Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Thing I Always Think About on St. Patrick's Day


March 18, 1972


I’m getting married. My father and I are standing in the entry way of the church, me in my white dress, the tucking of the bodice straining over my breasts that are already swelling, an absurd crown of flowers fading on my head.

This isn’t how I wanted to look when I got married, something I hadn’t even realized until that moment less than ago an hour when I stood looking at my reflection in my mother’s bureau mirror. Had I always imagined myself wasp-waisted in satin? How did I not know that about myself? But here I am, holding a bouquet of roses, my arm hooked through my father’s, and I am carefully not looking down the length of the aisle toward Mike because everyone will see, certainly, that I do not really love him.

Instead I look at the faces turned toward us, my dad in one of his everyday suits, me in this dress I cannot stand. Felicia and Lisa, seated on the aisle in the pew closest to us, wave and smile and wave again. Mike’s parents and sisters are down in the front, craning their necks for a better look; his grandmothers’ stare toward the altar, resolutely showing the backs of their heads. My brothers are on the other side of the aisle, and I can tell they are joking with each other. The rest of the pews are full of people I know and care about in varying degrees, people I’ve invited because it’s a party, right? Just a party.

My father’s arm flexes, pulling me off-balance, and suddenly I am closer to him than I’ve been in years, the fit of our bodies so natural and perfect that I remember suddenly the simple truth that I am made from him. I remember that I love him completely, in spite of everything.
“We don’t have to do this,” he says. “We can figure something out.”

Yes, I think. Yes, please, Daddy.

I can’t imagine, though, what else can be done. I have decided. The only way I can save myself is this way—marry this boy, have this baby, escape my mother’s madness. But yes, my heart says. Yes, my body tells me. Yes, yes, yes please let’s leave right now and go somewhere safe to figure out something else. Please save me.

But here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. And he has offered this too late. I shake my head, pull away from his strange and familiar comfort. “I’m doing this,” I say. And he nods, the music begins and we step into the aisle.

If there were one moment in time I could summon back, it would be this moment when my father remembered—too late—that he had the power to save me.

19 comments:

Marci Walker said...

Beautifully written (of course.)

Daisy said...

You get me every time. Beautiful.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Thank you, Marci.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Aw, Daisy; thanks!

Jonathan said...

Very touching story. I wonder if you had the power to save you too.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Turns out I did, Jonathan. Thanks.

Kasha said...

You always make me cry... That's not a bad thing.

Kate said...

Wow. Beautifully told.

Donna said...

Thank you for sharing this piece. I especially love the lines about being close to your father. Such a powerful image.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Thank you, Kate and Donna. That line about being close to my father evokes some nice memories, in spite of everything.

Elisabeth said...

What wonderful writing. It is just so poignant and I find myself deeply curious about how things panned out. I like the raw hard edge in this writing, the fact that things are not what they seem, the clash between the internal monologue of the narrator, whom I presume is you, and all the perceptions of the other characters.

To me this is high class memoir, non-fiction or even non-fiction, and to me it sings of the richness and complexity of life. Lovely.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Elisabeth, thank you so much. It is me and it is from my memoir and, today, it means a lot to get this kind of response to the writing.

carol_henry said...

Your words pull me into that church, and I think back: Have I ever felt "strange and familiar comfort"? Surely yes, because I know exactly what it is--because of your words. I think I remember smiling through tears. Just as I did when I read this. ... What a wonderful result grew from this day long ago.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Oh, Carol, what praise! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I had never heard this story. I felt like I was right there inside you living it.it has all the things I love about you.

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Thank you, Anonymous...who are you?

Deb Aplin Konkos said...

Liz, I remember when you married Mike. I was shocked and surprised and as much as I liked him, I could not see you with him as a wife. Your words brought all of those memories back to me and my love and concern for the both of you and for that little girl growing inside of you. I am so happy that although you did marry Mike, it has led you to be the mature, loving, caring wonderful mother, daughter, friend and professional that you are. Your experiences were enriched by suffering as most artists convey in their works either in the product that comes from their hands or their minds. Your sweet dad was offering you a hand and it gave you a memory that is so bittersweet and touching that sharing it with us means even more. We simply love you Liz and you honestly did the right thing, you really did.

Ace Holleran said...

"...wasp-waisted..." -- what a wonderful image!

Elizabeth Hilts said...

Thanks, Deb. My sweet dad was not much in evidence during that time, so it was nice (as a writer and as his daughter) to access that memory.

Ace, thanks. I've never actually been wasp-waisted, and I certainly wasn't that day, but a girl could dream.