter weddings I’d played for. I wanted it to be simple and elegant and I wanted to have fun. It was important to us to keep our wedding small so we could really interact with everyone there. We kept it down to 50 people, but the only reason that was possible was because my parents threw a slightly larger party at their home the following weekend for everyone else.
One of the biggest lessons I learned while planning my wedding was how being someone’s child connects you to others. Its something I understand much better now having children of my own, and caring about the lives of my friends’ children. It took me awhile to understand why my tiny guest list should include my mom’s friends, but as she passionately made her case it struck me how much my wedding was her event too because I was her baby. I’d spent too much time observing pushy mothers imposing their will on their daughter’s events to appreciate my mom’s side of it at first. I’m glad her friends were there.
My dad suggested I send a few invitations to famous people. The White House sends you a nice little congratulatory card if you send them an invite, so I did that. I also sent invitations to Oliver Sacks, Sting, Peter Schickele, Jimmy Carter, and Miss Manners. I added a note explaining that sometimes people who have made important contributions to your life are people you have never even met, and in that spirit I would hope they would consider my invitation to an important day. The Carters were very prompt returning their card with the ‘cannot attend’ box checked. Miss Manners once wrote a column about how she didn’t approve of RSVP cards, since anyone kind enough to invite you to his or her wedding deserved to hear back from you on your own stationery. But people aren’t even good about sending back those convenient cards, so I just didn’t include one for her. She did indeed have someone on her staff decline the invitation in a handwritten note on official Miss Manners stationery. I’m still waiting to hear back from Sting, Dr Sacks and Mr. Schickele. (Technically I’m still waiting to hear back from my brother, Arno, but I’m more likely to get that little card returned from Sting so I should just let that go.)
I loved my wedding. As it took shape, certain things about it surprised me. For instance, I never pictured myself in a traditional wedding dress. The idea of dressing up in something I couldn’t wear again goes against my sensibilities. But when I tried on one or two for fun, it hit me that this was the only time in my life I could wear such an outfit and not look insane. Having a special dress for one day suddenly looked kind of marvelous instead of wasteful. I had also assumed I would be the kind of person to write her own vows, but when I really thought about it, I realized I wanted my chance to just say, “I do.”
But my favorite part of my wedding (besides the whole marrying Ian part) was how it was something so many people contributed their talents to. For wedding gifts we asked people who were able to add something to the day. Not only did that make the wedding more meaningful, but much more affordable. I think the only things we paid actual money for were the tuxes, the officiator, Ian’s ring, my shoes, and the food. I bartered for the space in the Renaissance style garden by carving some of the column tops that were slated to be installed there in the future. My mom made the invitations and traded one of her drawings for my dress. The cake was a made by a friend, the flowers were a gift from a gardener in attendance, and the music was played by friends from college. I wrote my own march. My dad wrote the poem for the reading.
The place where we were married had a portico that framed a garden, and we ate facing the center which provided a perfect stage for performances during the reception. The best man did a juggling act, a cousin danced, friends and family played music. One brother acted as MC between acts by providing clever poetic introductions, and the other gave an entomological lecture followed by the release of butterflies. We danced into the night to a truly wacky mix tape. One of the best lines of all time was from my friend, Sarah. She was asked by one of the waitresses who was confused by how eccentric this wedding appeared if it was some ethnic thing, and she told me later, “I hope you don’t mind–I told her you were Estonian royalty.”
The only part of this wedding tale that gets my children’s attention (aside from the juggling) is that our pet rabbit at the time, Cujo, was there. She didn’t participate in any way (although I suppose she could have if we’d thought of some appropriate way to include the chewing of electrical cords into the ceremony), but we left for my grandmother’s cottage for our honeymoon straight from the reception, and the bunny had to come along. She sat in her cage in the corner until it was time to go, but my kids ask to hear again and again about how there was a bunny at the wedding.
I still have my dress. My grandmother had it specially boxed for me. I wonder if one of my girls will have any interest in using it someday, or if it will be something that gets shuffled from one attic to another over time until people forget which distant relative it belonged to. I have never revisited the site where our wedding took place, although I’ve often wondered if the grapes I carved from mahogany ever found their way onto the garden columns as planned. I’d like to go back there with Ian one day and walk around. Maybe if he’s not called up again around the time of our 15th wedding anniversary we could have another party there. I still have the mix tape my brother made, and it would be fun to dance to the theme from Sanford and Son again. (I seem to remember William Shatner doing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and something by Aretha Franklin…. I should pop that tape in tonight after dinner and see what the kids think.)
I love being married. I didn’t think there would be a difference between living together and being married, but there is, at least for me. I never expected to have the life I do. I’m not sure what I pictured, but the husband and children I have are more lovable and interesting than any people I could have imagined. My wedding day was wonderful, but it was not the best day of my life only because I’ve had many, many wonderful days. Each day of my life adds to the collection of experiences that are uniquely my own, and I have many to enjoy reflecting on, not just the one where I got to declare my love for my husband in front of the other people in my life. I may miss him today, but I am lucky to know him at all, let alone get to be his wife.