Instead, he squashed his cigarette on my freshly washed floor and said,"If you marry this insect, I will kill you in
the church. Marry and die!". With that, he turned a cool pivot in his Gucci's and left the way he had come in. I looked at
the crushed butt on my clean floor and thought, "I'm the walking dead."
Now this was all in the days before the term 'stalker' came into existence. Fact was,
that in Brooklyn, death threats were a way of life. To say 'I'll kill you', was a colloquialism. Mothers said it to unruly
children. Children said it to each other, when fighting over marbles. Garbage men said it to trash cans, that rolled downhill.
It was a decidedly Brooklyn 'thing'. But to be told, by a drug thug, that you would be blown away on your wedding day, was
a serious threat. This was right up there with Mafia sit downs and car bombs. Fleeting visions of every urban, gangland slaughter,
I had ever seen on film, were flickering through my comprehension. I was convinced, I was about to die. It didn't take
long for me to break the gruesome news to the neighbors, and those I didn't tell, heard it from others. My wedding suddenly
became the event of the century. Long before Diana and Charles' fanfare, there was the legend of the 'Brooklyn Church Massacre.'
There wasn't a soul on Carrol Street who didn't plan to attend.
The next night, as I sat morosely in Connie's kitchen, choosing hair styles and sipping
a red wine, she offered me her greatest gift. 'Listen Babe,' she said, pulling a long drag on a Virginia Slim, "Why dontcha
let me have my Daddy's boys take him out for ya. It'll be my wedding present." Now what can one possibly say to a gift like
that? Such macabre generosity was overwhelming! I swallowed my wine, before I sprayed it, thinking quickly. Despite how badly
I wanted him gone, I wasn't about to have him sunk in the East River. There was also an unspoken law, which made one accountable
to repay a debt of that magnitude, gift or no gift. Then too, there was the chance that a refusal would be misconstrued, and
it was bad enough having the Serbian Mafia after me; I certainly didn't want to tick off the Italian one as well. "Connie!
What can I say! It's just too much!" I said. My gratitude was blatant.'No really Babe..it's no problem. Get the greaseball
out of your life, and no more headaches. Waddaya say. It's a gift?' What I said was, I could never repay a gift so great,
and I would never feel equal to the giving. I thanked her profusely, and declined with humble grace. "Well...I can see that,"
she said, as she took another languid draw." But if ya change yer mind Babe, lemme know."With a further show of elaborate
thanks, I inched my way to the door, made a shaky path to my own apartment, and collapsed on my bed. Suddenly, my life was
reading like a Mickey Spillane novel. I fell asleep with dizzying visions, of cement overshoes and tommy guns.
Next morning, and four days till the hit, I woke to the phone ringing. It was my 'big brother,'
George, calling from the Catskills. George, was a man's man. He worked three jobs, never complained and gave judo lessons,
on his day off, to fragile females. He also had a brilliant reputation for drinking the best of them under the table, when
the occasion called for it. George was devoutly spiritual and patriotic to a fault. His four wheel drive boasted
stickers from the 'American Rifle Association,' 'The National Guard' and 'The Veterans of Foreign Wars'. A crack marksman,
his favorite T-shirt read, "America~Love it, or Allow Me to Help You Leave It~. Below this, was a vivid picture, of a Swiss
Carbine. He was fiercely protective of his ideals, as well as his family, and was known on occasion to buy hamburgers for
stray cats and dogs. In other words, he was a big, hard mush. With parents deceased, I had sent word that I would need him
to give me away at the wedding. I didn't think he'd mind giving me away to anyone. My left-wing lifestyle, was a constant
reminder, to my right-wing bother, that there was a dissident in the family. He constantly worried that I would never 'find
myself' (as I was apt to try repeatedly), so it would be far easier to pawn me off on someone who could help me look. Naturally,
he said he would do it, and in the course of the conversation, I eventually relayed the death threat. After a series of cryptic
queries, he asked, "OK, tell me, which side do I stand on, when we walk down the aisle?" When I said I wasn't sure, he said,
" Look, find out and let me know. Don't worry kid. Just be ready to get married.'
