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It's My Wedding Too
By SHARON NAYLOR
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Sharon Naylor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNo one ever told Delilah Winchester that nothing in life is perfect. When you have more money than several royal families combined, and a well-adapted ego that's aware of every penny, coddling each cent like a pedigree pet, there's very little "perfect" you can't create somehow with the whisper of a check torn from its Prada holder. Perfect can be bought. Perfect can be demanded. And perfect can be pulled from others at first by a threatening stance and a proverbial ax held over their livelihood, and then over the years with just a raised eyebrow and pursed lips. Perfect, my dear, is the goal. Those Buddhists are wrong, you see. It's the only theory they can hang on to when they have no good shoes or clothes.
Delilah Winchester wasn't always Leona Helmsley's evil twin. She wasn't always sour-faced and held together as if screwed too tightly by a too-often-insulted surgeon inserting titanium rods into her spine, neck and hips. And she certainly didn't start life off looking down her nose at others (tough to do when you're 5 feet 2 inches tall, by the way) with an overly applied scent of disdain. Spritz disdain into the air and then walk through the mist so as not to overapply. One never knows when one will walk into an elevator with a wealthy Somebody inside, perhaps.
Not too many people remember anything of her other than this icy power bitch in heels, who would pull out a wad of hundreds as a big show in front of a homeless person to fan through for a single (of course, doing this only in front of an admiring fan who would later go to the fan-based chat room to report Delilah's act of benevolence and then call the gossip rags for a quick $100 finder's fee on the tip).
Not many people remember when she shopped at retail stores, and not many people remember the softness of her pre-successful cheeks, the smell of apples on her hands from the pies she made at Thanksgiving, the simple silver chain she received as a wedding present from her groom that hung a cross demurely on her chest and the cotton shirts she wore with her sleeves rolled up, the Mary Kay lipstick she bought only at friends' cosmetics parties, the sound of the laughter when her best friends from high school gathered once a year at her place and drank $8 bottles of wine by the fireplace, talking about their old high school days and rock concerts and wondering what happened to their ex-boyfriends.
She was young and pink then, a radiant Madonna woman in the days when that meant nurturing and peaceful, with hair dyed from the box with a few chunks mistakenly untouched by the auburn shading in the back when she pulled her hair up. Not many people remember when she went by her real name of Donna Penks. I can't go by the name Donna Penks anymore! Donna Penks sounds like a name for the woman who calls Bingo at the church and runs coat drives for the needy. Donna Penks shops at Target. Donna Penks is the housewife who sits at home, cleaning the fish tank and wondering why her husband is three hours late coming home.
So-and not many people remember this either-Donna Penks was symbolically cremated with a bonfire on the kitchen stove to make ashes out of her old driver's license, library card, PTA card, old postcards from vacations, twelve years of journals, a handkerchief, some old underwear, and a handmade sign that said "The Penks Family Welcomes You to Our Home." Donna Penks was dead. Delilah Winchester rose out of the ashes in the skillet, after being sprayed a few times by the fire extinguisher. Delilah Winchester became the phoenix rising from the flames, once the burnt plastic fumes cleared away. Not too many people know that story.
Not too many people remember when her Mary Kay bubble gum pink lips magically morphed into $50 MAC red, and not too many people remember that she used to smile readily, laugh heartily, hug mightily, sing when she thought no one was looking, laugh when she burned a pot roast, playfully tossed a handful of flour at her kids while making Christmas cookies, stayed up all night with a sick family dog and dried the tears of her husband.
No one's really left here to remember that person. She got rid of them all. The friends, the husband, the Mary Kay consultants. She cut them off her life like the Greek cooks cut the lamb in strips off the rotating meat roaster in the window of the gyro restaurant. Slash. Slash. Slash. Anything Donna Penks had to go.
Except me. And I remember every ounce of Delilah Winchester back when she was Donna Penks. Every scent. Every line of her face and soothing word, the warm, peaceful feeling of cuddling up with her to read a good book when I was four. I remember it all.
