It’s the day before the wedding and Jack and I are in New York, checked in at our hotel. I’m tired, I have an ear infection, and a stress rash has broken out on my face. I’m about 20 pounds overweight. But I feel my adrenaline pumping. I’m ready. I’m ready to see my sister get married and to take my place in the family as a leader, not a victim. I keep reminding myself: This is my space, my family. I’m the sister of the bride, the maid of honor. Dad is invited, but as a guest. He’s not walking anyone down the aisle, he’s not a host. The hosts are my mother and maternal grandparents. They jointly paid for the wedding, and they planned it together with Naomi and Marc.
We left the boys with Jack’s parents in Florida, after a week-long visit to get the kids settled in. The kids were comfortable with my in-laws and it was clear they would do fine while we were gone. I admit, though, I had mixed feelings seeing Jack’s father lavish attention on my sons, making up silly, secret jokes that they whispered and giggled about. I couldn’t help but think of my father. It’s bad enough that I’ve lost my dad, but my kids have lost their grandfather. Still, that sadness was cushioned by my joy at giving my child the wonderful gift of a kind and loving Grandfather in my father-in-law.
My father-in-law was also like a father to me. He helped me write a section of my wedding speech in Yiddish, cribbing some parts from the speech he gave at his Bar Mitzvah. Everything Norm did that week seemed to take on a deeper meaning, and I tried to let the fathering I received sink in and bolster me.
As the week came to an end I became more distracted. The rash on my face itched and my ear throbbed. I went to the doctor for antibiotics when I woke up one morning and could hear nothing but a loud shooshing sound. I also couldn’t help dwelling on how much weight I had gained.
When I didn’t have physical symptoms to distract me, I imagined what my first meeting with my dad would be like. What would I say? How would I greet him? I could hug him, or I could shake his hand. Would it be okay just to shake his hand? Maybe I could just ignore him completely. But that would speak louder than finding a way to be at ease with him in the room. Where would our first encounter take place? Maybe at a pre-wedding event, or on the actual day of the wedding. What if he became disruptive and ruined the wedding, or behaved inappropriately towards me? Would I have to keep it to myself so I wouldn’t ruin Naomi’s special day? I began to get sick of the endless questions that danced in my head as I lay awake at night. Enough was enough.
By the morning we left for New York, I had made a decision. While I was grateful that my mom had offered to protect and stick by me — literally, to never leave me alone with my father — I wasn’t sure I wanted her to. It was the offer that was important. I knew she was there for me and that Jack was also. My kids were safe with their grandparents. “Independent-me” was ready to take over.
I could handle my dad on my own.
So now, checked in to the Regency hotel, I’m getting excited about the wedding and having time alone with Jack. We prepare for the rehearsal at the Rainbow Room. I still can’t believe she’s getting married at the Rainbow Room. Jack and I got married in the courtyard of our Victorian apartment building. I wore a sundress. The Rabbi was a woman. We celebrated at a hotel afterwards, but it was a buffet with a “sit anywhere” plan. We loved our wedding.
This wedding will be considerably fancier. The Rabbi is a friend of Naomi and Marc’s with a reality TV show. Naomi and Marc’s careers in television production lend an air of show business glamour to the wedding. They’ve used a fancy New York wedding planner and their photographs will be published in a story in a Japanese magazine. I can’t imagine what everything will look like.
At the first event — the wedding rehearsal — I show up early. I want to be in control of my first encounter with my father. I feel a little queasy as I take the elevator to the sixty-fifth floor of Rockefeller Center. I explore the Rainbow Room. The woodwork and funky tiled floor by the elevator bank is all art deco. Just walking in makes me feel swanky. Chairs are set up in the “ceremony room” so the wedding party can practice walking down the aisle.
I stow my coat and look around to imagine where would be the most comfortable place to talk to my dad. Probably the elevators are the best bet. I’ll catch him right when he walks in to get it over with.
I wonder if my dad will bring his girlfriend of over twenty years. I’ve never met her. My sister and I only found out about Jennifer recently. I greet some other family members and peek out the door occasionally to check on the elevator bank. On my final peek, I look above the elevators to see if one is coming up.
