Places I’ve Lived part 15: Spruce St.- the wedding

12th and Spruce Streets
Philadelphia, PA

There was nothing we wanted to do that we didn’t want to do together. We were mad for each other. I don’t remember feeling nervous at all, or like I was giving anything up by getting married. I don’t feel like I was naive about marriage, although I don’t think I quite knew what I was getting into, either. But the decision had been made, I’d made it, and by the time we bought the dress and sent the invitations, I was ready for it. It was what we were doing, and I was gonna do the hell out of it.

We had a good crew for the wedding party. My brothers were both ring bearers, my littlest sisters joined the ranks of the flower girls, my sister Abbey was a bridesmaid. L was there, too, my close friend and housemate from college, and N, one of my oldest friends, my maid of honor.

At the time I thought N and I would be friends forever. It felt like we were on the same path, looking for the same things in life. It was only a few years after this that we both realized that wasn’t the case. Dave and I were in New York by then, as was she. I would start grad school soon; she was starting med school. We had dinner together, and it felt very much like the farewell dinner it was. She didn’t approve of my life choices, such as they were: a life of relative financial instability, pursuing work that did not come with any real job prospects, refusing to let go of a life making art in favor of one making money. Not that the latter was a choice actually, it was a reality. There was what I could do: create art; and what I could not do: find a viable career. If I’d seen each of these as options, I don’t know which I would have picked. I didn’t approve of her choices either. They were specific, they were concrete, they seemed irrevocable, and on a path that would end up somewhere very far away from me. It’s been ages since L and I have been close, although there I don’t know why or what happened. We were in touch for a long time. I went to her wedding, and then after that, we didn’t see each other any more. Even facebook hasn’t kept us in each other’s lives.

On the groom’s team was our dear friend A, who is Dave’s close high school friend, with Dave’s brother Jon, and Chris Kelley serving as groomsmen. I remember we were surprised that Chris knew all the responses at Mass. He was by far the most debaucherous member of the wedding party, but had been raised in the Church, and knew the words by heart. A’s father is a filmmaker and for a wedding gift he shot the the reception. He went around asking everyone if they had something to say to us. I haven’t seen the video in a long time, I keep forgetting to have it transferred to digital, and it’s been a long time since our last VCR broke down and we tossed it out. I remember fragments of it.

N, her boyfriend Matt, and our friend Lynn did the Macarena, and broke down giggling just a few bars in. They’d cracked themselves up, but also they were laughing at Chris when they spotted he and Val making out at the table, his poorly buckled tuxedo pants falling down in the back. Mr. J panned the camera over, and Chris smiled his secret smile, not having any real idea what was going on, but never minding being the punch line of a joke. “What?” he asked, relishing the attention, the smile growing, “what?” And then for a second he’s laughing too, still not knowing why, Val smiling an embarrassed smile behind him, knowing exactly what was happening.

The camera caught up with Valerie again later. She wore a blue mini dress, too-tall clogs, and a little blue cardigan. She looks into the camera and says “I just want Libby to know that she looks beautiful in her wedding dress, and that’s all that matters.” She knew exactly how that sounded, that it was a seemingly anti-feminist thing to say. Val hadn’t even been a feminist until I’d showed her how absurd it was for her not to be, made her read Sisterhood is Powerful, and turned her into one. Mr. J thought her comment was silly. It wasn’t about any of the sacred things, like commitment, or love, or the future.

But now, when I think about my wedding, the crazy shit we’ve been through, I think how Val said I looked beautiful in my wedding dress, and it makes me smile. I wore Dior in crepe silk. It was beautiful and I looked beautiful in it. The wedding was beautiful. We were married in a church that should probably be called a Cathedral. Tall, intricate stained glass windows, a monstrous pipe organ on which we played Rachmaninov for the processional. St. John the Evangelist was where David had been baptized, where his mother had been memorialized. It was the church we went to on the odd Sunday when we felt that the secular philosophy we consumed like nectar wasn’t quite up to the task. We were married by Father Ben, a Capuccin monk. In his free time he performed commitment ceremonies and ministered to patients in hospice care. Monks answer to the head of their order and not to the diocese, so we were a healthy bit removed from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in general. It was Father Ben who was responsible for our pre-Cana counseling.

We’d meet with him in his office in the friary, and we’d go over all those things a couple is advised to talk about before they actually seal the deal.

Do you want to have children? No.
Do you agree with Church teaching? No.
Do you believe in God? Sort of. No.
Do you have friends who are Catholic? No. Maybe lapsed.
Do your friends agree with your decision to get married? No.
Do your families agree with your decision to marry in the Catholic Church? To get married at this time in your lives? No. And definitely not.
Do you share the same ideas for what you want your life to be like? Yes. I hope so.

