Cotton [ 2005-02-21, 10:36 a.m. ]

I shake when I get nervous. Uncontrollably, really, and I feel lightheaded and it's hard for me to speak, and I tremble from head to toe. It's not 'nervous' like when you're about to make a presentation at work or hoping that all the dishes you prepared for a dinner party turn out well. It's the kind of nervous reserved for big moments, meaningful moments. I walked into my 10-year reunion shaking like a leaf, unable to string together complete sentences: I saw an old friend named Keri, who hugged me and looked at me while I struggled to get comfortable in the moment. It's so good to see you again, I offered as explanation; I'm shaking, I just can't stop shaking…

And two weeks ago, we were in San Diego for my friend Ang's wedding and we sat in the church and I shook. I was nervous to see old college friends for the first time in years, overwhelmed with it, really. On the way to the reception, I was still shaking, I felt like I had had too much coffee and not enough food. What's going on with you, asked Kent, I've never seen you like this.

His memory is short and forgiving, sometimes to his detriment (How – HOW I ASK YOU – how can my husband quote entire movies he saw once when he was 12 from start to finish, remember sports statistics, memorize songs after one listening, and STILL FORGET EVERYTHING I TELL HIM?). He apparently blocked out large chunks of time leading up to our wedding, forgetting that I shook for about 3 hours straight the night before we got married. And that, weirdly, last year I was shaky on our first anniversary: we stayed in a hotel and went out for a Big Fancy Dinner, and I was really, really nervous. At the hotel, getting dressed, going to the restaurant. It was weird, that I even felt a little shy, but I think in that case, it was the whole FIRST YEAR ANNIVERSARY thing looming over me, that it was the one and only time we would have a FIRST ANNIVERSARY and that everyone wanted to know how we were celebrating our FIRST ANNIVERSARY and that it was supposed to be special and noteworthy and so even though I (clearly) feel comfortable around my husband, I was shaking, in our room at The Regency, and trying to make small talk with my husband as we drank champagne and watched a bad movie while we waited for our dinner reservation time, and it felt a little like my 18th birthday, on which my boyfriend rented a hotel room for us at Embassy Suites because apparently he thought the best gift to give ME on my birthday would be a lot of sex for him. I probably shook then too.

Throughout all of our wedding planning, I assumed that I would be, if not quite cool, calm and collected, at least firmly in control of my emotions. I didn't expect to cry or get sad or nervous or sentimental. I expected to worry about all the plans turning out as imagined and I expected to worry about my hair and makeup but I did not expect to be a weepy bride. I am a tough cookie! I won't cry at my wedding! No, not me, 'cuz I'm so TOUGH, you see. But the night before we were to be married, I trembled as I got out of my parents' car at the church and walked inside to greet everyone at our rehearsal. I stood in the back of the church with my dad and felt like I couldn't catch my breath. I wanted to sit down and have cinnamon toast or a glass of wine or a nap. I walked down the practice aisle shaking and blinking back tears, I struggled to breathe deeply and walk slower. Kent met us halfway, he took my shaking arm, I walked with him and my faux-bouquet of ribbons-and-bows-in-a-paper-plate towards the priest, my knees shook.

We went to the rehearsal dinner, which was exactly the kind of party I said I didn't want, but my in-laws overruled me. (I wanted casual, informal, preferably catered and in my parents' huge backyard, so that we could invite all the out-of-towners and not worry about space or headcount or expense. My in-laws decided on a private room in a traditional Italian restaurant with formal menus and assigned seating and place cards and limited guest list. Oh yeah, and toasts and speeches and ugly paper decorations. Blech.) At the restaurant the maitre'd and manager and wait staff were all, Oh, here is the BRIDE, everyone, it's so nice to meet the BRIDE, what can we get for the BRIDE, and I started shaking again. Everyone wanted to talk to the BRIDE and ask the BRIDE if she was excited and tell the BRIDE that she looked pretty and the BRIDE really wanted to sit down and not be the focus of everyone's fucking attention. My mother-in-law made me open a few wedding gifts that people had brought with them, which pissed me off because it seemed awfully damn rude to start opening gifts in the middle of a rehearsal dinner, but she started to cry (I swear to you, it's true), so I opened up the World's Ugliest Champagne Flutes ("Awww…they make a HEART if you put them together! And they have your NAMES on them!") and the World's Least Appreciated Lladro Thingy Ever ("Awwww…it's the Circle of LOOOOVVVEEE!") and the World's Largest Bible ("Look! It's got your names EMBOSSED ON IT IN GOLD!"…and I swear to you it looks like a prop from a Jr. High school play, it's THAT big, and did I mention that it is WHITE LEATHER with the gold lettering screaming HOLY BIBLE, and that it is apparently a lesser known version of the bible, The 1970's Amazing Technicolor Bible, complete with photos of like, 1970's couples getting communion from priests with sideburns and tinted lenses. At the risk of being blasphemous, it is the ugliest book I have ever seen in my entire life. The ugliest. In my life.) I clung to my mother's side for most of the dinner, let her signal to the waiters that, Oh, the BRIDE needs more wine, and tried to smile pretty. I would have clung to my fiancé, but the tides of family swept him to the other side of the room and steered him from Formally Assigned Table With Placecards I Specifically Said I Did Not Want to the next Formally Assigned Table With More Of The Hateful And Unnecessary Placecards. With the help of my mother's comforting presence, I stopped shaking. I even had fun.

