By the time the Rolls-Royce pulled up to the north transept porch, it had begun to rain.
I had taken measures to avert this. Various sources had advised me to drape a rosary over a bush or a tree in my yard, either a week or a day before my wedding, to ward against bad weather. I dutifully unearthed my late grandfather’s rosary from my jewelry box (Catholic heritage! represent!), but immediately ran up against the insurmountable obstacle: I do not have a yard. I have a loft condo on the second floor of a self-consciously stylish building in a yuppie neighborhood in downtown DC. There is a tree on the street outside my building, but I was not about to hang any treasured family mementos on it, even assuming I could hit a branch if I flung the rosary from my bedroom window.
So Grandpa’s rosary wound up (apparently in keeping with an alternative, more urban superstition) hanging from the inside doorknob on my front door. And I played Berlioz, hummed along with my ipod, and prayed for dry weather and a good sunset.
Alas: at least for the moment, my prayers had worn through.
We ducked into the National Cathedral through the Women’s Porch, dodging the still-sparse raindrops. Fortunately, I reminded myself repeatedly, our ceremony was scheduled to take place indoors; our reception could shift into the indoor portions of DAR if the indoor-outdoor ones proved inhospitable; and our wedding day could basically transpire according to plan even if it rained. We had planned to repair to the Bishop’s Garden for postnuptial photography, but (I told myself as my bridal party hustled me into the slype, so that my nearby fiance and I would not accidentally glimpse each other), if a garden photo session fail was the biggest thing that went wrong today, all would still be perfect. All would still be perfect.
The slype is a long room, a hallway really, that stems off the Cathedral’s north transept and leads down to the garth and the administration offices outside. In it are a bunch of lockers, where clergy stow their mufti, and a rack of vestments for every season. Since it’s where the officiants robe up before a service, for a long time I’d thought it was called the vestry. The word slype surprised me. (“You mean, like Skype?”) But so it is: we were Pispies now, about to be married in a Rite 2 service, and if the vestry in our church was called a slype, then that’s what we’d call it.
We’d brought the brownies and the cheese plate from the surprise catered lunch, which pleased not only the bridesmaids, but also the ambient clergy and vergers and random Cathedral staff. Anne Holland, one-half of our brilliant husband-and-wife team of photographers, was back in there with us, in the bishop’s private dressing room near the back of the slype, and got some lovely shots of Elianna fastening me into my how-the-hell-did-I-ever-fit-into-that wedding gown.
Oh my God, my wedding gown.
Oh my God, my wedding.
This was the most unreal thing, the thing I could barely stand to think about before my head threatened to explode and I had to turn my focus to flying buttresses and stained glass. I was getting married. The same self who swore never again to go near the institution, after the immolation of her first marriage, was now about to eat her words. In an antique ivory Spanish lace gown at the National Cathedral, trailing a mile-long veil, standing up and taking full-on sacred vows before family, friends, and deity.
I hoped like crazy that I could keep my word this time.
I am a stay-the-course person by nature. It’s physically difficult for me to quit a job or break a lease. When my first marriage caved in under its own weight, I was perhaps the last person to perceive and admit it (or at least tied for that honor with my ex-husband). Because I had meant what I said when I entered into that contract, it hurt to breach it. And because I’d meant it when I promised myself I’d never do such a thing again, it hurt a little, even on this glorious perfect day, to realize that I’d now made a liar of myself twice over.
But this is so different from either of those, I reasoned inside my head. You’re not running. Not to, not from. There is no duress here, no coercion, no aversion, no compulsion either way. I was going to walk down the aisle alone, of my own volition, and speak these vows not because I felt constrained to, but precisely because I did not.
Except I wouldn’t be walking down the aisle alone. Not exactly.
I always keep a peacock feather nearby, a shout-out to my late father. (The day he died, I dreamed of a giant peacock.) There’s one in my office, two in my car, a vase full of them in my front hallway, even one in my wallet. But today I had no bouquet in which to stow the feather, nor could I find an appropriate place to hide it in my gown. I finally wound up tucking it into the leg band on my Spanx. May the spirit of my father be…flush with my kneecap. He would, um, approve. Or something.
The afternoon sped up. My mother and grandmother appeared in the slype, all smiles and snapshots; then came my stepmother and step-grandmother; and then the place was crowded with a whole scrum of family and bridesmaids and all-around photography. Elianna settled the epic veil into my Heather Reed hairdo and spread the sheet of tulle out behind me. It spanned nearly the entire slype. Anne (the professional photographer) then extracted the two of us to the Women’s Porch, where Anne’s husband Bill was waiting with my husband-to-be.
Our photographers recommend a “first sight” photo session before your ceremony, since the look on each other’s faces is too good to miss. Of course, tradition holds that the groom is not supposed to see the bride’s gown before she walks down the aisle. We’d long ago scuttled this; I relied too heavily on &’s input to conceal my get-up from him at any point. But our wedding day was not entirely without sartorial revelation: today he was wearing, for the first time ever, the bespoke suit that I had commissioned for his wedding gift.
When I caught sight of him, I had to choke back a bawl of delight. & is a handsome fellow in any circumstances, but I had never seen him look so good.
He turned, saw me, and the expression on his face mirrored mine.
Anne and Bill, with their multiple cameras and profusion of lenses, were on fire. I’ve never felt so attentively observed. We weren’t posing so much as simply being gobsmacked, together, at our incredible fortunes…but at the direction of our masterful photographers, we were gobsmacked first over here, then down this stairwell, then over against this wall, then in front of this arch…
…where the rain, which had swelled to an implausible downpour, obscured the view of the west towers.
It had happened; we had failed to evade the deluge. It was like rain on our wedding day.
Eventually, when the wind was pumping enough rain onto the Women’s Porch that my veil had grown dangerously damp, we decided that it was time to conclude the prenuptial photo session and go back inside.
Even then, though, the timing (if not the weather) was still spot on: the organist had not yet made his way to the end of our queue of preludes, but was approaching it. &’s groomsmen had assembled near the crossing and were pairing off with the various mothers and grandmothers that they would soon be escorting to their seats. & headed over to the boys while I rejoined the bridesmaid corps at mid-nave, grinning and waving to all the tourists who would now be guests…
…at my wedding, which was about to begin.