After taking my hair down from the French twist I wore for my wedding, I came into the bedroom wearing a gorgeous ivory nightgown, the lace applique which adorned the satin gave an elegance that made me feel princess-like and beautiful. But my new husband was not awaiting me, not anticipating his lover, his wife in bed. He was instead passed out from a long day and evening of drinking and partying, and had begun to snore. It was a lost cause to try to rally him.
I calmly switched on the TV. Sitting atop the covers while Johnny Carson did his opening monologue I smoothed my beautiful gown, as though to straighten out a tiny wrinkle, a slight imperfection, to smooth away the panic, that sinking feeling deep in my gut questioning “what have I done?” Twenty five years ago on my wedding night I lay in bed feeling very alone, with my husband next to me, watching The Tonight Show.
Earlier that day the familiar unsettling feeling crept in as I stepped into my wedding gown. I asked over and over if he was there yet, at the church, as the hour of the wedding grew closer. I was secretly afraid he would not show up. Perhaps I would have been relieved if he hadn’t shown. Perhaps I hoped for some intervention, a reprieve, a substitute. But my father reassured me again and again he had seen him, that he was there.
The Thursday before we’d flown into Denver with his teen boys, picked up a rental car and drove to Aspen across Independence Pass. We roused the sleeping boys when we stopped on the snowy mountain top to take pictures at the Continental Divide. I smoked at the time. Maybe I took a cigarette break there too.
I don’t remember how it started, nor if the boys were awake or asleep, but there was an argument. Not a knockdown, drag out fight, but a disagreement. I’m not even sure what it was about, but it ended in him saying if I smoked another cigarette before we arrived into Aspen he was not stopping at the courthouse to pick up the marriage license.
He made lots of threats when he was angry, so I didn’t think much of that one until we entered Aspen in the late afternoon. I noted where we needed to turn to get the marriage license. He kept driving. I said it again, that he’d passed the courthouse complex. He continued driving. A then familiar, sinking, panicky feeling came in waves as I asked was he going to turn around. He calmly, matter of factly said ‘I told you if you lit another cigarette I wasn’t stopping.’
I did not want the boys to know what was happening. I pleaded it was the last day we could get the license and still be married Saturday. Our friends were in town for the wedding. My parents had spent a lot of money. Finally, when he could see I was on the brink of tears, he turned around. With fifteen minutes to spare we purchased our marriage license.
The next day my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon on a leisurely trail ride outside Snowmass before meeting everyone at the church for the rehearsal. Again, as we rode and chatted, somewhere in the back of my mind I felt unsteady and uncertain. When I’d visited my parents over Christmas I’d fallen in love with the historic brownstone Bleeker Street church dating back to the 1800’s. I’d fully intended to come back to Richmond and leave him as I had said I would before I left on the trip. Instead we talked on the phone and I told him how lovely the church was and we discussed getting married in it.
It was a small wedding with only my immediate family, a few good friends of mine and ours and his sons. No one else in his family came. Outside the sanctuary in the church, as the music played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, my father and I awaited our cue. We watched as my maid of honor began to walk ahead of us. My father asked if I was okay and with a gentle whisper he gave me permission to ‘not go through with it’. There was no time for an answer as we stepped through the door, I grabbed his arm and we proceeded down the aisle with all eyes on us. I had chosen the song, chosen the vows, yet tears fell from my eyes as I listened to the minister talk about our future together.
Once outside, the breeze in the Cottonwood trees snowing downy flowers around us, it was done. Of course I was happy, excited to be married to the man I loved. I had waited for this day. Everything would be fine and my doubts were just nerves during an emotional day. We went on to the dinner reception which spilled into the night and the streets and clubs of Aspen.
The next morning our out of town friends came by our hotel. The events of the wild evening prior were the main subject of discussion. Everyone was hung over so my quiet mood went unnoticed as we sat by the pool. I remember feeling disconnected from the day and them, swimming in thought, drowning in a feeling of finality. Of course I had wanted to be married to him. And now I was, though I didn’t feel as happy and joyous after it was all over. I felt like I got what I wanted, I married the man I loved. It seemed, already, an empty promise. I felt I had made a mistake and wanted it to somehow be miraculously undone.
Resolving what was done was done, finis, I rejoined the conversation.