Wednesday, August 13, 2003

On August 13, 1988, the temperature in Watertown, Massachusetts reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Green-winged dog day cicadas screamed from the trees. At 11 AM, a wedding took place in a Methodist church on Mount Auburn Street, the main thoroughfare of Watertown. At about the same time, in an Italian restaurant in nearby Newton, the air conditioning system fizzled and failed.

The Watertown wedding was neither large nor especially formal. As the guests assembled, a jazz-flavored King Crimson instrumental played on a boom box at the back of the church. The bride's father, 76 years old, was in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's disease; despite the heat and his diminished energy, he pressed on through the service, managing to not wilt too badly in the morning suit he'd somehow agreed to wear. Though not known for his optimism, he had unforeseen reasons to smile. He would beat his disease and live another eight years, something no one else really expected that morning.

The bride and groom had chosen to marry in the town where they now lived. She was actually from Connecticut, the only child of a blue-collar couple; she felt no particular attachment to the home town she'd left in 1974, although several dozen of her relatives had driven to the Boston suburbs for the wedding. The groom was the older of two children of a white-collar family in Indiana. His parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and a few other Midwestern relatives and friends had made the trip to Watertown. Many of the bride's and groom's co-workers were there as well, since the couple had met at work.

On the marriage license, the groom's occupation was listed as "physician", and the bride's as "technical writer". They still joke about that document, which listed different ages for the two of them. He had already turned 32; she was only seven weeks younger, but her birthday fell three weeks after the wedding. Single for so long, they both felt set in their ways. They were determined to go ahead with the wedding, but though few of their friends and relatives realized it, they were terrified. Both of them felt they might be too young to get married.

The matron of honor had been the bride's closest friend as both coped with a stressful and unrewarding workplace several years earlier. The best man had been through postgraduate medical training with the groom, and knew even more about stress. The genial minister who officiated at the wedding addressed the bride and groom during the service. Relax, he told them, relax and learn to have a good time and enjoy each other. Their relatives, who like most families were not privy to their children's secrets, were undoubtedly a bit confused. The friends of the bride and groom, however, understood perfectly, and suppressed giggles as they sat in the pews. The bride wore a beaded butterfly on her veil. It had been an afterthought, but she really liked butterflies. The fact that it was there made her calmer, somehow.

After the service, the groom drove his own gray Colt -- not air-conditioned -- to the reception, with the bride sitting beside him. When they arrived at the Italian restaurant in Newton, the manager apologized profusely about the heat. The bride was taken aback for about ten seconds, and then patted the manager on the arm. Don't worry about it, she said, it's only a little thing. In the larger picture, it really was. The bride and groom were terrified. They felt too young to get married. They went on in anyway, though, and ate pasta and and drank wine while a classical guitarist strummed away in the banquet room, and everyone else loosened their ties and fanned themselves and drank wine or sparkling grape juice while some poor repairman climbed up on the roof and kicked the air-conditioning system back to life before the reception ended.

Now, fifteen years later, the groom is a political activist and budding videographer, long removed from his life in medicine and medical education. The bride is no longer a technical writer; she followed her butterflies to graduate school and became a biologist, an effort that took up half each of her thirties and forties. They still have the gray Colt, which took them from Massachusetts to Michigan three years after the wedding, an action that made them realize they really were not only old enough to get married, but a pretty good team. They don't have children -- the wisest possible decision for them in many ways -- although they're surprisingly good at being an uncle and aunt, something that has brought both of them, as well as the bride's mother, very much closer to the groom's family.

They celebrated their fifteenth anniversary with a strenuous four-hour paddle down a western Michigan river, followed by a lavish dinner in one of their favorite Kalamazoo restaurants. When they went to dinner, he wore an aloha shirt that he bought on their Hawaiian honeymoon. (The bride is still awestruck over the groom's ability to fit into 15-year-old clothes without so much as a strained button.) They're probably going somewhere else soon, but they don't know where or when. They have only occasional contact with the matron of honor, the best man, and the officiating minister -- but they are learning, very slowly, how to relax, and they both have every reason to believe that someday they'll get it right.


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