We were to get the year for this week's assignment (see previous post) by dividing our age in half and telling our story from that year. I actually turned twenty-nine in 1980, but since my birthday is so late in the year, I claimed 1981 as my halfway point. That year gave me a far different story than the one I intended to tell.
She glides down the cathedral aisle, twenty-five feet of lace trailing after, her shy smile blurred behind a simple veil held in place by an understated diamond-jeweled crown. Each step on the aisle brings her closer not only to her bridegroom but also to a genuine fairy tale life. This aisle is long, so long the prince waiting for her at the altar studies the floor as he waits for his princess to arrive.
I sit in my suburban Vancouver living room, alone but in the company of almost a billion other people, watching the fairy tale unfold with unwanted tears welling. I remember my own wedding, less than six years before, and I know exactly what Diana is feeling on this day. Hopeful. Afraid. Like her deepest dreams have become happily ever after.
I wonder if she’ll share my current feelings six years into her marriage: frustration, loneliness, resentment – happily ever after a dead distant dream.
We share more, the princess and I, than anyone might expect. I’m seven years younger than Marv. She’s twelve years younger than Charles. Our husbands share a certain look – a reserved, self-contained caution softened only by a rarely shared smile. Our marriages, while happening with our consent and desire, were arranged.
Diana was thoroughly vetted before Charles was even allowed to propose. She had to meet multiple critical criteria before being considered appropriate to enter the royal household. Love was not at the top of the Queen’s list, but they look like they love each other in all the pictures. He waited so long, surely he wouldn’t marry someone he didn’t love.
Marv proposed to me after the elders of The Body told him God wanted us to marry and after they asked me if I would obey God and say yes. We were given to each other as husband and wife because of our obedience to God and The Body. We loved each other as brother and sister in Christ. I believed if we obeyed God he would bring a more intimate love into our marriage.
An unseen couple, their voices husky with sensuality, discuss the virtues of Martini and Rossi Asti Spumanti. It would be so nice to celebrate this occasion with a cold glass of bubbly, but I gave up alcohol for God. It would be nice to talk to someone, to be talked to, the way they’re talking to each other. I gave up that fun, too, when I gave my life to Jesus and The Body. It would be nice not to want.
Back to the processional, I study the screen of our small hand-me-down television from the middle of my hand-me-down orange, green and brown floral polyester sofa, drinking Tab from a hand-me-down glass. I want to see Charles’ face the minute he sees his bride’s. What I see instead is Diana’s face break into a radiant smile toward the end of the walk. Charles is suddenly by her side, mostly obscured by the camera angle, which shows Diana’s father, then her cumulous dress, then Charles’ dark head bending toward her.
The next shot shows them from the front. What a contrast they are. He stiff in his formal gilded and beribboned military uniform, dark wavy hair slickly parted to one side, his angular face unreadable. She in her miles of lace and fluff and ruffle, light to his dark, her innocent face full of joyful wonder.
Marv and I looked nothing like this, except perhaps for his rigid sternness and my innocent wonder. Marv looked more like a Russian prince with his white tux and ruffled shirt, and much older than thirty-one with his receding hairline. I just looked impossibly young, face free from makeup, and overwhelmed by the borrowed veil billowing over my modest hand-sewn polyester dress; certainly not twenty-four and certainly not like the fairy tale bride I’d dreamed of being since I was a girl.
Another commercial comes on. Brooke Shields whistles “Clementine” wearing the tightest, sexiest jeans in the most provocative pose I’ve seen in a very long while. She says, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvin Klein jeans? Nothing.” I’m not sure which I feel strongest, my desire to be her or my indignation at such graphic sexuality on television.
When the network returns to the wedding, the camera, still focused on the couple’s faces, shows them smiling, laughing almost, – whispering sideways as the processional finishes. I see happiness and love – two people on display in a ceremony that has very little to do with them and very much to do with the people observing it, willing to endure, possibly even enjoying, to get to the part where they get to be alone together.
