My First Wedding Gig
It was an afternoon gig, and the bride had very particular requests. Most important, she asked that I sing “Through The Eyes Of Love,” the theme song from the 1978 figure-skating drama, Ice Castles. Just that one song, during the reception dinner. Technically speaking, not a hard gig, but there were other special details.
Most notably, I was to be part of the ceremony. It was an outdoor wedding, and the bride requested that I begin the ceremony by walking down the aisle, dropping petals. After the bride reached the front of the ceremony space, next to her waiting groom, I was to stand with the bridesmaids. It was also decided that I too would wear a white wedding dress, and a pearl headband the bride had purchased just for me. These would’ve been the strangest gig requirements I had ever received, but I wasn’t really thinking in those terms since I was only 8 years old.
And the bride was my mother.
In my mind, the wedding is still going on. Dylan Thomas put it best when he said, “The memories of childhood have no order, and no end.” Volvo and I still roll by the hotel on our way to someplace else, and, because the courtyard is bordered by a high wall, I have no visible proof that the ceremony ever ended. It feels natural that I would walk into the hotel courtyard, to encounter my waist-level memories in media res. My mother releasing a grand laugh in response to a grown-up quip I didn’t catch, in a grown-up conversation. Tidepools of baritone from the men, unintelligible jargon. Whitewater chitter from the women, bubbling down to the softest babble. It was a bright summer storm of friends, family, and business guests who nobody could name in a year’s time. Everyone was careless and abundant. Everyone was proving something to someone else. It was all, literally, over my head, and it would be years till I was part of that conversation. Now I can’t get out of it. When I pass the hotel, I’m reminded that there was a time before I felt I had to prove my worthiness at a gathering.
But from an early age, I did care about my looks. As with any gig, I prepped my wardrobe ahead of time. Something appropriate for the event. Now, I choose from several black "gig dresses" of varying lengths. Some low cut and beaded, some short, some longer and more demure. Sometimes I wear tight pants and high-heeled boots. Essentially, gig wear is clothing you could either wear clubbing, or to a casual funeral. On the occasion of my mother's wedding, however, I needed something special, so I selected a wedding dress of my own. A conical mountain of layered tulle, topped with a satin bodice, and lacy straps. I was a mini-bride.
Standing next to me, in the dressing room mirror, the actual bride looked curvaceous and tall. Something about the sheen of the satin, the pointy heels, and the piled curls, cheated her miles above her natural 5’2.” The gown was custom - off-white satin, plunging v-neck, confident décolletage, and a silhouette displaying a solid year of aerobics devotion and protein drinks. She was statuesque. I was proud of her, if an 8-year-old can claim that.
The sublime detail, the iconic beauty of the gown was the lace. I still have a piece of it hanging from my curtains. The bride had chosen to go with a non-traditional train, and to attach long tendrils of floral-shaped lace from the open back of her gown. The textile hung in ghostly white vines of leaves and roses. The veins of the leaves lay embroidered over criss-cross micro-threading, stretched out from a median vein, like a ladder of light rays. Rose spirals, floral births, erupted between the leaves, radiating within themselves. All of this fell down her back like a hanging garden. The leaves and flowers trailed about a foot behind her when she walked, shuddering a little when there was a moment of breeze. Or that’s how I remember them.
The single design flaw was that the dress was floor length, and so precisely tailored to her silhouette that she had very little space for walking. There was no kick pleat or stretch. In her stately poise, she had to take quick little steps if she wanted to get anywhere. In my present mind, it beckons the tip-toe of a geisha. So the dress was not engineered for optimal mobility – it was intended for a sense of awe. Sensibility be damned! A woman only gets her first wedding once! And on her second wedding, she really gets to rock it.
There were maybe 10 rows of backs in chairs. Maybe more. I didn’t count. I was waiting for my cue to throw the petals. I was a little nervous because the grown-ups were nervous, but I didn’t want to show it. The first rule of gigging is not to upset your employer. The band began the wedding march, and I started with my basket of rose petals. I reached the front row, and I sat down. I looked back at the aisle covered in rose bits. Good work.
I don’t remember much about the ceremony, except the line where the officiant said something like “…we are blessed to have Pam’s daughter, Raya…” and I thought that was nice and wondered if it was genuine. Not whether or not they actually liked me, but if they really felt blessed on this particular occasion, or they just felt obliged to say that because I was standing there.
Then there were more lines about lovey things, and I started to get choked up. It wasn’t about the words themselves, I was not “touched,” per se, but I was feeling something. I don’t know where my dad was that day, but I suppose he knew where I was. Maybe that was part of it. Everyone we knew and loved was there, except him, obviously. Still, I didn’t understand why I was crying. The bridesmaids started to notice. I got self conscious about it, my mom turned around and I bowed my head. Shit, I was ruining everything. This was not my job.
Singing was my job. Inside, the reception hall began to murmur. I found the pianist from the ceremony, who I’d been practicing with for weeks, ever since the bride requested the song. He had the sheet music, and we reviewed the intro quietly while the guests found their seats. As I rehearsed under my breath, the feelings from the ceremony wrestled around in my core, under my flouncy tulle. Combined with performance nerves, they were different feelings now. The sadness came into focus, and it was not sadness. It was the drenched weight of helplessness, and anger. In my 8-year-old head, I may not have been eloquent about my feelings, but I knew that every word of this song I was about to perform was a lie. “Please, don’t let this feeling end/ it may not come again/ and I want to remember.” All I wanted was for these feelings to end. I did not want to remember this day, or these feelings, and I hoped they would never come again. This was a day of loss for me. My mother and father were the two pillars of my heart, and one was happy, and the other was getting replaced. My world was destructing, and I had to sing pretty about it.
The master of ceremonies announced that the daughter of the bride was going to sing a song. I joined the band on stage, and the intro began. I’d practiced every day after school, and I knew the words like a monologue. I knew my emotional hills and valleys, my cadences, my crescendos and decrescendos. I knew what to do, and what was wanted, my only concern was that I didn’t want to cry again. That is not professional.
The introduction was almost over, and I felt my first note shaking in my throat. I breathed in. I released…. “pleeease…” it was clear. A strong, simple note. It disguised my state of being. I continued as I’d practiced, note for note, breath by breath. It got easier, and for the first time, during a performance, I felt myself detach, and part of me was looking back at me. The conflict between the words and the truth was so great, I had to observe it. I guessed that was what it meant to be “beside one’s self.” I was on stage to give beauty, and sweetness, and love. I was there for my mother. That was my job.
As the song progressed, pulling me along with it, I felt another point of view surface - I began to feel sincere. I realized that performance is two things: the part you give to the audience, and the part you keep for yourself. I opened up into the chorus, “And now I do believe / that even in a storm we’ll find some light / knowing you’re beside me I’m alright.” For the first time, I felt the comfort of expression. I wasn’t singing to the wedding crowd, or even to the wedding couple. I was singing to the music itself. “Knowing you’re beside me, I’m alright.” This was my comfort. And I didn’t cry.
The tune went over well, and I left the stage. The rest of the gig was all grown-ups saying I did good, mama looking beautiful, step-dad smiling with his friends, and more congeniality and socializing I didn’t understand. I think I chased my cousin around. The bride and groom had a good time, and I eventually took off my pearl headband because it was squeezing my brain.
I would say something about the end of the night or the drive home, but I don’t remember. This is why I’m not sure it ended, and when I drive by the hotel, I still hear the errant guitar line from the band, and the wash of grown-up’s casual posturing. I may walk into the hotel courtyard one day and find my petals lying still, where I let them fall, waiting for the brush of lace.