Not two years before I got married, I was a wild child. Driving my crappy but fast car as dangerously as I could, roaming around the valley with my friends at night, drinking, flirting with boys. Sluffing school. I was miserable in some ways but so wildly alive in others.
Then, a whole bunch of things happened that kind of scared me straight (or maybe they shamed me straight, I’m still working that out), and I went “back to church.”
I abandoned almost all of my wild friends, or they abandoned me, and there I was. Doing my best to be a “good person” via the definitions of the LDS church.
And part of the way I could prove my goodness was to get married in the temple.
If you aren’t a Mormon, this is hard to explain. If you are LDS, you get it: married in the temple is the “right” way. It means you didn’t have sex before you got married. It means you were following all the rules and paying your tithing. It means you are dedicated to the process of having an eternal family. If you are not LDS, I don’t know if it makes any sense, because unless you have the Perfect Mormon Family ™, you give up quite a bit to have a temple marriage. But it’s still the highest goal.
Also, you don’t just marry anybody in the temple. Not if you want to win that “very good girl” badge. You must marry a returned missionary in the temple.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Now that I am here, on the other side of my religion where I feel like I am deconstructing all of it, exploring its underpinnings, assumptions, abuses, its unspoken rules and cultural demands, how it wounded me, the scars it left. I am discovering (or maybe I am writing) my own definition of what it means to be a good person. I am left knowing that while I love my husband and the life we have made together, we might never have even interacted if I weren’t so determined to be good. Maybe, 29 years later, it doesn’t really matter, because here we are, still together. But I think about it a lot. In a sense, my marriage is my last real tie to the LDS faith, and what does that mean?
Which is a longer and more personal idea than I am willing to explore in a blog post.
The winter we got married was remarkably like this winter, brown and dry and warm. (My least favorite type of winter.) On the day of our wedding, it snowed for the first time that year, a wet and warm snow that was only a few degrees away from rain. (The exact same snow fell this year on February 13.)
Because my dad had not been through the temple yet, he couldn’t actually come to my wedding. (One of the things I gave up: my dad seeing me getting married.) So our plan had been that my mom and I would drive up to Salt Lake City together, and he would come later, to see me come out of the temple. (Because of course watching his daughter exit the temple in her wedding dress is enough for any dad.) But somehow at the very last minute, he changed his mind and wanted to drive to Salt Lake with us. But he hadn’t showered yet, and then the traffic was awful because of the snow, and yes: I was almost late to my own wedding.
When I got to the temple, I rushed inside. The matrons rushed me into the bride’s room, where by tradition you’re supposed to have a sweet, loving moment with your mom, as you put on your dress, fix your makeup, adjust your hair, have a last conversation which might include some advice for the wedding night. A tender hug, a few tears.
Instead, I rushed to put my dress on and then scampered down some halls until I found myself in a room with Kendell.
And then we were married by a temple worker whose name I never heard.
I don’t remember what he said during our temple ceremony. I barely remember looking at Kendell. I do remember the contrast, Kendell’s side of the room (clearly the truly “good” side) filled with his family, his grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins and his siblings and their spouses and his mission friends) and my side of the room with my mom and a few ladies from the ward and a couple of aunts and maybe a cousin.
It was all so rushed and I was in such a panic (having only been to the temple once before that day, an event that filled me both with fear that anything I did wrong there would cement my eternal damnation and a potent shame+confusion combination after the temple matron told me that I should be ashamed of myself for getting married so young) and I was so out of my element as the center of attention in my itchy, heavy dress.
I was turned off, turned to autopilot. I smiled for pictures, I laughed as Kendell carried me so my shoes wouldn’t get wet in the snow. I changed into my purple dress for the wedding breakfast (which my husband’s family insisted be held at the Chuck-a-Rama, because that was good enough) and then back into my wedding dress for the reception. I shook my parents’ friends’ hands. My body was there; my real self really wasn’t.
I got married the Acceptable Mormon Way.
And I was a miserable quaking mess that day.
Not because I didn’t love Kendell. I did and I do. Not because my mom didn’t try to give me a beautiful reception. She and my sisters worked SO HARD to make my reception beautiful and delicious. (Say what you will about our family’s dysfunctions: we do food really, really well.) We had little cherry cheesecakes, crab and chicken petit fours, slushy raspberry punch, veggies and dip and cheese and strawberries. Not because my friends didn’t support me—most of them did, although several didn’t come to our reception because there was a Jazz basketball game that night, or because it was snowing.
