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The Night Before My Wedding

June 22, 2011 | by Yael Mermelstein

We were on opposite poles: her life was drawing to a close and mine was about to begin.

It was late afternoon, the day before my wedding and I sat at the dining room table, tapping my foot impatiently against my chair.

“Calm down,” my mother said as she filled out yet another cream colored place card. “We’ll get there. We’ll get there.”

I stared out the window as a car trundled down the block. I had so much to do. Would I be able to sleep tonight? I was getting married tomorrow!

I shook my pen and filled out another card with my best curlicue handwriting. Then I threw my pen down. I couldn’t do this anymore.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, the room a flurry of activity around me as my parents and my sisters gathered together gowns and shoes, petticoats and hair ornaments. Tomorrow night I would dress in white like we do every year on Yom Kippur and I would fast all day. Tomorrow my prayers would take on new definition and would hold a special place next to God. Tomorrow I would be starting my life as a Jewish married woman.

“I’m going out,” I said.

“Crazy bride,” I thought I heard someone murmur. Then laughter. I grabbed the car keys and closed the door behind me, breathing in the freshness of April. I had too much to do and too little time. Where should I go? There were things that needed to be picked up from the cleaners. I could run over to Rite Aid and pick up the lipstick the make-up lady had recommended for me. And I needed bobby pins for my veil. Oh, I had almost forgotten that I needed inserts for my white satin bridal shoes. I would slip right out of them while walking down the aisle if I didn’t get those. What should I do first?

I looked up at the sky as if waiting for an answer and I watched the sun spin copper colored ribbons across the sky. It was getting late.

Tomorrow. Me. Married. A new Jewish home. Thank you God.

I suddenly knew exactly where I needed to be.

I grabbed an invitation from the trunk of the car and I tucked it into my purse. Then I drove the five miles to The Pembrook Nursing Home. I rode the elevator to the fifth floor.

“Which way to Mrs. Ackerman’s room?” I asked.

The nurse pointed me in the direction of her room. I hadn’t been to visit her here yet, though I had been to visit her so many other places.

Mrs. Ackerman was the wife of the candy-man in our synagogue. He had passed away when I was a young girl and a loyal group of young girls made sure to visit her every Shabbat in thanks for the sweets her husband had doled out. Over the years, the girls had gone in so many different directions, but Mrs. Ackerman always remained in the same place, in her squat little house on the corner of 180th street.

Eventually, there were only two of us left visiting her. And just as eventually, Mrs. Ackerman, in her late nineties, became ill. When she was hospitalized for the final time, it was only Esther and I who remained from our original group of visitors. I sat by her bed in the hospital and read to her from Oliver Twist, watching her smile as the story unfolded. I poured her a drink and I wiped her lined cheeks. I brought my future husband to meet with her and I received her smile of approval. When we got engaged, she rejoiced from her hospital bed.

But then things got busy. The wedding was getting closer – our engagement had been less than three months. Esther called me and told me that our dear Mrs. Ackerman had been moved to Pembrook. I filed the information away in the corner of my brain, somewhere between ‘dress fitting’ and ‘florist.’

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I walked down the corridor on tiptoes so as not to disturb the hush. I rapped gently on her door and then let myself in. She was asleep, an oxygen mask on her face, her hands folded gently atop her baby blue blanket. I reached out and touched her hands, the sparkling diamond on my finger catching the warm yellow of the lamp by her bed. She opened her eyes.

“Yael,” she mouthed, for she was too weak to speak.

I reached into my purse and pulled out the invitation. “I’m getting married tomorrow,” I said. “I…I know you can’t make it. I wish you could. But I’m going to be thinking of you.” I laid the invitation across her hands, then awkwardly took it back again to read aloud its contents. She turned her face towards me just a bit, her lips cracked at the edges, the irises of her eyes covered by a thin film of age. And she smiled.

"Thank you," she mouthed.

I had nowhere to go that was more important than this room.

And just then, I had nowhere to go that was more important than this room with its faded pink curtains and its tepid pitcher of water on the nightstand. I sat with her, prattling on about the navy gowns my bridesmaids would be wearing and the flower bouquet which I hadn’t even cared enough to choose on my own. I watched her drinking in the world with her eyes as she clutched my hand. We were on opposite poles of the earth, with her life drawing to a close while mine was only about to begin. And yet, like magnets, we were drawn together by that ephemeral feeling that can only be experienced by those just on the cusp of some wondrous journey.

Mrs. Ackerman passed away shortly after my wedding. And my life since then has been a steady whirlwind of bringing up a large family. I race up and down the roller coaster, with barely a pause to breathe.

But the night before my wedding, I had all the time in the world.

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