The Wedding

My parents were never married. When Mom found out she was pregnant, she and Dad tried to stay together, but it didn’t work. By the time I was one year old, it was clear that they couldn’t stay together. Then the endless battle began. Whichever parent was still standing by the end of it would gain custody of me. Unfortunately, the battle never really ended.

I passed from parent to parent for the next nine years of my life. At age ten, it was decided that I would move to Brooklyn with Mom so that I could go to a magnet school that had accepted me into its drama program. Dad would see me every other weekend, which isn’t very often if you really think about it (just two days every two weeks). But I went along with it, because I knew there wasn’t much I could do. I had tried to switch to life with Dad but failed due to indecisiveness and a guilty conscience. I could never do that to Mom. I was what got her to clean up her act after dropping out of college. After she had me, she went to art school and joined the animation industry. I couldn’t just leave. She would be devastated.

Knowing this, I moved to Brooklyn, made it through middle school rather unscathed, and tried out for high schools in eighth grade. But that summer, during the break between my last year at Mark Twain Intermediate School and my first year at Brooklyn Technical High School, it happened. On the Fourth of July I was told, before anyone else, that Laura, Dad’s girlfriend, was pregnant. Just a few weeks later, they were engaged.

Dad and Laura arranged a barbecue at my aunt Meagan’s house and invited my grandparents and Laura’s parents. As they ate and my cousin and I played on the hammock, the announcements were made. It didn’t matter to me, though. Looking back now, I realize I was in a state of denial. Of course, I didn’t show it. I just smiled and reassured everyone that it was fine. I laughed and pretended to be excited when my grandmother asked how I felt about being a future big sister. I called my best friend that night and freaked out a bit over the phone, but the next morning I put my happy face back on and continued with life.

When I returned to Mom’s house I said nothing. When a girl I didn’t know asked if I had any siblings at a friend’s birthday party, I immediately responded with “No. And I never will.” More denial. I could not process the fact that this was real. It just didn’t make sense.

There were a few reasons I felt the way I did, the simplest of which being that I just could not understand. My parents had dated at least five different people each since I was aware enough to take note of such things. In my mind, Dad had always been the “dashing single guy.” I was now discovering how hard it was to translate “dashing and single” into “married.”

Two weeks after the announcements, Dad came to pick me up again.

“I don’t know if Valerie told you, but now I’m engaged.”

My mom blinked, confused. “Oh. Wow. Valerie didn’t say anything about that.…Um, congratulations.…”

“She hasn’t?…Then I guess she hasn’t told you that Laura’s pregnant?”

“What? No, she didn’t say anything at all about that!” Seeing my mother’s expression made me want to crawl into a hole and never emerge. “How could you have kept that from me!? You’re going to have a sibling and you didn’t tell me!” I blushed a bit.

“Um…I guess I… just forgot?” It was the only excuse I could think of.

“Forgot!? How could you forget something like that!?” I avoided the question by slinking into my room to get my bag. Once I had it, I followed Dad down to the car, then sat with my nose in a book, trying to hide my shame. I didn’t make eye contact with him once, which was unusual because we usually talked the whole ride to Connecticut, where he lives. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a sibling, it was just that having one that was fourteen years younger than me would be so…ridiculous. I have an aunt that’s only sixteen years older than me. Not only that, but I would never be able to view the boy or girl as anything other than “Laura’s kid.” It would never be my sister or my brother, but someone I live with part-time. It was a scary concept and that led to denial, which led to a sort of dull numbness.

The bridal shower came and went. It was awkward, but I managed. Everyone complimented me on how maturely I was taking this and how wonderful I was for acting like such a grown-up. It was strange though, because deep, deep down, I almost wanted to be dramatic, to throw a fit, or to just know that I could without surprising everyone and breaking Laura’s heart. I honestly thought Laura was lovely. She and Dad made a perfect couple, but I felt like it had always been my job to be mature and not make a big deal out of everything. I just thought it would be nice to be dramatic for once.

