Did you ever want to strangle your best friend on your wedding day? Well I did…for a minute anyway. Let me start from the beginning.
Olivia and I met in infant school in rural Jamaica where we were born. We instantly took to each other and became little sisterfriends. I guess from us always chattering away about one another is how our mothers got together and became fast friends too. We were chubby little girls whom everybody said looked more like family than our own kin. Our mothers even dressed us up like twins, pretty ribbons in our hair and matching dresses. We were “the cutest of the cute.” When we were eight years old our mothers got visas for America. They were ecstatic. Neither of us wanted our mother to leave. Olivia had a father and a grownup brother. All I had was my grandmother and an uncle.
“Who’ll comb my hair?” I asked my mother as she packed her suitcase a few days before leaving. “Nana,” she said. “I hate how she combs my hair! I hate how she combs my hair!” I chanted like a mantra as tears ran down my face. “Don’t be rude to your granny,” my mother scolded. She told me again for the umpteenth time she’d send for me when she got settled. She said in America she’d no longer have to eke out a living selling food in the market and I could get a good education. She promised to send me pretty clothes and lots of things. I wasn’t placated. I’d rather have my mother read me Anancy stories at bedtime and bake me sweet potato pudding than send me stuff from some faraway place. Although Olivia was unhappy about her mother going away, she was glad about the stuff she’d be getting. Even back then she was more cold-eyed practical than me.
The evening before our mothers left for America, Olivia and I stayed up late for their send-off party. There was reggae and calypso music, lots of curried goat, rice and peas, and jerked chicken. It bothered me, however, when I saw my mother dancing, laughing, flirting and having fun. How could she be happy knowing she was leaving me? I wasn’t thrilled with Olivia either. She was busy with the other children, paying no attention. to me. The little traitor! My spirits were buoyed, however, when I overheard my mother’s boyfriend ask her, “When you goin’ send for me to join you in America?” and she replied, “The only person I plan to send for anytime soon is my daughter.” I went skipping out to the yard and joined the other children who were playing “Brown Girl in the Ring.”
On the morning of their leaving, the airport scene was one of hugs and tears. I promised my mother I’d be good and mind Nana. On the way home I had thoughts I dared not speak for fear they might come true: What if Olivia and I never saw our mothers again? What if the plane crashed on its way to America?
Two years later, Olivia, her father, and I arrived in New York. I was mesmerized by the million lights and awesome skyscrapers. We all lived in the same building in the Bronx on different floors. I was glad Olivia and I had each other when we started school. Our mothers took turns dropping us off at school in the mornings and Mrs. Jenkins, an elderly neighbor with a sweet Southern American accent picked us up after school and kept us till our mothers came home from work. She usually fed us cookies, sometimes with ice cream, which we’d eat while watching her favorite soap opera.
“I’m gonna have to take you all down South to Alabama where I come from one of these days. Jamaica is probably a lot like Alabama, lots o’ trees and open space for kids to run around,” she’d say. She had two grown daughters who lived elsewhere. The first time we met her daughter Caroline, she was in the apartment when we arrived home with Mrs. Jenkins. She seemed friendly enough until her mother fixed us ice cream and cookies.
“Don’t be giving them that, Ma!”
“Don’t you think they’re fat enough already?”
“It ain’t good for them to be so fat.”
“They’re kids. Let them enjoy themselves, please!” Mrs. Jenkins implored.
Olivia and I exchanged quizzical looks as we carried our bowls into the living room and dug in. That night as my mother served dinner I asked her, “Mommy, do you think I’m too fat?” “Well,” she stammered, “you’re a little chubby. Why do you ask?”. I liked the way things were, with us going to Mrs. Jenkins after school and didn’t want her angry at Mrs. Jenkins or her daughter. “No reason,” I lied.
