Saturday, May 26, 2007

White Wedding: the Black Queen Story Part 4

When I got engaged to D---a, in early 1998, my presumption was that she would move to America and we'd live there. So many Brits I meet say they would love to live in America, that it never occurred to me that it would be otherwise. America is great, so who wouldn't want to live there? I especially love New York and Long Island, where I grew up. Because we didn't have much money, my initial plan was for us to live in my family home, on Long Island. I already owned two-thirds of that property, with no mortgage. D---a hated that idea.
D---a stated, emphatically, that she didn't want to live in the same house as my mother and grandmother. She wanted us to buy a house together. We debated the pros and cons, back and forth, but I ended up agreeing to go along with her desires. In the meantime, we were anxious to get her divorce finalized. She was still married to her first husband and until the divorce was final, there could be no wedding. D---a was devoted to her two children and she worried that her husband might try to gain custody, just to spite her. I tried to comfort her and banish those worries, telling her that most divorced men really don't want to be saddled with two young children to raise. Besides, courts don't usually take children away from their mothers, unless the mothers have been involved in some extreme behavior. D---a was anything but extreme. I didn't think she had anything to worry about. The children would become the basis for a radical change in plans.
D---a first expressed doubts about moving to America by questioning how it would affect her children. She said they'd have to leave the school they attended. I pointed out that we have schools in America. Also, with the money we could save by living in my family home, we could afford to send them to private school, giving them a much better education than they were getting in a British, government schools. Then she said they would miss their friends. I responded by saying that they would make new friends. Her next objection was that they wouldn't get to see their father. I pointed out that airplanes flew to New York, from London, several times per day. He had his own business and could surely afford to come see them whenever he wanted. Finally, she said their father wouldn't approve. She started to panic that if she tried to move the kids to America, their father would seek custody of them. I tried suggesting that we could talk to him and point out the great advantages the children would have by living in America, but the more she thought about it, the more steadfastly she concluded that her husband would never go for it. That was when she first began suggesting that I move to England. At first, I resisted, strongly. I loved visiting the UK, but I had no desire to live there. D---a argued that it would be easier for me to move there. I had no children and she already rented a house we could live in. It would mean that the children could continue attending the school they were already attending and they could keep all their friends. She suggested that I move there for a couple of years, until we were "established" as a family, then we could move to America. Gradually, she began to wear me down. I loved D---a intensely and if being with her meant moving to England, then so be it. After all, it was just for a couple of years.
The next issue was the actual wedding. I had always been of the opinion that it should be held in England. D---a had a much larger circle of friends and family than I did, so it made sense to have the ceremony there. The few people I would be inviting could fly over, which would make much more sense than expecting all of D---a's friends and family to fly to America. I informally invited the people from America who I wanted on the guest list, in order to give them several months notice, so they would have time to budget. Immediately, my mother said no. My grandmother was hesitant, but I hoped she would come around, eventually. Surely someone from my family would attend my wedding.
Then there came the issue of the type of wedding we were going to have. D---a had been married before, so she wasn't that bothered about having a fancy wedding. She'd seen it all before. She didn't even want to wear white. I countered by pointing out that although she'd been married before, I hadn't and I wanted to experience a full, proper wedding, complete with white dress. She yielded to me on that point. Who would pay for it? Even though it's still the tradition, in England, that the bride's family pay for the wedding, D---a's mother was onto her second husband and D---a thought her step-father would not be interested in paying for her wedding. Great! She concluded that we would have to pay for it ourselves. Neither of us had any savings, which presented a bit of an obstacle. I was unemployed again, having finished a temporary contract with British Airways, in New York. I had hoped they'd offer me a permanent contract, but they hadn't. How would I find a job quickly, when I was due to move out of the country in a few months?
I contacted Peter Giordano, owner of Carizma Limousines, based in Valley Stream, Long Island. I had worked for Pete five years earlier, while I was attending grad school, as a chauffeur. I explained to Pete that I needed temporary work until I moved to England and that I was trying to save as much money as possible to pay for my wedding. He was great. he agreed to hire me immediately and very quickly, started funneling as much work as he could to me. I worked seven days a week and every hour I could get. D---a started working, as well, at friend's business. With money starting to come in, I came up with another plan to help the cause along. I told my mother and grandmother that D---a's folks were offering to pay half the cost of the wedding. I suggested that they expected my family to match that. It worked and my folks came up with £1,000 toward the wedding. Phase two of my plan was for D---a to then tell her folks that my family were contributing £1,000 toward the wedding and they expected her family to match it. Her folks weren't quite as generous, as I recall, but I think we managed to get £500 out of them. D---a and I each kicked in £500 of our own, so we ended up with a working budget of £2,500 (around $5,000 at today's exchange rates).