And that's why it's hard to hate her now. It's hard to hate what my mother has become, because I know Donna Penks is still in there somewhere, trapped in a cocoon among all those memories of fabulous garden parties, book premiere launches, celebrity weddings, interviews on Entertainment Tonight, flights to Rome and back, designer clothes and shoes, and letters of praise from Steven Spielberg. Donna Penks is sandwiched way deep in there with her lips still smoothed over in bubble gum pink, her hands all plump and soft and smooth, with a lilac-smelling handkerchief ready to soothe away someone's tears.
I can't hate her now. Because I can see past my mother's outside to that little bit inside of her that I still love. Donna Penks, the best mother in the world. The mother all my girlhood friends once said long ago they wished they had of their own.
And Donna Penks is the one I wish I was hurrying toward right now with my left hand held behind my back to hide the sparkly new ring that hasn't even had a full day to find its comfort zone on my hand. I wanted Donna Penks there to clasp her hands together at her chest, envelope me in her arms, and cry embarrassingly loudly for joy at my good news. Donna you could predict. You could paint her like "what would Maya Angelou do?"
Sometimes I choose not to remember that most of Donna Penks is buried in a non-sealed plastic baggie beneath the willow tree out back. Sometimes I think she'll materialize in a puff of silver smoke and recapture my mother's packaging; that the little seed of her punching back all those bubble-wrapped memory cells of Gucci shopping trips and drinks with George Clooney and Tom Hanks would rise up victorious to win the competition to come back out and re-assume her life. Actually, I think that a lot of the time.
And I really, truly, stomach-sinkingly wished that it was Donna Penks I was about to announce my engagement to. If you took a picture of that moment, like I take pictures of moments automatically as part of my job, you would have seen me with wide, nervous eyes holding up a shaking hand for her to inspect and waiting ... just waiting ... for the inevitable letdown. The only question was ... what form would it take?
Delilah Winchester smiled the kind of smile where you don't see teeth. She took my hand into her own, softened of course by today's paraffin peel, didn't look at my eyes and said flatly, "Well, if he wasn't going to buy the one I showed him at Tiffany then why did he waste my time by bringing me all the way out into the city?"
I wonder if stomachs actually physically detach from their positions when you feel them sink.
The worst part was ... that was a better response than I expected.
During the half hour ride from our place in Hoboken to her place in Basking Ridge, with my mind spinning what-ifs as a way to steel myself, as a well-practiced way to keep me from actually getting the wind knocked from me with the unexpected response, I imagined these Delilahisms: "Your hand looks too big now." "My engagement ring was a lot bigger than that, and your father was just a fireman at the time. I'd think Anthony could have done better than that." And my favorite, "Well, it shows how much he loves you." Fantasies, all of them. Protective fantasies.
Donna Penks would hate Delilah Winchester, I'm sure. But she would wish her the best anyway.
And so began my first moments as an engaged woman. The best time of my life. The magic was about to begin.
"Emilie," my mother called out as I began to walk away upon command at the sound of her trilling cell phone. Her world was calling. "I'm happy for you," she said, using the side of her manicured finger to click Talk on her phone. "Really I am," now a bit more animatedly, as we had a listener now. Her fake voice. Her television voice. Her audience voice.
My turn for the no-teeth smile, the stiff stance. The words she said were fine. Flat as day-old uncorked White Star and they came from a face that could have said the same sentence to a stranger whose kid just won a three-legged race. But I like to think that was the best Donna Penks could do from way inside there, blowing a message up out through the cold cavern trails of her like a bubble and not being able to twist the Botox forehead and eyes into a warm, maternal smile.
At least I know Donna Penks heard it somehow. And that was who I'd really come to tell. And before my heels made three clicks in retreat across her marble kitchen floor, Delilah's higher pitched "social voice" filled the wide rooms and high ceilings, wrapping around marble columns and bouncing off priceless paintings, brushing over the leaves of enormous floral arrangements on the hall tables and making them quiver just so slightly.
"Tasha, darling!" Delilah tinkled her voice like ice prepping a martini glass. "I have the most glorious news! My daughter Emilie is engaged! ... I know! ... Oh, of course! We're just thrilled!"
And I shut the door behind me just as she was showering Tasha with her enthusiasm, but still heard through it, "Of course it's going to be a fabulous wedding! We're having Vivienne design the whole thing...."
