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Bride in Overdrive
A Journey into Wedding Insanity and Back
By Jorie Green Mark
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Jorie Green Mark
All rights reserved.
First Comes Love
When I met Barry Mark, I was a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania who couldn't have been less interested in becoming someone's wife, of all things. I was at Penn to get my B.A. in English, not my M.R.S. degree. Sure, there might have been a few sparks between the two of us the first time our eyes met, but I had many places to see, books to write, wines to taste, and hearts to break before I was going to let some nice-looking medical student shackle me to a minivan for the remainder of my natural life. Puh-leeze!
But did I mention that this Barry Mark, this nice-looking medical student, was, well ... really nice looking? Big brown teddy bear eyes, light brown hair, skin permanently a toasty golden color from spending his childhood in Florida? And that his smile was all palm trees and sunshine? And that he listened to me as I talked with his head tilted in this charming way, composed his own music ... and that in his spare time he tutored underprivileged kids in West Philadelphia?
The first time he kissed me, I think I melted against the doorpost.
Now this melting-against-the-doorpost phenomenon, I will confess, was not entirely new to me ... let's just say Barry was not the first person whom I found myself cozying up to in the library when I was supposed to be reading up on the archetypal imagery in Middlemarch.
In fact, when I look back at my first three years at Penn, what I remember the most isn't literary criticism at all but what could only be described as "romantic criticism," a serious yet lesser known academic discipline practiced by me and my two college roommates, Ava and Sarah, on Sunday mornings in our dark, messy little dorm suite. In case they didn't offer it at your school, romantic criticism essentially involves having intense passionately romantic feelings for someone, hence the word "romantic," who you eventually come to despise (usually for a very valid reason), hence the word "criticism."
Each romance always started out the same, with that tenuous first date. I recall having the door held open for me (or not) by a variety of different arms, some long and ropy, some short and hairy, as we'd enter whatever cute little campus café or bar or restaurant that was on the agenda. It was after we got our menus that all the awkwardness began: the awkwardness of how much to reveal about yourself before the salad arrived (did I talk about my mother's depression just because my date had already given me a detailed account of basically every subject he'd gone over with his psychiatrist in the past decade of his life?); the awkwardness of who should get the check; the awkwardness of, afterward, how not to invite someone up to your dorm room if you didn't like them, or, if you'd failed at that, how to ask them to leave without being rude.
The best part about the whole ritual wasn't the actual date, but the morning after. I know the phrase "morning after" typically conjures up dreamy images of a man and a woman sipping freshly squeezed orange juice while attempting a New York Times crossword puzzle in the nude, but our morning afters were more of a chick flick than the stuff of romantic movies. They consisted of me, Ava, and Sarah, the three critics, sitting around our living room, eating cereal out of the box, and making fun of whomever it was we'd gone out with the other night.
We even gave them silly nicknames: Sleazy Boy was one of Sarah's regulars. He was Sleazy Boy because he had a girlfriend, a graduate student we called "Bad Ass" because she knew about Sarah and couldn't care less. (Although I guess since Sarah knew about Bad Ass and also couldn't care less, you could say she was a bad ass herself. Plus, she had the whole tall, thin, nonchalant look going for her, and Bad Ass didn't; so maybe, Ava and I mused from time to time, Sarah was more bad ass than Bad Ass was.)
Ava had Shriek-Cat, a guy she knew from her native town of Bombay whose real name was Shrikah (pronounced Shree-kuh), who had the odd habit of sticking his rear end out in the air like a cat in heat whenever he and Ava had been doing their own doorpost melting.
And me? I had Ladies' Coat, a sweet guy named Josh (nicknamed Ladies' Coat because Ava swore that when she hung up his lavender tweed jacket she noticed the label inside of it said Women's 12). Things with Ladies' Coat, whom I'd met in a philosophy class, were going well enough until he made the fatal mistake of confessing to me one night that his ex- girlfriend had been "too ambitious" for his taste, since what he really wanted in the long run was a "stay-at-home" kind of girl. I'd listened to him in silence at the time, pushing my oily Pad Thai around my plate, but the next morning I declared hotly to Sarah and Ava that what Ladies' Coat didn't understand was that the only "staying home" I would ever be doing would be in the short interim period between when my London book tour ended and when my publicity campaign in Paris began.
"Can you believe," I continued, as my friends listened sympathetically, "that he was actually looking at me as marriage material?" I spat out the word marriage as if it were a curse. And at the time, I suppose it was: My associations with this term primarily involved my parents shouting at each other at night and then my mother spending the next day weeping as she attempted to do housework, leaving a trail of crumpled up tissues behind her as she haphazardly pushed the vacuum across the living room rug.