Although Olivia’s parents and my mother said we couldn’t start dating until we were sixteen, we began noticing boys when we got to junior high. I tried to change my mother’s mind but she wouldn’t hear of it. “Your date’s with your schoolwork,” was her usual response when I pointed out that other girls were allowed to date earlier. “You’re not them,” she said. “You’ll have a lifetime for the male species. Don’t be in a rush. Trust me.”
At lunchtime, Olivia, and I would sit with our friends Sonia and Beverly and discuss our lives–teachers, parents and, of course, boys. One day a new boy showed up in the lunchroom and Sonia dubbed him “The Ebony Adonis.” He must have noticed we were staring at him because he waved at us. Actually, I was sure he waved at me and I said so. “No, no,” Olivia objected. “He was waving at me!” Beverly started to laugh uncontrollably. We all looked at her, not knowing what to make of her glee. Then alternately pointing at Olivia and me, she said, “You two really think that guy would be interested in you?” and guffawed some more. “Why not?” Olivia asked, an edge to her voice. “I like you two,” Beverly said, “but let’s be real. Each of you’d have to lose a ton for a guy that gorgeous to look at you once.”
“You think he’d be interested in you who can’t add two plus two?” I said, exaggerating her poor math skills. “Yes!” she responded, “because it’s looks that count!” When Sonia piped in that it was rude of her to talk to friends that way, Beverly said she was being the real friend by telling us the truth.
That night as I said my prayers, I caught myself crying. The next day I told Olivia I was afraid no boy would be interested in us because we were fat. She reminded me that her mother was no “Skinny Minnie” yet she managed to find a great guy like Olivia’s father.
We both did well in high school. However, I was self conscious about my weight and rarely dated when my mother lifted the ban. She tried to help me with different diets but none worked for me. On the other hand, Olivia, who was the same size as me, seemed perfectly content with the way she looked and went out with some of the nicest boys in school. Her father told her any guy who’d reject her, overlooking her beauty, brains and wonderful qualities just because of her weight, was not worthy of her. “That’s true for you too,” she told me.
I went out with a few guys on dates where I barely ate anything but lettuce and carrot sticks, then stuffed myself when I got home.
During my junior year in college my mother married a man she met at work, and moved to the borough of Queens where they bought a beautiful house with a big backyard. I stayed in the Bronx with Olivia’s family to be near my school and my part-time job until I found a small apartment.
I met Richard in chemistry class. He had tender brown eyes and his smile was a full grin that took over his face. We would talk for hours, go on long walks and attend church together. I felt good and totally free when I was with him. I spilled all my feelings about him to Olivia. “Go for it, girl!” she said. We went out on double dates a few times and he and Olivia really clicked. My stepfather said Richard was a young man from the old school, “a perfect gentleman.” The night of our graduation party Richard knelt down and asked me to marry him. My heart was so full, I could barely speak as he slipped the elegant diamond ring on my finger. I hugged him hard as we kissed and family and friends applauded..
Soon, Olivia and I went looking at wedding dresses. I found the style I wanted, shimmery white with a lace bodice and scalloped neckline. A couple of weeks later I was visiting Richard at home where he lived with his parents who had always been very welcoming to me. We were in the living room when his mother received a phone call and decided to take it in her bedroom. Passing by her bedroom on my way to the bathroom, I couldn’t help overhearing a few words of her conversation through the door which was slightly ajar.
“Yeah, I know he doesn’t like the way she looks. The thing is, he doesn’t know how to handle it ’cause he loves her and don’t want to alienate her. I already told him he’s gotta put his foot down and make an issue of it.”
I was shocked. How could Richard have been such a good actor, saying he didn’t care about my size then go complaining about it to his mother? I decided I wouldn’t marry him until I was down to at least a size ten. He seemed surprised when I told him my decision as he drove me home.
“Because I want to make you happy?”
“I’m happy now, Monica. The only thing that will make me happier is marrying you.”
“I’ll look better in my wedding pictures.”
“You’re beautiful now! What’s gotten into you?”
“You’re just saying that.”
