Extended family / Family

When a Wedding Aisle Becomes a Line in the Sand

rsvp wedding noI have written before about how Rick and I have gotten married quite a few times, the first time being on June 24, 2000.  What I haven’t written about were the family members who conscientiously objected to our wedding. Bigotry and ignorance, given the sheen of legitimacy by calling them religion, prevented my mother’s first cousin’s wife from sharing in our joy that day. She felt that she could not witness our union – that she could not celebrate with us. Her husband, my mother’s first cousin, stood with his wife. They did not attend our wedding. They did not RSVP the invitation. They sent us neither a gift nor even a note of congratulations. Nothing.

Knowing that she had misgivings, I called her before the big day. My goal was to start a dialogue and maybe, hopefully, find a resolution. And by a resolution, I meant my resolution – a resolution filled with love and the ability to celebrate our joys with one another. In some sort of cosmic Venn diagram, I had hoped to make our circles overlap under the heading Shared Experience. You see, she’s Catholic and back when she was marrying my mother’s cousin some of the elders in my Jewish family weren’t so thrilled with her union (namely her own soon-to-be father-in-law who, remarkably, had to convert Judaism when he married my mother’s aunt), but they came around.

My mission failed. She kept repeating that we all have free will, and I kept repeating that gay is an is, not a will, and she kept repeating that she understood that but that we all have free will, and we chased our tails like this for I have no idea how long until it became clear that we were never going to get anywhere. I couldn’t make our circles overlap, or even touch. As my father says, “You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.” He meant that some perspectives are emotional and not logical, therefore logic doesn’t work. He was right.

Then, as the conversation appeared to be winding down, she said something that quite literally knocked the wind out of me. “If you were in a hospital dying of AIDS, I’d be there to pray for you.” WHAT??????? I think she was attempting to show me how much she loved me and how much she wasn’t judging me. To say that it didn’t work would be an understatement. She rendered me speechless, utterly speechless, which, if you know me, is quite the feat. I was talking about a wedding, a happy, joyful, moment. And she was talking about death and disease? They weren’t even on the radar – at least not mine! Yet in the thesaurus of her mind, muddled and corrupted by religion, gay and AIDS were synonymous. Interchangeable. I remember trying to recover from what felt like a sucker punch to the gut. I remember my silence as I tried to catch my breath, regain my footing. Frankly, I’m still slack-jawed by her unwitting admission: her conscience would allow her to be present for my death, but not my life.

To this day, that phone call is the only acknowledgement I have from either one of them that my wedding even took place.

We have, throughout the years, seen each other at family events. Bar Mitzvahs. Funerals. Weddings. It’s always cordial. She loves to dance at the festive occasions, and as her sons got older it became harder and harder to get them on the dance floor. And surely her husband, my mother’s first cousin, wouldn’t be caught dead busting a move. But there’s always me. If the music’s good and I’ve had a cocktail, you can bet I’ll be out there tearing it up. She loves to dance with me. So we dance. But there’s always a distinctly bitter aftertaste. I always feel like a pet or a party favor. A trained seal. Those gays are so much fun at a party! Too bad they’re so sinful and dirty. I think it’s completely lost on her that she loves celebrating family events with me, just not for me.

I have never said any of this to her. I wouldn’t ruin another family member’s celebration with my own stuff. And no, I’ve never written her a letter or called her. We said what needed to be said fourteen years ago. And really, I never think about it. At least I hadn’t – until the other day.

Rick and I received an invitation in the mail. It was for their oldest son’s wedding. To be fair, it was addressed to both of us. (A step in the right direction?) As I stared at the invitation, I was flooded with emotion – an animal with a million heads tried to escape right through my sternum. Bile rose in the back of my throat, and the only words that came to mind were Go fuck yourself. I simultaneously thought that I should be the bigger person. After all, her son did nothing wrong. I thought there’s no way I could kiss her and mazel tov her and celebrate her joy.  I thought of my mother whose family is small and who has only two people in the world who can see her childhood in their rear view mirror – who can recall her grandparents and great-grandparents, their apartments, their accents. Only two people who can remember wall paper on walls that probably don’t even exist anymore, smells of dinners long since eaten, and laughter and pain now long buried. Only two – her first cousins. Do I want to rob her of the little family she has left by keeping alive a family rift? What exactly is my responsibility here? I was infuriated that I was essentially being asked to put my family, especially my mother, in the awful position of making them choose. Yet, for all my struggling, I couldn’t escape paraphrasing a Billy Joel song in my head: I didn’t start the fire.