We needed to set a venue. As neither of us was religious, we quickly decided on a registry office wedding. It's similar to getting married at a town hall, in America. That led to the choosing of a date. I wanted a June wedding, preferably on a Saturday, so my guests from America could travel without having to take time off work. The registry office had two Saturday dates in June available. We opted for June 20th. For the reception, I persuaded D---a to ask her mother to let us use her back garden. What mother is going to refuse her daughter such a simple request for her wedding? Her mother agreed. That saved us a lot of money that we would have had to spend hiring a venue. I suggested that D---a ask her mother to cook the food, as her Chinese mother was a fantastic cook. She routinely prepared dinners for us with numerous Chinese dishes. Stubbornly, D---a refused to ask. That meant hiring a caterer. We tried a number of caterers, but in the end, we selected one that worked an Australian barbecue theme. They weren't the cheapest, nor the most expensive, but had a lovely menu and sometimes, you get what you pay for. In the end, the catering was our most expensive budget item.
For entertainment, we opted for a DJ rather than a band, as being more cost effective. The couple who D---a worked for had a grown son who was a DJ. D---a negotiated a cheap rate for him. One of D---a's friends was a professional seamstress and she offered to make the dress for free, if we paid for the material. The style of the dress became the subject of debate, as D---a refused to wear a traditional wedding dress, but I wanted something that looked very wedding-like. In the end, D---a kept the final choice of deign a secret, but kept giving me the idea that it would be something not very exciting. I wanted to have a stretch limousine for our wedding car, as has become traditional in America. After all, I was working for a limousine company and had driven numerous brides and grooms for their weddings. This time, it was my turn. D---a resisted, claiming it was too expensive. Around this time, she started to complain that she was having to do all the planning work, as I was in America. She was feeling overwhelmed. I suggested she ask her mother to help. Doesn't every mom want to help plan her daughter's wedding? Apparently, my future mother-in-law wasn't that keen to help. I reassured D---a that she only needed to gather information, then we could discuss things over the phone and make our decisions. I told her how marvelously she was doing and that we'd almost finished. I compromised on the car and we hired a chauffeur driven, white Jaguar. It wasn't a stretch, but it did say "England" in a big way and was one of the lowest priced cars we could find.
We arranged a photographer, a tuxedo rental for me, flowers, and had invitations printed. We hammered out a guest list, trying to keep the numbers as low as possible, without excluding anyone important. Some who didn't make the final cut were invited to attend the wedding itself, at the registry office, even if they couldn't come to the reception. Our final guest list was about 40. One final detail remained: the wedding cake. The cake ended up being one of the biggest problems of the whole wedding plan. In England, the tradition is for the wedding cake to be a frosted fruitcake. I hate fruitcake. I wanted a simple cake, like you find in American weddings. Yellow cake with a butter cream frosting. The only problem was, it seems that British bakeries don't know how to make cakes like the bakers in America do. The closest thing D---a could come up with was something called a "marzipan" cake. She argued that marzipan would be dry, while a fruitcake would be moist. I pointed out that she didn't like the taste of fruitcake any more than I did. What would be the point of buying a wedding cake that neither of us could eat? The cake became a massive argument. I thought D---a was going nutty as a fruitcake over this bloody wedding cake. I came up with a deal to prevent the cake from sinking the whole wedding. Since neither of us would give in, I suggested we get a two tiered cake. One tier would be the fruitcake that D---a wanted, while the other would be the marzipan I was settling for. In the end, that's what we did. I bet D---a that my tier would be eaten more than hers. I won that bet.
Finally, all the plans seemed to be in place. D---'s divorce became final, in time. I had to apply for a fiance's visa, in order to enter the UK to get married. I filed the paperwork with the British embassy in New York and paid the exorbitant fee, which I think was $400. I just wanted to move to Britain, not buy the place. It only took the embassy about six hours to process my visa. As the date approached, my folks flatly refused to come. While I wasn't that surprised at my mother, I was surprised that my grandmother would miss it. My friend Todd had been the first to accept and buy a plane ticket to London. I wanted my ex-girlfriend, Paula, to come. D---a was a little hesitant. Although she had met Paula and we'd all gone out together a few times, D---a still couldn't understand why I wanted Paula at our wedding. Paula and I had remained good friends since our break up. She loved visiting England and I wanted her part of the festivities. That wouldn't persuade D---a, so, I told her that I wanted Paula to attend as an act of revenge. Paula had dumped me, so I wanted her to see me getting married to someone else. Reluctantly, D---a accepted that excuse, although revenge wasn't really part of my plan at all. After D---a agreed, Paula started to waver. I told her she could bring the guy she was dating, but in the end, she decided to attend alone. Once Paula had bought her ticket,that left one more guest of mine, from America, who hadn't purchased a plane ticket to England yet. My best man.
