My wedding is today. What can I say? I am really excited, really looking forward to it. Shaking, trembling, nervous, maybe a little worried about the future. Who isn’t? It’s a big deal. That’s why there’s a shiver running up and down my spine, tickling every bit of cartilage I own. This is the most crucial moment of my life so far. I think I’ll sneak off to see my mother one last time, because the ceremony is about to start. I can almost hear the organ playing…
Only twenty minutes left, twenty-five at the most. There’s my mother, in the side room that looks out onto the patio, with her back to me. I don’t need to see her face to know how lovely she looks. She’s so young for her age, she has stayed in shape, is active and it’s too bad she’s alone. My father, the creep, was a fool to leave her when he thought he’d found somebody better. There is no woman better than my mother, in my opinion. She really didn’t deserve what he did to her. If I ever see him again, I’ll tell him that, too. Needless to say, he was not invited to the wedding because he would have been irrelevant. That was my decision and I don’t regret it.
Mom is wearing her favorite color. I helped her pick out that teal suit, simply cut and with a muted floral design. It’s not that type of floral old ladies wear, since my mother will probably never be an old lady, at least not in spirit. She has great taste and this outfit is definitely not your frumpy mother-of-the-bride style. The scarf has accents of yellow and navy that actually set off the teal quite nicely. It has a seriously artistic air, perfect for her.
I love the way Mom looks, because she fits perfectly into the colors we selected for the wedding. I say we because we chose them together. Mom wanted to help, and I welcomed her input. Like I said already, she has very good taste. What I didn’t say is that she’s a printer, so it’s almost a given, anyway. Her prints are abstract and although she started her career later in life, she’s done well. Her work sells, because, frankly, it’s good.
The ceremony has been planned to very simple. That means it is also rather frugal, because we didn’t think it was right to spend a lot of money on a single day. What matters is what comes afterward, all the years of happiness, etc. etc. Money can’t buy that. Money isn’t a guarantee of anything. Mom knows that as well as I do, and she’s the one who taught me to think that way.
The clock is ticking, as they say, and soon it will be time to walk out onto the garden path to where the actual ceremony will take place. The flowers are just perfect, and are in pots, so that afterward they can be taken away and planted. Guests can choose the plants they want. It wasn’t easy to locate teal blossoms, but we managed to find some delicate hydrangeas that are almost that color. Yellow and white were much easier, of course. Coreopsis is so bright, and the rudbeckias are tall, stunning. Navy was tough, too, but we had managed to locate a perennial type of pansies. Those had the advantage of having dark blue as well as yellow. People will love having them in their gardens, I think.
Along with the floral arrangements, each guest in the small group of those invited will be getting a color-coordinated journal with a silk cover. The design is Asian, like you might see in paisleys, and is soft to the touch. This seemed like a better choice than nuts or sugary candies, and our plan is to invite people to write their happiest memories on the first page. The second page is to be for the best lessons each guest has learned in his or her life. The third page is to wish us the best, with a description of what they think will make us happy the rest of our lives. We’d like people to think about the moment instead of rushing to the banquet table.
In fact, there is not going to be a banquet. We made the food ourselves, with some volunteers. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but my mother is also quite a good cook. We selected tapas, rice dishes, and salads from different cuisines, even including a few spicy options. We want everybody to feel that they have something they’ll enjoy. That of course means most of the dishes are vegetarian, some with curry, harissa, or smoked paprika, and not all full of garlic in cream sauce that gives both my mother and me indigestion.
We decided to hold the wedding in the Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Afterward, people will still have time to go the short distance to the harbor. That’s where we’re having the last set of wedding photos taken, and we think that’ll be around dusk. The Maine coast in summer? It doesn’t get any better than that. If you get married in Maine, you don’t have to go anywhere else on your honeymoon. I’m just looking forward to sitting by the shore with my new husband and thinking about the rest of our lives together.
This sounds all too perfect for words, no matter how hard and how accurately I’ve tried to describe it. At every step of the way, my mother was there to help, either by making some of her always-perfect suggestions or by listening to me dither about some minor detail until I came to the realization that it was just that - a detail. Tomorrow, when it’s all over, none of that will matter and life will continue, only I’ll be a married woman.
You might have suspected that everything I’ve just been describing to you is a bit too perfect. Wedding plans are supposed to make people feel stressed, they’re supposed to mean horrific expense, they usually involve a few arguments. Those things haven’t happened in my case, probably because I’ve been taught to take things easy, to think things through, and to not fuss over the small stuff. However, there is one thing that saddens me, and that is my mother. Despite all she’s done to help me, I can’t forget that she is alone. My father - like I said, he’s a real creep - left her about five years ago, although I knew things hadn’t been that great between them for at least three years before he walked out.
I’m not looking forward to seeing the tears in my mother’s eyes as the ceremony takes place, because I know the joy will be mixed with sadness. Once she was the young woman, her dark brown hair gleaming with highlights, starting her own life and hopeful about the future. She had that for a while, but now it’s gone. I can’t help but feel guilty, I feel badly for her. She will be discrete, but I will be able to read the wishing in her deep green eyes. Wishing for another chance, or fewer years, or…? One thing she won’t feel is jealousy, because Mom doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body. When my father departed, she said nothing to him. She just let him go, knowing why he was leaving and that soon his arms would not be empty. Meanwhile, she would have to start getting used to the empty bed for the rest of her life.