But what if I suck it up and go – for my mom? Or go with the intention of burying a fourteen year old hatchet I’m not even sure they know exists? What then? As these questions pile up around me, I can’t help but imagine the tangible, physical reality of being there, and I stumble upon this scenario: In between going table to table, or maybe after meeting her obligations as the mother of the groom, she’s going to want to dance. With me. She’s going to call on me to celebrate her son’s happiness. And if I go, I’ll have to dance with her. If I go, I should dance with her. But it will be too much for me. I am not a show pony. I am not here to applaud and dance and entertain others while my joys remain unimportant, distasteful, discarded, objectionable.

I am a man. I am a man who met, fell in love with and married another man. There is no immorality in that. Zero. Quite the opposite, actually. There is only beauty. And if she does see immorality or any other word that makes my marriage and life somehow less than, then it is she who is broken. It is she who lacks the mental capacity to look past that barbaric, mindless teaching to see the person right in front of her. She calls it faith, but it is her thoughtless, unexamined faith that is the true immorality. This time around, it is I who must conscientiously object.

PHOTO CREDIT: 14 Stories

PHOTO CREDIT: 14 Stories

I think all weddings are wonderful. In a cynical world, they are the most ridiculously optimistic occasion we have. A wonderful celebration of love and hope and companionship – a light in the darkness of what is frequently a difficult, difficult life. I believe all weddings are to be celebrated. I am sad, and frankly still incredibly pissed off, that she and her husband do not feel the same way.

Even with all that, I’m still not entirely opposed to attending. A few words can put an end to this unnecessary complication, can lighten a wedding invitation, heavy from the burden of so much familial conflict, and restore it to its original state of perfect simplicity. “We’re sorry. We were wrong.” That is the only way I will be able to dance with her at her son’s wedding. Even then, it will not be easy. But easy and possible are different. She started the fire, she can put it out. As long as it burns, however, I won’t be going anywhere near it.

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16 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you, Roger! It is incredibly generous of you to have danced with this cousin after such a disrespectful and selfish response toward your wedding with Rick! I hope you share your feelings when you decline to attend the wedding! Also, I think your dad is absolutely right about logic. You’re not going to convince her out of whatever is blocking her, But she should be clear about her responsibility to you as a family member she cares about! Good luck and I am so sorry that you are in this situation!

  2. Roger — I was there at your first glorious wedding. I can’t even imagine dancing with her at other joyous occasions, much less going to her sons’ wedding. Just my feelings. Best to you and Rick. Miss you both.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      We loved having you both there because we love you both! And it meant so much to us that you traveled so far to celebrate with us. Miss you both as well. xoxo

  3. Jackie Anglin says:

    Wonderful writing! You should be published.

    • Thank you!

      I’d be very happy to have my writing published. To that end, feel free to share far and wide. Specifically with any of your friends in publishing. Or any of your friends of friends. Or any of your friends of friends of friends. You get the point. 😉

  4. You have been more generous already than I would have been.

  5. Cristina Lavorata says:

    So beautifully written! You should post it to her she doesn’t know better yet…

  6. This is wonderfully put, thank you for sharing! I think even if she’s unwilling/unable to put out the fire she started, a nice little note to her son and his intended wouldn’t go awry. After all, like you said, he didn’t do anything wrong. Not to mention it’d be a nice reminder to her that she is the one that hurt you and its her fault you aren’t attending.

  7. I completely agree with your feelings, and that you should not attend the wedding. My only thought while reading this, though, was that this conversation you had with her was in 2000. Fourteen years ago. There has been a monumental shift in awareness since then. Addressing the invite to both of you does show some sort of acknowledgement. I have a sister who has not acknowledged my wedding. I even took the bold step to ask her after the RSVP deadline to please respond. She said she wasn’t coming. Flat like that. The first time she met Alan she didn’t look at him and only spoke in his vague direction, “including” him in a general conversation thrown his way. But the second time she met him, she gave him a big hug, invited us over to her house and talked his ear off. She likes him. There is evolution there. But the wedding thing…she can’t get past yet. I love when all the rest of my family is so supportive in front of her (including cousins!) It has to be soaking into that ultra-conservative head of hers somehow.
    So…my oldest sister isn’t coming to my wedding. And most likely I won’t even get a congratulatory card. I’ve made peace with it. And it really makes me sad for HER that she cannot experience that joy. She’s the one losing out.
    All this is really just to share my current experience, but also to say: just let it be with your cousin. She may or may not ever come around. But DON’T go to that wedding.

    • Thank you for sharing your story! Although I am sorry that you and Alan have to deal with such bullshit.

      I have truly loved reading the comments from different people regarding how they would react and what they would do. That was what I was hoping might happen ~ that the piece would spark a discussion. I have loved reading different perspectives, many so different from mine.

      To be honest, at this moment, some things have happened and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do. Some things are gray and those things tend to be the most difficult.

      But you can bet your ass I’m already writing the follow-up companion piece!

      Wishing you wonderful gentlemen an incredible wedding. As I’ve said many, many times already on FB ~ MAZEL TOV!!!!!!!!!

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