I felt like bawling in the middle of my daughter’s wedding reception. The DJ had set up the turntable and the loud speakers and the microphones and the four-course meal had ended. The seating arrangement in the elegant white tent separated me from my ex by two tables, which should have been enough. It wasn’t like he was contagious or something. Seeing him again, even at a distance, couldn’t explain my torment. The bride and groom waltzed by in two-time to applause. Couples jostled for space on the dance floor. I bit my lip hard as I surveyed the crowd of eager faces – my other two children and their families, my brother and his wife, my in-laws from France, Natalie’s high school buddies who made the transatlantic journey to attend the event, her work friends from the Boston area, my former radio industry pal, who had tried to date my daughter and dropped me in the process.
Then the first joyful chords of “Come On Eileen” rang out and there I was, sobbing away, unable to stop. The bride’s mother was supposed to cry during the ceremony, not at the reception. What was wrong with me?
It wasn’t that my wildest child, Natalie, had settled down and seemed pleased with her choice.
It wasn’t that my ex had walked our daughter down the aisle, handed her over to her future husband, and pretended to greet me but actually turned away without acknowledging my first words to him in twenty-five years, a snub no one noticed but me.
It wasn’t the fact that my son Paul would be flying back to California with his family after the wedding and I would miss them desperately.
It wasn’t my joy at knowing Natalie had met a man with a sense of humor, capable of putting her in her place, if necessary, and that twenty-five years of gibes, aggressive glares, and downright insults about my decision to divorce her father might soon only be a bad souvenir.
While Aretha Franklin spelled out R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I searched for other possible reasons. By now people had begun to notice the tears. They had to stop.
“Are you okay?” asked Tamara, our former au pair who had flown in from Wisconsin for the wedding. From the concern on her face, I gathered I was on the brink of making a fool of myself, so I swiveled toward the back of the tent and took a number of deep breaths. No use. More strangled sobs had strangers looking over their shoulder at me.
I had always enjoyed bopping around our living room with my young children, the baby balanced on my hip. Before my divorce, I had even worked as a talk show host, playing American hits at home, the stereo full blast, before sharing them with Paris. But now I was too upset to switch into party mode. Gloria Gaynor sang the first brave words of “I Will Survive,” the drums kicked in, and the tears again flowed, more profuse than ever. She would survive and so would I, damn it. Tears, stop already!
“Are you okay, Maman?” said Paul, his elegant shirt hanging out in what I assumed was the latest style at Los Angeles weddings. With a quick nod, I did my best to control myself. My body shuddered and the DJ’s segued right into “It’s Raining Men.” Guests did the bump, the boogie and an elaborate circle dance as Lady Marmalade told all those lonely girls out there to leave their umbrellas at home. Each and every woman would find the perfect guy, she sang. It was advice I had always given my daughter.
The familiar songs kept coming, one after the other, and suddenly it hit me. I realized the problem: Natalie had programmed what her father called “Maman’s music,” chosen for the wedding because it held special meaning for her too. I was hearing the soundtrack of my life in France. I had left those years behind me the day I moved out and sought new horizons. Now my past had swooped down on me like an eagle, ripping off a scab that had healed. I had repressed a river of tears that could no longer be staunched. I doubt my daughter understood but that didn’t matter. My new son-in-law took a few polite steps away as his bride extended her hand and smiled up at me. “Come dance, Maman.”
I wiped my eyes and danced.