I was nervous in the final minutes before my wedding, but not for the usual reasons. I was 22, young, but I had known Deirdre since I was 18 and dated her since I was 20. I had found the right girl, and there didn't seem much point in waiting. Living apart from her was becoming increasingly intolerable.
Regarding the impending promise to spend the rest of my life with Deirdre, I had, if not exactly zeal, then a certain detached peace. I felt as if I had boarded this train a long time ago, and now I was arriving at the inevitable if still somewhat incomprehensible and mysterious destination. What remained was simply to go out there and do it, say the words that would bind me to her. This feeling persisted up to and including the moment I became married. (It sounds a little cold, I know. That's me at momentous occasions. By way of defense, I offer ten years of wedded bliss with, and deepening affection for, a woman I see for a good part of every day.)
Preparations had gone smoothly enough, bringing in family and friends, getting our old college chaplain to preside, finding black three-button tuxes (with a white vest for the groom), securing a gorgeous neo-Gothic church for the wedding and a stately Craftsman house for the reception. I had driven the wine to Kansas City from California (Trader Joe's!), and we had found a caterer within our budget who could give us salmon and flank steak on proper china.
It was cold for May, and spitting rain, so the jazz band would be packed inside instead of out on the big stone porch, but it was okay. I was hoping not to do too much dancing anyway, just enough to satisfy tradition (the dance with Mom) and my new wife.
I was nervous because I needed to compose a prayer to the mother of Our Lord. After the exchange of vows, Deirdre and I would process, she carrying a white candle, over to the side altar dedicated to Our Lady. There, we would kneel and say a prayer, asking her to watch over our marriage, to shield it with her mantle, to...to...what?
It was up to me to decide. I had to write the prayer. I had chosen the readings for Mass as well, but this was the one part of our traditional Catholic wedding ceremony in a traditional Catholic church that was wide open for personal statements. I had no intention of ever doing this again, so this was my one shot at getting it right. And true to form, I had left it until the last minute.
It might not have been so bad, if it hadn't been for Clark. But for Clark, I would have been alone in the little room just off the sanctuary, free to let pressure and the moment squeeze some inspirational juice into my pen. I had done the same thing for the best man's toast at my brother's wedding, and that had come off beautifully, a tribute to our grandparents' marriage and the love that Pappy still bore his wife five years after her death.
But Clark was there. He was the acolyte; he would assist Father during the Mass. He was the block-jawed, fierce-minded friend of Deirdre's brother, someone I had met only once before, the perfect sort of near-stranger to inject himself awkwardly into a moment. I'd had a dose of the same thing a couple of nights earlier at my bachelor party, when one of Deirdre's bridesmaids decided that she and her boyfriend (another near-stranger) would join us. "I've never been to a bachelor party before," she grinned. A total stranger or a friend I could have politely refused. She wasn't quite either, and so I didn't know how to tell her to go away. I'm socially crippled that way.
Clark knew I was working on the prayer, but the excitement of the moment (he was single), or maybe just the proximity of two guys in a small room, or whatever, made him gregarious. He kept starting conversation, and God help me, I kept responding with something besides "Keep it down, willya? I'm writing here." I grew increasingly frazzled. My brain started to freeze up. I had a tension in my stomach that I had not felt since the timed exams I had taken in high school.
But I pulled it off. I seem to remember that Deirdre liked the prayer, and I'm pretty sure Mary didn't mind it. Sometimes, I wonder what became of it. Deirdre thinks she might have it with the poem I wrote to serve as a marriage proposal. (I spoke the proposal as a toast over bourbons, but I gave her a written copy after she said yes.) She says she's got them packed away somewhere. Not that it really matters so much. However meaningful, it was only the beginning. It is so much better now. A photo of Deirdre in her wedding dress is enough.