70: Cinderella Descending

70: Cinderella Descending

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Cinderella Descending

I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.

~Boris Pasternak

On June 14th, I planned to put on the performance of a lifetime. I’d be the Cinderella in white, walking down the aisle to marry Prince Charming. It was the role I deserved, after years of being overlooked for lead parts in ballet academy recitals. Now I’d be center stage, carrying out my performance with all the poise of royalty.

And my prince? John was majoring in Acting/Directing at the University of Washington. His velvety baritone voice could melt a woman’s heart. It did mine!

As two struggling artists, we were perfect for each other — he, the handsome leading man, and me, the graceful dancer. I was certain our life together would be idyllic. And our wedding, no doubt, would be flawless.

We planned a ceremony at our family’s impressive church, followed by a reception in a ballroom at my mother’s workplace, Seattle’s elegant Olympic Hotel. As a hotel executive, Mom spent her life hosting parties for the rich and famous. I had no doubt she’d put on a flawless reception. Perfect!

I chose a full-length wedding gown with white lace over a satin sheath. It looked regal with its short train flowing behind. Gorgeous!

My brother-in-law, Tim, agreed to help with music for the ceremony by accompanying our church organist on woodwind instruments. I chose two Bach classics for our processional and recessional. Beautiful!

When the special day arrived, I entered the back of our church, arm-in-arm with the man who would give me away: my brother, Bill. Tim ceased playing introductory music as soon as we entered. I peeked through a slat to wink at John waiting at the front. Once he’d returned my wink, I felt calm and in control, confident the ceremony would be flawless.

Soon, Tim nodded toward the organist and raised a wooden recorder to his lips, then the sweet notes of “Sheep May Safely Graze” poured into the sanctuary. As the pipe organ joined Tim’s flute in soft harmony, the crowd stood to watch me walk down the aisle. This was my moment… my time to shine!

Right on cue, Bill and I stepped into the open arch at the back of the church. We were about to take our first step when the sun burst from behind clouds and flooded the sanctuary. The crowd gasped as brilliant rays illuminated my path to John.

I gasped as well… but for a different reason. The unexpected rays of light served as a divine wake-up call. This was no performance! I was about to give my life away… forever!

I started trembling. Tears spilled over as I looked toward my groom. Yes, he was handsome and charming, but… I was terrified! I tightened my grip on Bill’s arm, afraid to let go. However, without hesitating, he passed me to my handsome groom. John grasped my hand reassuringly as we turned toward Reverend Phillips.

While the reverend recited “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God…” my thoughts went wild. Omigosh, what am I doing here? This is serious stuff!

I wanted to run out of the church, but my feet wouldn’t move. Instead, something else started running. While my groom flawlessly recited his vows, my nose became the focus of my attention. Why hadn’t I brought a Kleenex?

Once John’s resonant voice had ceased echoing off the walls, I hung my head and mumbled vows between sniffles and snorts. So much for perfection! But John saved my pride. After carefully placing a kiss on the driest part of my lips, he swept me out of the church. What an awesome leading man!

Once my nose and head had cleared, my confidence returned. Certainly, the reception would go more smoothly than the ceremony. After all, my mother and her staff were pros at that kind of thing.

The ballroom was gorgeous — suitable for my Cinderella role, with elaborate cornices, velvety wallpaper, and draperies flowing from a twelve-foot ceiling to the floor. When we arrived, Mom’s associates were laying out my favorite hors d’oeuvres. They’d already placed a giant ice sculpture in the middle of the banquet table and surrounded it with bottles of champagne. Flowers were everywhere!

The man in charge, Mr. François, greeted us with a bow and showed us where we’d be forming the reception line.

“You’re a bit early,” he said as the staff hurried through their last-minute preparations. “But, here, sip some champagne while you wait.” I’d never been a drinker, but my mouth felt so dry that I grabbed the glass eagerly.

Soon, guests began arriving. Two hundred of them wandered through slowly, chatting as they gave us hugs and congratulations. Meanwhile, Mr. François kept my champagne glass filled to the brim.

Finally, the long line came to an end. As our guests swarmed over the hors d’oeuvres, I breathed a sigh of relief and whispered to my mother, “Where’s the closest restroom?”

“It’s on the balcony overlooking the hotel lobby,” she said, pointing toward a hallway leading to two flights of luxuriously carpeted stairs.

“John, I’ll be right back,” I said, and took off down the hall. My head reeled from the champagne. Nevertheless, I felt like a princess, descending the stairs overlooking a posh lobby. Every eye was on me — the bride in white lace.

Holding my head high, I didn’t slow my pace when I got to the stairs. Why should I? Given my level of grace and coordination, I always ran down staircases. Grabbing skirts in one hand, I’d just begun my elegant descent when a spike heel caught on my gown’s lacy train. I tried to recover, but the champagne had reduced my knees to rubber. As I fell, the skirts tangled around my legs mummy-style. Onlookers gasped as I rolled down the stairs sideways, bouncing like a cheap loaf of bologna.

Horrified, I jumped to my feet and ran into the ladies’ lounge. I hid in a stall to take inventory of the damage. Thanks to heavily padded, plush carpeting, nothing was broken or bruised… except my ego. I’d done no damage to my gown and hardly a hair was out of place. Though I was fairly certain none of our guests had seen my pratfall, I remained sequestered for a while, fearing someone might come in asking about the drunken bride. In time, I built up the courage to walk cautiously back to my wedding reception.

Now, decades later, I realize our imperfect wedding and reception were previews of coming attractions. In our early years together, John and I focused on petty imperfections and wondered why we’d married. We fought, and I’d cry, wanting to run. We took embarrassing pratfalls. But, ironically, the deeper trials that followed are the very things that drew us closer.

Six years after our wedding, John’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis finally inspired us to seek something greater than a perfect performance. Cinderella and Prince Charming needed to fall so a greater story could arise. Our “happily ever after” came only as John’s struggles with MS revealed our dedication to each other.

The result? Thirty-five years of an ever-strengthening marriage and a family for which I thank God daily.

~Laura L. Bradford

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