Anthony hadn't even turned off the car. When I slumped into my seat, pulling my jacket up to clear the door frame, he touched my leg right at my hem. "Marriage Lesson Number 1," he said with a smile. "Never expect things to be other than they are." And he kissed me. He had just had an Altoids too, in preparation for the emergency kiss I was sure to need. Pretty soon, he'd need to stock the car with Altoids for him and Valium for me.
We had a wedding to plan.
Chapter TwoAnd now we were headed for Carmela's. Back on the road to Brooklyn, with speedy teenagers in their little red Mustangs zipping through traffic like they're playing a video-game, SUVs swerving when the ring of an inevitable cell phone calls the driver's eyes off the road, and the reliable bumps of potholes. Our Starbucks jostled and spilled in the cup holders.
Anthony knew well enough to let me lean my head against the cold window, staring out over the asphalt and bridge landscape, listening to one song after another on the radio as my mind floated from concern to concern, really wanting to back up and stay on the memory of our engagement. Of that amazing night Anthony gave me last night ... turning the corner on high heels, flipping my burgundy silk wrap and looking up to see the colors dancing by the fountain at Lincoln Center. It was the ballroom dancers, professionals most but not all, dipping and floating as if on water, dancing clockwise around the blue-lit fountain. An orchestra in tuxedos set up on the square, their music floating around them, and us, captivating like a gentle waft of perfume. The rest of the city just four steps away distanced, retreated, became silent.
And there was that music box scene, the dancers with their long arms emphasizing dramatic dips as the men's strong arms supported them at their backs. The crisp contrast of black-and-white tuxedos with glittery ball gowns in magenta and cerise, pale lavender, black and gold. Feathered accents in the women's upswept hair, peaceful smiles on all.
And Anthony took my hand, leading me expertly into a waltz, his hand on the bare small of my back, and that half-grin I fell in love with the first time I saw it as we watched the Fourth of July fireworks from Frank Sinatra Park. We hadn't danced much in our five years together, but somehow we just knew the steps. He led without leading, and on some turns so did I. Three steps a turn, my hair bouncing over my shoulder with every change of direction, the strong curve of his shoulder under my hand.
At the fountain's edge, Anthony lifted my hand straight up, signaling me to turn once ... then again ... then again ... and on that last turn, with me turned away for only a split-second, less than a split-second, he had pulled from his coat pocket the little blue box. And he asked me. With that half-smile, with eyes that reflected the water fountain's motion, and wiping off a tear before I might see it, he asked me....
And not even twenty-four hours later, here I was freshly snubbed by Delilah and on my way to see Anthony's mother. Carmela. The Smother, my friends and I called her at first. Would you believe that she actually KNOCKED ME OUT OF THE WAY so that Anthony could put sunblock on her back?! And he DID IT, too! I almost broke up with him that day, I remembered, smiling a little out the window and hearing myself breathe out a little laugh. Anthony turned his head and smiled. I smiled in return and patted his hand on the gearshift.
Anthony was a reformed Mama's Boy. Normally, you can't reform the true mama's boys, but he was willing to be reformed. That makes all the difference. There are men who never want to let go of their mothers, who want you to cut the London broil just like their mothers do or make marinara sauce with the same kind of sausage their mothers buy from the same deli. And then there are captive mama's boys who really want the road out. Their mothers have super-glued the apron strings where the boys cut them. They're just back-stepping little by little, one grain at a time, so the mother bear won't notice. How my friends and I tried to figure it out, tried to imagine why my strong, silent-type Anthony, with his strength of character, his smarts, his humor, his independence, would slap SPF30 on his mother's wrinkled back while she looked way-too-creepily pleased at the massage from her thirty-year-old son. The Smother, my friends and I called her.
But Carmela was kind to me. Kind enough, considering I kept Anthony's attention away from her, cut his affection in half. She couldn't avoid the reality of what I was, so that meant I got the first heaping dish of manicotti, the thickest slice of braccioli, the last meatball. She hugged me warmly whenever I arrived, and she offered me coupons she'd clipped for me just because. Coupons for Anthony's sinus medication in addition to the raspberry jam I adore, but I'll let that slide. Kindness is kindness, no matter what the motivation. At least she wasn't dangerous.
Excerpted from It's My Wedding Too by SHARON NAYLOR Copyright © 2005 by Sharon Naylor. Excerpted by permission.
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