This should have put my mind at rest, but his words somehow elicited a case of cold feet. 'Just
be ready to get married.' Was I really ready to get married? An irritating, inner voice, that triggers flight reflexes, was
beginning to whisper to my conscience. I woke up next night, looked around at all the trappings spilling from their boxes;
at my wedding gown, hanging high enough to accommodate a luscious train, and thought, "I don't know about this." I had to
wonder if it was all worth it. By dawn, however, I'd convinced myself that everyone feels this way (How much more so,
those facing pending death), and decided to go through with it. I really had a hard time maintaining this line of reasoning
on a continual basis, which is why, the night before my wedding, I couldn't sleep at all. The following day I would either
be a dead legend or a trapped wife. This was not what I'd envisioned the apex of my adult experience to be! I drank some brandy,
and finally fell asleep, as the light of morning began to slink across Carrol Street.
Anticipating the weather to be mellow, I had precisely chosen Indian summer for my ceremony.
But morning brought, not the golden rays of an autumn sun, but storm clouds, thick enough to cover the Manhattan skyline.
My brother had arrived by then, and waving off my mumblings about omens, kept asking me on which side he was to escort me.
I was beginning to lose patience with him. It was important, of course, but not as important as avoiding being a great, white
target. I remember thinking, that being abandoned at the altar, wasn't as bad a fate as some would imagine.
One last look in the mirror before embarking for the church, however, warmed me to the fancies
of married life. I was beautiful, my groom was waiting and everything would be made right in a matter of a brief hour. My
whole life was ahead, I thought, and no matter if the heavens were dim; it would preclude a sunny tomorrow. For a little while,
I was removed from wedding anxiety and hit men, and transported to the fairyland of childhood fantasy. I was a bride! I made
my way to the waiting car, past the decorations of white roses and crape paper streamers, my neighbors had festooned about
The church was merely down the street and on the corner, but to hold with tradition, and
to accommodate the crowds of neighbors who had turned out for the affair, we decided to ride the circumference of the block
and on to the church. Outside, a gathering of people, to match that of Times Square on New Year's Eve, filled the sidewalks
and road. No doubt, they wanted to see the action when the shooting began, but I was delusional enough in that moment, to
believe they were there to see my ultimate moment of stunning beauty. By the time I had piled into the waiting cars
with my wedding party, we were hit with monsoon winds and rain. The crowd, not to be dissuaded by a mere breeze and a sprinkle,
covered their heads with umbrellas, newspapers and brown bags. After all, this was Brooklyn, and these people had come for
George was driving his 'family' car, a boat of a station wagon with room enough for the whole
wedding party. It was reserved for me, however, so as not to crumple my full gown. "Which church is it?", he asked. Carrol
Street was flanked at either corner, by two churches; 'St. Ignatius' to one, and 'Lutheran Lamb of God,' to the other. I directed
him to 'St. Ignatius', and the boat slowly made it's way, windshield wipers tapping, through the throngs of wet, eager people
in the road. I felt like a salmon, swimming upstream against the tide. George was trying very hard not to roll over an onlooker,
and I could hear him swearing quietly to the cheering crowd.
After almost thirty minutes of commandeering his way through the masses, George finally pulled
up to the church and assisted me from the car. Gale winds immediately wrapped me, cocoon like, in my gown and veil, turning
the full gown into a hobble skirt. So close to sanctuary, I minced up the stairs, gripping George for support. My brother
(usually a force to be reckoned with), was lifted flapping in the breeze, clinging to the church door, as I practically hopped
over the threshold to sanctity. So far so good. A quick look around the rear of the church showed no sign of henchmen, and
we went forward with renewed anticipation.
