We live in new times now – times in which the traditional nuclear family is the exception rather than the norm. Samantha Steele explores this phenomenon in a very real way, as the daughter of the groom at her father’s second wedding.
I hopped awkwardly around the toilet seat, tugging at my Grecian blonde pantyhose. By wiggling and clenching and pulling and squirming, I managed to yank them all the way up. As I turned around to examine the tight clinging material in the mirror, I heard a stealthy crrrip and saw a ladder snaking its way down my calf. All I could do was sigh. This was my second – and last – pair, and the ceremony was starting in ten minutes. I ran out of the bathroom in only pantyhose and a bra, and made a darty dash for the cupboard where the dresses were hanging.
I was one of four identical bridesmaids at this wedding, and the differences between us could easily be seen in size and shape. But those physical differences were hardly the most important ones. For instance, I’m quite sure that none of them had a tiny, persistent ball of nerves throbbing in their chest.
For the other three bridesmaids, this wedding would mean a night out. For me, this wedding meant a change in family. This wedding was my father’s. I was going to have a night out, and then some. Debbie, his American fiancée, would become my step-mother. My family was changing.
Right now, however, my focus was a lot narrower – my appearance.
I anxiously brushed the top of my curled hair with the tips of my fingers. The curls felt almost plastic under all the hairspray, and crunched slightly when I held them between my finger tips.
Outside the cupboard door I could see my future step-sister, lithe nine year old Micaela, and my young cousin Annie. I had heard my aunts clandestinely, behind snickers and shortbread, nicknaming Annie ‘the tank’. Short and stout, a tiara perched on Anne’s head as she giggled with tall, doll-like Micaela. Micaela looked like an ornament on a cake, with her wide, white, frilled dress.
In a few hours, this female-filled room would become the Honeymoon Suite. I shuddered internally and pushed my feet into my black shoes.
My dad, Duncan, and Debbie have always had a passionate relationship. Their engagement occurred in the December of the year they met – only a few months after they first laid eyes on each other. To put it mildly, that was a very memorable Christmas.
The thought of them in a Honeymoon Suite was, well – I guess no matter how old you turn there are some things that simply shouldn’t be thought about.
As I stepped outside the cupboard, patting down the navy blue dress, I saw Debbie. She was standing in front of the full sized gold-framed mirror leaning on the wall. Her mother, Elaine, was tugging at her train as Debbie was twisting backwards to look at herself in the mirror.
“You look lovely, dear,” said Elaine breathily as she sat back in one of the ornate chairs.
And she did. Debbie made a beautiful bride. Elaine gazed happily at her only daughter as she was being married off for the second time. I stared at Debbie, my future step-mother. Step-mother. ‘Step’ is such a … fairytale term. Yet my life was not a fairytale. No story featured a step-grandmother, for example. And Elaine is quite a grandmother.
The first time I met Elaine, she introduced herself as our ‘bonus’ grandmother.
“I’m so glad you guys came,” she said, laughing a little, “because now I can compete with my cousin. See, she has four grandchildren, and Debbie only ever had Micaela. But now I have four as well,” she finished contentedly.
I felt awkward, unsure what to say. I had just met her, and already I was being sucked into the bosom of the family. Family? They were strangers to me, family by convention. Family because my dad was getting married. They weren’t my family that I know inside and out. They were Americans, imperialistically becoming a part of my life.
And it didn’t stop there. Two days after the ceremony, all of us, including the great-grandmother (92) would be going on honeymoon to Hawaii.
The first time I caught a glimpse of Debbie’s family was on the internet.
It was a scary experience for me, as I realised my flight to Seattle was more than a holiday in America. Across the ocean lay a mass of new family – and life in an American sitcom. I could almost hear the canned laughter as I typed in ‘www.duncananddebbie.org’, and I definitely heard my own as I clicked on ‘quiz’. One of the six questions was ‘How many times did Duncan propose to Debbie?’. I thought oh gosh, please can it be one … it wasn’t. He proposed three times – and ha ha, here comes the funny part, she said yes three times as well. This was more than a wedding. This was a change in ideology.
My attention was focused back to the bridal chamber when I saw Elaine helping Debbie sit down, Elaine tugged the dress up as Debbie fell back onto the couch.
The room was dim, and bridesmaids, parents and flower girls were scattered around, sitting on the antique chairs, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Outside I could hear the high pitched whine of the bagpipe, and the bustling entrance of the guests.
I watched Debbie with her head bowed, going through her vows silently. She was getting ready to marry my father. Marry my father. Marry my father.
It felt like something I just had to get through.
But this was more than something I just had to get through. This marriage, this legally binding promise, affected me forever. And even as this thought ran through my mind, I thought of my parents’ failed marriage. I don’t have any active memories of when they were happy together. Yet somehow, in the collection of stories and anecdotes that make up our family’s myths, there is a veneer of a ‘golden time’. The family is not a simple truth anymore.
Suddenly the bedroom door opened, and one of the wedding organisers came in. The skewed rectangle of light fell just short of Debbie’s hem. All eyes looked up.
“Everyone ready?” she asked the slightly tense crowd of made-up women rhetorically. “OK, can the bridesmaids please line up in order,” she said.
I was the last bridesmaid, so the first to walk down the stairs and aisle. I walked in my very pretty but very short term shoes (actually standing up in them is possible for only about half an hour) to the door. I held my slightly wilting bouquet of white and pale blue hydrangeas against my breast.
Peering down the spiralled staircase, I could make out triangles of movement from the room in which the boys were waiting.
The wedding room was filled with guests, and the large bay windows filled the room with a soft white light.
With a curt nod from the organiser, my father emerged. He was proudly wearing a kilt – homage to his Scottish heritage – as he walked down the aisle with his three sisters.
The organiser looked up at me and gave a sharp gesture. I started to walk down the stairs. Each step was a jolt, juddering through my system. Everything. Really. Was. Changing.
I felt slight flutterings of performance anxiety. I wondered how my dad felt, I wondered how Debbie felt.
As I hit the bottom step, Angus, my youngest brother emerged. He and I both had wide, photo-friendly, smiles on, and raised eyebrows to each other in greeting. All the men in the ‘bridal party’ were wearing kilts, and it suited Angus, who was really growing into a man. He smoothly took my arm and we walked in time to the music towards the altar in front.
Next to arrive was Matthew, my other brother, the middle child. He too, after much persuasion, was wearing a kilt.
Then the remaining bridesmaids and best-men walked down the aisle. The music changed to the Wedding March, and the two flower girls walked down, scattering flowers on the carpet. Then Debbie emerged. She looked elegant and lovely.
Yet I could not simply appreciate this moment – the final moments before the vows were taken. The beauty of love, of the declaration from two people that they love each other the most of all. A promise that the other would never be lonely. As Debbie walked down the aisle smiling, quiet and slightly tense, this image was superseded by the imagined picture of my mother doing the exact same thing years ago. At their wedding, there were so many guests that people were standing outside during the service. This was not Debbie’s first wedding either. Yet they were both doing it again, they still had faith in marriage. The soft light from the bay window shone on the couple, and on the people that very soon would be my family. I hadn’t met half of them yet.
Looking around, trepidation was replaced by small flutterings of excitement. I was treading a new path today, and who knew what I would learn on the way.