We decided not to wait until my father got better to get married. It was important for us to make that tie. And though I had never voiced my regrets out loud, Ross understood the sadness I felt looking back over my life—a young girl no longer so young, with no brilliant paintings, no wedding dress, no small hands clasping; any good done dissolved in the brutality of the next turn. It would appear I had passed through leaving no mark. So we arranged to have a simple ceremony held in the yard of the Divinity School at Yale. A small quadrangle set off the beaten track of campus, quiet and serene this time of year.
I’d been holding steady, actually felt fine, but shortly before our wedding I took my first turn for the worse as the doctors had with sour self-satisfaction predicted. The bride wore a light shawl though it was warm to cover the IV bruises, self-consciously the center of attention standing in the middle of the lush summer green, darkly-shadowed eyes contrasting unattractively with the pretty short dress and the flowers in the hair that was once her glory. Ross watched over me uneasily, making sure nothing was too much for me, but I could see in his eyes it was all too much for him, the specter of his devastation haunting the very bones of his face. One look at him was enough to squelch without argument any optimism, real or affected, on the part of our guests. Yet we both wanted this. We wanted to be husband and wife. We needed all the connections, all the bonds we could muster.
His father and sister were there; Dottie a softer, plainer version of Ross, worried about her brother, disappointed she could not show us her town-and-country dreams. The father and son had stopped their skirmishing for the moment, the father having sense enough to lay down his arms. But underneath his look of concern lurked a deep dissatisfaction that his firstborn, who had the talent and the brains to be a millionaire lawyer or politician, who possessed the breeding, the looks to have the beautiful wife and darling children—to have it all—would continually, seemingly perversely attach himself to losing causes. His concern was for Ross’ genuine happiness; he hoped everyone understood that.
Renny materialized as if from a secret place, lumbering across the yard accompanied by Dan Morente’s mother. She had been exiled from her country a year or so ago and was currently working with us in Texas. Having been told our story by Renny, she insisted on coming. An extraordinary woman. She hated flying, but she flew here. She came up to Ross, taking hold of both his hands, and he almost lost it. They took a long walk around the perimeter of the garden, away from the others, Mrs. Vallar doing the talking, a good foot shorter than Ross, her hands clasped around his arm. I never asked what she said to him, simply grateful for the comfort of her presence.
Paul and Cathy came. Tyler—back home in Boston for good—sent a huge bouquet of tropical flowers to the house, and to my surprise Karen and Meredith showed up, Karen introducing her typical black humor into the strained atmosphere. Those two . . . my friends . . . Ross had called them and the two had driven here together. He hadn’t been able to connect with Jean. My father was not strong enough to travel still, but Maureen and Gary came, bringing us a note with a check from my parents. ‘Buy something pretty,’ Mom had written.
There was a lot of love in the air, but it was thick with the shadow images of people and things not to be. I labored under a tremendous guilt for this. Most everyone here would be happy if I wasn’t sick. (‘It’s a downer, Amy.’) This story would have a brilliant ending if only I were well. It was my job to see that everyone toed the line, but I’d forgotten about the weakest link. What the hell kind of family were we, these strange two clans temporarily merging, languishing in our various maladies while others flourished unthinkingly? Why was there always something wrong with me? The weight lay so heavily on my chest I could hardly breathe. If only I could throw it off and run away and run and run. . . Yet everything here was so beautiful—my lover with his madrina, our friends close by, the supple summer vegetation, the soft pale air. Only I dared not fully see it, because I was losing it. I could not bear, I could not cope with the signal cruelty of all this captivating beauty beyond my grasp. The last glowing sunset; I couldn’t turn and look. Here it was all laid out before me; I had so much to lose.
The minister arrived and we assembled in a loose circle, Renny wandering just outside its circumference, head down, hands in his pockets. The minister gave a brief talk, said we should forget about our troubles for this hour, spoke of the service as a bearing witness to love, a giving thanks for the gift that was now here among us, and we did feel better for a little while; it was helpful to affirm our feelings for each other. I smiled naturally for the first time in a long time as I looked up into Ross’ face and said I would be his wife. The war-worn expression in his eyes dissolved for a few seconds, and the man I loved returned. For that short space of time, in that lovely quiet garden, we were able to put our cares aside and simply love, and it was an affecting little ceremony. A wayward ray of hope ran through us there like the sunshine filtering through the clouds as we were pronounced husband and wife.
No one stayed very long after the ceremony; we talked to everyone briefly, smiling, hugging. Karen, who knew without asking, made everyone laugh, made everyone a little tougher, a little sharper with her never-show-weakness remarks. The summer breeze wafting through the yard eased everyone’s spirits—nature’s small gift—fanning faces, turning everyone for the moment prettier, more revealing of themselves; the balminess evocative, redemptive. There was to be no reception; only the family was coming to the house after the service before they took off on their separate ways. Soon everyone left and the garden reverted to an empty stage, shafts of late-day sunlight illuminating the verdant spot where our gentle play had been acted out.
We drove back to the house alone, a status befitting newlyweds. Sitting on the passenger side, I turned and looked at Ross, my husband now, so handsome in his dark suit with a flower in his lapel. Tears were pooling in his eyes; his lips were trembling, but he kept his vision locked on the road and his hands on the steering wheel. I put my hand on his thigh. “Don’t!” he said harshly. I hated myself, hated myself for doing this to him. What a joke to be in this wedding getup. This stupid, flower headband thing on my head. I reached up to pull it off. “Leave it on,” Ross said, again not looking at me. A cruel joke on us. What had we ever done to deserve this? Dared to actually try to do some good in this wretched world? It would have been better to be cold and self-centered. To take a bleak view of things from the start and never try. Then I wouldn’t feel like this. Then I could look at this man’s face. After everyone left the house, we took off our wedding clothes and lay down on our bed, the air, an ever-present spirit, wafting in from the open windows, blowing the curtains softly above us. So much had gone on in this bed, so much love, so much laughter, but not tonight, our wedding night. We held each other and stared out the window, both of us silent, watching the sky darken into evening. I lay in Ross’ arms, feeling his embrace, concentrating on his body pressing against mine, a feeling I tried to burn into my mind, the feeling I wanted to carry with me through eternity.