My wedding date was set for June 16, 2001. My ex-husband, Jim, and I spent every spare minute over six months planning the day down to the last detail. We reserved a large, beautiful cabin with the sleeping capacity for 75 people at Silver Falls State Park. We ordered wine and beer and worked with a caterer to feed the 50 guests we’d invited to our wedding, and we bought enough extra food for the 20 people who would be staying in the cabin with us for the three-day wedding festival. We found the perfect minister in the classified section of The Willamette Week and hired a local Celtic band. We had our simple, country-peasant wedding clothes custom tailored. We invited friends and family from every corner of the country. We were ready to get married.
Guests started showing up four days before the wedding. Many of Jim’s friends from his youth in Chicago came into town. His mother and her husband, his father and his girlfriend, and all three of his sisters also came.
Unfortunately, and much to my unhappiness, nearly nobody from my pre-Portland past was able to make it due to time and money constraints. Unlike Jim, who came from an affluent, middle-class childhood where almost everybody he knew had grown up to be successful, most of my kin were destitute outlaws skulking in the margins of society. Despite the fact that my mother was severely depressed and making every effort to kill herself with alcohol, Jim and I agreed to include flying her to Portland in our budget. We also paid for my sister, Kim, and her two children to come for our party. It was a time for family and loved ones, so we consciously ignored the fact that having my mom out would potentially be disastrous.
My mom, sister, and nephews all showed up around the same time. They stayed in our house, but I barely had time to notice. Parties, get-togethers, packing for the cabin, packing for our honeymoon, and just generally accommodating all the people who had descended upon my world pulled me every which way. I was so busy that I had little time to spend with my mom or Kim.
The night before we left to set up camp at Silver Falls, Jim and I invited the wedding party out for a pre-wedding get-together at The Horse Brass Pub. I left my 8-year-old daughter, and Kim left her 18-month-old and 5-year-old sons with our mom so that she could go out with the rest of the wedding party. I’d noticed that my mom usually had a beer in her hand every time I’d seen her over the past couple of days, but I was certain that her good sense and love for her grandchildren would overcome her desire to drink while we were gone.
“Will you please not drink while we’re out?” I asked.
“Yes, Gloria,” my mom snapped, avoiding eye contact. “It’ll be fine. Just go.”
The night out at The Horse Brass was great fun. Like almost everything else that happened during the time leading up to my wedding day, I don’t remember a lot of that night. I remember having a good time, laughing a lot, and taking a lot of pictures. Interestingly, when I got the film from that night developed, I noticed my sister’s face. In the photos, everybody at the table has a look of celebratory intoxication, cheeks all tinted with alcohol-induced ruddiness – everybody, that is, except Kim. There she sits in a sea of joviality looking completely miserable. In hindsight, I think she was thinking about how her children were doing with mom. Luckily, I was too distracted to care.
When we got home, we found my mom passed out on the couch, snoring. Kim’s boys were in bed and my daughter was up waiting.
“Hey Sierra, how was your night with Granny?” I asked.
“Okay. She drank beer all night. And Dalton screamed for aunt Kim the whole time. Granny just walked around saying, ‘Oh! You’re fine; you’re fine. Mama will be back soon. Come here to Granny – come to Granny.’” Sierra did a hilarious imitation of my mom as she bent at the waist and walked around beckoning to an invisible child on the ground. When she said the “come to Granny” part, she puckered out her lips, made her voice husky, and separated the word granny into two long, drawn out syllables – graaa-neee. She sounded like a crazy lady talking to a lap dog.
“Oh. And she smoked in the house,” Sierra added with an impish look of satisfaction.
Around noon the next day, a caravan headed off to our camp forty miles south. As we arrived, many of Jim’s friends and family began showing up from their various inns around the area. We all worked together to unload the cars and U-Haul that were loaded with food, bedding, dishes, and lots and lots of alcohol. A friend of mine brewed me a special keg of stout just for my wedding – bringing the total amount of alcohol to three cases of wine, two kegs of beer, and one pony keg of Golden Rose, an extremely rich, high alcohol content beer brewed by Hair of the Dog.