I need to go talk to my mother now. Her back is to me, but clearly she’s stooped over a little. I can see her shoulders are rounded and wonder if she’s crying, off by herself in a corner like that. She won’t want me to see her, but I can’t help it. I need to go tell her how grateful I am for all she’s done to make this day perfect for me, even though it underlines all she’s had and lost. Grateful that I have had such a woman in my life, who always put me first and never let me down. Think how few daughters can make those statements! I can.
As I draw near, still trying to decide what to say to Mom, wondering if I should try to hug her and risk wrinkling both our outfits - mine is cut like hers, but is a lot paler blue - I see that she is not crying at all. That makes me feel better, but she is still bent over. In front of her is a couch. She is standing behind it and there is someone sitting on it, turning around to look up into her face.
It is my future husband, and he is kissing my mother. It is not a simple kiss, either, because they are holding each other by the shoulders and all the tenderness in the world is flowing from one to the other. This has to be a dream, because Mom hasn’t kissed any man in the past few years, as far as I know. It is also not like her to make any public display of affection - except with me, of course, but I’m her daughter and that’s a different sort of affection. My mother is a mature woman. She doesn’t do things like that, or so I’ve always believed.
I was wrong. Here’s my mother, affectionately kissing a man, the one I’m supposed to marry in fifteen minutes, a man who is a whole lot younger than she is. This is definitely not a first kiss, either. Needless to say, I am stunned. All the beautiful colors, flowers, food, photos, words that have been prepared? Why did we bother? This cannot be happening, but I also cannot overlook it. It must be a nightmare, or maybe I’m having a panic attack. Did I have two glasses of champagne instead of the one small sip I took to steady my nerves?
I am only a few feet away now, but my mother has not noticed me, because she is occupied. I cannot believe my eyes. The man she is kissing, or who is kissing her, does not see me either. My heart is breaking, I am certain something, some little imp, has entered my brain on my big day and is twisting my vision. It is too late to stop, however, and I need to confront them. I need to think quickly.
My right foot scrapes lightly over the slate walkway that leads into the side vestibule, and both Mom and the man she is with look up. I hadn’t seen him well before, because he was sitting down, but knew he was my future husband because of his shoulders - which are so familiar to me - and his haircut. It’s the same profile, too. The sun was shining from behind him, so it looked like it was making his hair look nearly blond when it really is light brown. Just that, light brown.
This is going to be the most difficult day of my life, the worst day. I will never be able to forget the image of the pair who are so lovingly embraced: my wonderful, understanding, generous mother and my wonderful, understanding, generous fiancé, whom I’ve known for five years and never would have suspected he could betray me in this manner. Maybe it’s a good thing the sun is shining from that direction, because it keeps me from seeing their faces. They still look very happy and I start to wonder if I can find a rock big enough to crawl under and hide. To hell with my wedding outfit, the one chosen by mother Mom and me to contrast with my dark hair and the highlights I just had done. I briefly think about tearing it off before diving under the rock. If she wants it, my mother can have it, she can wear it. I don’t need it.
My eyes are brimming with tears, as the old cliché goes. They really are, and it’s a good thing I wear very little make-up. I don’t want to see them. I want to go home. Home, under my rock.
“Are you nervous, honey?”
My mother’s voice is close to my ear, her left arm around my shoulder, in the gentle protective gesture she has used with me my whole life. Only now I need protection from my mother, and from my own temper, which is about to make me lash out at her.
“Is she all right?”
The figure beside my mother asked. I didn’t want to see him at all, but his voice made me look up. I saw that he didn’t have light brown hair; his hair was very gray, with that salt-and-pepper coloring that makes you think it is sexier than any blond or black or auburn could ever be. He was stunning.
“She’ll be fine,” Mom indicated.
“That’s good, said the man, and turned around because someone was coming in through a door off to the right. The man turned around to look at the new arrival.
“Stay back. You know you’re not supposed to see the bride before the wedding,” he ordered, laughing. He was holding up one hand in a traffic cop gesture.
“Dad, you know that’s an old wives’ tale,” said my future husband. “We haven’t followed any of those traditions and we’re not going to start now.” Then he chuckled and came up to me, putting an arm around my waist.
“Are you ready?”
I was. What I hadn’t been told was that my mother had a very special gift for me that day. She was giving me away because I wouldn’t allow my creep of a father to do it. Seeing him would have made my mother sad, too, so he was properly sidelined. My fiancé’s father had just arrived from Vermont the night before and I had never met him, even though Vermont is not all that far from Maine. He had been away often and my future husband, his son, had just not been able to introduce us. We had only spoken on the phone, but I had liked the sound of his voice.
Apparently my mother had as well. Although I hadn’t met my future father-in-law, she had. Please don’t ask me how or when or how much. That isn’t my business. I was going to meet him the day of the wedding, when he served as part of the group that walked down the aisle, or rather, garden path. He’d been paired up with Mom, as the parents of the bride and room.
Paired is right. They had written their secret into the ceremony. Immediately after our vows (mine and my husband’s), they stepped up to the person leading the simple ritual on the coast of Maine, and held hands. Their portion of the ceremony had been kept intentionally brief, but the celebration afterward was for everybody.
I celebrated as much as anybody else, because I’d acquired a husband, a father-in-law, and a new father, all in the same day. In addition, I still had the best mother in the world and would never tell her that for just a split second I had thought she’d betrayed me.
That was something she, of all people, would never do.