I think Sarah and Ava began to suspect that my relationship with Barry was not going the way of my relationships with Ladies' Coat (or Loan Shark, Furry Knuckles, or Chowder Breath Man, for that matter) when several months had passed by and he hadn't gotten a derogatory nickname yet. The general rule was that a guy was ripe for dissection after maybe the second or third date. But I just didn't have anything bad to say about Barry. We had a great time together, whether we went out to dinner or just spent the afternoon studying on College Green, his fingers working out the tangles in my hair or tracing the bump on my nose — a bump I'd always wanted to get fixed, but that he claimed to adore. "Your features are so perfect that this one imperfection on your nose is very sexy," was Barry's explanation. (Major bonus points to Barry for not also noticing the sexy imperfection of my asymmetrically plucked eyebrows or the sexy imperfection of the pimple on my chin.)
All that awkwardness — over what to say, over the check, over everything — was gone when we were with each other. It just seemed natural for us to be together. Natural, but strange: Sometimes I felt as if I'd known him for years, which didn't make very much sense since we'd just met. And I could never shake the suspicion that Barry was a little too good to be true. ...
One of our first dates was at the Class of 1929 ice-skating rink, a big, oblong building that I'd passed by many times during my college years but never had the slightest desire to go in. This was because I was petrified of ice-skating. I was also petrified of roller-skating, roller-blading, skateboarding, riding a bike (believe it or not, I'd never learned), surfing, any sport that could potentially involve me getting hit with a ball, any activity that could result in me being stung by a bee or bitten by a dog ... anything, in short, that could result in me getting hurt.
So even to this day, I really don't know how Barry managed to persuade me that instead of the usual evening of eating out (which, by my senior year, had begun to get kind of boring, not to mention fattening), we should instead participate in an activity that, more likely than not, would result in my imminent death ... or, at the very least, a hard fall.
I don't know how he did it, but I can speculate that it had something to do with the way his eyes twinkled when he said, with a tilt of his head, "Come on! It'll be fun. Do you really want to be the kind of person who lives her whole life without trying to ice-skate?"
Come to think of it, I didn't want to be that kind of person, even if, in truth, I was.
So that's, I suppose, how I ended up standing wobbly-legged in the middle of the rink that night, dressed in something cute but inappropriately thin for the chilly indoor climate, balancing my entire weight on a pair of thin blades. I looked into Barry's still-twinkling eyes and held on tight to his hand to keep from plunging face first into my icy demise.
"I just can't do it," I said to him finally, when he had the nerve to suggest letting go of one of my hands. "Help me get back to the bench, and we'll change our shoes and go out to dinner."
"Let's just do one lap around," Barry said. "I know you can do it. You're doing great, just standing like this. One lap, and I won't let go of your hand the whole time."
I wanted to say no, to repeat that all I really wanted to do was to get back into my new Nine West mules and sit down at a nice restaurant, but Barry was looking at me so hopefully, as if his entire faith in the courage of humanity depended upon whether I met his challenge.
His "hopeful" face was just so attractive, and I didn't want to know what his "disappointed" face looked like.
"Okay," I sighed, finally. "One lap. And if you let go of my hand, I will scream at the top of my lungs; I promise I will."
Barry smiled at me, assuring me he took my threat seriously. So then we made our way around the rink, me shaking and sweaty despite the cold air, gripping his hand and warning him again and again that I'd scream if he even considered letting go.
"Barr-eeeeeee!" I squealed, as he guided me around a corner with a little more speed than I was comfortable with; but then I giggled, because it felt a little like being on a roller coaster.
"You're so pretty, Jorie," Barry said, his eyes picking up the brightness of the sharp overhead lights. "I don't know why you're wearing an outfit like that to an ice-skating rink" — gesturing to my semi-sheer, oatmeal-colored vest, unbuttoned over a matching shell that was tucked into my favorite and most flattering black pants — "but you look very nice."
"Thanks," I said, a little breathlessly. It seemed like a particularly sweet thing to say. ... With other guys, I was used to getting complimented at the beginning of a date, when I'd be standing self-consciously at the entrance of my dormitory, my lips freshly coated in lip gloss. But there is something especially nice about being noticed when your looks are the last thing on your mind. ... Who worries about their looks, after all, when the future of their existence is literally skating on thin ice?
"Are you having fun?"
"I am," I replied, then squealed again as I almost lost my balance — almost — but quickly regained it. It was thrilling to be on the verge of falling, but not falling.
"Because you're doing great," he said, brushing some hair away from my face with his left hand.
His left hand. That was the hand that was supposed to be holding my hand. Which meant that I was skating all by myself.
I screamed at the top of my lungs.
"So I guess you're ready for dinner now," Barry said.
