I had been pregnant for 11 months when I went into labor at the altar of my wedding. Whisked from the sanctuary into a small room, I stripped down to my pink bustier and was helped up onto a gurney. "I'm right here, honey," my handsome groom said, tenderly caressing my forehead. Our guests waited while I screamed and pushed. Hours later, wheeled back into the sanctuary, a baby boy in my arms, we concluded our "I do's."
And the cameras stopped rolling.
It was every girl's daytime dream wedding. But not mine. I'd never thought about marriage. A child of the seventies, I'd dedicated my soul to the lyrics of Helen Reddy and the declarations of Gloria Steinem. I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore — a career woman with my own apartment — not scrubbing stains from some guy's boxers for a shiny ring. Do it yourself. I am woman. Hear me roar.
I was almost 30. Days of Our Lives wanted to renew my contract. But if I stayed, I knew I wouldn't make it to 40 happy. The pressure to stay youthful and pretty was insane. My beautiful co-stars had not discovered inner peace by sticking the fat from their asses into their faces. Many chain-smoked and drank their dinners or secretly binged Mars bars after workouts. I had quit smoking; I had begun to care about my own happiness.
Because around that time, my friend Deb and I had started crafting on Tuesdays — cutting words out of magazines and making poems — and I discovered I had a talent for it. I'd always said lines written by others. It was strange and exciting to hear my thoughts on paper. I had a voice. Who knew? And this new voice whispered, "You're a writer. Take the leap," over and over.
So, I left my lucrative soap-opera career to pursue a career writing poetry. I moved into a guest house on a mountain top and started trying to write paragraphs that made sense. Everyone declared, "You're so brave!" I thought they were crazy. It didn't take bravery to follow your dreams.
By the end of six weeks alone on the mountain, my mantra had changed from "I'm a writer" to "I have made a terrible mistake." Plunged back into the cold world of the un-famous, my Pilates money running low, it occurred to me that people did not pay as much for poetry as they did for acting on national television. Plus, the sentences typed into my behemoth 1994 computer were not very good. I panicked. I had one skill: soap star. I couldn't go back to my former job answering Bill Cosby's fan mail.
Without a grueling shoot schedule, there were only swaths of empty time, pecking away at the computer keys, staring out across the Pacific. The cold truth was that I was brave enough to jump but not to take the next step. I didn't even know what to write about. Had my makeup artist been right? Had I fucked up my life? Was giving up my six-figure job before I'd finished a short story poor fiscal planning? Why hadn't I listened to my evil father Victor Kiriakas' (John Aniston's) advice and bought that house in Studio City with the guest house to pay the mortgage? Even the security guard at the gate on my last day had told me that I'd be sorry.
Whoever said, "Leap and the net will find you," was a total asshole.
As if to test my nerve, brides-to-be started calling, "Joe and I just got engaged. We've set the date for June," and, "You'll love the dress. You can hem it up later and wear it to cocktail parties."
Six weddings in one year: six goddamn bridesmaid dresses, six goddamn pairs of shoes, six goddamn showers and bachelorette parties. Everyone around me was hopping on the marriage train out of town before 30! I didn't even know there was a train station in town. Married? Why, for god's sake?
While I watched, paralyzed with dismay, my smart, talented girlfriends giggled over blenders, rambled on about furniture coverings and "til death do we parts." These girls and I had taken wild road trips, cheated death in Vegas, and stayed up all night watching Doris Day movies gorging on chocolate and vodka. We'd picked up guys at bars. And left guys in bars. We had big dreams. What the fuck was happening? Was this what I was supposed to be doing? Getting married? I just wanted to finish writing a short story.
But I did what good friends do when forced to spray their unruly curls into a chignon: I drank too much and competitive-danced to the Isley Brothers with all the other single ladies in the house, "You know you make me wanna shout!" to prove that we were proud of our status, "Put your hands up and shout!"
At each subsequent wedding, I drank and danced harder than the one before, often waking up with a pounding headache, dry-mouthed, and absolutely no memory of making out with the groom's hairy second cousin near the dumpster in the parking lot. Or dialing several exes and hanging up.
At my best friend's wedding, I drank too much and slept with her ex-boyfriend. This shameful experience should have splashed cold water on my bridesmaid conduct, but I continued, undeterred, performing the piece de resistance of charm-school behavior as maid of honor in my little sister's wedding.
It was a gray day in the Rockies. Under ominous clouds in a small meadow, the bridesmaids and I entered wearing sea-foam-green dresses with form-fitting bodices of silken material that cascaded down our legs. The wedding photographer was short, handsome, with a mullet. I caught his eye. He smiled at me. I looked good in the dress. The bride arrived, resplendent in white on a horse-drawn carriage. The groom wore a tuxedo. The sacred ceremony concluded before the deluge.
Later in the lodge the champagne flowed at high altitude. I was starving, but the bridal table remained empty. I grabbed a few crab wontons and moved to stand with the other single ladies with frozen smiles clutching their champagnes.
Thank god, the DJ laid the needle on the groove. All the single ladies hit the floor, gyrating to Earth Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan, and, "Shout, throw your hands up! Shout!" as if it were our last night on earth. A high-pitched, high-energy pack, couples waltzed carefully around us. The music grew louder and the liquor flowed; the herd danced with frenzy, furious, ravenous for something to rip open and devour. I felt the eyes of the photographer snapping away. I was still someone special and beautiful. I ground my hips a little more. He moved in closer, lens to his eye and snapped. I lifted the hem of my dress. He snapped. I jete'd out to the edge of the small wooden floor. I grabbed hold of a gold dance column, wrapped my leg around the pole and let my head fall back. That's the last thing I remember.
Imagine my horror when my sister phoned later to let me know that the proof sheets had boasted mainly photos of the maid of dishonor. The photographer offered a free re-shoot. But she had to have her hair and make-up done all over.
"A little bit lower now. A little bit lower now."
Years passed before I understood why I freaked out at weddings. Weddings led to marriages and babies – socially agreed-upon rites of passage. Performing these rituals meant that a life was moving forward in successful fashion. Working at writing doesn't look like doing anything for a long time. Refusing or missing social rites of passage to work on writing made it look like my life "wasn't happening." It took me two decades to finish three novels, among many other pieces, in this time I fell in love with the act of it. That is a kind of bravery; a kind of marriage with offspring.
I don't drink too much at weddings anymore. They really aren't that common in my age group. Everyone's pretty much divorced or waiting for their kids to graduate high school. I don't miss them. I suppose you can't miss something that you never had. Which is funny because now some part of me, a lot of me actually, is finally ready to share my life with someone, just when most people don't believe in that fairytale anymore.
But if it ever happens that I meet a guy who's ready for real love (and if he wants to marry me and I want to marry him, or we just want to exchange promise rings), then I will ask my girlfriends to fly with us to an island that isn't too humid. We will wear big hats and drink umbrella drinks. And then my love and I will go and see a Justice of the Peace, or a Hawaiian dude with a certificate off the internet. After exchanging our vows (or poems or peace rings), we'll enjoy a splendid meal. There won't be any over-priced taffeta or bad hairdo requirements. And I will ask the DJ to skip The Isley Brothers. Everyone's self-respect can remain intact.
And when we return home, I will write about it.