By the time I was unraveled and we finally arranged ourselves for the procession, the
organist had struck up 'Here Comes The Bride' for the third time. George, obviously convinced it didn't matter on which side
he escorted me, quickly took my left arm and away we went. I felt not one step I took, as I approached the altar, transported
by George's arm. The priest (a free spirit, who flew small engine planes for a hobby, and who convinced me with such, that
I had chosen the right man of the cloth), looked at me and asked, "How did you come, by canoe?"
The ceremony began, and I, in a semi state of shock, tried zealously to place the ring on my
groom's finger...without success. The priest stage whispered, through clenched teeth to the groom, "Help her. Help her!".
With a twist (I was sure dislocated a knuckle), the ring finally went on. He said he did, I said I did, and there was nothing
left save the priest asking, "If anyone knows why this man and woman should not be joined in marriage, let them speak now,
or forever hold their piece." No sooner had he spoken, than a clap of thunder equal to a sonic boom, sounded above. It was
loud enough to rock the pews and titter the stained glass. There was an audible gasp from the guests, as the priest raised
his eyes upward, then slowly gripped me in a long, hard stare. He sighed once and said, 'I now pronounce you man and wife,"
and I thought I saw him shake his head, ever so slightly. It was done. I was alive and married, and there was nothing left
to do but celebrate.
The rain had stopped, the sun shone again on Carrol Street, and all was right with the world.
Back at the limestone, Connie waited on the stoop, Virginia Slim laying languidly on her lower lip. "Hey Babe! Ya made it.
I guess the greasball chickened out!"
I had the best reception, ever. It's been twenty-five years and people are still talking
about it. George still says it was the best one he ever attended. It began at one o'clock in the afternoon and lasted till
six am the next morning. Naturally, there weren't enough seats, so people had to use each other's laps, and that made for
more familiarity than most receptions get with table arrangements. Somebody managed to sit in the bottom tier of wedding
cake, and served butter cream from her derriere, to anyone who wanted a lick. My landlady, not to be outdone, managed to polish
off a bottle of rye by herself. The last I saw of her, she was weaving out the door with one of the ushers, singing 'He's
my man...and I love him...'. I never had one complaint about the noise.
By six am the next morning, as I closed the door and surveyed the debris, George asked
me, "Was that the last of them?". I nodded and sighed. "Good," he said, "Then I can take this off." It was then, that my brother's
insistence on knowing which side of the aisle to escort me, became clear. He undid his tuxedo jacket and removed a shoulder
holster. My mouth dropped. "Hell," said George (sounding very like John Wayne), "I wasn't going to let my kid sister get blown
away on her wedding day!".
Well, that's it. The story of my Brooklyn wedding. There is one small footnote. Several days
later, an article appeared in The Park Slope Tribune.' (Brooklyn, NY. Park Slope): Five men were arrested at 'Lutheran Lamb
of God' Church, last Saturday. The men were discovered lying beneath the rear pews of the church, by a cleaning lady early
Saturday morning. Juana Chavez, of 259 Prospect Place, notified the 63rd Precinct. The men were arrested on illegal substance
and weapons charges. They have been identified as members of a Serbian dug cartel, operating out of the Bronx. Bail was set
at $100,000 dollars. They are being held in Brooklyn House of Detention, pending trial). So it seems, the Serbian Mafia, went
to the wrong church. My ex never was very good with directions.
My marriage didn't last, by the way, but as experiences go, it was worth the lesson learned.
I'd like to think I know a bit more about love than when I lived in Brooklyn. There is an old joke about a man who is drowning
at sea, and refuses the help of a boat and plane, because he says that God will rescue him. When he drowns and goes to heaven,
he asks God why he let him drown, and God says, "You Fool! I sent you a boat and a plane!". Next time I ask for a sign, I
intend to pay attention. At any rate, it was a swell reception. The best Brooklyn reception in memory. Terrible marriage,
wrong partner and rite of passage aside, it was a slice of life. The stuff memoirs are made of. A tale to tell the grandchildren
on a rainy day.
(A Very Brooklyn Wedding was first published
in The Hudson Valley Literary Magazine, Fall 2002)
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