I liked Barry even more after that night; and come to think of it, I liked myself better, knowing that I'd not only done something I'd always been afraid to do and survived, but that I'd also enjoyed it. I felt more confident, more free. If Barry had been just a tad bit condescending — if he'd said, "Atta girl!" or something awful like that — I would have gotten defensive. I might have even ended the relationship because I had little tolerance for a patronizing man (case in point: Ladies' Coat). But Barry seemed genuinely awed by what he understood to be my bravery at the rink, and I was awed, in turn, that he was sensitive enough to know what an accomplishment those few fleeting moments on the ice had been for me.
In fact, the more I thought about Barry, the more I marveled that there just didn't seem to be anything not to like about this guy. He was smart, cute, charming, and best of all he seemed to be under the ridiculous impression that I was unusually beautiful. Plus, he didn't want me to be someone I wasn't, and he didn't want to smother me or cramp my style. For example, he thought it was cool that I wanted to be a writer but didn't get upset when I told him I wasn't ready to share with him my deep and intense quasi-autobiographical ramblings, which I kept on a battered floppy disk labeled Novel in Progress.
So while Sarah picked on Sleazy Boy and Ava wondered if Shriek-Cat would ever cut it out with the strange pelvic mannerisms, I was perky and glowing during the morning-afters, and then, eventually, absent from them entirely. I'd show up in the afternoon smiling and smelling of Zest soap ... and as Sarah and Ava, who'd been sharing a bathroom with me for the past few years, knew very well, the brand I bought was Oil of Olay (it's never too early to start worrying about wrinkles).
I soon began to get teased by my roommates, who'd always known me as anti-marriage — "Was this 'Love' with a capital L?" Sarah and Ava joked. "Because you know what follows the L-word ... the M-word."
Oh, gosh, no, I assured them. I mean, maybe it was Love — considering that Barry was perfect, I certainly was not going to rule that out — but hadn't I already warned them that the M-word was not in my vocabulary? I was the child of a messy divorce after all, I had a very serious future ahead of me, and didn't they remember how I'd reacted when Ladies' Coat made the mistake of even hinting that he thought of me as potential marriage material?
"Barry," said Ava, giving me a little jab on the arm, "is no Ladies' Coat."
"True," I said. I sighed as I thought of the beige twill barn jacket that Barry wore. It had forest green trim along the collar and sleeves that complemented the light brown flecks in his eyes. He looked adorable in it. He'd probably even look adorable in Ladies' Coat's coat, that's how cute he was. "But we're just having fun. And besides, we're not necessarily in love in the first place."
"'Not necessarily in love?'" Ava repeated. "What does that mean?"
I waved off her question, in part because I wanted to go back to daydreaming about how great Barry looked in his coat, in part because I knew I couldn't answer it.
In truth, Barry and I had managed to date for about four months without the topic of love even coming up. Somehow we'd spent nearly every day and every weekend quite cozily together, our fingers interlaced, without ever articulating what we'd come to mean to one another.
There were so many moments when we'd be looking deeply into each others' eyes, as Barry traced my nose bump or I ran my hand over the cool back of his neck ... moments when you'd think one of us would have just blurted out, "Wow, do I love you!"
But that had never happened. It was as if the two of us spoke a modified, limited version of English that just didn't contain the word that's in half of the titles of Top-40 songs. Except for when I was denying to Sarah and Ava that marriage was on the horizon, I didn't even think about the status of our relationship, whether it was love, Love, or something else altogether.
All this would change one Thursday night in late 1995. It started out as what had become a typical weeknight for the two of us: We were watching ER in Barry's cheap studio apartment on Spruce Street, dining on a delicious college-student-gourmet meal that Barry had prepared for us himself: two cans of microwaved Chef Boyardee cheese ravioli mixed in with the crumbs remaining in a nearly empty bag of pretzels. The snow was falling softly outside his large, uncovered window, and the heater was on at full force.
During a commercial, I looked away from the TV screen for a second to appreciate the neat, simple lines of Barry's profile; I glanced around the room at the photos of his family Scotch-taped to the wall, the trim piles of books. His palm was warm against my back. At that very moment, I had a sudden, startling realization: that I loved Barry ... no, that I Loved him. Although in retrospect this should have been obvious, it was shocking news to me at the time. It was as if I had been staring at the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle for months and had finally recognized what they meant when you aligned them beside each other: the heat from his hand, the way the rain dampened his skin and his eyelashes so that they surrounded his eyes like the points of a star, what it felt like to walk through campus with his arm around my waist and the bittersweet amber leaves whirling around us lifting my hair straight off my neck.
Excerpted from Bride in Overdrive by Jorie Green Mark. Copyright © 2004 Jorie Green Mark. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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