When Sparta and I were first dating, I liked to entertain myself by imagining our wedding. I'd picture the assembly -- blue uniformed policemen on the groom's side, barefoot tie-dyed flower children on the bride's. Maybe the flower children would carry signs, "Make Love, Not War," and maybe the policemen would too, something like "Make Love AND War." This made me laugh because who would ever want a wedding like that?
I was 34 when Sparta and I got engaged, so I'd had plenty of time to think about my wedding. I wanted a long weekend of festivities. I wanted moments where we celebrated the children, moments where we remembered the dead. I'd long since picked out the officiant, a groovy seminarian who could weave together rituals to create a personalized modern ceremony. And naturally, I wanted a groom who shared my enthusiasm and vision.
The experts say pick your invitations first. I asked Sparta, "Do you think we should use the Petras Script font or the Fusion Engraved on the invitations? Which do you think is most casual yet elegant?"
He got this wistful look in his eye and said, "You know Walker and his wife eloped."
As time went by, I started to resent his lack of participation. The level of detail was oppressive. I was shouldering it all. I snapped at him, "The lady at Nordstrom's thinks all the bridesmaids' dresses should be the same material or the photos won't look as good!" He did not seem to recognize the gravity of this issue. He glanced up at me, "Don't worry about it. I'm sure she's wrong."
"No! You're NOT listening! What if she's NOT wrong?" He shook his head. "Pips, you have to keep this wedding stuff under control. You do realize that this wedding is a self-inflicted wound, don't you?"
I worked on the ceremony. Ever since attending a friends' Jewish ceremony, I'd imagined adopting the ritual they'd had, where the men in the audience sang one melody while the women sang another. I explained to Sparta that the audience became part of the event, that the bittersweet male tenor and the soaring female soprano melodies captured the sacrifice and joy of marriage. It was postmodern, yet ancient and lovely. It was perfect.
Sparta said, "Walker will LEAVE. He will walk out. It's too WAY OUT for him."
There seemed to be only one point we agreed on -- we'd have a bagpiper. Sparta was to ask his military contacts for a recommendation. But when he got it, he lost enthusiasm. "Sharon Wright. She lives in Sacramento," he said, looking at the ground.
"She sounds great. So -- what's wrong?"
"I know you're not going to like this. But -- but --"
He looked up, sheepish yet defiant, "I want a male bagpiper. It's just traditional, and it's what I imagined, and, well, it feels more martial." Oh great. we're having a martial wedding. Just what I'd always dreamed of.
I'd planned for a celebration at a rustic retreat center in the California wine country. Guests would arrive Thursday and stay through Sunday morning, with the actual wedding on Saturday afternoon. Sparta felt we needed to provide additional activities for Friday.
"How about sporting clays?" he proposed.
"Sporting clays. It's like trap or skeet shooting. There's a gun club just about 15 minutes away." I noticed he was speaking quickly, and he was bouncing his hand up and down, counting out, "I've got one, two, three, maybe even four shotguns, Walker could bring a few, and your brother has a couple, I'm sure. We could go recon the gun club this weekend!"
There comes a moment in all wedding planning when the bride loses it. That moment when her back is to the wall, and her vision, her dream of perfection, is slipping away. She knows it, but she's not ready to let go of it yet.
"I don't want shotguns at my wedding!" I wailed.
He was still leaning slightly forward, shoulders and eyebrows raised in anticipation, and I watched the eyebrows settle back in his face, watched the shoulders droop.
"Oh. Right. Of course. Never mind, sweetie, forget it."
My skull pressed inward. The base of my tongue was suddenly thick. I thought of Emily ("For each ecstatic instant, we must an anguish pay").
I tasted bitterness. But I knew what I had to say, and pushed the first words out, "N-n-o-o. I-I-'m-m b-e-i-n-g s-i-l-l-y." I looked as Sparta's face lightened, and my words came more easily. Maybe perfection wasn't about sticking to a vision. Maybe perfection could include spontaneity, unexpectedness. Maybe sporting clays were hilarious, memorable, perfect.
"No, really, it's fine. Sporting clays will be fine."
On that Thursday morning, I was getting a manicure and pedicure, so Sparta went ahead with the best man and his wife. I drove up alone. I was aware of each moment, like it was electric. As the car tires crunched into the gravel driveway, Annie Lennox sang, In life I know there is lots of grief
But your love is my relief.
That night -- with poems, songs, and stories -- my women friends sent me into my next phase of life. The next day, the water went out in most of the cabins. The sporting clays were a huge hit, although there were some bruised shoulders. The day of the wedding ceremony, the flower lady forgot the flower garland for the dog. Someone had to run to Home Depot for a broom for the broom-jumping part of the ceremony.
My maid-of-honor ran into my husband-to-be around noon on the big day. She asked him if he was ready. He said, "I've cleaned all the shotguns. I've checked all the fluids in my truck. And it's only noon. I'm ready. Let's get this show on the road!"
Walker's wife sang "Amazing Grace" a capella. Our officiant mistakenly used an earlier draft of the ceremony. The way I slung my arm over Sparta's shoulder for the photos made me look like I am a drunk, and he is supporting me. Aunts, uncles, children, friends danced to the zydeco band in the midsummer evening. Luminarias twinkled, the moon came up.
One moment is crystalline. Sparta with his two brothers below me on the hillside. The six-foot-three (male) bagpiper in full Scottish dress leading them to the ceremony. The music, aching and joyful, somehow a part of my skin, my cells. My breath catching.
It was not exactly what I'd dreamed. But it's what I dream about now.