I remember Marv’s face while he watched me make my very short walk down the aisle of the historic log cabin that served as our wedding cathedral. He didn’t smile at all. I don’t even know if he blinked. It was hard to see his eyes behind the thick lenses of his glasses. I smiled – hard, hopefully, trying to get him to respond. I told myself he was nervous, shy, waiting until we were alone together to show me how much he really loved me.
Almost six years later, I’m still waiting. He doesn’t love me. To be fair, I don’t love him either. It has seemed at times over the years like we might love each other, I know I tried hard to love him, but feeling loved means such different things to us. I need to be held and touched and looked at with tenderness. He needs unquestioning obedience. Neither of us is getting what we need.
My favorite fantasy these days is widowhood. I wear the weeds of mourning with Godly grace – Marv died far too young. It’s so sad he didn’t take better care of himself. I will bear the burden of this grieving until God provides a new husband. One who will love me with passion and without reservation. I have no idea what or if he fantasizes, but I’d be willing to bet the bank that if he does Harold is his partner, not me.
Harold, our prophet and leader. The man I believed God put on my path to help me atone for my sins and to start my life over. The man who told me God was so pleased with my obedience that I was being allowed to marry. Harold who now spends all of our money on trucks and trailers and their maintenance. Harold whose words my husband uses whenever he tells me no to something. Harold whom Marv spends every spare minute with, and without whose permission will take no action at all.
I watch this fairy tale wedding day and consider other possible scenarios for mine. Would I do it differently, knowing what I now know? Would I say no to the elders? Could I tell them I didn’t love Marv? “I want to be obedient, but I can’t marry someone I don’t love. It doesn’t seem to me God would ask me to marry someone I don’t love. I’m pretty sure Marv doesn’t love me either. Can he and I talk and spend some time to get to know each other?”
I already know what the answer would have been. “If you start to question God now, before long you’ll be questioning everything. That’s not what truly committed servants do.”
That means to say no I would have had to leave The Body. There would have been no room for a disobedient servant. And how could I have done that? I promised God - I made a vow - to obey His prophet and follow His Word, to never rely on my own selfish Satan-influenced judgment again.
James Garner’s voice brings me back into my living room. He and Mariette Hartley are talking about the latest Polaroid camera in that funny back and forth way that I would give just about anything to have with Marv. I love these commercials. I wish they were married to each other in real life. Actually I wish I were married to James Garner.
Charles and Diana, now the Prince and Princess of Wales, stand side by side on a balcony, looking out over an adoring crowd. The wedding is over. They are really and truly married. A very British commentator wonders when they’ll kiss, the first official married kiss. As if in response, Charles takes Diana’s hand, her left in his right. He lifts it, his eyes dancing all over her beaming face, then presses his lips firmly on her tiny hand in a kiss that is equal parts chivalry, mischief, and promise of things to come.
The tears that have waited in the wings patiently for the last two hours tumble down my face. I try to chide them away. This is just silly. All that romantic nonsense. It’s all a show. Who knows whether they really love each other. Whether they’ll have a good marriage. God’s love is so much more important than the lust in that man’s eyes you’re equating with love. You’re ridiculous to keep trying to live in a fairy tale when God provides all your needs so abundantly.
Some small stubborn part of me refuses to believe that voice. She’s been getting louder lately, as Marv pulls farther and farther away. He doesn’t look at me, even when I talk to him. There is a large arctic barrier down the middle of our bed. The only scripture that gets shared, both at home by Marv and at meetings by Harold, is about wives submitting to their husbands.
Can one single act of not submitting really undo my marriage, my standing in The Body, my relationship with God? After all these years of giving up everything that mattered to me except my dream of having a baby? Can’t they understand that my choosing not to adopt a six-year-old boy with no capacity to attach was an act of survival, not an act of disobedience? Not for the first time, I wonder how I find myself in this particular place of desolation, just months short of my thirtieth birthday. When I joined The Body seven years ago, it was so I would never have to feel this way again.