Yesterday, watching the hoopla about the royal wedding I think I put my finger on our fascination about it. None of the 2 billion of us watching will ever be a king or a queen. Even billionaires and world-famous celebrities will never wear Queen Elizabeth's tiara and share a kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. So on 1 hand it was a completely unique experience, a glimpse into a world I can hardly believe still exists.
And on the other hand, it was a completely ordinary event, as anyone who's been married can tell you. No matter how much wealth or fame or social status you have (or don't have), you still experience the same excitement, anxiety, butterflies in the stomach, and hope for the future.
I posted this essay a few years ago, but in honor of Kate and brides around the globe, I'm reposting. (Originally written for an anthology about getting married over 30.)
Not a Princess, But Still a Bride
Although Disney has started spinning out cartoons with dark-skinned heroines, it's still hard for a black woman to imagine herself as Cinderella, especially a black woman over 30. To me, the concept of a wedding as "your one special day" was bunk, a myth propagated by bridal magazines. Even if I was rich, I wouldn't want to blow my money on anything as silly and soulless as a fantasy wedding.
Or so I thought. When I was about to be married, I fell victim to the bridal-industrial complex, and the desire for a lavish wedding hit me like a craving for Enstrom's toffee. I didn't need a Vera Wang gown or a champagne fountain, but I wanted luscious food and beautiful flowers. I wanted everyone my boyfriend and I loved to be present to midwife our birth into something greater than we were separately. Unfortunately, we were broke. We had been living artists' lives, and the only thing that fit our meager budget was a small, courthouse ceremony and a potluck at our rasty little house with the hideous kitchen floor and running toilet.
So on a warm, sunny gift of a day at the end of January 1999, we went to the courthouse. Our families flew in from Seattle, Chicago and St. Paul, all of us meeting for the first time. Full of good wishes for us, no one mentioned the bride was black and the groom was white. A few friends, my ex-boyfriend's mother and my aunt and cousin, who brought butterfly barrettes for me to wear in my hair, joined us at the courthouse.
Our relatives and friends didn't care that we were an interracial couple, but the staff in the judge's office seemed to disapprove. The judge we booked had an emergency and we had to wait for a different judge. When I asked his secretary, a black woman, how long it would be until he was available, she took in my caramel skin and almost-dreadlocked hair and said I wasn't on the schedule.
"But my boyfriend was just in here," I said.
She stared at me and said sarcastically, "You're his bride?" Then shot a mean look at the other clerk, who was also black.
As much as I wanted to tell her off, I wasn't about to justify my heart to her or to anyone, so I made sure she knew we were still waiting and sashayed back into the hallway to watch the drunk drivers, wife beaters and gang members go by.
When the judge was ready, we all went into a small courtroom. Our loved ones sat in the jury box and the judge joked "What's the verdict on this union?" The ceremony - unplanned and presided over by a man we never met - was so much of what I wanted to say that I cried and the "jury" sniffled along. At the end, when my husband and I kissed, everyone burst into applause, and suddenly a party at home seemed like a fabulous idea.
Sixty people attended, bringing more food than we could eat and more champagne than we could drink. Guests congregated everywhere, even the laundry room. My husband and his friends played jazz in the living room. Like Martha Stewart on ecstasy, I went from room to room, barefoot, clutching a plastic cup of champagne, offering food and drinks and hugging everyone.
I needn't have worried about our house. Our guests were too busy eating and talking to look down at the ugly linoleum. Nobody could hear the toilet running over the trumpet, saxophone, drums and bass. It was balmy for a January evening, but it was the music, food, laughter and love that truly warmed us, enchanting us as if we were in a fairytale.
But I wasn't a princess. I was a middle-aged black woman thrilled to be married to a middle-aged white man with a love for me as solid as the double bass booming in the background. I was a goddess with bare feet and butterflies in my hair. I was a bride, with all the giddiness and glory attributed to that word. And it was my one special day.