The actual wedding was on September 17, 2011. I showed up half an hour early with Dad. We were both wearing old jeans and too-big T-shirts because Laura had our clothes. When she arrived, her mother brought Dad his suit, and he changed in the building behind the church while Laura stayed in the car. When he was done, he left to stand in the church. I changed quickly in the bathroom when Laura came in with our dresses. After leaving, my aunt Meagan, who was the only other bridesmaid, changed in turn while I sat down to let one of Laura’s friends do my hair quickly. Afterward, she explained that she simply put it in two braids, tied them in a knot, then tucked the ends back into my hair. I didn’t see the back of my head all night, but everyone told me it was beautiful. After hair, she did my makeup. I squirmed a bit for the eye makeup, but managed to sit still for the rest. My theater classes probably helped with this. When that was done, I ran around with Meagan, passing out stones that had some sort of symbolic importance that we didn’t understand, checking on Dad and Laura repeatedly, and telling everyone which side to sit on and what spots were taken

Finally, the time came. Laura finally felt that she was ready. She wore a beautiful creamy-white gown that hid her baby bump perfectly. The dress was very simple. It had a plain bodice, flowing skirt, no sleeves, and the only pattern was a band of golden thread that went around her waist. The real beauty was in the pin-up trail. It had a beautiful golden shell pattern that went in a straight line and had flowing material coming off it like waves. It really did look beautiful.

We lined up for the bridal procession and I was the first to step through the double doors, guiding my great-grandfather carefully up the aisle, seating him as quickly as I could with a ninety-six-year-old man, and walked nervously to the “big bowl thingy,” as Meagan had described it. I shot an encouraging look at Dad, then arranged my green gauzy dress and golden shawl carefully. It was my last chance to fix myself up before the attention was directed to this end of the church. I held my bouquet in front of my stomach and waited.

Laura walked down the aisle in her stunning dress, and I saw my dad smile, all nervousness suddenly gone. It was picture-perfect. The ceremony was a blur. I was sort of in a state of wonder the entire time. The only time I came out of my trance was when Laura presented me with a pearl necklace that symbolized our family coming together. I was stunned and I’m sure I made a ridiculous face, but it didn’t matter. Afterward, I got into the car with Meagan and her fiancé and we headed to the reception.

When we got out of the car, I walked across the parking lot and up some stairs to the party room of the yacht club where the reception was held. After finding a seat and putting my things down, I wandered around, trying appetizers and getting the woman at the bar to give me endless wineglasses filled with ginger ale. Then everyone sat down and the musicians took a break. Laura’s brother, Matt, and Dad’s sister, Meagan, made a toast. At the very end of Meagan’s, I got a sudden urge to go up as well. So I stood and adjusted the microphone so I could actually be heard.

“I just wanted to come up here to say that…Well, I’d just like to congratulate my dad and Laura.…I mean, I’ve known Dad my whole life, and I just want to say how lucky Laura is that she has Dad and how lucky Dad is that he has Laura. You two really couldn’t be a more perfect match because, well, you just fit together so well! And lastly, I just want to thank Laura in advance because I know you’ll take good care of Dad.” I looked down at my hand and realized suddenly that my glass was still sitting on the table. “And, um…I forgot my ginger ale, but…cheers!”

For the rest of the night, I got compliments from nearly everyone I spoke to about the toast. Even the people serving the food who could barely speak English were commenting on how “heart-warming” it had been. It made me feel weird, so I just laughed the compliments off and said, “I’m in drama, it helps.”

Dad and Laura had the first dance. After their first song had ended, everyone started going up. I was invited to dance by Dad, my grandpa Ed, and my new uncle, Matt. I accepted all three offers and danced around a bit.

Everyone started leaving at about 11:00 p.m. It had been a huge day, and I fell asleep in the car on the way to my grandmother’s house.

This whole experience made me realize something huge. It sort of let me know that I had gotten over my parents’ separation. It made me realize that I’ve moved on. I no longer silently wish that they could get back together and learn to love each other. To repeat what I told everyone that had been worried about my opinion, “I never really knew my parents during that brief time after I was born when they were together, so it really doesn’t bother me that Dad’s now married to someone else.” I only hope that Mom will end up just as happy.

As for my new sibling, she’s a girl and is due in March. I am not as nervous as before because it occurred to me that I will only ever see her every other weekend for the next four years. And after that, I’m off to college. That said, I probably won’t be too involved in her growing up. So, in my opinion, there is no reason to worry.

Valerie Conklin
Age 14, Grade 9
Brooklyn Technical High School
Gold Key

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