The night was filled with food and laughter. People who had never met got to know one another. People who knew each other but hadn’t seen one another in a long time had a chance to catch up. My mom, who must have felt terribly out of place – toothless, wrinkled, poor – quietly took solace in the only place she knew to go. And there was plenty of solace to be had.
The next day, the day of the wedding, was another blur – catering vans coming and going, guests arriving, and arguments with the producers of the movie The Hunted for stopping our guests so that they could finish shooting a scene. At one point, Jim was missing. At another, Jim was found. My dress didn’t fit – it was too tight thanks to the five pounds I’d gained, the alterations, and the dry cleaning. People prepared the outdoor altar for the ceremony and oh my gosh, where was the preacher?
At nine o’clock in the morning, five hours before the ceremony, I asked, “Mom, will you please do me a favor?” Nervous, afraid to offend, afraid of a fight, afraid of a drunken scene later if I didn’t speak up, I continued, “Will you please, please, just wait to start drinking until after the ceremony? Then, I won’t say anything to you. You can drink as much as you want. Just please, mom, don’t be drunk during my wedding.”
Another defensive answer, eyes averted, was offered.
At ten o’clock, Tony, one of the groomsmen, tapped one of the kegs, starting the celebrations early. Other people followed suit.
By ten thirty, my mom had a drink in her hand.
Because we were getting married in a field and my dress had a short train, somebody decided that I should safety pin the train to the back of my dress. No sense in having wedding photos that show an acre of foliage caught up in the hem of my dress, she reasoned. My mom, feeling left out, was given the responsibility of removing the safety pin and fanning out my train before the ceremony started.
The life-changing moment where I would finally fulfill the destiny I felt the very first second I laid my eyes on Jim finally came. Everybody gathered in the field. The wedding party made a semi-circle of held hands around Jim, Sierra, and me as we lit the three-wick unity candle. The sun shone and a light breeze played among the field of gently swaying wild flowers. The preacher opened his book and began to read.
Somewhere in the middle of the ceremony, as vows were being exchanged and I was struggling with the hard, wonderful lump that had formed in my throat, my mom suddenly realized that she had forgotten to take the safety pin out of the back of my dress. This, of course, was the furthest thing from my mind. But my mom – my poor, misdirected mom – decided she had to fulfill her obligation to fan out my train.
I didn’t even see her coming. She approached me from behind as Jim and I exchanged our vows. As the preacher stood before us reciting lines he was asking us to repeat after him, I felt someone tugging at the base of my zipper. Caught by surprise, I started brushing the hand away. I turned, saw it was my mother and hissed, “Mom, what the hell are you doing? Go away.”
But she wouldn’t listen. She was a woman with a mission. As she struggled with the safety pin, I tried to pull away. The safety pin, which had been inserted into the teeth of my zipper, was removed. Because I was pulling away when the pin came out, the zipper split – all the way up. My dress started falling off; my underwear was exposed; my breasts came pouring out.
Luckily, my sister-in-law, Phyllis, rushed over, grabbed the safety pin from my mom, who was bent over trying to fan out my train, and found a way to hold my dress together. I turned, stunned, back toward the preacher and Jim and I finished our wedding ceremony as my mom quietly slipped into the background, her duty fulfilled.
Three weeks later, I discovered the funniest, most absurd part of it all. I’d placed a disposable camera onto each of the twenty tables inside the cabin and had encouraged everyone to grab one as we headed out for the ceremony. Throughout the first half, there was an occasional flash of a camera here and there. But when my drunk mother made her fateful move, cameras started clicking like I was surrounded by the paparazzi. And so I stood, in the middle of Walgreens, three weeks later – after the wedding, after the guests had gone home, after the honeymoon – and shuffled through fifty pictures of the whole event, frame-by-frame, scene by horrible scene.