It came to me again last night. It’s always the same. I am running outside my parish church. I come to an abrupt stop; my satin pumps are hanging at the edge of the steps. The murmurs and gasps extinguish once the double doors slam shut behind me. There is a row of cars parked with their grilles against the curb, including the Chevy Cheville that brought me here. I look down and its keys are in my hands but I remember it wouldn’t be acceptable for me drive. There is no one outside to ask for help. No one is walking past me, not even the usual parishioner smoking a cigarette. So, I go back inside to find someone to drive for me. But then I’ll have to go through with it. I’ll have to get married too.
Gilberto asked my father for my hand in marriage on Father’s Day. It was awkward, all of it. My family had just finished lunch. My father was watching the Dodgers play the Giants. My brother was snoring on the couch after eating too much of the beef liver and onions my mother prepared. My father and brother love liver and she and I hate it. As a concession, my mother always prepares it on Father’s day. I was opening windows and turning on the fan, desperately trying to rid the house of the foul smell that had been marinated in bacon grease and onion, when Gilberto walked into the living room. He had a square box wrapped in glossy red paper with a grey bow. He hardly looked or said hello to me and nervously handed it to my father. My father looked at the box and began to open it during the commercial break. Once he saw its contents, he nodded and handed it back to Gilberto. Gilberto turned his attention to me and seven paces later asked me to be his wife. The ring was hugging a carrot.
He smiled at me. “It’s a one carrot solitaire, get it?”
As I was about to say something, my mother walked out of the kitchen with tears in her eyes. That look on her face, I thought it was the look a mother ready to plan another wedding. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was her who picked the ring out with Gilberto and choreographed the engagement scene.
In this reoccurring dream, I have walked down the aisle toward the altar and I have run from it repeatedly. Every time I wake, I ask myself if I’ll be relaxed once I actually do walk down the aisle or will I be bored as I have already lived through the process many times over. I began to keep a mental log of details that surface. My father, for instance, is by my side as he escorts me but he feels more like a doorman, a pallbearer, or a maître D. His touch is limp, making it less awkward to let go of me. I sense he wants my eyes to help me find my way to the altar before he leaves me there. It reminds me of the many wedding ceremonies where I watched brides offer their bouquet of flowers to the virgin mother right before mass ends.
In last night’s installment, I noticed my father was wearing the coral lipstick I wear. When he finally does offer me to the altar, I realize Gilberto isn’t waiting for me.
“You’re only nervous, all brides are nervous before the big day.”
My mother shows me another wedding gift that just arrived to our house. It’s an Italian Pottery centerpiece. She thinks the porcelain glazed lemons are exquisite and I’ll never be able to return it even though I work at the department store that sold it. I want to continue telling her about this dream I keep having and that this time I didn’t see Gilberto waiting for me at the altar but she is not that sort of the mother. She needs to call the bridesmaids and remind them to attend the last fitting before the wedding, especially cousin Irma who’s gained too much weight studying away at college. I wouldn’t know about that, I dropped out of the local college. I never learned to drive and the cluster of concrete buildings surrounded by acres of alfalfa fields where too far away from town so I always had to hitch a ride back and forth. People always thought I was crying over what happened. It was hay fever. I never cried over what happened.
She tells me to go get showered and changed. The fitting is this afternoon and we so many errands to run.
Maybe I’m running because I saw The Graduate at the movies. We are one of the few houses left on Main Street so I go quite often. My mother used to leave my sister, my brothers and me at the movies all Saturday while she worked as manager of a dress shop for plus size women. She liked telling me clients respected her honesty about what didn’t flatter them but they became return customers because she could always find a dress that didn’t make them look hippy or had a V-neck that wasn’t too low cut so their large breasts didn’t plunge into daylight.
“You no have that problem, Natalia.” She would always tease. “Put two knee socks on your legs and wear two angora sweaters! Its because you’re too skinny.”
The Saturday cavalcade was a marathon of movies that as a child, I quietly consumed. Vikings, little rascals, three stooges and Marx brothers revolved on the screen. My sister once won the theatre’s Tarzan yell contest, swaying her long braids side to side for so the judges would remember her. All the boys she beat were speechless. Our father would pick us up in the late afternoon after working across the border in Mexicali and make us dinner. He would call it chuck wagon and pretend we were in the old west, preparing the only things he knew how to cook, ground round and canned pork and beans. My little brother would dress up in his cowboy outfit and play along. Once we were all fed, my father would take his chef leave and read the evening paper. It was a century later as we heard “You’re on KP duty.” He was Eisenhower pre-presidency and that meant we had to fall into line.
My father would carefully fold the paper at seven forty five in the evening. We knew it was time to put on our shoes. He’d walk us over to the dress shop as my mother closing up. He didn’t want her to walk alone in the dark.
A few months ago when we are having hamburgers at the drive-in, Gilberto wanted to make things better. He told me that my father was known across the border as the grey fox. I asked him what that meant. He said that his grey head and gentlemanly ways had gotten him a mistress that he’d visit when he was telling my mother he had a client dinner.
I’m never running to someone in my dream. There is no Ben to my Elaine.
It is my wedding day. The orange blossom crown is being placed on my head. I am a wisp of what I was a year ago when Gilberto asked for my hand in marriage. It always happens to brides, my sister assures me. She’s gained the weight twice over with two children now. Her husband is drunk sitting on a chair with his head hanging like a sleeping parrot. My mother is directing the photographer. My father stays out of her way. There is an unspoken negotiation between both of them. I am holding my own train I picked out refusing to wear one that was as long as my sisters.
I never cried because I wasn’t in despair. I had my brother drive me to Gilberto’s house. He was the one that saw them. I knocked and his mother opened. She kept chanting, “He’s still sleeping” as I pushed my way in. Shaking him awake, he was only wearing underwear. I’ve seen him shirtless but never pantless. Where were you? How could you? I take the engagement ring off and hurl it into folds of his sheets. Give her this ring, I say.
“I thee wed.”
It’s my dream. The priest wants me to repeat the vow, a vow for an invisible groom. I turn around and its clear, the congregation wants to watch the show. Why am I not following along they wonder. My arms bent, my hands swinging stiff Barbie doll, I want them too look in the direction of the absent groom. They are looking only at me. I think of my mother, I feel resentful. I look for her but I can only smell the roses and carnations she picked to pretty up the church. he’s here somewhere and it all needs to go to plan. We are so far into the ceremony, and everyone needs to see a wedding.
She was such a pig why did you sleep with her?
You never get to go out late at night, what am I supposed do?
My mother was so far into the planning; I really couldn’t call it off. He promised she meant nothing. He was lonely.
The wedding march starts. Gilberto is waiting for me this time. I can see him. Tall boyish grin, malcriado, he will age into eventual handsome. My father kisses me this time; it feels sweet but not too intrusive. We stand side by side and Father Vincent asks us to repeat after him. I bet my mother is gazing at this moment with her chin a little elevated. Her work is done. Success. He lifts my veil and we kiss. It’s a night wedding so the photographer’s flashbulb follows us to the church entrance as go down the steps. Gilberto will do the driving.
I wake from my dream; I am lying next to my husband. It’s the same old dream.
What have I done?