Here she comes now, la novia, the bride, and how everyone turns to stare.
My God, mira su traje, look at the sight of her gown and que hermosa, how lovely she is. Watch as she points a satin shoe in our direction and steps into view, this bride from thirty years gone by. She’ll have children by now, our bride, grandchildren perhaps. But not yet. In this moment she stands before the altar, a line of saints watching from beneath a panel of stained glass. Her back is to us, pearls running the length of her gown, train puddled at her feet, a runner fluttering like snow upon the aisle, girls in chiffon dresses at her side.
She’s skinny, this bride, her bronzed clavicles making knives just under the lace—but this is a wedding and everything swells with the day so that her body ripens as she stands before us. She was always pretty with her pocketful of sharp features, but on this day there’s light in her face as she walks down the center aisle of Corpus Christi Church and stands before the Padre, whose Spanish has never been perfected but whose kindness burns in his wide Irish face, and Dios mío, look at the groom nearly bursting with pride as she reaches his side, compact and good-looking, tux and new shoes, the whole of him decked out in white the way men used to do. Watch now as he fades away, becoming nothing so much as the spray of baby’s breath in his pocket until only she remains. And it’s the bride we look for anyway. When wedding parties emerge from churches, the flash of white.
The bride. An ordinary woman making silk of just one day—the beginning, like all beginnings, belonging to more than just herself.
There she is, we say, something starting in us.
The bride, I say, oh look!
I’ve seen her beside the pink chapel in midtown Memphis, under the lilacs at Highland Park and gathering jasmine in the garden of the Alcazar in Sevilla. The bride. An ordinary woman making silk of just one day—the beginning, like all beginnings, belonging to more than just herself.
But back to our bride, la novia tan hermosa, and the way she lets go of her flowers in the hall after Mass. See the way she dances with her groom—a slow song, something rising between them, burning beneath the satin, but not so much that she can’t stand to dance with her father and the line of other men who slip folded bills into the purse tied to her waist. It’s 1980 in Western New York; there’s nothing shameful about a dollar dance. All we see is how well she dances, the way her train is attached to her wrist with a loop, the way she becomes a sweep of lace with every turn, each man taken in for a few seconds then spun away as the next arrives.
Now she’s dancing with someone from the band, the conga player, or the singer who holds the güiro in one hand, the púa in the other, the hollow scrape that knows the body better than words. Everyone joins the dance. Children wiggle narrow hips between chugs of cold maltas and sips of stolen piña coladas. These are Puerto Rican families, salsas and merengues are as natural as bottles of rum and the bride’s basket of capias, wedding favors made by her mother and her sisters, charms surrounded by bits of satin and tulle, miniature corsages bearing the couples’ names and wedding date.
Our bride takes a break and carries her capias in a basket, pinning one to each of her female guests, bending into the viejas, ladies too old to rise, kissing them once on the cheek.
Bendición, she says, asking for a blessing and giving another kiss at their reply.
Que Dios te bendiga, mi niña (may god bless you, my child.)
She moves on, the number of capias dwindling as she moves—but what’s this, a white child at her wedding? Other than the priest who’s already returned to the rectory, the girl is the only blanca in the crowd. Oh yes, she recognizes her now, the one always with the Rosas girls—Wanda and Sari and Maritza—and we both wonder whether she should pin one to me, this girl who has somehow landed at her wedding reception, but here it is, a bit of lace stuck with a pin to my dress, just enough to comprehend some of what it means to be a bride, the lightness and grace, the moment suspended, a respite from the daily business of living, if only for a few hours. La novia, not so much a person as a condition, wrapped in white and handing out favors.
What does she say as she pins it to my dress? I’m not old enough to be asked to give a blessing, not fluent enough to ask to receive one. She probably says thank you for coming, and maybe I know enough to mumble congratulations as I touch a bit of plumage from the bride.
We stand together, a strange child at a wedding, a bride with her basket of capias. How fast it will go, thirty years. The gown gone ivory, the rasp of güiro fading into the hum of tree frogs.
But not yet.
Let’s stay just a moment longer in the basement of Corpus Christi Church, for the beer and the pasteles, listening as the band starts up. This time it’s an old song and the viejas sigh while I let my fingers leave the capia pinned to my dress and run to find my friends and beg a share of cake. The day is still before us and ay Dios mio, what a beautiful bride and yes, que todos estamos bendecidos—we are, each of us, in this moment, blessed.
Excerpted from Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses by Sonja Livingston
by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2015
Sonja Livingston's Queen of the Fall, was published in spring, 2015. Her first book, Ghostbread, won the AWP Prize for Nonfiction and is taught in classrooms around the country. A new essay collection, Ladies’ Night at the Dreamland (forthcoming, 2016) blends memoir and biography to provide poetic profiles of fascinating but often little-known American women. Sonja's writing appears in many journals and anthologies. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis.