I'd been trying for weeks to explain Rebecca and Andrew's wedding to Mona. Andrew is Gil's brother. Rebecca is my best friend of five years and such a good friend to Gil that she was holding his hand when he died. Mona is my 2-year-old.
If you want a challenge in communication, try this on for size: Explain in terms a toddler will understand the extraordinary chain of events that has brought us to this wedding day. How it was that in only two years, my husband's family suffered through a separation and divorce, celebrated a birth, weathered a horrible illness, withstood the gut-wrenching blow of death, and now welcomes a new bride into the fold. In a way I should count my lucky stars Mona is only 2, because it simplifies things immensely. When it came down to it, two sentences sufficed: "Andrew and Rebecca will be a king and queen." And, "We'll eat some cake."
So here we were in the white-and-gold showroom of the same pastry chef who baked my wedding cake five years ago. Sitting at a round table, facing down enormous plates of assorted cake slices, were Rebecca, her mother Eileen, Mona, and me. Three generations of women did our best to be dainty as we forked white cake into our mouths, and as Rebecca and her mom prepared to fork over a tidy sum for the privilege of serving same to 150 valued relatives and friends a week hence.
Once it was only an adjunct to the wedding feast, a prop used in a weird fertility ritual, possibly the ancient catalyst of many men's hereditary fear of crumbs in bed. But now wedding cake is a central and exquisite symbol of nurturing and community at most receptions. The bride and groom cut it together, eat it together, and pronounce it good together in a hail of moment-by-moment flash photography. You may laugh, as I have, at the time and money that are slavishly devoted to finding the right cake. After all, what married person remembers the filling in their own wedding cake, much less someone else's? But eat just one bite of bad cake, and you'll remember forever that your hosts were cheap and unwelcoming. At least that's what the magazines would have us believe.
Mona is totally into cake. "Of course she is," you say, "she's 2." But what I mean is, she doesn't really eat the stuff. She likes having it in front of her, all the more if it bears candles, all the more if those candles are lit and she has a chance to blow on them, whether or not the birthday is hers. She was in an agony of anticipation on the morning we were going to sample cake with Rebecca and Eileen. I ought to know: I built the event up as a shining moment, hoping that would buy me another 15 minutes in situ. It did, but after that Mona wandered off in search of some glass displays to break. Michael, the chef, expertly whisked away our plates and brought out the sample books. We graduated from flavor to form.
Rebecca never tasted my wedding cake. We were just becoming friends then, and it was always our regret, and Gil's, that the timing had been off by mere months. Now the same was true, devastatingly so, for Rebecca: Gil would never taste her wedding cake. And what was she to make of something so sweet that promised still another reminder of his absence? And on a day that was largely his doing, for he really brought Rebecca and Andrew together.
In the nearly 10 months that have passed since Gil's death, Mona and I have been the most emotional touchpoints for friends and family who mourn him: the loving wife, the little girl who never really knew her daddy. Steffi and Gerry, too, get a lot of support and sympathy: To outlive a child, all are agreed, is a terrible thing. Andrew and Rebecca, to varying degrees, had to shoulder more of their own grief and swallow more regrets, especially as their wedding approached and pure bliss was expected of them. I remember those weeks preceding my own wedding as full of fights and sleepless nights. How could it be less for them under any circumstances, much less these? What an act of courage it was, after witnessing a marriage as beseiged as Gil's and mine was--first by Mona's birth, then by Gil's death--to go ahead and take the chance and tie the knot anyway.
In the pastry showroom, Rebecca chose a simple white cake, and her mother patted her fondly on the arm. Another wedding task checked off the list. Mona crawled back up into my lap. "Oh no!" she cried, stricken to the core when she saw the empty place where her plate had been. "I forgot my cake!" She thinks forgetting and losing mean the same thing, and I know she is right. Until I tasted it again, I had forgotten how good my own wedding cake was, and the tang of almond brought back a lost moment of sweetness. But the time I recalled was never documented in any photo album. It was an ordinary moment just like this one, when I sat right here beside someone I loved, someone who put his hand on my arm and pronounced this cake good, a fitting dessert for our family and friends.