It was my wedding day. The itchy gauze of my dress fell around me as I teetered on treacherously high heels, grownup clothes for a grownup event. My mother pinned on my veil, gave me a gentle kiss and left the room to be seated in the church, assuming I was ready. I wasn’t so sure. At nineteen, I’d flunked out of college. Having no idea how to support myself, I’d decided to marry an equally clueless twenty-one year old.
I turned and left the room, stepping into the hall where my stepfather Greg waited. I seldom saw my stepfather in anything other than the coveralls he wore when he worked in his gun shop. His burly body stuffed into a black suit might have made me laugh if I hadn’t been so nervous.
Greg was a classic of the type: insensitive, narrow minded, frequently unkind. Through two previous failed marriages, he’d never had children of his own, and I doubted he’d ever been a child himself. Now an overweight, wheezing retired man in his sixties, he was fourteen years older than my mother, a beautiful and sophisticated woman who had exhausted herself working three jobs, trying to raise four kids on her own. He had no trouble convincing her to marry him, but he got more than he bargained for: a passel of teenagers whom he engaged in a steady and stubborn war.
Under pressure, Greg had agreed to pay for my wedding, my dress, the flowers, the invitations, and the reception that would be filled with his friends and relatives as well as ours. To my surprise, he’d even agreed to walk me down the aisle. Now he took my arm, but did not move up to the open door, the cue for the organist to begin the music. Instead he spoke softly, and leaned his big, balding head down toward me.
“You don’t have to do this,” Greg said.
“What?” I was too startled to grasp his meaning.
“You can walk away right now. You can call it off.” He didn’t point out that I was too young, too immature, and hardly in love, nor that my proposed mate was no more ready for marriage than I. But he said, “You don’t even have to face them. I’ll tell them for you.”
“But the invitations, the party … all that money,” Was he actually willing to let me off the hook? To accept the embarrassment and financial loss on my behalf?
He shook his head, “Doesn’t matter. I’ll take care of it.” His grim face expressing genuine concern left me momentarily speechless.
But I didn’t take long to think it over. I took his arm and turned toward the door. “Let’s go,” I said. “I’m ready.”
He was silent as we began our walk down the aisle, and he never mentioned that moment again. Forty years and two marriages later, I still marvel at the courage, generosity and wisdom a lifetime of regret can produce. Now maybe I’m ready to pass it on.