Walking down the aisle, I thought, oh God, please don’t let me fall. I bargained with Him each step of the way toward my groom. Steven grinned madly above his black bow-tie, eyes glittering in the dimly lit Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Pierre, New York City. It was February, and my feet were freezing but sweaty in flimsy satin pumps purchased especially for the occasion and obviously never to be worn again. The wedding party had been drinking champagne since we posed for formal portraits hours earlier, and my legs were unsteady while the smile trembled on my lips.
Elegant medieval candles lined the ceremonial aisle, thick as my waist, high as my shoulders, flickering on guests in end seats. The audience whispered as Dad and I passed arm in arm, my friends scattered sparsely through the crowd. Mostly I saw second cousins and great aunts who’d grabbed aisle seats, my father’s many business associates, and the multitudes invited by Steve. Holding the bridal bouquet in one hand, I wiped the other cold perspiring palm on my ivory lace skirt.
The wedding outfit was my nod at rebellion, a concession to the person I was pretending not to be, a leak from the Dr. Hyde part of my personality. I’d purchased the ensemble at the “Whipp,” a San Francisco- based leather boutique where my favorite salesman was a drop-dead handsome gay guy in his early twenties. It was 1986, and I was 29, that crucial moment before 30, getting married just under the wire. Before Jason at the “Whipp” I’d always felt young around men, being a petite freckled redhead with an active lifestyle. But in the presence of the salesman’s wide forehead, teasing hazel eyes, and perfectly formed lips, I felt like the matron I’d agreed to become. Before the engagement, Jason had helped me select a white leather jacket with rhinestones, distressed low-rise leather trousers, butter-smooth chamois cigarette pants. Grinning with irony, he’d also acted as bridal consultant and helped me assemble the ivory Spanish antique lace shawl (worn as a mantilla instead of a veil), the bone-colored lace skirt, (with elastic waist for comfort), and the form-fitting V-neck lace blouse that was just short of diaphanous and studded with fake seed pearls.
At 5’ 1”, I weighed 101 pounds the day I married Steve, and it was one of my pleasures to flaunt it, despite the anxious disapproval of my overweight mother-in-law-to- be who thought I was anorexic. On the day of the wedding, I’d been too nervous to eat, and dizziness threatened as I wobbled down the aisle. Not “Here Comes the Bride,” but Handel’s Water Music filled the Grand Ballroom. The live four-piece band was part of the Peter Duchin Orchestra, who Steven had heard at a friend’s wedding years before. He’d produced a business card after I coaxed out his proposal, and my father was only too happy to hire not just the famous band, but, demonstrating his great joy over our union, Peter Duchin himself to conduct it.
Music vibrated through my cheeks, behind my eyes, as I concentrated on each step down the aisle toward the chuppa. The traditional Jewish wedding canopy was center stage, composed entirely of white flowers. To the left were three bridesmaids in ruffled pink taffeta, to the right, three ushers in black tuxedos. Walking beside me, Dad seemed distracted and craned his neck toward the audience front row.
Only months later, when I watched the wedding video, did I find out what had happened. Traditionally, the mother of the bride is seated last before the ceremony begins. My brother, in his capacity as usher, was supposed to place Mom on the groom’s side, since she and Dad are divorced. But at the last minute, he forgot and seated our mother in the only remaining empty chair in the bridal front row, the one meant for Dad, right next to his mini skirted twenty-something girlfriend. En route down the aisle, my father noticed this arrangement. By the time we reached the stage he was rushing off to rectify the situation, forgetting his paternal kiss good-bye. Flustered, I yanked him back, but my mouth missed his cheek and accidentally deposited our ceremonial kiss on the tip of his nose.