He pulled the car over and took a deep breath. He told me he didn’t care if I lost weight. He wanted us to get on with our life now. He didn’t want to lose another minute of us not being husband and wife. I thought he deserved an acting award. Although tempted, I didn’t tell him what I’d overheard his mother say.
“Do you love me, Monica?
“More than anything.”
“That’s all I want to know. Let’s not wait!”
“Give me six months to work on reaching my goal.”
He shook his head and started the car.
How can I marry him like this hearing what I heard? He loves me but he’s not happy with how I look but is afraid to tell me, I reasoned.
“Don’t be a big fat fool!” Olivia huffed when I told her the whole story.
I soon began to sense a certain coolness in Richard when we were together. He stopped mentioning our wedding. Increasingly, my messages to Olivia went unanswered. Her mother said Olivia was stressed at work and was seeing a new guy. Since we told each other everything, I wondered why she hadn’t told me about him.
Shortly before my twenty-third birthday my mother called to say she and my stepfather planned to throw me a birthday party and was telling me so I’d adjust my plans. I was happy as I imagined Richard and I having fun with family and friends. Right after the party I’d go on a diet in earnest and plan for our wedding. I was annoyed when Richard said he promised to help his parents with a problem that Saturday and would be late getting to the party. I wondered what the devil was happening when Olivia told me she’d be late too.
“I saw you and your boyfriend looking at wedding rings in Manhattan last week!” my neighbor, Keisha, said excitedly as I passed her in the hallway of my apartment building.
“That wasn’t us.”
“Really?” she said, a surprised look on her face. “That sure looked like you two I saw through the window of the jewelry store.”
My mind went on overdrive: Richard’s coolness! Olivia’s new guy she’s keeping a secret from me! Can’t be! I called my mother about my suspicions. She howled with laughter and said I was crazy. “Please, Monica,” she pleaded, “don’t mention such nutty ideas to Olivia or Richard.”
On my birthday my stepfather arrived to take me to my party which was to begin at five o’clock so as not to disturb their neighbors late at night. A block away from their house he stopped the car and pulled a blindfold out of his pocket.
“Please indulge me,” he said. “We have a big surprise for you.”
“Wow,” I thought, “maybe they got me the car I’d been talking about buying!”
My mother greeted me when we arrived and led me inside the house and up the stairs. The place smelled of fresh cut flowers as usual; my mother’s one extravagant vice. I wondered about the silence. Guests should’ve started arriving already. And what about the car? As we reached the top of the stairs I heard the door to the master bedroom open.
“Remove the blindfold!” my mother said.
I stood there for what seemed like minutes, with my mouth wide open, speechless.
Laid out on the bed was the wedding dress Olivia and I had seen, along with the veil and headpiece.
“Girl, don’t just stand there! You gotta get dressed for your wedding. Your mother will do your hair while I do your makeup and nails,” Olivia said, ushering me into the adjoining bedroom.
“Oh, I’m gonna strangle you so bad,” I said, as tears welled up in my eyes.
“You can do that after the wedding! Do you really think I was gonna let you to play the fool?” Olivia asked me seriously. “Richard and your guests will be waiting at the church, so move it!”
“Oh, Mommy, how could you all do this without me having a clue?” I said to my mother who couldn’t hide her glee.
“That blabbermouth neighbor of yours almost blew the whole thing,” she laughed. “That was Olivia and Richard buying the rings.”
“By the way,” Olivia said, “I met a green-haired tattooed cousin of Richard’s recently. Her new look is driving her father crazy. The conversation you overheard was about her.” Everything, including the shoes, fit perfectly. My mother gave me diamond earrings. Olivia loaned me her pearl necklace and gave me a blue garter. “Happy Birthday,” they said, and hugged me. Looking at myself in the mirror when they were done, I loved what I saw.
Downstairs, I noticed the house had been decorated with wedding bells, streamers and beautiful flowers. A white limousine waited at the curb.
At the church my stepfather and my mother escorted me up the aisle together to the altar where Richard stood beaming. “You’re so bad,” I whispered, and kissed him on the cheek.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.