Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed about her wedding day. In every version of the fantasy, she looked like Cinderella, air-brushed and pastelly. In the dream, her father walked her down the aisle of a beautiful church, and when she and her new husband kissed, throngs cheered, birds chirped, flower petals cascaded in the air, and doves flew overhead.
Dreams do come true… sort of.
In February of 1998, Tom and I had signed up to take the necessary Pre-Cana class so that we could get married in the Catholic church. For all you non-Catholics, Pre-Cana is a course all couples must attend. The class work includes discussions about intimacy, child-bearing, conflict resolution, and commitment. ( I know. It sounds a little phony baloney. Priests don’t marry. Nuns don’t marry. Sex is taboo. Yet, they want to guide couples on mastering a healthy relationship?)
Anyway, Tom had been out-of-town on an extended business trip, and he had flown in late the night before. I awoke early, and I decided to let Tom sleep a bit longer. I went to sit on our couch and look at the sunrise.
To be honest, I felt anxious, and I was searching for some answers. We were planning my dream wedding. I had booked a hall, bought a wedding dress, asked friends to be bridesmaids. I was well on my way to spending the $20,000 it cost to have a wedding. The problem, however, was that we did not have $20,000 to spend. My parents were at the start of their downward spiral into debt, and they had recently informed me they would not be able to give me more than $2,000. Tom’s parents had just sold their home and had joined a group of fifty-somethings traveling the country in a Winnebago. They, too, were in no position to give us money. Personally, I was unemployed because I was in school getting a master’s degree. Tom was the only one making money, and he wasn’t making enough to throw us this wedding.
I sat and dwelled on all that I thought I wanted. Wouldn’t you know, right when I had myself worked up to the point of tears, Tom came out of the bedroom and sat down next to me on the couch.
“We’re going to have to get going soon,” he said to me. He placed his left arm around my shoulder, and he was gently playing with my hair.
He could sense my tension.
“Is something wrong,” he asked.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do this,” I said through tears.
He didn’t quite understand. “Pre Cana? Easy, we’ll tell them everything they want to hear.” He laughed. Sometimes he thinks he is as funny as I am.
His laughter incensed me. I needed him to understand; money was not going to magically appear, and our wedding was five months away.
“How are we going to afford this?” I was shouting at him, although I wasn’t mad at him. I was mad at the situation.
“The wedding?” God bless his soul, he was truly trying to wrap his head around what was going on. He had flown home and went to sleep. When he awoke, I think he expected me to be excited, but here I was with tears streaming down my face, babbling cryptic messages.
“Yes, the wedding. I don’t make money, our parents don’t make money. We are going to a class today so we can get married, and we can’t afford a wedding.” I could feel my blood boiling, I had fabricated this make-believe Disney theme park adventure of a wedding in my mind, and deep down, I knew it wasn’t practical. I knew it was a mistake. I hated not feeling in control, and at this moment, I didn’t feel in control of anything. There was no easy solution to our problem.
I was a blubbering mess, a mixture of tears and snot bubbles popping in my nose, a far cry from Cinderella. I stood up to try to compose myself. At this point, Tom did something very strange. He kind of jumped up and shifted his body so that his right leg was crossed under him and his shoulder awkwardly pushed into the back of the couch. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it except Tom has hip problems and his movement was lumbering and abrupt.
I stopped and wiped my nose on my sleeve.
“Why are you moving like that?” I asked. He was up to something. I tried to pull his shoulder to move him, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Well,” he kind of sang at me. “I was going to wait to show you this. But, here it goes…”
He stood. There on his right shoulder was nothing other than a tattoo. I was in total disbelief. I had been living on Ramen noodles for weeks trying to pinch pennies, and he had gone and gotten himself inked up!
“It’s the Greek symbol for Capricorn. It represents you and me.” He was kind of tracing it with his finger, so proud.
“What did it cost?”
“Hooonnnnneeeeeey.” He was definitely trying to smooth things over. “No worries, I paid cash.” He tried to hug me, but I pulled away.
“What did it cost,” I asked again. All I could see were dollar signs: Wedding Cake. Flowers. Rehearsal Dinner. Shoes. Tuxedos. The list was endless and nowhere on that list did it say tattoos.
“$150?” It came out of his mouth like a question, kind of like a little kid when he knows he is caught.
I started to laugh, and you would think that meant I was okay with the situation, and for a split second, I think Tom thought I was. However, my laugh was one of those schizophrenic laughs that turned quickly into howling lamentation. I felt like I was losing my mind.
“I’m not going. I’m not going,” I started to say hysterically. “I’m not going.” I felt like I wanted to pull out my own hair. I needed to do something drastic, something to change our situation. I looked him dead in the face. “The wedding is off!” I ran down the hall and locked myself in our office. I collapsed on the floor and cried. I cried for my stupid planning. I cried for our stupid lack of money. I cried because I quit my job to get a stupid degree. I cried for his stupid tattoo. I cried for my stupid wedding gown. I cried for the blue skies on our stupid wedding day.
I cried for my busted dream.
After awhile, Tom knocked on the door. “Umm, Honey, could you please open the door?” His voice was extremely calm.
I took a deep breath and got off the floor. I unlocked the door, and he stepped forward and leaned against the door jamb. His eyes expressed such love and concern, I immediately felt a little guilty.
“So, when you say the wedding is off, what does that mean?” It hit me that in the last half hour, I hadn’t taken into consideration that from his perspective, I basically just ended our relationship. “I never would have gotten this tattoo had I known we would break up over it.”
I laughed, a cathartic belly shaking laugh that brought such clarity. I realized I needed to alter my expectations.
We never did attend Pre-Cana that day. We sat and talked about all that we wanted out of a wedding. All Tom wanted was me. I needed a bit more. I needed to be able to wear the wedding gown I had already purchased, and I needed my father to walk me down the aisle. By the end of that day, we had canceled our church wedding and made plans to marry in Las Vegas.
What I thought I wanted out of a wedding was a fantasy.
My real wedding was a dream come true. Fourteen years ago today, my father walked me down an aisle, I wore a beautiful white gown, I was surrounded by a small group of family and friends, and I married my Prince Charming.
Today, I was treated like a princess again.