After dinner my Groom was whisked off by his sister and cousin and best man, all sunburned from riding the ferry to Alcatraz earlier. (And not to go too far off on a tangent, but my brother's girlfriend introduced me to the most wonderful expression: my brother – and probably most men – seems to maintain almost inexplicable loyalties to his childhood friends. I – and most women I know – have some friends from childhood but usually develop close social circles wherever I go. But the guys stay tight with those old friends, and they are often the same friends who do the most ridiculous crap at the most ridiculous times. V calls them my brother's Monkey Friends, and it is as apt for him as for my husband. Kent has Monkey Friends in Ohio, and I'm pretty sure they'll be with us for all eternity, calling drunk at 2:00 a.m. to ask Kent what his jersey number was in 8th grade Pop Warner football because somewhere, someone had a bet riding on it. Anyway, Kent has his Monkey Friends and his cousin Greg is totally king of the jungle.) In the 6 hours Greg had been in California, he had somehow managed to find a dive bar in the preppy, preppy suburbs and was taking Kent there. I was powerless against the Monkey Friends on the night before our wedding, so Kent went off and I went home. I started shaking again.

The night before my wedding was notable for many reasons, but what remains nearest and dearest to my heart was how full my parents' house was. My brother M and his girlfriend were there, my brother J was there, I asked my brother N and his girlfriend M to stay over as well, my friend Jay – one of the groomsmen – was also there. So even though I shook and paced and trembled, my house was full and my parents were there and all the people I loved most in the world were puttering around the house with me. (Except, of course, Kent, who was out drinking with his Monkey Friends, and probably a few high school classmates of mine.) I tried to read a book and couldn't, I practiced my eye makeup one more time and gave up, I went through the Binder of Important Wedding Crap that I had lugged from New York, I talked to Jay, I tried to watch a movie, and then my dad sent me to bed. (But of course, I couldn't sleep, not until I talked to Kent and said Goodnight, but because he was out with the MOTHERFUCKING Monkey Friends, he did not call me until late, late LATE, but it didn't matter to me because I just needed to hear from him.)

On the morning of our wedding, however, the most amazing thing happened. I woke up calm. The sun was out, as it had been the two days prior – lucky for February – and I could hear voices and footsteps throughout the house. I walked into the kitchen just as my parents were leaving to take a carload of who knows what to the reception site. Coffee was waiting for me, and I sat and had toast as my brothers and their girlfriends all popped in and out of the kitchen with me. I showered and threw on jeans, flip-flops and a button-down shirt, and thought, I'm getting married later. I wasn't shaking, I was happy, I was calm. Jay said he was going for a run; my brothers M and N went with him. I walked the few blocks to the nail salon for a manicure and pedicure. I was alone, and relaxed, and I felt so, so good. She's getting married later, all the ladies at the nail salon said. I just smiled and enjoyed the morning. With my toes freshly painted I walked home and felt the sun on my head. Saturday morning, quiet, quiet, quiet, and I breathed it in and tried to commit the time, smell, feel, taste, look, sound of it all to memory. I walked up the hill to my parents' house, and time slowed for me, bowed its head, offered up a smile.