I hear a “ding” and the doors open.
My dad and a woman emerge from the elevators. He smiles, but looks a bit like a deer caught in the headlights. He’s a bit greyer, a bit heavier, but still handsome, still tall. A nervous smile spreads across his face. I hug him and am momentarily pulled in by how familiar it feels, how familiar he smells. Not like cologne, not like anything describable really. Just my dad. My heart speeds up and my stomach feels empty, tight.
“You look great Becks! I’m so glad to see you.”
“Thanks. Is this Jennifer?”
I step back from my dad and shake hands with the woman I’ve tried to picture. I remember to smile and hide my shock at seeing her. She’s pale, mousy even. She’s brunette (dyed), and about the same age and height as my mom. But the comparison ends there. Her affect is flat, no spark. None of my mom’s vivacious beauty. My mom is a petite, dark haired, olive skinned dynamo. I’m surprised that this person seems so, well, blah in comparison.
I look them both straight in the eye and say “Nice to see you! We’re rehearsing in there! Come on, I’ll show you!” I can’t help but speak in exclamation points. I lead the way in to the ceremony room and move on to other guests, fueled by an adrenaline high.
Later I excuse myself and walk quickly to the women’s room. Safely behind the door, I sink into a chair, shaking but satisfied. I did it.
A day later, the wedding is a relief after the tension of the rehearsal. I’m starting to unwind and enjoy myself with my grandparents, cousins, and old friends. .
My mom and I had picked out an amazing “Maid of Honor” dress for me, a couture-ish strapless number with a poofy crinoline skirt. It probably cost fifty (literally) times more than my wedding sundress but somehow I don’t mind. It feels right for the occasion. I get my hair blown out straight and curled out at the ends, a la Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”
Walking into the Rainbow Room foyer with Jack in his rented tux, we are greeted by a trail of lit candles. Next to them are delicate Asian-inspired bowls and tiny vases, each containing a different gorgeous flower, a little burst of flame in deep Chinese red or warm umbery orange. I line up with the other Bridesmaids outside the door of the ceremony room. I’m one of the first to walk down the aisle and take my place up front. Beautiful ivy winds its way around white chairs and up the poles of the chuppah — a midsummer nights dream in winter — as the snow falls on the windows outside.
After the ceremony the party moves to the reception hall. Jack and I walk in through the gargantuan doors. The tables, set for a formal meal, are situated around a revolving dance floor. Elegant candelabras dot the room, flames licking about. Each table has three ceramic vases of different heights. Each vase contains a different exotic flower in varying shades of lush green petals.
I look at my mom’s parents. My eighty-nine year-old grandmother is glowing. Her silvery suit shows off her silky white bob of hair — she looks like an aging Sophia Loren. My grandfather, 96, is sitting next to her in his tuxedo. My mom is sitting with them, sexy in her golden Saint John suit, a dash of fur at the decollate showing off her warm honey-toned skin.
My mom gives a speech. Her voice cracks when she talks about how proud she is of Naomi, and how grateful she is that her parents are here to enjoy the wedding. I give my speech. I’ve been working on it for days. The first half is in Yiddish, learned from Jack’s father who helped me express my feelings in the language of my people. In the second half I talk about Naomi’s spirit, her courageous audacious self. I’m so happy my sister is marrying a good guy. I’m overcome with pride — she has come so far since the confusing and painful days when we were kids
My dad is still in the background. Every time I walk away from a companion or group of people I’m aware of where he is, avoiding him. Maybe, eventually, my vigilance will go away. But now I can’t help but overhear him answer a relative’s question “What do you do?” with: “I’m a day trader.” Naomi, my mom and I have a sad chuckle over that later. Naomi remarks “I think that’s his way of saying he sells his old record albums on eBay.”
It’s a depressing moment of female bonding, but the good part is he can’t take over anymore. This could be the secret to restoring the balance of power in favor of my mom, sister and me: our actions make it so. Dad can have a place, but it will be the place we choose.
Maybe after this event, it will get easier, and I won’t have to leave “Mother-me” behind in order to be with my family.
Maybe, finally, we don’t have to hide anymore.