I had asked my friend Tim, from Queens, New York, to be my best man. He and I had been friends for fifteen years, ever since we had worked together at New York Helicopter. He said he considered me his best friend. I thought of Paula as my best friend, but I couldn't very well have Paula as my "best man." Tim was my best male friend, over the past decade, so he seemed the natural choice. I originally invited him and his wife, Barbara, but he said only he would come, to save the cost of a second plane fare. I asked Tim to be my best man about three months before the wedding, to give him time to save up the airfare and take advantage of any advance purchase discounts. I kept checking with him and at the beginning of June, with my wedding less than a month away, he'd still not bought a ticket. I started to worry. I asked him if he was really going to come and he reassured me that he'd be there. I ended up flying over a week before, to make the final preparations. Tim drove me to JFK airport for my one-way flight on Virgin Atlantic Airways, to London. It was a night departure on the 11th of June, 1998. I would fly overnight and arrive at London Gatwick on the morning of the 12th, 8 days before my wedding day. I remember standing at the curbside, saying goodbye to Tim. He'd still not purchased a ticket and I asked him if he was going to show up. He promised me he would.
On the 12th of June, I moved into the house D---a was renting, in a little village called Hook. Hook only had two traffic lights, no cinema, no McDonald's, nor a Burger King. It is a little commuter village in the county of Hampshire, England, about an hour's drive from London. It was certainly different from what I was used to in the suburbs of New York. She'd arranged for me to spend the night before our wedding at her parent's house, in Windsor, so I wouldn't see her in her wedding dress before the ceremony. Her bride's maids would spend the night with her, doing her hair and all that girly stuff women do the night before a wedding. D---a was even magnanimous enough to let Paula spend the night there, saving Paula the expense of a hotel room.
On the wedding morning, I was feeling a little nervous. Would everything work out alright? I still hadn't heard from Tim. Would he show up? I put on my tuxedo. The trousers felt loose and I wished I had braces to hold them up. Here it was, my wedding day. I had wanted to get married since I was 16, now it was finally going to happen, 22 years later. My soon to be in-laws drove me to the registry office. They sat me in the back seat of their Volkswagen Golf, next to my soon to be mother-in-law's good Chinese friend, Mrs. Lamb. I had heard so much about Mrs. Lamb previously, but this was my first time meeting her. I tried making small talk with her, but all she would do is smile in response. Oh well, maybe she wasn't the talkative type. Later, I found out why Mrs. Lamb had so little to say to me. She didn't speak English, only Cantonese. I arrived at the registry office ahead of D---a, as is proper. We had arranged for the white Jaguar to pick D---a up at the house and drive her to the office. Outside the registry office, guests started to congregate. I spotted my friend Todd, from New York with a friend of his, but no Tim. It was almost time for the ceremony and no best man. I'd not heard from him and I didn't even know if he'd made it to England. What to do? After some hesitation, I approached Todd, explained what had happened, and asked him if he would stand in as best man. Todd was willing, but pointed out that he'd accidentally left his suit in New York, so he didn't even have a tie and jacket on. I assured him that would be okay. There was no other male guest of mine, so I didn't really have any other choice. Being best man at a British wedding involves making a big speech at the reception. Todd had no time to prepare a speech, but still he stepped into the breach.
D---a was estranged from her father, and didn't particularly want her step-father giving her away. Instead, she asked her brother, Ray to escort her down the aisle. At least Ray showed up. I guess I worried for a bit over whether D---a would show up, but soon the white Jaguar appeared, majestically gliding up toward the entrance. I went inside and took my place. What else would go wrong? D---a had stressed that she wanted me to look into her eyes when I said my wedding vows, as she complained that in so many British weddings, the groom looks at the registrar, instead of at the bride. We'd modified the vows that the registrar provided, as was our option. We personalized them a bit, to make them our own. I kept reminding myself to remember to look into her eyes.
