When I was a princess, he told me, “One year is not good enough; I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
A surreptitious phone call was made, and five minutes later we were off with my roommates in a car headed towards a surprise party that was organized for our engagement. About 75 people kept the surprise!
When I was a princess, I organized a wedding in 4 ½ months in Manhattan. Marjorie made all our bouquets from black roses, Kim sewed my veil and decorated the stone reception hall with tulle and white candles. Rosalind did everything there was to do behind the scenes.
My dear roommates, Neyra, Sue and Lisa, intercepted me at the checkout counter to buy my wedding dress for me. Betsy organized the music, Gloria organized the day itself, José deejay’d the ceremony and the reception.
And then everyone showered gifts at our feet.
When I was a princess, I got married. I bathed and perfumed myself before Carpio swept my hair in a chignon where the veil and tiara would nestle, my face left unhidden so I could beam at my husband-to-be. Carrie, my make-up artist friend who worked at the Mac counter in Macy’s, artfully applied just enough to embellish, never to hide.
The chairs were being filled at Columbia Chapel, the programs set out, the front rows cordoned off as my brother Jeff played classical music on the piano. And when the ceremony was about to begin, Jeni sang, “You Take my Breath Away,” while Pete accompanied with guitar.
Finally Sir walked in to loud salsa music, flanked by his four brothers and his best men.
When the drums started to beat to music from The Mission, my sister and nine bridesmaids entered, perfectly timed to walk through the length of the song and reach the alter at its completion. They were willows floating down the aisle in ruby gowns.
And then there was silence. An expectation.
Quietly the theme from Braveheart “For the Love of a Princess” started to play as identical twins, Christiana and Sonja (students at the New York City ballet), danced down the aisle in white dresses with white flowers woven into their dark ringlets. They danced to the front as maidens would dance in a forest, and accompanied my flower girl to lay petals at Sir’s feet.
As the music changed and started to build, the dancers ran towards the back of the chapel to herald my entrance. And just at the right moment, they leapt to each side as the heavy tall doors at the back began to open, flooding the church with light.
When I was a princess, I walked in on my father’s arm to meet my beloved to the sound of applause from friends and family. And at our first kiss, the place erupted in cheers again. The two photographers ran forward as if in slow motion, their long hair silhouetted in the sun, as Sir and I slowly turned and lifted our joined hands in a victory cheer.
We were carried by the love of our friends and family, people serving in so many ways I neither paid for nor earned.
* * *
Young Lady, what is it you want to ask me? What’s so hard for you to say? Why do you ask me if it’s because Young Knight was the biggest baby, and that’s all you can manage to get out?
I think I know what you want to ask from that question, so let me help you to express it. You want to know why my belly is so big, is that it?
Ah … that’s it. You collapse in my lap, your body hot from shame, and you nod your head miserably. “But I don’t want to cause you pain,” you wail.
No honey, you don’t cause me pain; it’s good to express these things and not keep them inside, I explain. Well … first of all, I had three pretty big babies so that does stretch my belly out a bit. But that’s not the real reason it’s still big after all these years. The real reason is just that I eat too much, especially too much sugar.
“But I eat lots of sugar too!” consoles my sweet-toothed daughter.
I know honey, but God made your body so that you would burn it all up, I say playfully tapping her firm abdomen with the last two words, and for that I’m very glad.
But it’s not just eating. I also need to exercise and be more active, which I have started to do. Don’t worry honey, I know this is an issue that needs to be addressed, but it’s my problem and I’m taking care of it.
We hug each other tightly. And as she stands up to leave she says, “When you got married, you were sooo beautiful. You were so thin!” And with that she waltzes down the stairs, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
I sit without moving and stare straight ahead at the fingerprints on the window. Reality bites.
I have to start actively looking at what I’ve only ever wanted to peek at from the comfort of my burrow: My body will no longer forgive excess the way it once did, and this is an issue that is important for me to address. I want to make my daughter proud – I want to make my children proud – but in this one area, set in the backdrop of the sophisticated French mothers, I have not been doing that.
More than for my children, I want to be proud of the way I look for myself. I want to reclaim my youth and vitality before they sprout wings and fly away.
When I gaze at who I was during that era through the sparkly web of nostalgia – the me who was still single and living in Manhattan, I see myself dancing through the City unencumbered, fueled by laughter and young love. Everything seemed so easy and perhaps everything was. But when I face who I am now in my size 16-18 pants (sigh), I regret that I still see myself as the way I was when I got married – active, energetic, able to leap into any adventure – and that my reality doesn’t match up.
My husband still looks at me as a princess at times, and more than he would just a friend or mother to his children. He’ll stop what he is doing and remark on the way my green eyes look in the sun, or how pretty my rosy cheeks are framed by my brown hair. He has always been able to see beauty in the small things.
And I still feel beautiful most of the time, despite not being at my physical best.
I am grateful for this body that lived and forged its way through the exotic culture of Asia, that survived living in the harsh terrain of Africa, that traveled around the world. I’m proud of this body that carried four, and brought three children into the world, that nursed them and carried them in my arms through sleepless nights. I love this body that keeps house, always cooks extra for guests and hugs friends and loves my husband. I know that being size 8 or size 18 is not really what matters, even if my dignity will not allow me to remain complacent any longer.
I will just not be coerced into change by shame or desperation.
I have lived a rich life and am very content with how I lived it. I believe that when I die and my whole life stretches before me, it will all be sparkly with nostalgia, even this part of me that seems dim and wilted. I have to remember that my life was not better back when I was carefree (and thin), although the past can photoshop reality to a degree. After all, when I think back to my time as a single sophisticate, all I was ever running after was exactly what I have right now.
When I was a princess, everything was fairy dust. Now that I am a woman, everything is real.