Essays

Big Sky Church (or, My Two Weddings)

 

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

–Walt Whitman

 

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Weddings! First of all, let me be honest: I never thought I’d have one, let alone two of these big, silly events. I never wanted kids, not from when I was a kid myself, and I never wavered in that as an adult. I was always a feminist, before I even knew what that term meant, and I believed in independence. I did not intend to depend on a man for anything—money, a place to live, someone to carry heavy things—because I did not want to be obligated to a man. I hated cooking, and would not take on the responsibility for cooking for someone else. And I would never, ever end up like my mother, trapped with a man whose anger rose up and crashed punishingly over the house, time and again.

But. The best laid plans of girls and goddesses…

Honestly, both weddings were for love, because I didn’t want to live apart from the men I loved. But both were also for money, because the well-paying career I assumed I’d have never actually developed. In both cases, I had to choose between a job and living with the man I loved. In both cases, the job in question wasn’t all that great—teaching writing, but not tenure track, with its attendant decent pay and other benefits. In both cases, if I wanted to move to the town where my love lived, and not figure out how to get a job unrelated to my field, I had to have health insurance, not to mention someone else paying the rent.

It would be more depressing to admit this—and it’s already kind of fucking depressing—if the men in question had been (are) anything but wonderful. But the first was, and now, so is the second. I will never be trapped with an angry man, and I never was. Both men cook, so I still don’t have to.

As for why there’s a second one, I’ll just say this for now: people have patterns of behavior and response, patterns set during their childhoods with their families of origin and shaped during adolescence and early adulthood. Sometimes, as adults, those patterns interact in ways that aren’t healthy for either partner in a relationship, and the interaction becomes more constricting and unhealthy over time. And then, for both people to grow and fully realize themselves, there has to be a painful shift and reshuffling. Which is to say: my ex-husband is a wonderful man, smart and funny and kind, and we’re still good friends, and I’m thrilled for him that he’s happy with someone else now, and he’s supportive of me in my life with my new husband.

But I was talking of weddings. There was so much I disliked about them: the patriarchal assumptions (the bride’s father gives her away, as if he owned her?); the money spent on nothing but appearances (a dress that costs more than my first car? bridesmaids’ dresses and groomsmen’s bowties that have to match the ribbons tied around the flowers and the napkins people wipe their mouths with?); the massive stress of planning such an event still visible on the faces of the bride and sometimes groom and family members even on the actual day (as if it’s not stressful enough to throw a party, or to vow to be with someone forever, you have to do it at the same time?). And as an introvert, nearly every wedding I attended, I was seated with people I didn’t know well and had to thread the torturous needle of small talk while trying not to notice just how tired my friends in the bridal party actually looked.

As for being the bride herself—oh, worse. Much worse. I don’t like being the center of attention, certainly not for how I look. I hate planning parties (I always assumed that anything I planned would end up with no one attending anyway, so I stopped trying very early on—besides, isn’t inviting someone to a wedding a bit like putting an obligation on them to travel, give you a gift, or both?). And money: nope. Unless negative numbers count.

dog-595372_1280I don’t want to compare my two weddings, nor bore you by recounting them in full. My first was in Thailand, at an ornate Buddhist temple. It was very hot. My favorite part was before the ceremony, when a temple dog and her puppies came over to me, so I got to crouch down on the concrete steps and play with puppies immediately before going into that high-ceilinged but still stuffy hall and listening to chanting in a language I did not understand.

My second was just one month ago, thirteen years after the first. I made many more of the choices for this one. It was at my sister’s therapeutic horse farm, in the flatlands of central Illinois where I grew up. I spent $27 on my dress, $7 on my shawl, and $40 on my shoes; I wore good costume jewelry that had been my grandmother’s, and borrowed my sister’s silver hair clip. My sister, a pastor, performed the ceremony, referring to the “church of nature” and the fact that I am Buddhist and my husband atheist but we were all spiritually connected under that huge Illinois sky. The clouds blew away just enough for there to be a sunset, and the salmon-orange light slid down over the soybean field across the blacktop road in front of my sister’s house. When she forgot about the rings, I called up the ring-bearers and my husband and I said to each other, in the only old-fashioned language of the day, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

These brief descriptions imply much, don’t they? Not just about the two weddings, but about the two marriages. I cannot examine the relationships themselves in any kind of depth here. But I will say that yes, there was a lot I did not understand in that first wedding, in that first marriage. A lot I did not understand about myself, about the support and the permission I needed in order to make choices that I wanted, rather than to merely accede to the choices that were best for others, pretending I didn’t have a preference so instinctively that I thought I actually didn’t. At this wedding, I thanked my new husband, my sweet Brit (how did I manage to marry two men with family on other continents?), for agreeing to have the wedding outside, on the farm, at sunset, under my favorite sky. He looked at me like I was crazy, just for a moment, and then said, “This was for us.” It was the only time I got teary that day, knowing he understood me, that he responded with love and generosity and the absolute certainty that I deserved to have what I wanted, and he actually wanted to know what that was.

It seems a contradiction, I know, the independent-minded kid, so determined not to depend on a man, so sure of herself, growing up to need permission to even think about what I want, let alone ask for it. Yes, the years have shaped me, eroding some parts of my sandstone self and building new ones. Yes, we are all contradictory—there’s a reason that Whitman quote I started with is so famous—and complex, each of us a personal paradox of love and fear, sacrifice and desire. horse-579508_1920

And so I have had two of those big, silly events, though the second wasn’t really so big, 22 people on folding chairs on a front lawn. And I am, after all, depending on a man, as I step out into whatever new career might be there for me (writing, publishing, editing, independent teaching), leaving academia behind for the first time in over two decades. And, yes, I still dislike weddings, though I think they are better in the big sky church, the only music coming from the birds and the occasional horse snorting in a green pasture.

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