The modest sized wedding chapel seemed full. Suddenly, the music started and the procession of the bridal party began. D---a's son, Harry, who was only 5, led the way, with the rings strapped to a white cushion. He wore a tiny jacket and tie, to fit his small body. His big eyes seemed filled with awe at being the center of attention for such a large crowd of people. Next came the bride's maids, led by D---a's 8 year old daughter, Ellen. Ellen was already a very pretty girl, but dressed up in a formal dress, she looked like a magical princess. She looked less frightened than Harry and seemed to be enjoying all the ceremony. Following Ellen was the dressmaker, then D---a's maid of honor, her good friend, Alice. Finally, came Ray, with D---a on his arm. Ray wore a smart suit and executed his duties with proper circumspection. D---a looked the vision of loveliness. As soon as I saw her, I realized that she'd been teasing me about the dress she intended to wear. Collaborating with the seamstress, the two of them has designed a perfect dress. It was both modern, avoiding the excessive overflowing look of a lot of traditional bridal gowns, yet still it captured the wedding look I desired. It was made of smooth silky, white fabric. Sleeveless,it hung from gentle straps, wrapped closely around D---a's body, almost in the style of a kimono. A single row of small, white buttons, one after the other, made a line down the back, providing a perfectly subtle accent. The gown ended in a moderate train and the effect of the whole design was to suggest a subtle oriental flavor, as was fitting of the bride's mixed heritage. Eschewing a veil, D---a had gone with a traditional, British tiara. In it, she marched gracefully down the ailse, looking like royalty. The last of my Princess Class girlfriends, she looked the part to become my Queen. Her rich, dark hair was immaculately coifed, up off her shoulders. It gleamed in the lights. As she took her place at my side, I didn't forget to look into her eyes when we said our vows. I couldn't take my eyes off her. We donned our rings and soon were pronounced husband and wife.
D---a and I rode to the reception in the white Jaguar, sipping champagne. I was now a married man. Once we reached her mother's back garden, there was a line of guests to greet. My wife led me around to meet loads of friends and distant relatives of hers, whom I had never met before. A friend of mine from London, Pam Jones, had come and brought her almost grown, teenage children. Paula sat with Pam, as they knew each other. It took me a long time to get over to the table where Paula and Pam were sitting. Pam accused me of ignoring them. I explained that I was being dragged here and there, and that there were loads of new people for me to meet. I already knew these two women. Paula seemed a little annoyed, but she had been invited to stay at the same hotel with us, that night, and to attend an exclusive wedding breakfast the next morning, one of only two guests to be so honored. I figured Paula was just tired and continued to circulate. The food was great and I was quite happy with the caterer. Tim had not showed up, so when it was time for the speeches, Todd continued to fil in.
Todd did a fantastic job giving a wedding speech with so little notice. The only problem with it was that it contained what could have been construed as a slight insult toward Paula. Todd said something along the lines that I had finally found a woman worthy of marrying. The problem was I had previouly been dating Paula, so this made it sound like she hadn't been worthy. I cringed to myself when I heard that line and hoped that Paula hadn't noticed. Unfortunately, I think she did. The rest of the day, Paula acted a bit odd. The reception wound down and we headed to the hotel where we would spend our wedding night, the Hilton in Bracknell. Ironically, it's only half a block from where I sit at this very moment. We were joined in the hotel lobby by a few select guests, for cocktails. This group included Todd, his friend, Paula, and a couple of friends of my wife. Paula and one of my wife's guests, each had a room in the same hotel, for the night, The two of them would be the only guests to join us for breakfast, in the morning. Had Tim come, he would have been inluded, but he hadn't shown up. Paula made excuses and went to her room, early. I kept thinking she was just tired. Eventually, D---a and I retired to our bridal suite for our first night as a married couple.
In the morning, we all met for breakfast. There seemed to be a tension in the air, based around Paula. She ended up snapping at me, while the rest looked away and tried to ignore it. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and D---a's friend made her way home. She had work Monday morning. The plan was for Puala to spend a couple of days visiting with us, then she was going to spend a few days in London, before heading back to America. That afternoon, we were suposed to attend a family barbacue at my in-laws. Paula was the only non-family member to be invited. Despite that honor, Paula became increasingly testy as the day wore on. Her hostility seemed to be soley directed at me. Suddenly, she announced that she wanted to go to London. I reminded her that she was supposed to spend a few days with us, but she insisted she wanted tl leave immediately. I pleaded with her to just wait till after the barbacue, then I would drive her to London, if that's what she wanted. She flatley refused and insisted on leaving there and then. The problem was that her luggage was back at our house, so we had to leave the barbacue, before eating, drive her back to Hook, then to the train station, then take ourselves back to my in-laws, in Windsor. This was a great inconvenience. No amount of reasoning would budge Paula and so we took her back. At our hose, she hurriedly grabbed her things and said she couldn't be friends with me anymore. Paula would only agree to my wife driving her to the station, while I waited at home. My wife dropped off a tearful Paula at our local train station, where she could catch a train to London. I still don't know what my crime was. It was almost as if she was jealous, but it was her who broke up with me. During the five and a half years I was dating Paula, I suggested, numerous times, that she and I get married, but she refused. If it bothered her seeing me marry someone else, she had only herself to blame. When she walked out that door, it was the last time I would ever see Paula again. It seemed that I had gained a wife, but lost a friend.

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