Father Ben determined that we didn’t agree with the Church, but that we agreed with each other, and that was alright by him. We knew well enough that neither of us was really the kind to settle down, and we couldn’t have figured out how to do it even if we’d wanted to. We didn’t want to buy anything, or own anything other than our art collection and our books. We didn’t want to get organized, or care particularly about stability, we just wanted to hang out together, and for some reason, us two people who believed in nothing, who had myriad divorced parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, believed in marriage. We didn’t write our own vows, we didn’t orchestrate our own ceremony, we didn’t stamp our individual personalities onto the traditional service. In a very basic way we decided to take what was given. Looking back, this was a very real rebellion for us. Our families would have better understood if we’d been married by a preacher in a wolf costume in the woods while reciting Ferlinghetti to each other.

Mr. J asked me what I had to say, and I can see myself so clearly in my mind, reflected back in video, half in profile as I turned to him, holding a champagne glass that was refilled over and over again. “I love him so much I don’t know what to do.” Dave said “I think I’ve danced with every woman here.”

We had a rockabilly swing band, as was the fashion at the end of the Twentieth Century. (I considered writing fin de siècle, but it was an American century, so let’s own it.) Our wedding was a big party. Other than the Catholic part, and the rockabilly swing band, my mother planned the whole thing. My mom would call me and say something like “how would you feel if the bridesmaids carried little green leaf boxes on sticks instead of floral bouquets?” And I would say “mom are you really asking my opinion or do you really think little green leaf boxes on sticks instead of flowers would be the best thing?” And she’d say “well honey I really value your opinion, but I think little green boxes on sticks would really be the best thing, and if you look closely they look like presents, and are wrapped with a ribbon that matches the flower girl dresses, don’t you think that would be the best thing?” And I would say “oh mom little green ribbon wrapped boxes on sticks are what I’ve always dreamed of my entire life, I’m so glad you thought of it, what a spectacular idea!” And that was that. I meant it though, and to my mom’s credit the wedding was great. I was never stressed out about the details, except for the dress, which we eventually found at Kleinfeld’s when it was still in Brooklyn. This is where my mom had found both of her wedding dresses, so it seemed like the right choice. We’d been all over the place looking for the exact right thing, but when I tried on this one, and the ladies hitched it up so it looked right from the front, my Gram said “that’s the one.”

The ceremony took place during a regularly scheduled Mass at this Center City church, and there were plenty of people there from the neighborhood. We’d run into them, as the years went on, and we liked to think the wedding had been a welcome surprise to an otherwise ordinary weekend. The reception was at City Hall, just down the street, and the whole party walked from one place to the next like it was our own little parade. There were speeches, there was dancing, there was Uncle Phil supplying sips from his kilt secured flask. I heard rumors that people were doing blow in the bathroom, and I thought, sounds about right.

Dave and I went out for drinks with everyone late that night and had wings; we’d barely eaten at the party. That night Dave’s brother and cousin spent the night at our place, which was awkwardly where we also were staying. Someone had thoughtfully placed the top tier of the wedding cheese cake in our fridge, so we stayed up late and ate it all. We found out later you’re supposed to save it for some reason. The next day we breakfasted with the out of town guests at the very gay, very adorable little hotel near our apartment, where I’d installed my New England family. It was a festive breakfast, not just for the wedding, but because it was Pride weekend. Then we took a cab to the train station and left town.

I worked in theater arts admin, which is the first and last time I ever did that, as part of the development team at The Walnut Street Theatre. I hated it; I was poorly paid; and I was too proud to be able to deal properly with either of those things. I hadn’t been on the job long enough to accrue a reasonabld amount of vacation time, so I took only a few days off for our trip. We spent a weekend at the Soho Grand, financed by Donald Baechler’s credit card. I don’t think he knew that he was paying for the room. Chris presented the whole weekend, and a stack of cash, as a wedding gift for us. Donald, Chris and Val came over and we got drunk in the room and listened to music. Dave and I were talking about Giovanni’s Room. Donald was stretched out in the window bench, holding a glass of wine, and was incredulous as he asked “why are you talking about Baldwin on your honey moon?” “What else are we supposed to talk about?” Dave replied.

We checked out the next day, at the proper time, going to hang out with Chris and Val until our train left for the Catskills. We had another few honey moon days at a mountain resort, a gift from my dad and step-mom. Chris was clearly appalled that we hadn’t done late check out, and were bad at taking advantage of the luxury presented to us in general. Thinking about it now, I can see that we thought there were rules. We thought there were ways a person is meant to behave that ought be followed. We thought things like that mattered. We didn’t know late check out was for us. We didn’t know luxury was for us. We thought those things were for other people, people who had earned them. Eventually we would learn that the way to earn something is to expect it, and, failing that, to take it.

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