Double exposure

May 27,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

A couple of months ago I took T. to a birthday party at the house of one of her little school friends. As soon as we walked in the front door, I was struck by the fact that there were framed wedding pictures hanging in several places in the living/dining room, and a massive white embroidered wedding album lying out on the sideboard in the hallway. I asked the hostess how long she and her husband had been married (they have two children) and she told me nine years. Instantly I remembered a theory a graduate student friend of ours had shared with us while we were over at their apartment for dinner, years ago.

Her theory was that you could judge how long a couple had been married by how many wedding pictures they had out in the open. The pictures start out front and center after you're first married and then, as the years go on, they slowly migrate onto the shelves of bookcases in back bedrooms. Have you noticed this phenomenon? I had to smile when I remembered that theory of hers because just recently when I was dusting the pictures on the bookshelf in one of OUR back bedrooms I noticed how many wedding pictures had ended up there, and wondered whether they needed to be reintroduced into other rooms. We have a few framed pictures in the guest room, and two more in our bedroom, and our actual album (fat and white and also embroidered) is tucked under a pile of other albums on the bottom shelf of our Ikea bookshelf in our living room. And I have to think our friend's theory was right--in all the houses we've visited over the years, I have never seen wedding pictures displayed so prominently as they were at that birthday party that day. I was struck by this--it seemed odd, really--although I don't know why.

A wedding is like some massive celestial event--the kind that starts out grand, but also small in the scheme of things, when measured against the backdrop of an entire universe. I think sometimes, in the business of everyday life, and the passage of years, and the chaos of childrearing, it's easy to forget about the wedding part--whether it was two years ago, or twelve, or forty-two. I hardly think about my wedding at all. I think about my marriage all the time, of course, but our wedding day--I don't think about it much. It's shelved away in the past, along with many other remarkable--and even not-so-remarkable--things. It's a memory, and like some memories, it seems rooted firmly in the past.

It's amazing how the day came rushing back to me this past weekend. I sat in my chair on the green, sweeping lawn, and listened to the ceremony, and I remembered my own wedding, almost 12 years ago--not just the big details, but the little ones, like what I'd had for breakfast (dry toast--I was so nervous that was all I could manage). At the reception I watched T. dance, a little scrap of a person in a twirly pink dress, and L. run in circles in the dusk, rings of glow-sticks looped around his wrists, and I thought about my wedding, years ago--the celestial event in my own life that set everything in motion.

Thinking back to the reception now, from my cluttered, hot office on this Tuesday morning, I wonder if the contented, faraway look I saw on the faces of every married guest Saturday night was not just spawned from the joy you feel when you watch newlyweds dance their first dance together, but if each person was busy remembering their own wedding--creating a double-exposure effect, really; past and present all layered together--hundreds of small celestial events exploding that night, lighting the way for each and every one of us.