Summer was over, and my apartment was still a maze of boxes. My bed frame leaned against a wall; I slept on the mattress on the floor. I hadn’t figured out how to turn on the oven. I ate dinner in front of the TV, (read: ice cream straight from the carton). This wasn’t how I’d pictured things when I’d envisioned a place of my own.
I’d been tired of my surly landlord. Of living with a roommate whose girlfriend insisted on sneaking plug-in air fresheners into every room until our apartment smelled like a taxicab. It was time for me to strike out on my own. At thirty-four, I was officially in my mid-thirties, and I had certain ideas about what that meant: a husband, a baby, a house. But there was no sign of a relationship on the horizon. I didn’t have a fancy job. I decided at the very least I should have my own apartment. So I threw myself into the search, daydreaming about paint colors and estate sales.
I found a sunny, third floor one bedroom, slightly rough around the edges but with beautiful bones, not too far west for me to walk my dog to the lake. Yes, it was mere blocks from the northernmost boundary of the city and yes, it was in a very residential area with no cafés or bookstores and yes, I’d probably have to get in my car if I wanted to go anywhere, but still, it would be mine. I’d write there and have dinner parties and a container garden on the roof. That spring I sat in an office at Chicago Title and Trust, signing papers and trying to absorb it all: escrow, closing costs, title insurance. Finally the seller handed me the keys, and the ground dropped away. In the midst of attaining this joyful milestone, it dawned on me that I was really alone.
I didn’t want to want a boyfriend, let alone a husband. I wanted to be all, a woman needs a man like a fish, bicycle, blahblahblah. But I wasn’t. And I did. It bothered me. I mistrusted it like I mistrusted wanting to be model thin–something suburban girls learn early on they’re supposed to want. I didn’t idealize marriage. I didn’t think it was the answer to all my problems. And though I scoffed at romantic comedies, I secretly longed for someone to forsake all others and choose me. And buying a condo suddenly brought it all home. I was on my own. This was life. It was happening now. It wasn’t about to start. I was in the thick of it. And I was alone.
When I was thirteen, my mother woke my sisters and me up before dawn to watch coverage of Charles’ and Diana’s wedding. We sat on the pastel plaid sofa and matching loveseat in our family room and watched Lady Diana arrive at St. Paul’s in a gleaming, horse-drawn coach.
“It’s just like Cinderella,” my mother exclaimed.
“Really?” I said, “Did mice sew her dress? Do birds land on her finger and sing?”
“That’s the ‘feed the birds’ cathedral from Mary Poppins,” my mother said. “Do you remember? Tuppence a bag. I so wanted to take you girls to Europe when you were little.”
“Why didn’t you?” I asked her.
“Your father nixed the idea,” my mother said. “Like everything else.”
Lady Di peeked from beneath a filmy, white veil pinned with a glittering tiara and slowly ascended the red-carpeted steps smoothing her taffeta explosion of a skirt while the crowd cheered and waved from across the street.
As the Trumpet Voluntary began and Diana took her first steps down the aisle, tears streamed down my mother’s face.
“Such beautiful flowers in the little girls’ hair,” she exclaimed. She turned to my sister who had jelly on her cheek and at least three days worth of knots in her hair. “Wouldn’t you like to wear a dress like that, Sam?” Then, catching sight of Prince Charles, my mother cried, “Oh, does he see her? Do you think he sees her?”
It’s a moment, I admit, I look for at a wedding–the moment the groom first sees the bride. I want to catch that instant of revelation. I want the groom to be overcome with emotion. I want him to cry. At one of the first weddings I went to as an adult, a few years after college, the groom was beside himself, reading e.e. cummings with tears streaming down his face whereas the bride was almost alarmingly stoic, and it was actually a bit like, uh oh, but I guess everyone handles their emotions differently, and those friends are still married with two kids, so who knows?
I did love Diana’s dress, being enamored of the flounced Laura Ashley look popular at the time. In the footage shot inside the cathedral you could hear the muffled sound of the crowd lining the street cheering when Charles and Diana said, “I will.” Even during the long singing parts when we went to get refills on our Swiss Miss, my mother remained, entranced by the beauty of St. Paul’s and the boys’ choir’s heavenly voices. First Corinthians 13. Love suffereth long and is kind. My mother marveled at how wonderfully Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones coped with Diana’s magnificent train, and praised the decorum of the other young attendants in their old-fashioned naval uniforms and ivory dresses with butter colored sashes. A little after eight a.m. Diana kissed Prince Charles on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, my sisters and I licked mini marshmallow foam from our cocoa mugs and my mother wept. She cried, she said, because it was beautiful and because she always cried at weddings. Continue Reading…