When we arrived at the decision that we wanted to get married, it was the fall of 1997. What we couldn’t decide on was the how of it all. I kept telling Michael that it didn’t matter to me. I would’ve been just fine with going to the courthouse on a Thursday morning. I had already had a wedding; he hadn’t. It was more important to me that Michael have the wedding his way, not mine.
He said to me one day: “How about this. We will get married, but you won’t know when or where. I want to surprise you. All you need to do is get the dress.”
My father smiled warmly at me as I returned to the table. My mother tilted her head in concern. I gave them both a resigned brave look and said: “Ok I'm here, I'm over it…where were we?”
The lyrics were beautiful and made me blush. I alternated between looking down to hide my emotion and staring unabashedly deep within his eyes. He paused, handed his guitar over and dropped to one knee. He is proposing to me in a song I realize incredulously. Of course he is.
Then I hear the lyric ask me to marry him. I didn’t intend for a long pause, I was just in the best kind of shock. I kept staring in his eyes and shaking my head in disbelief, this beautiful man had rendered me speechless. I have no idea how much time lapsed as I tried to absorb everything that had just unfolded before me. Michael’s eyes were happy and inquisitive and eventually, someone in the background offered the thought that I may want to answer the question and that brought me out of my daze. I whispered yes.
He throws his head backs and laughs and takes a sip of champagne before he calmly answers, “Why not?”
The next day I was driven to a location in downtown Northville, Michigan and dropped off in front of a clothing store where I was then covertly lead through buildings and up stairs, passerby’s nodding and smiling, it seems everyone knew what was happening but me; until finally I'm instructed to wait in what could only be the dressing room of a theatre. I primp nervously and ask to see my mom because there is a glitch with my veil. “There’s no time,” I'm told. Michael's little brother comes to get me and takes me upstairs when I realize that I actually am in a theatre. Oh my god we are getting married in a theater! It makes me grin so big. Of course this music man would plan our wedding as a theater production. It was so perfect.
I'm nudged to walk down the aisle and onto the stage where I kiss my Dad on the cheek and turn to face Michael who's hands are reaching out to me. I take his hands in mine and breath out slowly. “I don't know how much more of this I can take…” I say under my breath but the crowd hears me and laughs.
We are married right there on stage by a pastor by the name of Lisa Presley. I find my voice and the words of our self-written vows flow effortlessly. Michael is exuding confidence and control. I think we are almost to the part where we kiss when suddenly the lights dim and a male voice starts singing and Michael asks me to dance. I know this is above and beyond and some of you may be rolling your eyes right now, so you've got to know that A) dancing is a big part of our life together and B) we've known each other since we were 12 and so our repertoire of music spans decades and C) so we danced to a song that was important to us in junior high: "Always and Forever." I know. How perfectly sentimental. Took me right back to 7th grade.
Pronounced man and wife, there was nothing left to do but take a bow.
The reception was connected to the theatre. We were in a dinner theatre, featuring a seven course Italian meal and a twelve piece band playing the standards. This man knew his bride and had not missed even a tiny detail. Spirits were high as people gathered in the bar and the music started. After the first course, there were some rumblings among a few of the tables and then sheepishly, one of his brothers (Michael comes from a family of 7 siblings) comes to the stage with his wife to sing us a song. I laugh out loud when Michael tells me that after every course, someone in his family had to perform something — anything. All of this is payback because Michael was asked to write an original song for every single one of their weddings and so here we go, let the entertainment begin: we had beatnik poets, an original rap song, a presentation of an original poem and a duet. It was charming and endearing.
I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
I love you, but I’ve got to let you go.
Each time our paths cross I open my heart with renewed hope that it will be different somehow. And each time I walk away feeling empty.
My dear (____________), I realize now that at some point, I gave away my power to you. I was rebuilding my life, creating it piece by piece, and in all of its uncertainty and tender roots, I shyly let a chosen few in to tread softly and take a peek. I wanted to share my trepidation and fear and doubt and exhilaration and sheer anticipation with you. So I gave you permission to validate me. In no small way I longed for it. But it never came.