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Alone at My Wedding

Alone at My Wedding

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Published by: twoseas23 on Jun 15, 2009
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08/13/2009

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Alone at My WeddingBy Patricia Lawler KenetCousin Denise, my maid of honor, called me from the Molly Pitcher rest stop onthe New Jersey Turnpike. "I'm about an hour from New York.” In the background I heardthe rumble and slam of tractor trailers pulling out their hauls. “I got an off-white dress.Mid-length. You'll like it."“Sounds good,” I said. “See you."I was getting married in two hours, and was relieved that Denise had a sense of style which I trusted implicitly. Whatever she chose would look chic.She and I had grown up together, just one block apart. My mother, Katie, pushedus in a double stroller while Denise’s mother worked as a hairdresser in her basement.Katie, was more than her favorite aunt—she was a second mother.Two nights before, Denise and I had watched over Katie at the hospital of theUniversity of Pennsylvania, tucking the white sheets around her frail body, offering her adrink from a bended straw, wondering if she understood. We knew she’d never be able toattend the ceremony, so we didn’t even discuss it.Instead, the goal was getting married before she died from the breast cancer thatchased her for four years. Mine would be the shotgun wedding of the post-modern bride —the one who pursues a post-graduate education, a judicial clerkship, and a good job before finding husband. Delaying meant risking what I now faced—a photo finish racewith death.Every part of the planning was rushed, whittled to the bone, a crucible of  pragmatism. Two weeks before, I had selected my gown on an hour lunch break from thelaw office where I was working in Philadelphia. My friend Debbie had met me at theSophie Curson boutique on Rittenhouse Square. Inside the cramped dressing room, I triedon two dresses. "The first one's better," she said with sweet authority. And it was settled.The saleslady looked deflated at the military-like swiftness of the purchase. She had other selections, flattery, and powers of persuasion that would go unutilized. Save it for thenext customer.Debbie and I sat on a park bench afterwards, ate soft pretzels, and drank DietCokes. She drummed her red nails against the empty soda can."We'll order flowers tonight. I know a guy. He owes me a favor."Her mother had died two years prior from pancreatic cancer. Instead of sympathetic understanding, she pressed me into action—a far better method of dealingwith me. She moved with ease between the world of money, time, and business deals intothe other world of prayer, faith and the transcendent acceptance of death. I leaned and sheled me.We returned to our respective offices. The law firm where I worked insisted that Isit for the New Jersey Bar, two days before the wedding, so in the evening I studied.When I wasn't studying, I took care of my mother—driving her to chemo treatments,doctors’ appointments, picking up medicine, talking to her, sleeping with her, lying withher, to her.
 
I spent the night before the wedding in New York with my girlfriend Randy. Iliked the romantic notion of not seeing the groom until I walked into the chapel. Ours had been a five-year long-distance relationship.I felt myself exhale whenever we had the chance to be together. His soft voice,open smile, and sharp intellect drew me to him. His talents—so different from mine— scientific, organized, and optimistic—gave me the patience to wait years. We had met inan empty disco inside the Warwick Hotel. It was not love at first sight, but I was verytaken by his shoes—lace ups, tied up tightly. I'd never been with a man who wore them. Ithad always been sneakers, work boots, and cheap loafers."Hello, How are you?" he asked, with no guile."Good. How are you feeling?" I responded over the sweeping Barry Whiteorchestrations."I feel like a blueberry pie," was his non sequitur, a giveaway that he was feelingnervous standing next to a friendly blonde with tight white pants. He offered to buy me adrink in record time. Here was a guy with some class. Had we not met then, we never would have again. We had no friends, schools, or family in common. On our seconddate, Barney purred up in a vintage BMW down the blue collar street where I lived withmy parents. My mother leaned against the screen door watching with me."That's him," I said.She scooted out behind me, barefoot, in a loose flowered nightgown carrying ashot glass filled with Galiano."Hey, Bernie, have some," she said leaning into his open window. "You mightneed it." And she laughed.When he reached out, tipped the glass toward her and cheered, “Centi Anni,” hetook my heart.He proposed five years later in January. My first inclination was to elope thatnight. "Let's fly to Miami or Las Vegas," I suggested."Sure," he agreed, but I knew he wanted more than that for his family, so we made plans.When I showed my mother the diamond, set in an antique platinum setting, shecould not help saying it. "Now who will take care of me?" I swallowed a ball of anger welling in my throat, so I could say, “I will.” I wanted enchantment, not a reminder that Iwas all she had.I made arrangements for a wedding ceremony at the United Nations Chapel onSaturday, July 29th, followed by a small reception at my in-laws apartment. I plannedanother party for the next day in Philadelphia with everyone invited—aunts and cousins,neighbors—anyone who could not make it to New York. The UN Chapel accommodatedinterfaith marriages. Hanging from its ceiling were five flags, one with a cross, another the Star of David, the Muslim scarab, Sanskrit. Depending on the couple's faith, theappropriate flag descended. Ours was the traditional Jewish/Catholic merger.At first it seemed that it would work out. My mother was doing well and we planned accordingly. She selected a salmon-colored chiffon dress, empire-waisted,accordian pleats with a slightly flounced hem. She ordered trays of cookies, sprinkledwith powdered sugar, flecked with silver almonds for house visitors. Week by week,however, her health declined. At the end of May, she had surgery, and woke up in a
 
