I am the last person on earth who should be writing a blog about weddings.
I bought my wedding dress at Marshal’s.
There were no invitations.
There were no details.
There was no photographer.
And not a single dance.
I recently stumbled upon an article in The New York Times entitled, “13 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married.” The first sentence of the articles states, “When it comes to marriage, what you don’t know really can hurt you.”
Most of the 13 questions have to do with things such as problem solving, future inlaws, finances, insecurities and child rearing. They are all good questions. I could see how knowing the answers could have been helpful to know before I married my own husband. Many of the questions, however, such as, “What do you admire about me and what are your pet peeves?” are questions that come under the assumption that the two people doing the asking have known each other for a significant amount of time. There was never a time during David and I’s short but sweet two week courtship that it would not have been totally awkward to have asked..let’s say for example, “How important is religion to you and do you expect that we will celebrate religous holidays together?” or “Is my debt your debt and would you be willing to bail me out?”. As a matter of fact, the only question I remember asking David when we met is whether or not he had a sweet tooth. It is an inside joke of ours now because at the time he replied “no” which he admitted knowing was a flat out lie.
The things I did know about my future husband were: 1. that he smiled easily and often 2. that it was seemingly okay if there were definate signs of clinical insanity running in my family 3. that he liked my dog. 4. that he was cute. Looking back, contrary to The NY Times article I think those four things were good enough.
It all started that summer. The drive from Ocean City to Dewey beach was just long enough for me to sink into my dreams. Looking back now it seems so perfectly scripted; like a scene in a play. I would have had no idea that my life, like a planet colliding with the sun, would soon explode into a thousand sharp slivers of light. Instead my thoughts like tiny silver fish would dart from one meaningless thing to another. I would have made great smouldering faces at myself in the rear view mirrior. I would have liked the way my tan legs looked against the Navahoe pattern of the upholstry in my new Jeep Wrangler. On this..my last ride I would have had the top down with the ocean racing along beside me. A straight old coastal highway would fall away before me with my hair flying wild and Anna Begins blaring in my speaker bar overhead. My insecurity would be riding shotgun; lanky but cool and my lonliness in the backseat would have been pawing me from time to time like a needy dog.
The future like small oily drops deep inside the coils of my primal intuition would rise to the surface of my skin like sweat.
After a night of shoulder to shoulder belly up wood bars and whip cream drinks I got a ride with a guy I met known by everyone as “Monti”. My skin would have felt thick with layers of sun screen and beach bar sweat. Large pink cloud-like blotches of a Dewey Devil’s would have been blotted across the front of my new striped terri cloth crop top my little sister Emily helped me pick out at a surf shop earlier that afternoon.
He was originally from a small town in New Jersey but was living with friends in Hoboken. The tips of his eyelashes were bleached by the sun. His blonde curls fell over the strong shoulders of a man but his overall appearance ressembled that of a child after it has been tumbled by a wave. Even now, as I remember him I think of sand sticking to his skin.
We left my jeep in a sand lot and he drove me back to my parents beach condo in his Red Honda Civic Hatchback. It was a new car and I could tell he was proud. When we pulled up I insisted he wait downstairs so he could meet my dog. I brought my yellow lab Bryce out to meet him on the beach . Waves crashed dark and deep and the moon made the sand glow.
We made plans to meet again the next weekend. After a week of talking to him on the phone, I would bring him back from Dewey to Ocean City to meet my family. I left work from my advertising agency in Tyson’s Two early on that Friday afternoon (a habit that would eventually get me fired).
Years earlier my mom used the money her grandfather left her after he died to buy a small one bedroom beach condo. The back porches of the WindBreaker condo building in North Ocean City were divided by small split rail fences. Each porch was the size of a single car garage and most had picnic tables and roped hammocs. They were all ocean front. The horizon lasted as far as you could see and everyone looked out to it. Like horses with blinders on you could feel alone even with strangers on either side only a couple of feet away. It was a magical place and would serve as the setting of almost all of my best teenage memories.
It was on this porch that David would meet the first member of my family-Uncle Emmett who was on a visit from his home in St. Louis. Emmett had wild, curly brown hair, thick eyebrows and strong serious eyes. After looking David up and down he first asked him if he had any pot on him and followed it up with “Do you want me to give you a treatment?” I felt the train hurling down the tracks…David said, “sure.” Emmett breathed deeply through his nose and exhaled loudly. The hollow of his wide chest was like a drum. With his feet spread wide to support his six foot something frame he loosened up his shoulders with an over exagerated wag, closed his eyes and and placed both hands on David’s shoulders.
“Now he said…I will grow roots.”
Less than a month later we found out I was pregnant. Nine months later we were a young married couple with our first child on the way.
I think back now at what I would change. It is really easy for the hopeless romantic in me to say…”not a damn thing.”
The thing is, we’ve been through so much. My heart has been broken. I have become well aware of the darker side of things.
I shoot lots of weddings now. I take pictures of the beautiful dress I never wore, the friends that never came, the flower arrangments that were never made, and the dances that were never had. I watch the brides get ready in perfume and hairspray scented rooms. I watch them walk down the isles with their beaming fathers and take the arms of their future husbands.
I have pangs of longing for what never was. My heart aches a little to think my kids will never see the pictures of me as young and nervous bride slipping on a wedding dress they could someday wear. I wish I could have seen the look on David’s face, flustured when he first saw me in that dress for the first time. I wish I could have caught my grandfathers eye when I walked down the isle. I wish my brothers and sisters could have been proud to have all our family together and happy. I wish I could have seen the look on David’s mom’s face. And, as awkward as it sounds now, I wish I could have had a first dance with my dad.
But then…in the midst of my longing of what should have been there is a soft hum. In every wedding it is always the same…
The wedding party is in place and the guests are seated and quiet. It is time for words. Words that are larger than life itself. Words that speak always of the same things…of hardships and endurance, love and sacrifice, children and God. My heart swells. I think of my own children. I think of that night at Dewey Beach. I think of David and how far we’ve come. Eventually without fail the tears come and it becomes hard for me to focus my lens. I wonder if people notice that their photographer is crying.
I feel every last word they speak. I am grateful for the things I now know and respectful of the things I don’t.
I marvel at the mystery of the universe.
I see the beauty and irony of every last shot I take.
Then I think about the top 13 questions that we never asked and the thousands of things we never could have known. I rest assured believing that the only things I really needed to know was that he liked my dog and I thought he was cute.