by Peter Altschul
(Author’s Note: This article was adapted from my memoir “Breaking Barriers.”)
“What do you mean you didn’t give us Joseph’s tux?” I shouted over the phone an hour before the scheduled start of our wedding. I slammed the cordless phone into its cradle as the noise of people running around the house looking for clothes and taking care of last-minute details seeped through the closed door of the master bedroom.
Lisa, my fiancée, came out of the bathroom. “What’s wrong? And you shouldn’t be here.” She steered me out of the room. “Figure it out,” she snapped through the closed door.
“I’ll take care of it,” promised a neighbor who I barely knew. She hurried out of the house as my then-guide dog Jules and I trudged downstairs to one of the bedrooms where some of the men were changing into wedding clothes.
“Why tuxes?” groused Mitch Pomerantz, one of the groomsmen. We were not looking forward to sweltering in early evening steam bath conditions.
“It won’t be that bad,” called another groomsman from the opposite corner.
“But don’t you live in Arkansas?” Mitch huffed as peals of laughter from the bridal party filtered down from the master bedroom.
Upstairs, I sat on a living room couch with Jules under my feet, trying to read a magazine. I couldn’t concentrate. I began wondering if the wedding would take place as people scurried down our 13 hardwood stairs through the living room to the backyard to address last-minute details. Did the caterers need guidance? Were all the decorations in place?
“This tux is stupid,” Joseph complained. “It’s too hot, and ...” His voice faded away as Rich, my third groomsman, hustled him downstairs.
“Marisha, would you take those champagne glasses downstairs?” Lisa asked from the master bedroom. “And the programs —"
“Sorry to bother you, but it’s time for the wedding pictures,” the photographer mumbled in my ear.
“Outside. And where’s the guest –”
A shriek, shattering glass, a body crashing down the stairs. Stunned silence.
“Are you all right?” several people shouted. Marisha didn’t move.
“What’s wrong?” Lisa called.
People carefully approached Marisha to assess the damage and to clean up the shattered glass.
“What’s wrong?” Lisa repeated.
“Everything’s fine,” I called, now worried that the wedding would have to be rescheduled. Marisha still hadn’t made a sound.
“What’s wrong?” Lisa demanded, hurrying to the stairs. “My God! Are you OK?” Marisha groaned. “Don’t move!”
“I think she’s fine,” Rich said, “but it wouldn’t hurt if a doctor checked her out.”
“She appears to be fine,” a neighborhood doctor confirmed several minutes later, “but she should take it easy for the rest of the day.”
“I think I’m going to faint,” Lisa wailed several minutes later as the wedding party milled about in the living room, waiting for Gordon and Janiece Kent to start playing the opening song.
“I can't believe this is happening,” Mom said as she brushed something off my shirt over the calming noises coming from Lisa’s direction.
We all relaxed when we heard the opening chords of “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical “Rent” floating through the closed door, knowing that the wedding would indeed take place and that everything would be fine. As Gordon and Janiece sang about how relationships are built minute by minute and the importance of treasuring moments together, we organized ourselves for the trip outside. Then came the percussion riff that began the processional I had written for this moment, and my favorite cousin escorted Jules and me to a towering oak tree where the ceremony would take place.
“You’re going to be fine,” said the pastor who would be leading the ceremony as Jules lay down with a grunt and started crunching a stick.
“I hope so,” I said, as people started moving into position around me: the three groomsmen and my best man; the three bridesmaids and Lisa’s daughter Ana serving as maid of honor; my sister’s daughter as flower girl; and Lisa’s youngest son, Louis, and a girl from the neighborhood as ring bearers.
“Here comes Lisa. She looks beautiful,” the pastor said as she approached with her oldest son, Joseph, and Luke, a black standard poodle.
“I hope they make it down here before the music ends,” I grumbled. They did ... barely.
After the ceremony and reception line, Lisa and I returned to the quiet, cool house, where I left Jules to chill and ditched my tux jacket. We re-entered the steamy noise, wandering from table to table, soaking in the festive atmosphere and becoming drenched in congratulatory compliments until something poked my leg.
“What are you doing here, Luke?” I asked, brushing his head as he pranced by. “How did you get out?”
Lisa sighed. “Not much we can do about it,” she said as we prepared to kick off the dancing.
We continued to roam, this time sitting at random tables. With a beer in my hand and my butt in a chair, I could relax enough to absorb some of the compliments. Ana’s friends marveled that Gordon sang and played keyboards, trumpet, and saxophone, and that he could play keyboards with one hand while using his other hand to play one of his horns.
“Luke just ate Gordon’s plate of food while he was singing,” a cousin reported.
People loved our back yard, the flowers, the furniture, the tent ... “Luke is peeing on all the rented plants,” Lisa told me in a voice of amused horror.
People raved about the food. “That horrible black dog just stole a cracker from a child’s hand,” Mom told us.
Then it was cake-cutting time. “Don’t worry,” Gordon had said during one of our wedding-planning conversations. “Just follow what I’m singing and everyone — blind and sighted — will know what’s happening.” So we made our way toward the proper place after sending someone to alert him that we were getting ready.
“Folks,” Gordon announced over the PA system, “they’re getting ready to cut the cake.”
“Wait!” we yelled.
“… so lovely; the yard, the trees, the flowers, the tent,” another well-wisher gushed.
“Thanks, Olie,” we said, as Gordon started singing about how the bride was picking up the knife.
“... and the ceremony was so beautiful …”
“Thanks, Olie,” we said, “but we’re getting ready to cut the cake.”
“The bride cuts the cake,” Gordon sang.
“Wait!” several people yelled.
“... and the food, the people; everything’s so wonderful …”
“The bride feeds the groom,” Gordon sang.
"Olie, MOVE!” we yelled.
“Oh,” he said as we hurried past him to the table, arriving just in time to hear Gordon singing about the groom feeding the bride.
We made Gordon repeat the song, and following his directions, Lisa cut the three-tiered cake decorated to match the autumn leaves on our invitations. We fed each other a mixture of white cake, chocolate cake, and raspberry filling. It was delicious.