Hours passed, a white dress was carefully slipped over my head, and before I knew it, I was climbing into the back of a long car with Lee, my maid of honor. We drove to the church, only a few block from my parents', and I sat in the back of the car with her. Are you okay, she asked me, and I was. I was fine. My parents were in the church greeting guests, my bridesmaids were inside, soon Lee joined them. I was alone in the car with my parents' dear friend Mike, who served as chauffeur, boutonniere-fastener and general lovely person with his vintage Cadillac. He told me he was honored to be a part of my day, and told me to remember the little things. I told him I would always remember sitting outside the church with him in his lovely old car. I saw my friend Ang and her then-boyfriend Rich walk up the church steps. And that's when I started to shake.

It suddenly dawned on me that the wedding was real, that it extended far beyond Kent and me and our families, and that friends had gotten on airplanes and taken trains to come see us get married, and that all the invitations I addressed went to people who opened them and thought that Yes, we'd like to be there, and now those people were all in one big room and I was out in the car, the glow of the church candles barely visible, and it was real because whatever gets said between two people in the most private of moments is one thing, but what gets said in front of an audience, in front of witnesses and friends and clergy and family, loud and clear, is quite another. My mom came to the car and told me it was time.

In the back of the church I stood among my bridesmaids and watched my brothers escort my grandmother, my mother to the front pew. Then the music started, the music I had picked out weeks before. My sister-in-law, then S, then Lee all walked down the aisle, and I watched them disappear past the doors, and I shook. I couldn't see people, not individual faces, just the red of the carpet and the glow of the wood and that music, a solitary pianist playing the music I had chosed and it WAS REAL AND HAPPENING, and ohmygod, they were closing the doors. I stepped towards the doors, someone straigtened my veil, and I shook. I couldn't breathe, I felt like I had just run a mile, I felt like I could run a hundred more. The doors opened and everyone stood.

I walked on my father's arm. Slow down, he whispered to me, This is a walk you will only take once. I slowed down, I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I shook and smiled. My bouquet was so much heavier than anyone tells you it will me. I saw Ang and BritGirl and Polly and Madeleine and Katherine and Peter and Jasper and Hannah and I walked on my father's arm. Kent was waiting for me, I shook as he took my arm, I shook as the priest smiled at us, I shook as we kneeled. Finally, with only Kent and the kind, kind priest in my eyesight, I stopped shaking. I calmed down, I tried my very hardest to remember the details, which I am sad to say did not work. Much of the ceremony is a blur. I remember the priest saying that if a girl from California and boy from Ohio meet in New York, that is God.

My brothers each spoke; I think I thanked them as they walked past me back to their places with the other groomsmen. But I wasn't shaking.

And all along I had thought that during the ceremony, I would be Fine, better then Fine, actually. I thought Kent would be the emotional one and that I would be Ms. Nerves of Steel, Ms Lump of Coal for a Heart, Ms Lack of Sentiment. Turns out I was wrong. Kent was solid, didn't cry, didn't stutter, didn't flinch or waver or sniffle. I shook, and then, when my cousin Heather sang an aria as we lighted the unity candle, I sobbed. Really sobbed, with the chin-quiver and the twisted mouth and the tears. And of course, the drippy, snotty nose, which is what prompts me to offer EVERY BRIDE the following advice: MAKE SURE YOUR GROOM HAS A HANKY HANDY. Or your maid of honor, or tuck it in your bouquet...HAVE A DAMN HANKY HANDY, because you do not want to be kneeling before the priest, about to be pronouced husband and wife, sniffling and wondering just how bad it would be to wipe your nose on the sleeve of your wedding gown. (I'll never wear it again...you think). Lee noticed me sniffling, gestured to my mother who handed her a tissue, she then snuck it into my hand, thus sparing the lovely and expensive sleeve of my wedding gown.

My hands shook while we exchanged rings. My heart pounded. I don't remember a word of our vows.

I remember music starting up, I remember people clapping and smiling, and I remember how much easier the walk back down the aisle was this time. I wasn't shaking.

We ducked out of the church and around the corner of the building. Soon, the bridal party met us there, and everyone hugged us. Jay hugged and kissed me, then each of my brothers, one by one. I burst into tears again, clinging to my brother M. Happy, very happy, but overwhelmed, not sad. Just overwhelmed. The bridesmaids and groomsmen left us for a second, I collected myself and Kent took my hand. Let's go, my husband said.

I shake when I get nervous, but we've been married two years now and I am settling in and trying my hardest and they say that the second anniversary is celebrated with Cotton, which seems much stronger than Paper. Less likely to tear, less likely to burn. Less likely to shake.


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