My sister told me, “The vows are the marriage.”
In the final weeks before our wedding, my sister and I made swirling, meticulous lists, arrows zooming like rockets from task to subtask; we took afternoon naps when exhaustion won; we cried; laughed; worried about family’s arrival; snapped at each other; poured golden, tranquil waves of scotch; and scrambled across the Michigan potholes from printers to bakers to paper shops. When I freaked out, again and again, she said, “Don’t worry. It’s just the vows that matter. The vows are the marriage.”
I said, “Okay, okay,” and took deep breaths. But what could I really understand about what she said? The vows are the marriage, yes; and so is the buttercream, and so are the peonies, and so is the dress, silver beads, and creampuff taffeta; and so are the guests, who we hope will get along and dance; and so is the venue, with evening light twinkling clear and cool off the glass greenhouse walls; and so is the champagne, which must be served again after dessert. Right?
No. The vows are the marriage.
When we spoke to each other, he held my hands so tightly my fingers ached. His arms shook. My knees trembled, invisible under ivory tulle. I listened to his voice—my husband’s voice!—an ancient hillside on which I lay, finally rested, soaking up joy. I listened to his voice, certain and clear. I stood twirling in his gaze, his blue eyes as deep and still and bright as a galaxy.
When I spoke, my tears made tiny waterfalls down my round cheeks. I felt them drop onto my chest and run beneath the bodice of my dress. I felt my voice moving in my throat; a new voice, vocal chords playing sweetly like violas and rich cellos. I felt my fingers shake. I felt my weight anchor me, ballet flats firm on the slate floor. I felt as true as a lioness. I felt the summer air on my arms, big arms, and gazed, awed, at him, as I made my promises.
The vows are the marriage.
And in that moment, my body was my home. A spiritual home. A physical home. A temple on the rock, in which a flame of honey began to burn, brighter, warming the coldest, oldest corners. I’ve never been more at home, with him, with his voice, my voice, our bodies a home to each other, our gazes soaring in the inches between our faces. My body carried me to this moment, was singing me through it!
The body sings the vows. The vows are the marriage. And I gave thanks.