dream, lost to us, detached from the world. She had moved somewhere in her journeytoward death, returning to me only in moments.The surgeon shrugged his shoulders. "Could be the anesthesia, a brain met, theother drugs. She'll improve." He squeezed her toe under the sheet and shuffled into thewide hallway. Her long-time oncologist had vanished—a seminar, a retreat, burned outfrom witnessing perpetual loss.At the beginning of July, I had to make a decision."She's not going to make it, she's not going to get out of the hospital," I said toBarney. "I don't think we can have the reception in Philly. It doesn't make sense.""I'll do whatever you want," he said. He was sympathetic, but inexperienced insorrow. He studied disease, but not its emotional tributaries, and burdens. He was raisedin the perpetual sun of an orange grove in Florida, with four nannies in white starcheddresses, a gardener, and a driver. He was the son of a surgeon, praised for the way he sang"Oh Susanna.”I called Debbie. "What's the right thing? Should I call the whole thing off?”"It's like this," she intoned with shard of South Philly twang. "You gotta do thisthing. It'll work out. I'll say a rosary. Your mother wants you married now."I began undoing arrangements, canceling flower orders, losing the deposit on thePhiladelphia reception, paring the event down to its essential parts. There would be notime for wedding jitters, wet feet, wet eyes, or second thoughts. When I look back, Irealize that I compressed my wedding ceremony to the parts I wanted most: the place—  New York, attended by my two closest relatives—my cousin Denise, and sister Catherine.I asked some aunts to come to New York, but they hesitated—the traffic, the trip. "Maybeyou should postpone," one suggested."Until when?” I said, or thought I said.The day came, but not many family members after all. Not my mother, not myfather—unable to leave his wife’s bedside. Not my brothers—too dependent on drugs toventure out of the neighborhood. Not my aunts or grandfather—too angry at me for daring this. No neighbors—too far, Manhattan, parking's a problem.I had Denise. She looked elegant, her hair twisted in an inky chignon, as simpleand unembroidered as the occasion. Catherine walked me down the aisle in a suit theexact color of Denise's dress. The wisdom of chance.Four friends attended. They were not merely witnesses, but participants. I neededeach one. Tom and Peter took pictures. Debbie negotiated with the florist and catererswho had balked about the reduction in the order. Randy organized the music and Hilarieworked the crowd. None of them tried to cheer me on, or pretend it was a perfect day, andI appreciated that.My husband's family was there in fullness: his five blonde aunts, jingling withcharm bracelets and gold chains, his cousins, friends from Washington and Pennsylvania,uncles with smoothly shaved faces, and his parents, of course. When I arrived at thechapel, a breeze lifted my short veil and his aunt Shirley patted it down and dabbed mylipstick with a tissue.They were mine now.His father arrived at the chapel with his Yorkie, Sebastian, in tow. Valerie, hismother, toted three empty Bloomingdale shopping bags and another filled with glass

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