Finding the courage to write these has been terrifying. I find myself backing away, minimizing the hurt & the damage, the “oh it wasn’t that bad” inner voice. But I must. The memories are splinters embedded in my heart for years; they’re infected, painful to touch, agony to try to pull out.
Maybe it’s best to start with a memory that doesn’t look all that hurtful. On the surface, anyway. Some folks would even call it funny. Maybe.
My husband and I got married on the cheap. I hate the big-wedding culture; none of it makes sense to me. Why spend all that money on one day, one ceremony? Why force everyone into these uncomfortable clothes, just to be bored for hours? That had been my experience with all family weddings: forced to go to church, listen to a long boring ceremony, sit on uncomfortable chairs in a cold hall where I don’t know anyone, get a plate of food that I hated (no clue who catered the family weddings, but daaaamn, they sucked), & wait & wait & wait for my parents to finally decide to leave.
Neither Husband nor I wanted anything like that. So one day, when my parents decided to come up to visit us — they live about an hour and half away — we took them out to a decent Italian restaurant and dropped the news: we were finally going to make it legal & get married next month.
At that point, husband & I had been together for 10 years & living together for five. This was the mid-1990s, pre-HealthCareReform, pre-“domestic partner” coverage; with my continual health issues & having gone thru two uncovered surgeries already, being able to be covered under a spouse’s work insurance was a desperate need.
The questions and protests started: next month? That wasn’t enough time. Was there something I wasn’t telling them?? We’d never get a church that soon. What do you mean, you’re not getting married in a church? Where was my engagement ring? Who was paying for everything? Our answers were continual repetitions: “It’s handled. Don’t worry about it. We’re paying. Just show up.”
I’d just been hired by a really good company and would be making more than I’d ever made. We were moving to a new apartment, as part of all the good changes. Two friends of ours had recently become legally-credentialed Pagan clergy & offered to do the ceremony in our new apartment, making the ceremony both a celebration of our relationship & the new beginning in our lives. Another friend was a trained chef, who offered to make the dinner as a gift (nothing fancy, but daaaaamn, that was the best lasagna I’ve ever had). Even better, we’d been on food stamps for months prior to my being hired, so almost all the food was paid for by our remaining food stamp balance.
So we’d planned a small ceremony on the cheap, only our immediate family and our friends invited. Husband’s immediate family was three people: his mom, his step-dad, and his aunt who’d helped raise him & who was closer to him in many ways than his mom was. My side was bigger — a Catholic family, after all: parents, three siblings, my sis’s husband & my brother’s fiance.
The parental weaseling began the minute my parents got back to their place. My grandmothers couldn’t come (one was in poor health, the other hated traveling longer than a few minutes) — could my uncle M. & his family come instead? That was an odd request; while I liked Uncle M & he was the “cool” uncle on Dad’s side, he wasn’t exactly close to me or my siblings. His new wife & her daughter barely knew my parents, let alone me & Husband.
“But his aunt got invited!!” Dad said, when I brought all that up, and to stave off the whining and family fighting over such a small thing, I caved: Okay, yeah, sure, Uncle M. can come.
Then the real BS hit.
“I’ve got a video camera,” Dad said. “I’ll tape the ceremony for you.”
Our Pagan friends had been worried about that. One worked in the school district & didn’t want to be outed as a “witch” to a very conservative admin; another didn’t want to potentially lose his job. With Dad being connected & “in” with the Catholic parishes, we weren’t about to take any chances. “Sorry, Dad, no. No video. We want everyone’s attention on the ceremony, not on the video. Regular cameras are ok, though.”
“No problem. I’ll put it on a tripod.”
“NO, Dad. Small apartment. People’ll trip over it.”
“No one’ll trip on it. I’ll watch it –“
“Then you won’t be paying attention to the ceremony. No.”
Then the Dreaded Parental Utterance: “MYNAME MIDDLENAME SURNAME!”
“DAD’SNAME MIDDLENAME LASTNAME — NO!”
Background: Dad was really, really into filming everything. As I was growing up, Christmas meant Dad setting up a huge rack of flood-lights so that he could film us opening presents. He’d order us around like he was shooting a Grammy-award flick, whining at Mom if someone didn’t follow his orders, while four young children squirmed with impatience. We weren’t allowed to open anything until Dad said we could, and even then, only one, slow present at a time. No one was allowed to open anything else until he was done filming each designated present-opening in its entirety, from Mom loudly reading off the gift tag, to the present-opener holding up whatever s/he got and stating what it was to the camera, to the torn wrapping paper finally being stuffed in the nearby garbage bag. — and since breakfast was always after the presents, we were impatient AND hungry-as-hell, so there was always at least one childish meltdown. Vacations, family events, reunions, weddings, trick-or-treating, walking-around-the-block, nothing was safe from Dad’s movie camera, and visitors to our house got to watch all the home movies to prove it.
