The Awful Truth

By Cintra Wilson

Published July 1, 1997 8:32AM (EDT)

i'm at that age, I guess. It seems like everybody I know is getting married, all my best friends and friends of friends. Two by two they are all linking arms and boarding the Ark, and I find myself shaking my fist and spitting in the air at my dead boyfriend, the only guy with whom I ever had a realistic shot at matrimony. It annoys me that the gods have seen fit to deny me this large thing, which I must be glorifying in my mind to impossible heights because it is so remote from me. My only spiritual joy of late has been from reading everything by J.D. Salinger that I can get my hands on. I have been obsessed with the Russian pilgrim in "Franny and Zooey," who says this Jesus Prayer over and over again, attempting to recite "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me" without ceasing in order to make the prayer self-active and perpetual in himself, like breathing. Franny does the same thing. So I have been saying it too, over and over in a fast little mantra every time I remember to do it, just for kicks, even though I've never had any particular feelings about Jesus other than "Cool guy. Great prophet." The communication between Franny and Zooey makes you homesick for their high, brilliant love in a way that makes you want to die because you've never had it.

In any case, just to rub more rock salt into my whining heart-gash and get out of the sweltering little solitary confinement Cool-Hand-Luke box of a New York apartment I write in all day long, I went to yet another wedding the other day -- friends of friends.

"He's a Croat, she's Argentinian," explained Myrna. That sealed the deal for me. I figured it would be some incredible Roman Catholic event, under huge oil-bleeding lamp statues of Christ Being Chased By Wild Dogs and old women in babushkas and muzzles flagellating themselves with horsehair whips in the front pews, and maybe even a couple of fights. With no pangs of conscience I bought a small notebook for spying purposes. We took a cab ride from Manhattan to Astoria, Queens. It was the hottest day anybody had lived through in a year -- the kind of heavy, wet New York heat that makes your body feel like it's been basted with chicken fat. We arrived at the church 15 minutes before the ceremony was to take place, and it was completely empty. A sweaty young man with his tuxedo jacket under his arm and a camcorder told us the groom was late. "The bride's been waiting outside in her limo. Tsk. She ain't supposed to be here first."

The church was great, although not as medievally disturbing as I wanted it to be. There were the stations of the cross in bas-relief on the walls, with really catchy captions underneath: The STRAIN. The AGONY. The HUMILIATION. The ANGUISH. The DEATH.

I kept making up new ones, trying to think of them narrated by some Long Island yenta: The ALLERGIES. The LOWER BACK TENSION. The AIR CONDITIONING.

Everybody loves that Pachelbel Canon, and that Ave Maria. We couldn't hear anything from where we were sitting. At the end of the ceremony I took communion like an impostor. The priest faked like he was giving it to me in the mouth instead of the hand, and when I opened my mouth he said "Tsk." I felt like an exposed non-Catholic, a non-transubstantiation-believer among pious cannibals.

I absent-mindedly left the TV on a couple of weeks ago, and some music station was broadcasting various No. 1 hits and their videos. I caught the first couple of minutes of the No. 1 Christian song in the country, and I thought I was going to involuntarily vomit up a full bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear. It was a song called "Butterfly Kisses" by some fat, overwrought Country Western \ber Baptist, which had bathos-riddled lyrics to the effect of "When I see my little girl, I drop down on my knees by her bed and pray weeping ..." In any case, I made a rude noise to myself and changed the channel as quickly as possible.

So at the reception, when the bride glided onto the dance floor with her father and I recognized the first few strains of the offending song, I immediately did an internal ice-cringe and thought "Ew mah GAHD." But the father was humming with live voltage from the mammoth naked emotion that he was heroically laboring to contain -- hugging his little bride-daughter to his big chest and trying to half-nelson the tears back behind his tough-guy face, where they were already blazing down in his throat and sunsetting his cheek -- and his daughter, with trembling lip, unhinged her head against his lapels from the awesome sentimental pressure of the moment, and the two of them danced their polite dance, and it seemed like the floor would just crack open and swallow them because the Love was so huge and devastating and more than anybody could handle, and the song's dumb lyrics (something like "Now she's takin' another man's name, and leavin' the house" blar-de-blar) just amplified this feeling like a gong into the realm of the pointlessly excruciating, and everyone at the party cried, including me. Aaaaaw, Dad. Dear Old Dad. Anybody's, ever. The groom and his mother danced, but the song was in Croatian, so nobody cried but the groom's mom, who was a virtual spigot. She could barely stand up, let alone dance. She had to be hobbled back to her seat by the elbows, but we assumed she'd had a little to drink.

There were a few great Astoria, Queens, moments during the reception. When the bride tossed her bouquet to the bridesmaids, around three of them ended up tearing each other's hair out on the floor. The bouquet was ripped in half and the two girls holding the two halves kept trying to beat the other one off the floor. I found one of the two savage victors bleeding in the restroom a little while later, dabbing behind her ear with her long, square art-nails. "She fuckin' punctured my head!" she screamed. "My earring like stabbed all the way into my skull." The groom's men also assaulted each other with audible "ooofs" and rib-cracks when the groom threw the garter. The violence was earthy and welcome. The bride's 18-year-old brother, in perfect 18-year-old brother style, threw up dramatically all over the staircase to the restrooms at the country club after drinking himself into petulant teen-lather. It seemed somehow perfect.

At one point, Myrna and I were standing out on the golf course watching a handful of the groom's swarthy Croatian relatives smoke pot. "You see that chick in the red dress? I was lusting after her all night. I just found out she's my fuckin' cousin! All my sexual thoughts just flew out the window." I was so touched, I ran in and told the girl in the red dress.

We did a lot of crazy dancing. Some Croatian boys made clumsy drunken passes at us. It was sweet. We got home late.

I have been casually dating without enthusiasm, doing the same old same old.
I came home last night at 4 in the morning, and I realized suddenly, and soberly, that there was something actually present in my heart that wasn't there before, as if some kind of subliminal tape had been playing while I was asleep, or a chip implanted behind my cerebral cortex -- some deep sense of the certainty of Love, or an education about it ... an introduction to it, maybe. A whole different ballgame of feeling, an opening, a glimpse of a whole other bright room in my soul. Holy Mother of God, I thought. It must be that freaking Jesus Prayer. It must be working.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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