I don't remember a thing about my wedding. Not a single thing.
Not one conversation or the very expensive buffet or even if I said, "I do," at the right moment. Instead, my memories of that day are a loosely woven reconstruction of events based on secondhand stories from guests, a hopelessly wine-stained dress, and photographs. Once I asked my husband why I smiled in a certain photo, and he told me Fred Smoler ['75, member of the SLC literature faculty] was in the midst of telling the greatest joke ever told.
"What was it?"
"What is what?"
"Oh, I can't remember. But it has a great punch line."
"What's the punch line?"
"Something about noodles, or rocks can roll but you can't eat 'em, something like that."
The editor of this magazine tells me that this essay should center on transitions, but one might wonder why I'd choose to talk about an event I can't recall. Well, that's because the transition didn't happen when I got married. The monumental change occurred over the course of the eleven months before my wedding day. Much like a presidential campaign, getting hitched can be an overly complicated process with the potential of being perversely arcane, especially if you consider yourself college educated (I do). By the time I walked down the aisle, I knew the phrase "wedding arrangements" was code for political intrigue. All of this is good practice for growing up.
But before I get ahead of myself, I'll tell you our initial plans. Kenneth and I wanted to invite ten friends over for dinner and marry in our aprons right before dessert. We'd play our favorite music—Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone. Simple, right? Those of you who have been married for at least a decade, stop laughing. I didn't know the rules. I didn't know the road to Vegas is paved with discarded wedding plans.
Since we didn't understand the first rule to getting married – expect the unexpected – our plans fell apart before they even came together. Here's another rule: The person causing a problem is never who you think it will be. My mother-in-law, God bless her, is Italian, almost movie Italian. Kenneth and I were sure she'd be a problem. Kenneth would pace around our apartment, unable to finish this sentence, "When my mother finds out we're getting married, she'll…" Yet, when we told her, she surprised us. Get married in Vegas, she told us. Less hassle. Or City Hall, she continued. We'll send you a gift. Oh, this is going to be a breeze, we thought happily. We'd leaped over our greatest hurdle, Kenneth's mother, without any effort. So who knew what would happen when I told my sister our intention to be married in our apartment, clad in aprons. She lost it. "Girl, you're kidding me, right? I am going to be a bridesmaid, you got that? A bridesmaid in lilac and yellow."
"But you don't—"
"Come on! In your apartment?!" But if not in the apartment, where? My family lives in Texas, Kenneth's parents in Florida. We decided to stay in New York, neutral territory. No one would be allowed to have a home field advantage. And New York, while a great place to live, is no place for poor people to get married. Kenneth and I now stumbled upon the next rule of getting married: You never can afford what you want. We called venue after venue, astonished by the prices we were quoted. I had to remind myself that these price tags didn't cover the honeymoon and down payment on a Manhattan condo of our choosing. More often than not, the price didn't even cover the food. Finally my friend Arielle took pity on us. She suggested we marry at her parents' country house in Connecticut.
Then the only things we would have to worry about were the food and the guest list.
And this, of course brings me to the fourth rule: Any guest list with more than three people becomes as complicated as Fermat's last theorem. Ours was no exception. It always begins simply enough. Invite friends and immediate family. But what about your friends' friends and what about friends who aren't really friends, but are friendly enough that they'd be upset if they weren't invited? Hmmm… How do you untangle yourself from guests who invite themselves? "Hey, April, so I hear you're getting married?"
"Don't get married in October, I'm vacationing in October."
And don't forget your parents' friends. In the end they are the most important, since it is that small number of guests who will actually go to your registry and get you a gift. Through it all, my mother-in-law was a bastion of wedding protocol. "Look. Invite her, but she won't come. I didn't attend her daughter's wedding."
"Well, then shouldn't I just send her an announcement?"
"No, no. She invited me. So you have to invite her. But she won't come. Don't worry. I was sick that weekend. And it was too far away. But mainly, I was sick that weekend."
"Who's married, April?"
Still, I didn't understand the upside of inviting a bunch of strangers to your wedding. "Money," my mother-in-law assured me. I remember looking at her skeptically. Kenneth and I had spent three days picking out silverware and plates for our registry. And the reason we struggled over the color of coffee mugs is because people give gifts at weddings, not cash. "Everybody gives money. It's an Italian tradition." I didn't think it appropriate to remind her I'm not Italian. "Just listen to me. Okay, Gina Mascone's second cousin's niece got married two years ago and we gave them five hundred dollars. George Papa's daughter got married last year and we gave them two hundred bucks. What? You want me to make you a list? Who's married, April?"
"And who's not?"
"Okay, not yet, but…"
"But, nothing. Listen to your mother-in-law. The wedding will pay for itself if everybody knows the rules, and my friends all know the rules."
Now as I look back on those eleven months, I realize those rules and planning my wedding transformed me into an adult. And being an adult means… Well, it means very complicated things. On the one hand being an adult means knowing when not to say "no," because ultimately you want another's happiness. On the other hand, it means knowing you can't say "yes" all the time lest you find yourself in situations you can't get out of. In the midst of picking a menu and choosing silverware, I figured that out.
Getting married is the great balancing act of trying to get what others want and what you can afford, of pretending to know the answers because others depend on you to know them.
And though my wedding plans made me grow up, being married changed almost nothing. As always, my husband will sleep all day if I let him and you should see the mess he can make in the kitchen. After all the fairy tales and dire warnings about men, after the trials of the bridesmaid and the mother in-law, not even to mention the rigors of catering, my most profound realization is that the only thing about me that's changed is my left hand: I wear a ring.
April Reynolds, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, was born in Texas and moved to New York in 1997. She now teaches at the 92nd Street Y and New York University. Her first novel, Red Ribbons and the Broken Memory Tree, will be published by Henry Holt in fall 2003