Then vid-cams came out, along with VHS machines. Oh fuckin’ JOY. Dad rushed to buy one of the first vid-cams off the shelf & a whole new meaning of “hell” opened up. Everything — everything — got committed to video, whether we wanted it or not. A huge part of my teenage years were spent holding my hands between my face and Dad’s camera, as I asked/begged him to cut it out. I lost count of the number of times he would film something, then once we were back home, he would shove his tape in the VCR and insist on everyone watching the video over and over and OVER and OVER, endlessly replaying scenes to point out some odd minutiae only he cared about, and then replaying it yet again while he described what was going on & what everyone had been doing as we were watching them do it, despite the fact that we’d been right there as it’d happened…
Yeah. You’re reading that right. Rather than actually experience an event as it was happening, he’d video-tape it & watch it endlessly on TV. The high-res, 3-D, surround-sound of chaotic colorful Life reduced to the low-res, flattened frame of a 28inch screen and a mono speaker.
If Dad couldn’t see it through the narrow frame of a viewfinder, it wasn’t worth watching.
You can see where this is going.
So — Every day until the wedding date, there were phone calls. Multiple phone calls: “C’mon, let me bring the video camera.” Every day brought some new reason, some new justification, some new guilt-trip for why Dad absolutely had to have his video-camera there. The grandmothers wanted to watch the ceremony, hundreds of various relatives wanted to see it, so-and-so wanted copies, one of his co-workers wanted him to film their wedding & ours would be “practice”, Grandma really really really wanted to see it, Aunt So-&-So wanted a video, I’d want the memories when I got older, our kids would want to see it (we’re childfree by choice & medical necessity, but that’s another family-bs issue), our future nieces and nephews would want to see it, Great-Grandma was asking about it, etc etc etc.
Every day brought the exact same answer: NO.
I refused to let Husband deal with it. The phone rang, I answered it. Answering machine message? I dealt with it. This was my fuckin’ hill to die on: OUR wedding, OUR marriage, OUR ceremony. I knew all those “relatives” didn’t want any such thing; the grandmothers didn’t say anything about it when they called; said co-worker could get video “practice” elsewhere, not at my wedding; etc etc etc. But still, every day:
“C’mon, let me bring the video-ca–”
“It won’t be any prob –“
“Your grandmother wants–“
Every. Single. Damned. Day.
Finally, finally, the day arrives. It was a gorgeous mid-October day — we’d decided against “outside” as there was no way to guarantee no-interruptions from other tenants — we had the windows open, my brother was helping Husband clear out the living room & get decorations up, while one of my sisters helped me in the kitchen with the little bit of remaining prep for the meal, and both me & Husband are scurrying around getting all the last-minute stuff done…and then, just as we’re almost ready to start, Dad pulled me aside:
“Look, I’ve got the video-camera down in the trunk. I can put it right over there, and it won’t be in the way at all –“
At that point, I lost my fuckin’ shit. “WHAT PART OF NO DON’T YOU FUCKIN’ UNDERSTAND?!? I SAID NO, DAD!! NO. NO. NO!! DROP IT OR LEAVE!”
Total, absolute silence.
Our Pagan clergy friends had their hands in front of their mouths, trying not to laugh; they knew what had been going on. Mom rolled her eyes, tossing her hands up in an “I told him so” gesture of frustration. My youngest sister was glaring at Dad; Uncle M looked shocked. Husband’s mom & aunt only stared, his step-dad shaking his head.
If Dad had any response, I didn’t hear it. I yanked out of his grasp and went back to the bedroom to get changed and to calm down.
Dad pouted throughout the ceremony — a Pagan ceremony that Husband and I had written, including jumping the broomstick and having everyone tie blessings into woven cords that measured our length. Dad tried to take control of the after-party, insisting on music & dancing — luckily, the radio didn’t oblige (ACDC’s “Highway To Hell”. THANK YOU, QFM96!!) — and he pouted more when we didn’t follow his ideas on “traditional” wedding activities. But the real kicker came as everyone was eating the wonderful lasagna and dinner that our chef friend had made: Chef Friend finally arrived, apologizing as he’d been kept late at work, and everyone burst into spontaneous applause for him & that awesome, wonderful lasagna…
…and then Chef Friend pulled me and Husband into the kitchen: “So…where’s the video camera?”
Rolling my eyes, I sighed. “Down in the trunk.”
Then we had to explain to everyone else why us three had burst out laughing to the point of hysterics…