The author of this essay wishes to remain anonymous. All names have been changed.
The title is harsh. My hurt is indescribable. It was all out of a soap opera only very much true. The woman who gave birth to me, raised me, saw me off to college and got the initial call that I was first dating Alex came very close to ruining what is supposed to be the most special day in a girl's life.
It's a story that extends well beyond eight hours of wedding day prep time. So in the interest of brevity, here it is:
"You're turning my daughter into a Jew!? She's your problem now!!!" This was merely ONE of the rapid-fire quotes to come out of my mother's mouth, aimed at my husband-to-be's family, minutes before I walked down the aisle. A little background...
We got married on a tropical island. The venue was elegant, glamorous and incredibly costly. My parents bent over backwards to book it because well, I wouldn't have had it any other way. An outdoor space, lined with lush tropical landscaping, surrounding the courtyard's centerpiece, a gorgeous, pristine pool.
Minutes before the explosion, my entire family and Alex's were stationed inside the hotel spa's waiting area overlooking the pool/reception space, excitedly watching our guests begin to seat themselves along the very aisle down which we would be walking in mere minutes. There was one more point of business to take care of before we did so.
Alex is Jewish. I am not. We agreed (three years prior) that we would have a Jewish ceremony. This meant that we were to sign a Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) in front of immediate family before the "actual" wedding in front of everyone else. Being that my mother actually converted to my father's religion for their wedding, we didn't see this as being much of a problem. I wasn't even going as far as converting to Judaism. We were just having a Jewish ceremony. Furthermore, Alex pulled my father aside in December, almost five months before were to get married and explained our decision to have a Jewish ceremony to him. He articulated that he knew that it probably wasn't the way my father would have drawn it out, but that he was willing to talk about it if he'd like. My father mostly listened, put up no objections and the conversation ended with him letting Alex know, "look, it's up to you two."
The rabbi explained to all in attendance, the significance of the Ketubah signing, its thousands-of-years-old tradition, and he recited a blessing. Then he declared, that under Jewish law, we were now married. Butterflies ensued. Hugs and kisses exchanged. Ten seconds later, my mom said something to Alex's Mom, which still keeps me awake at night three weeks later:
"Susan, don't give me that look. I will pull you by the f--cking hair and throw you in the pool!"
I couldn't begin to imagine what she meant. But only in retrospect can I assume that she felt like our whole engagement was some sort of conspiracy by Alex's mom to turn me into a Jewish person. But again, nothing has been confirmed. And I didn't have the guts (or the strength) to ask in that moment.
After the "pool" comment, there was silence. It could have been one second. It may have been a full minute. I honestly don't know. But then she came back with...
"You're turning my daughter into a Jew!? She's your problem now!"
Nausea. Tears. Humiliation and a feeling of terror. These events transpire on soap operas, not on the most special day of one's life. I couldn't even fully compute what was happening, forget about "why".
It had all come from a voice that I knew to be love for my whole life. Yes, there was always anger, but not hate. It was a voice that told me to do my homework and asked me about dates or if I wanted a new dress that day. Now, it was a voice of hatred and it was not only aimed to hurt me, but it was directed at my soon-to-be family. Alex's mom is a sweet lady, who cared for me when I was sick. I know she loves me. She was marrying off the last, and youngest, of her three children. My mother stole this moment, not only from me, not only from my soon-to-be husband, but from his family as well. It was a humiliation that can not be underestimated. How does one apologize for this?
Nobody knew what to do. My father did absolutely nothing. But that has been his strategy for as long as I have known him. My mother-in-law must have been in shock as well, because she is not a woman of few words, yet she remained silent. But the truth is, I think she reacted appropriately. If you fire back, you are making the moment about you and a mele could have ensued. She opted to keep the day about Alex and me, swallow her pride and presumably fight the urge not to lash back. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after the wedding that she told me the truth about her pain and embarrassment.
The first actual, verbal reaction came from my great friend and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Lisa (Alex's sister), who understandably let out an "Oh my god". To add fuel to the fire, it should be known that Lisa's 11 and 13 year old daughter and son were also present. The 13 year old, Jason, was Bar Mitzvah'd one month earlier. Now these children tragically may have been wondering why this woman thought it was bad to be Jewish. My mother then lashed out at Alex's sister, "SHUT UP LISA!".
Only then, my future husband would lose his temper for the first time ever in front of me. He's a calm man. He's a sensible man. He's a gentle man. Finally he's a man who said to my mother, "NO, YOU SHUT THE F--K UP BEFORE I PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE." His brother and my brother-in-law raced to him and took him outside to cool off. I ran to the bathroom, as best I could in my mermaid-cut wedding dress, with my sister in tow. I'll never forget the look of fear on her face. And the tears rolling down her face. I leaned over the sink. My sister Emily was panicking, pleading with me, "Don't throw up!!!" That wasn't the feeling though. I was only worried that my make-up would run down my face onto my dress.
My sister and I are 22 months apart. She tied the knot a year prior and her wedding went on, well, without a hitch. Looking back at photos, everyone is smiley, jolly and genuinely excited to be celebrating her big day. Being that she had just gone through the planning process, she was a source of advice and information during our year-long engagement. I may be the oldest, but she had all the knowledge as far as wedding planning goes.
Back to the moment in the bathroom. Maybe it was shock or strength, but I barely cried. Two tear drops to be exact. She, on the other hand, lost it. She started hysterically crying, looked me straight in the eye and said "I'm sorry." We didn't say beyond that. I knew she felt my pain but I refused to let out the river of tears that were edging so close to my tear ducts. I just sat through three hours of makeup, damnit! And still had to make my big appearance. My mother had made me cry enough over the last 30 years. Not this time! Plus, we had T-10 minutes before the procession.
I left the bathroom and ran to Alex. We made a quick escape to a nearby room while our families stood there, silent. He had calmed down but I hadn't. I was hyperventilating, not crying. He put his two hands on my arms, looked me in the eye and told me that it was now about us and nobody else. He said that it was up to us if we were going to let her ruin this day or not.
Then I did it. We did it. Literally mere minutes after one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life, with reassurance from my now-husband, we said "I do" in front of 120 of our friends and family and had what was undoubtedly the best night of my life... so far! I haven't spoken to my mom since. It might take time to repair our relationship. As for my marriage, I know it has the foundation for forever.