I'm No Saint: Memoir of a Wayward Wifeby Elizabeth Hayt
From Sex and the City (Warner, 1997) to The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (Grove, 2002), literary tales of modern women's sexual escapades have never been more popular. Titillating details about the sexual lives of some of the nation's most eligible bachelors and the author's connections in the world of print journalism guarantee vast coverage in major newspapers and
From Sex and the City (Warner, 1997) to The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (Grove, 2002), literary tales of modern women's sexual escapades have never been more popular. Titillating details about the sexual lives of some of the nation's most eligible bachelors and the author's connections in the world of print journalism guarantee vast coverage in major newspapers and women's magazines. The vicarious pleasure at witnessing such bad behavior has never been so much fun. The author is a freelance journalist whose pieces regularly appear in the New York Times, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar.
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.68(d)
Read an Excerpt
I'm No Saint
By Elizabeth Hayt
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
ON AN AUGUST MORNING IN 1986, I stepped down the aisle to "Here
Comes the Bride" and walked the plank. Instead of a sword against my
back, prodding me to take the plunge, it was my father at my side,
gripping my elbow as I clutched a bouquet of white roses, rouged
cheeks pulled taut, a perma-smile tacked across my face.
A few hours earlier, I had performed cunnilingus on one of my
bridesmaids, Cathy. On the eve of my wedding, she and I had spent
the night in Great Neck, in the house where I'd grown up, sharing my
girlhood bedroom decorated with 1970s yellow plastic furniture, A
Chorus Line posters, and hand-painted ceramic cats. While Cathy was
in a sleeping bag on the cherry-red shag carpeting, I tossed and
turned in my bed. At dawn, I stripped naked, slid beside her, and
parted the strawberry-blond-haired lips of her vagina. Lifting her
head from her pillow, she looked at me lynx-eyed. "Better get it out
of your system now," she said, grinning.
That was my last gasp of freedom before taking my vows. I wasn't a
lesbian or bisexual-I preferred cock to cooch. I was simply
experimenting. I didn't know who I was, only that, as a
twenty-five-year-old woman, I was just beginning to develop a taste
for adventure. Trying out new opportunities and testing my limits.
Now, with thearrival of The Big Day, I was supposed to gladly put
that research and curiosity behind me. Instead, it felt like the
start of a very long long prison sentence.
My mother stood at the end of the aisle under a white lattice canopy
woven with pink gerberas and spider lilies. I could always count on
her to save me, but not now. Today she was acting the Jewish
ur-mother, eyes brimming, hand patting her fluttering heart. My two
younger brothers, Warren, twenty-three, and Andrew, twenty-two,
flanked her, looking uncomfortable, their rented black-and-gray
morning suits stiff like plaster body casts. I had one more year of
graduate school to go, not a bit too young to get married. My mother
had told me the best time to find a man was in college. After that,
a girl's chances dried up. It didn't matter that my mother also
confessed she wished she hadn't married so young, at twenty-three. A
greater loss would be to pass up a young man like Charlie.
"We're all smitten with him," she said. "He's real and he treats you
well, better than all the others we've seen."
My friends were more understanding about my reluctance. Andee, my
best friend from Great Neck, was a photographer's stylist who had
gotten married two months before me and moved into a West Broadway
loft with her new husband. All my life I envied her. We were the
same age and had grown up a mile apart. While I had always been on
the puny side, my grandmother called her "a tall drink of water." By
the time Andee was thirteen, she had nearly reached her full height
of five foot ten, with legs so long they came up to my waist and a
rack to rival a Playmate of the Year's. After five minutes in the
sun, her skin was as brown as a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic Oil. Honey
blond and coy, she attracted a flock of boys who circled her like
vultures. I, on the other hand-flat, freckled, and brunette-was told
I talked too much.
Andee's husband, Paul, was now in business school. At her bridal
shower, she and I had sneaked into the bathroom so she could smoke a
Marlboro Light. She plunked down on the edge of the bathtub, her
head in her hands.
"I don't want to get married," she confessed. "That's why I've been
engaged for a year and a half. I'm, like, not ready. I was content
with my life the way it was, working freelance, going from boyfriend
to boyfriend, living in my own apartment on Grove Street. In my
heart, I don't want to do this, but I think I'm supposed to. My
mother is, like, encouraging it. Paul is the most substantial guy
I've met, and he loves me."
Now I, too, was about to marry a decent Jewish guy with a promising
future who also loved me. My mother was filled with pride, and, in
anticipation of her day of glory as the mother-of-the-bride, had
undergone a face-lift. She had also been on a starvation diet so she
would fit into her new, size 6, Emanuel Ungaro raspberry silk dress,
which revealed not only her nipped waistline but plenty of cleavage
as well. I barely recognized her. Normally she dressed like a
rumpled artist in a paint-splattered work shirt.
The groom's parents stood glumly on the opposite side of the canopy.
Charlie's father was a Westchester accountant renowned for his
ability to concoct tax shelters. He had socked away enough money to
afford a new car every two years and provide his wife with a fur
wardrobe-minks, foxes, and a spectacular chinchilla-as well as
enough jewelry to make the windows of Fortunoff look as if they'd
been looted. But the finery was just for show. At heart, Charlie's
parents were budget-minded and simple. Nothing made them happier
than receiving a greeting card on Groundhog Day.
