Wednesday, November 8th, 2006
Father Peter is on the dance floor with Charlotte Cohen. The priest has a salt-and-pepper beard, a decade lighter than the high shocked ‘fro of my mom’s best friend. They both do a tight speedy waltz to the up-tempo rock the DJ roll s with at our wedding. The Big Day was last month in an Italian banquet hall outside of Toronto. I’m a reformed Jew. I’m a reformed Jew now sitting on the raised stage between my new wife and long-haired best man, watching the priest and the Yenta cut a rug to Sinatra, realizing how few eyes are actually on me.
We sweated bullets to make it this far. Even literally getting here prompted tears.
“What do you mean you don’t have the money?” Julie, my wife of 12 minutes said in the limousine from the church to the ceremony.
“I mean, and please don’t get upset because we are going to be fine, but the money I withdrew from the ATM to pay for the limousines and party buses I, unfortunately — fuck! — is in my desk drawer at home.”
The priest is trim, kind, athletic. Mrs. Cohen actually is too. Except maybe more loyal than kind. They’re handsome. Draw approving looks on the dance floor. A few months ago Father Peter poured oil over my head in a small baby pool on the same large stage where I stand now and converted me into the Greek-Orthodox church where my father-in-law presides.
I stood at the altar in the church behind Staples and held back tears on the dais and choked on Amens, like hot gobstoppers lodged in my throat. And now he’s waltzing, or doing the foxtrot, one of those slick partner dances that people do on cruise ships and couples take lessons in before the Most Important Day Of Their Lives.
Our first dance was to Nina Simone. “I dreamed of this all my life,” Julie said in my ear. “My Baby Just Cares For Me” is the song, which, on record, sounds like a good thing but, in practice, is selfish. I love Julie, the only decision I wanted to make: a cop out, for sure.
I had my first kiss in Mrs. Cohen’s basement, standing on a lunchbox to “Take My Breathe Away” to reach Amy Schuyler’s fat lips. They had a jukebox down there. One of her sons now is engaged to a woman from Spain; they have a restraining order against the other one. Father Peter and Charlotte are spinning and turning and my uncle Chet, who himself got married two years ago after a lifetime of bachelorhood, he used to take salsa lessons “to meet Oriental chicks,” and his bowtie is loosened; he’s had enough to drink. When the cocktail portion of the evening started running long, Uncle Chet was about to overthrow formalities and lead guests into the dining room, but he gave Julie and I $1,150; now, well fed, he Salsas.
I see events unfold as if in a strange movie. Julie sees them as a real-time stage show she has to direct. There was a thing with the cake, she has words for the DJ. She wants us to say something, we do, then she wants to go back up to the microphone and say something again. The impetus on me now is to not drink too much: the Big Day is here, and my job is poorly defined. I’ve done my work — the melding of two religions, two people, two countries — all of that has been signed upon in the court of law. Twice, for anyone counting.
Standing in the church before Father Peter with Julie – with everyone I love and who loves me, most of whom have picked something off our Pottery Barn registry or signed over a check — and those who didn’t both families know who they are — in the wooden pews, I no longer had a problem with the service. I felt nervous, proud, anxious, afraid of fucking up, bashful about some of the rituals, but not gagging… not gagging at all.
I thought my father looked smug during the service, bemused; my Aunt Linda was winking. Afterwards my mom, perhaps surprising herself said, “That actually wasn’t so bad.” In the pictures, though, they just look proud. I do too. Julie and I both look exalted.
On the stage we’re under Father Peter’s spell. There is no more to be done, nothing we can do. I like the feel of Julie’s small hand in my hand. I’m rolling circles against her knuckles, feeling the bones. It’s calm up here, it’s quiet: there’s no more planning, no commotion — me, the idiot, I stop doing everything wrong. Father Peter puts crowns on our heads. We walk around the altar under Jesus, armies and troops and battalions of Jesus, tons and tons of Jesus, shellacked, painted, sculpted, scripted. And it’s all fine.
“I need you to be a husband,” Julie said to me in the limo after church on our way to the party. I remember the last vision I have of a husband: one of my groomsmen, timed and dazed, he had his cell phone hooked up to an earpiece like a pilot awaiting instructions from his Wife, air control. When the limousine arrives at the banquet hall, after cell phone conversations, arguments, silence, tears, we’re greeted by her mother and a problem with the cake. First it’s late. Then it’s melting. And now we need to line-up – right now! – for our receiving line.
“Ben, where is your family?” I don’t know, but with manners, and urgency, I say, “Mom! Please! We need everyone over here right now!”
And then, even then, even always, nobody notices what’s going on. What is going on? Charlotte Cohen holds a glass of champagne. Uncle Chet’s hungry. Father Peter’s wife — an American not Greek-Orthodox from Massachusetts — gives me a kiss. Julie does too. What’s changed? We’re introduced into the party and my dad says a prayer. In Hebrew.
Maybe he gives me a look like, “they’re buying this but fuck you,” or maybe he plays it straight. The Hebrew was Julie’s idea. Father Peter says a Greek prayer, something. So does Julie’s dad. Then he gives me a kiss. Julie is teary. We both are.
I lived with Julie’s parents in their daughter’s high school bedroom for a year outside Toronto. I didn’t have a Visa or a job. I worked for her father sometimes to make cash, making sales calls for his janitorial company or else cleaning office buildings myself. The drunkest I got during those 12 months — and not the only time I got very drunk, not hardly, but the drunkest on a mission — was at the wedding of Julie’s cousin.
“I can’t do this,” I kept saying. “I can’t carry this whole thing on my shoulders.” I’m not rich enough. I’m not smart enough. I love Julie. I’ve always loved Julie. But I can’t fix a sink or build a sundeck and I don’t want to buy a house. “You’ll be fine,” Julie’s mom told me, and just now, after I make my little speech my best man greets me. “Man, you were great up there, like a politician.” I hit my lines.
And after the salad, which came mistakenly after the soup (or the other way around), we had Greek dancing and Father Peter and Mrs. Cohen shimmy in a line. I shook hands and had a laugh with a friend from New York while “I Just Called To Say I Love You” played. I wanted to dance with my new wife but she was still kind of mad at me. I couldn’t push, but she danced with her folks and I got in a few licks. We did the hora and her parents and mine and Uncle Chet all went up in the chair. People said it was great. Around 11pm the first bus was leaving. My mother and I hit the dance floor: Bob Seger, Queen, the Rolling Stones. We did them all. And finally Julie got the DJ to pay the songs we wanted: Kanye West, Modest Mouse, Radiohead … then my parents were saying goodnight. The second bus disappeared. I successfully kept track of my jacket. Julie collected the vases.
Father Peter and Charlotte Cohen went their separate ways.
Up Next: Adapting to married life and a new set of expectations and rules, the now-married couple tries on their new skin — and takes a trip to the adult novelty store in preparation for the honeymoon.