I was miserable because I was so young.
And because I was fulfilling all of the a-Utah-County-wedding-looks-like-this rules without ever having stopped to think: what did I want it to look like?
And because of the look on my dad’s face when I came out of the temple, crestfallen and lonely. My sisters’, too, and my best friend. (My sisters. My best friend. My dad. None of them saw me get married.)
And because it was February, and sloppy and cold, and because if I ever wanted anything from a wedding, for my own wedding, it was to have it in the spring when the flowers were blooming, daffodils and tulips and hyacinths, and a blue sky and a warm breeze. But everyone told us, after we got engaged in November, that we needed to hurry. Hurry and get married, don’t wait because you don’t want to slip up. The knife edge we walked between desire and goodness, and certainly I, as a wanton temptress who used to be “bad” and so really never could be “good” again no matter how much I performed my goodness, could definitely not be counted on to remain good.
And because while in theory I loved my wedding dress, it also gave me that same shame+confusion feeling: I wanted it to be more elegant than it was, and the matron had also told me, in my rushed dressing in the bride’s room at the temple, that it was cut “far too low” and threatened to make me wear a dickey for the ceremony. (My mom, God bless her, rejected this outright.)
And because I just looked like me, same hair, same clumsy makeup, not beautiful or special, just my usual self in a glittery white dress with poufy shoulders. Because I didn’t feel anything other than awkward and fake.
And because being The Bride—being the center of attention for an entire day—was deeply uncomfortable to me.
When I attend weddings now—any time I have attended weddings since I got married—my heart fills with a specific, dark weight. I leave the wedding or the reception and I need to cry away the weight, cry away the darkness. If you asked I wouldn’t tell you why I was crying. Or maybe I would say: because time moves too fast, because I knew them when they were babies, because my friend looked so beautiful.
Really, though. I’d be crying for myself.
Because of all those reasons I was miserable on my wedding day, my heart beating hard, my pulse fluttering, my eyes just barely keeping the tears back.
Because I did it the “right” way and I didn’t know that I could do it my way and still be a good person.
Because I needed to perform my goodness.
Because my wedding wasn’t really about celebrating me and the person I loved or about celebrating the start of a life together, but because it was me proving I could be good, I could do things the right way, I was worthy of not being shamed.
Because when I look back on my wedding day, I don’t brim with happy memories. I have almost no memories of it at all, honestly. Because I have never hung up a single wedding photo in my house. Because I wasn’t beautiful or elegant.
Because I wasn’t myself.
I wish I had loved my wedding day. I wish we had waited until the spring, until after my birthday so at least I was twenty. Or what if we just had sex? What if we didn’t wait and do it the “right” way, the “good” way. What if we had sex and then waited to get married until I had another year, until I had lived on my own, had my own space, begun to learn who I really was?
Three decades. I’ve mostly just ignored my feelings about my wedding day for many years. (Except when I went to other people’s weddings and they welled up, uncontrollable for a few hours.) It’s like the fact that I didn’t go to prom and I didn’t walk with my graduating high school class. Just another part of me: I had a wedding day, but I didn’t love it.
Last week, a few days before our anniversary, Nathan texted me a photo he’d taken of a photo at his aunt’s house, from our wedding day.
I looked at it. I zoomed in close as I could to my face. That Amy. That very young person. That child bride.
I turned so many of my choices over to a higher authority. To white men who told me how my wedding day should go (and so many other things). I wish I could change it for her.
I wish for her a wedding in May on a perfect blue day with a few white clouds in the sky and the grass so green it’s like a gemstone. I wish for her an unhurried hour to get ready, when someone does her hair and someone does her make-up and she feels beautifully like herself. I wish for her an outdoor wedding with a mountain behind her. I wish for her a pale violet wedding dress, simple but elegant, with her shoulders kissed by sun and the unwrinkled skin of her chest beautiful and unashamed. I wish for her a bouquet with lilacs. I wish for her to turn and see her dad holding hands with her mom, to smile at her sisters, her best friend. I wish for her a delicious meal with friends, and laughter, and conversation. I wish for her a calm heart and an even pulse and no terror. No threatening tears.
No one grieves every day for the things they didn’t have. It’s been so long since I’ve been to any sort of wedding, and longer still since I’ve attended a temple wedding. Until I looked at that photo, I hadn’t thought of this for a long time. Maybe since my anniversary last year. But I remembered, looking at that snapshot. I remembered, and I wanted to write it down, both what it was and what I wish it had been.