I got the sense that Charlie's parents didn't like me. Perhaps they
thought I would pressure their son to provide me with a lifestyle
beyond his means. His mother would look me up and down and I would
imagine her thinking: Pretty fancy girl wearing Kenzo and not even
out of grad school. It felt like a dig every time they ticked off
their other daughter-in-law's achievements: Law degree! Master's in
international relations! In-house counsel at a national shipping
company! Stock options!
A wedding was supposed to be the happiest moment of a girl's life,
the day she dreams of since her first bridal Barbie. But that August
morning, nothing was turning out right. The sky was a noxious shade
of gray-green, and the clouds rumbled with thunder as an electrical
storm brewed. A makeup artist caked my face with alabaster
foundation, painted my lips crimson, and applied a thick coat of
black liquid liner to my lids. I looked like a geisha.
In preparation for taking my vows, I had taken a squirt of Binaca
peppermint breath spray but, because my hand was jittery, missed my
mouth and instead spritzed my eyeball. My eye felt as if it had been
doused with lighter fluid and started watering uncontrollably. My
geisha face was now running down my neck. A blushing bride I was
I was no longer on speaking terms with Andee. I had asked her to be
my maid of honor and wear a Betsey Johnson pink lace dress, the
color of Pepto-Bismol, like my other bridesmaids. She refused, or
rather her mother did, convincing her daughter it was a waste to
spend money-$350 to be exact, plus another $75 for a crinoline-on a
shade she would never wear again. She was willing to buy the dress
but only in white, which her mother insisted would be more
versatile. I said no dice. Only the bride could be in white. If
Andee didn't agree to wear pink, she couldn't be in the wedding
party. Fine, she huffed. Then she went ahead, bought the dress in
white, and wore it to my wedding out of spite.
I had been fantasizing about my gown since elementary school, when I
would sketch in the margins of my composition books little
tiara-topped brides in Cinderella skirts, Empire waists, high
Victorian necks, or plunging décolletés. The version that I wound up
with-a white silk taffeta confection with pouf sleeves, a
bow-trimmed neckline, lace bodice, and six-foot train-was the dress
of the moment, a knockoff of Lady Di's. The Princess of Wales and I
were nearly the same age and, although her fairy-tale marriage was
already fraying by the time mine came around, when I spotted a copy
of her dress at Bergdorf's it conjured all kinds of romantic
fantasies. Charlie was going to be my prince and we would live
happily-ever-after in a manse trimmed and tasseled by a professional
decorator where we would entertain and breed well. When my mother
saw the two-thousand-dollar price tag of the dress, she vetoed it
until we saw the design again for half the cost at Kleinfeld, a
discount bridal shop in Brooklyn.
The entire wedding was an exercise in cutting corners. I wanted to
be married at a swank hotel in Manhattan, like the Plaza or Pierre,
even if it meant settling for a bare-bones cocktail party with
pigs-in-a-blanket and cheese puffs. My mother wouldn't have it.
"Think of Aunt Ruth and Uncle Norm," she said.
They liked ballroom dancing on cruise ships. Uncle Norm dyed his
hair shoe-polish black, and Aunt Ruth wore false eyelashes that he
glued on for her. How could we ask them to travel all the way from
Boca for an affair and not give them a sit-down dinner? But a
wedding at the Plaza? Who were we, the Rockefellers? My mother opted
for more bang for the buck and chose the Garden City Hotel, the best
that Long Island had to offer.
My father was a radiologist but, being on a hospital salary in the
Bronx, he wasn't rolling in dough. Although I was his only daughter,
he squabbled with my mother about the cost of my wedding, which
resulted in my firsthand knowledge of the expression "Cheap is
expensive in the end."
Take the flowers. My mother and I spent several Saturdays studying
arrangements at floral shops on Long Island's South Shore. We
decided on a big name in Cedarhurst, forking over a deposit. Two
weeks before the wedding, my mother's best friend told her she had
just been to a bar mitzvah with centerpieces by our florist. They
were pathetic, the withered blooms dropping all over the tables. My
mother panicked. What would everyone say if my wedding turned out to
be a funeral of flowers? My solution? Forfeit the deposit and sign
on the florist's rival. My mother agreed: Better to lose the five
hundred dollars than the freesias. We hired the competition but that
wasn't the last of the original contender. He smacked my mother with
a lawsuit, and she was eventually forced to pay the balance of the
bill. Plus damages.
Then there was the photographer, a woman recommended to me by
another Great Neck girl, part of the local stampede to the altar.
Since her wedding was tasteful but hardly extravagant, I figured she
had found an affordable, yet talented photographer. I gave my mother
the go-ahead to hire the woman, but we never bothered to check out
her work. Her style turned out to be candid camera: lopsided shots
of guests with wind-tunnel expressions and their hands cropped out
of the picture, making them seem like amputees. The pictures of me
were no better. I appeared to be a stroke victim, with either one
eye closed or my pink tongue glistening at the side of my mouth.
One year after I got married, my mother took me to Bachrach Studios
in Manhattan where another hairdresser and makeup artist were
waiting for me. (The ones who had done me up for my real wedding day
were both dead of AIDS by then.) We unpacked my gown from the dry
cleaner's storage box, and I clasped a fresh bouquet of white roses,
posing for a new set of pictures, pretending to be a bride-to-be
rather than the wife I already was, with my natural flowing brunette
hair now cut into a Donna Reed bob, artificially brightened with
The highlight of this circus of appearances was the walk down the
aisle itself. My father paused to lift my veil and tenderly kiss me
on the cheek before handing me over to the groom. The whole ritual
of giving the bride away was a joke. I figured my father was so
happy to get rid of me, he'd kick up his heels and dance between the
rows of guests, singing, "Heaven, I'm in heaven ..." During the
reception, he pulled a pocket calculator out of his morning coat and
took Charlie aside. Punching in several figures, my father showed
the tally to my new husband and said, "That's how much money you'll
save me once she's off my payroll. Thanks."
Did I come with a dowry of kitchen appliances, too?
Watching their feudal exchange, I wondered how the hell I'd wound up
here. One year earlier, I had entered an art history graduate
program at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. I roomed
with Jessica, a fat banker suffering from severe adult acne, who'd
placed an ad in the Village Voice looking for someone to share her
railroad studio on York Avenue. I stayed because the rent was
affordable-six hundred dollars a month-the maximum my father agreed
After my second semester, my parents announced they were cutting the
cord, severing me from financial support. I would have to get a job
and pay my own rent. Now plenty of students do it but, being from
Great Neck where poor was considered a four-letter word, I panicked.
Entry-level art world jobs paid minimum wage, and I had at least one
more year before completing my master's-and plenty more if I were to
continue for a doctorate. How would I make enough to cover the cost
of housing and finish school before memory loss set in?
Let's face it. I was a turbo-JAP who foresaw the worst: becoming a
squatter in Alphabet City living without electricity, spending the
next twenty years completing my higher education by candlelight. My
parents offered an alternative. I could marry Charlie and, while he
was in law school and I grad school, our fathers would split the
tab. There would be no worry about creature comforts, let alone the
Con Ed bill.
"Did Mom and Dad also tell you you'd have to get a job to pay your
rent?" I asked my brother Warren. "Because they told me I have to,
otherwise I've got to get married."
Now in his second year of dental school at Boston University, Warren
was planning on a maxillofacial surgery residency before continuing
on to medical school-a decade of postgraduate studies that my
parents had no complaints about funding.
"Maybe they don't see you going anywhere," he said with a shrug.
"That was a nudge. Get a job. Be an adult. Stop mooching. They're
pushing you out of the nest. What are you going to do with an art
history degree anyway?"
He had a point. I had chosen art history because my mother and
Charlie encouraged it. My college courses had been inspiring and I
could always teach-if it came to that. With the pressure on, I gave
Charlie The Ultimatum.
"What am I supposed to do?" he said. "Ask you to marry me?"
Satisfied by that most unromantic of proposals, I said "Yes."
As a liberal young couple, Charlie and I arranged to have an
unconventional ceremony: a lesbian rabbi would marry us. We assumed
she'd be on our wavelength when we said we didn't want a traditional
Jewish wedding with Hebrew prayers and yarmulkes. We wanted to keep
it simple and secular, a brief pledge to love each other till death
do us part.
Once we were under the canopy, our lefty rabbi turned Lubavitch on
us. She started speaking in the language of the Israelites, quoting
King Solomon, and explaining the Talmudic symbolism of everything
from the canopy to the hair on my head. Suddenly, it seemed as if
God had thrown a switch, igniting the electrical storm. Bolts of
lightning crackled outside. The stormy weather so inspired the
rabbi, she had a spontaneous vision: Our wedding was nothing less
than a symbol of Israel's union with God when the Hebrews received
the Torah at Sinai surrounded by fire and flashes of light.
Here we were at the Garden City Hotel, a splashy marble-and-glass
four-star property with valet parking, breath mints at the
concierge's desk, and the faint odor of chlorine from the indoor
pool wafting through the sanitized air. This the rabbi was comparing
to the sacred desert?
Finally, it was time for Charlie to smash the wedding glass.
According to custom, the groom was supposed to wrap the goblet in a
napkin, place it on the ground, and give it a resounding stamp.
Either his timing was off or the glass was at the wrong angle but
the thing didn't break. Instead of cries of "Mazel tov" filling the
room, all you could hear was Charlie's lone voice, "Holy shit."
Eventually, we said "I do"-at least, I thought that's what it meant
when the rabbi told us to repeat after her in Hebrew. When Charlie
and I finally kissed, you could feel the canopy heave as the wedding
party breathed a collective sigh of relief. We were husband and
But what I felt was a far cry from release. I had a lump in my
throat and was holding back tears. My childhood was over. Great Neck
might not have been Mayberry but all I wanted was to turn back time,
go home, and give myself a Tinkerbell manicure.
Excerpted from I'm No Saint
by Elizabeth Hayt
Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Hayt.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews