I knew there was some shame and secrecy surrounding my sister’s wedding. I was only seven, but I knew. They were getting married in our family room. Our family room! The place where I watched Smurfs and The Muppet Show was to be their sacred chapel. It was the place where I’d fight and wrestle with my older brothers and the place where our dog, Puddles, would track in mud from outside. How could a wedding take place there?
The day of our sister's wedding, Carrie, and I took a bath at my grandma and grandpa’s townhouse, only a few miles from our house on Barola Lane. My grandma got down on her knees and washed our hair, her perfectly coiffed hair not moving an inch as she did so. My mom was nine months pregnant with my little brother and wasn’t able to bend over and wash us anymore.
Carrie and I popped floating clusters of bubbles and fought for space in the tub. "Why are they getting married in our family room? Aren’t you supposed to get married in the temple,” I asked grandma.
“They’ll be married in the temple in a year. For now, they are doing it at your house.” She answered in a way that suggested that she didn’t want any more uncomfortable questions about the shameful marriage.
I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened. When I’d heard of their engagement, I was told that they’d only been dating for two weeks. I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. How wonderful it would be to know within a couple of weeks that you found your prince Charming! I’d tell teachers at school, as if they should be as awed and as jealous as I. From their responses, however, I could tell they were suspicious, not jealous. “What do your parents think,” a recess monitor asked, with true disbelief in her voice. “They think it’s great,” I answered.
They didn’t think it was great though. I knew what their hushed tones and hasty wedding plans really meant. They were embarrassed and wanted the wedding over as quickly and quietly as possible.
Even at the age of seven, I knew that my sister and her boyfriend had “messed up”. They’d done something naughty and couldn’t get married in the temple. They’d probably even had sex, but no one told me that. I just gathered that from the roundabout answers I’d get from grown-ups when I’d question them. But there was more to it. I knew it. Even a kid can sense great fear in the adults around her. The fear that emanated from the adults was not only because the wedding would be outside the temple. They knew something wasn't right, or at least sensed the doom and pain this union might bring. Though, I'm sure, they had no idea how twisted and perverse things would become.
I really wasn’t worried about the young couple’s future; I didn’t know enough to be worried, and I thought adults did too much worrying anyway. Couldn't they just be happy and bask in the romance of it all? I was thrilled because my sister, Carrie, and I were flower girls. We got to wear white dresses and flowers in our hair. What more did I need to know?
Because Carrie was mentally disabled, she didn’t automatically understand how exciting it was to be a flower girl. I got her excited though. I talked in gleeful shrieks about how beautiful we’d be and what an honor it was. She grinned and clapped along with me.
After our bath, my grandma put pink, spongy rollers in my hair. What a treat! My mom had never been one to put my hair into a hairdo, and it was very exciting to be getting such treatment. She took out the rollers and I had ringlets at the side of my face. She put up the rest of my hair. It was very circa 1973, even though the year was 1983. I didn’t care if it was a little out-of-date; it was beautiful! My grandma carefully bobby-pinned the small wreath of flowers into my hair. The back of the wreath had tiny ribbons flowing from it and I loved how they flowed down the back of my head, like strands of Rapunzel's hair. I felt like a bride and even pretended that it was my wedding day.
I don’t remember much about sister's wedding. I don’t remember walking down any makeshift aisle or anyone announcing them as husband and wife. I do remember my dad was the one that married them. He was a bishop at the time and I thought that one day I’d like to have my daddy marry me to somebody too.
I also remember that my sister didn’t wear white. I thought it was so odd. She wore a shimmery, tan fabric. Yes, it was pretty, but it was no wedding dress. There was no veil! No full-length dress! Just some 1980’s, puffy-sleeved, night-on-the-town kind of dress. Carrie and I were the ones in white. We were the virginal, pure ones that night. At least, that seemed to be the message.
After the wedding ceremony took place, the bride and groom took their places around our dining room table and cut into their modest cake with white and peach frosting. This also perplexed me. I imagined a wedding cake to have tiers and to be intricately decorated. This was a simple sheet cake, like one I would have at my birthday party. My sister politely fed her husband his piece of cake. Then he teased her and pretended to smash the cake into her face. She was horrified. I laughed. I thought he was so funny. I had no idea, at that time, that this simple act of teasing was a symbol of their abusive relationship. He would forever be teasing and embarrassing her. He didn’t mind humiliating her for a few chuckles and giggles.
As a child, so much was hushed in my presence, and I wonder if anyone was all that surprised when my sister came home crying, with a black eye, only a few months after that strange, makeshift wedding. Were they surprised when her ribs were broken from a "fall down the stairs" a few years later? And would they ever have guessed that the little flower girl, dressed in virginal white, would come to them later as an 18 year old college coed, telling them that the same man who teased and abused my sister, had also stolen my innocence as a child?
(Disclaimer: I am in no way suggesting that any Mormon marriage that takes place outside the temple is doomed or wrong. My own wedding to my wonderful husband took place outside the temple and we were sealed in the temple a year later.)