By Liz Petrone
Nick was waiting for me when I walked up.
I grabbed both of his hands, leaned in close, and whispered, “Did you remember to feed the cat?”
The cat had been the first thing I got for my first apartment on the first day I moved in, before I bought a bed or a set of dishes or any food for the fridge. It’s official, I thought, curled up with the cat I had named Zeke that night on the bedroom floor in the space where a bed would have gone if I had one. I’m growing up.
I loved Zeke in that annoying way that people who don’t have kids love their pets, and the night before my wedding had been the first night I spent away from him. Nick looked away and I thought I saw a glimmer of something flash across his face, but my veil obstructed my view. I couldn’t be sure.
The cathedral felt cavernous and despite the chill in the February air, sweat pooled on the inside of my dress as it occurred to me that I was standing there in a poofy dress in front of everyone we loved about to marry a man I didn’t trust enough to feed my cat.
But then the priest cleared his throat and I pushed the thought away as Nick and I turned together to face him. “We have gathered here together today to bring Elizabeth and Richard together in holy matrimony,” he started in his thick accent, and my stomach flipped a little. The champagne I had downed in the limo despite my mother’s look of stern disapproval and the fact that it was technically still morning, threatened to make a reappearance.
“Nicholas,” I whispered. “His name is Nicholas. Not Richard.” But the priest didn’t hear me, or didn’t care.
God, please let us know what we are doing.
I meant “us” in the sense of Nick and me, but I suppose I should have included the priest as well since he went on to call Nick the wrong name the whole time. He wasn’t our priest, not the one we had wanted to marry us with the kind face who wrote inspirational books and gave homilies that always made me cry. No, that one had broken the news to us a few weeks earlier – and after months of planning – that he was going to be vacationing in the Bahamas on our wedding day, a pronouncement that had also made me cry.
But when this one pronounced Richard and me husband and wife, the relief that I had lived through the ceremony was so palpable that my hand shot out involuntarily towards the congregation in a thumbs-up sign during our first married kiss. We made it, my thumb signaled, and all those people who loved us laughed a little too hard because they had seen how my nervousness was shining off me in hot waves of champagne and perspiration.
We made it.
The morning after the wedding I woke up to see that Nick was watching me. I rolled over to face him, my head – still pounding from the revelry of the reception – protesting the sudden movement. “Hey babe, do you think we are even legally married? Or maybe I am married to someone named Richard?”
That look flashed again across Nick’s face. “I have to tell you something.”
“I hope it’s that he’s wildly rich,” I said, dragging myself up in search of coffee. “Get it? Rich?”
But he didn’t laugh. “Liz? Zeke died.”
“Wait, WHAT? When?” All sorts of things flashed through my head, but mostly I remembered how Nick had been waiting for me at the end of what felt like the longest church aisle in the world yesterday and when I got next to him, finally, the only thing I was able to think of to say had been “Did you feed the cat?”
And then I thought of how they say you should be able to keep alive a plant before you have a pet, and you should keep a pet alive before you even think about having a relationship, and here I had a shiny new marriage but no pet anymore and maybe everything was doomed.
“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”
“It was our wedding day, Liz. I wanted you to be happy.”
I fell back onto the bed.
The next day we left for our honeymoon on a plane so small it looked like something you could buy in the toy aisle at Target. We hit some turbulence and Nick grabbed my hand and I kept holding onto him long after the plane settled. I thought about how while I was doing my makeup and downing champagne, he had spent the morning of our wedding running around trying to find a veterinarian’s office open on a Saturday to cremate a cat he didn’t even particularly like, and then held onto the secret to protect me while I danced and drank many more glasses of champagne.
Maybe we weren’t doomed after all.
An elderly man shuffled slowly past us then on his way to the bathroom and stopped when he recognized us. It was our priest – the one we had wanted – on his way to the tropics.
“Elizabeth. Nicholas. Congratulations and God bless you,” he said, touching each of us on the shoulder before he made his way back down the aisle.
“Now it’s official,” I said to Nick after he was gone. “I hope we can break the news to Richard gently.”
Nick leaned in close. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why did everyone laugh when we were pronounced husband and wife? Did I do something wrong?”
He hadn’t seen my thumbs up. “Oh no,” I said, squeezing his hand. “You did EVERYTHING right.” And I turned back towards the window to watch as we floated over the clouds, wondering if I could spot Zeke fly by on his way to cat heaven.
This essay previously appeared on the writer’s blog, lizpetrone.com