Authors: Jamie Brenner
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My husband taught me a very important thing about writingâand about life: If you want a great story, put a wedding in it. This book is dedicated to him.
Writing a bookâlike planning a weddingâtakes a lot of time, patience, and the sometimes irrational belief that it will all work out in the end. I want to thank the following people who helped walk me down the aisle: My agent, Adam Chromy, whose early notes helped give this book its heart and soul; Dan Weiss, who heard my idea for
The Wedding Sisters
over lunch and said let's do it; my editor, Vicki Lame, who patiently gave me what I needed for this one: time to figure it out! And my college friend Dana Bash, who in making time to say “hi” one busy workday, gave me an unexpected but invaluable behind-the-scenes look at political journalism. A special thanks to professor and memoirist Dori Katz, who so candidly and generously shared her story with the congregants at Temple Emanu-El and inspired me greatly.
Thanks to my daughters, Bronwen and Georgia, who show meâevery dayâthe remarkable beauty of sisterhood.
Finally, I thank my beloved husband, who makes my dreams come true.
The bright sound of giddy laughter pulled Meryl's attention from the book she was reading. She glanced across the room at her husband, Hugh, and they shared a quick smile.
“The mixed blessing of working from home,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“I still can't get used to having this much space,” she said. Their Upper East Side apartment, a perk of his new teaching job at a nearby private school, made her feel like a real grown-upâeven more so than their three young children did.
Hugh turned back to his work in progress, a biography of Louisa May Alcott. He scribbled something on one of the dozens of handwritten notecards strewn across the dining room table, shaking his sandy blond hair out of his eyes. Meryl loved the old-fashioned way he conducted his research. And she loved that sometimes he chose time at home with her instead of the solitude of the library.
A shriek, followed by a thump, broke through the silence.
Meryl put her book down. “I'll go check on them.”
The hallway leading to the girls' bedroom appeared to be post-tornado: a trail of discarded ballet tutus, Mary Janes in three different sizes, Disney princess nightgowns, sundressesÂ â¦ and an unspooled roll of toilet paper running the length of the hallway.
Biting her lip, Meryl quietly pushed open the half-closed door to the bedroom to find her three young daughters giggling and jostling for position in front of the full-length mirror. Eight-year-old Meg stood earnestly in her favorite white dress, a lacy, impractical frock that her grandmother had picked out from a store on Madison Avenue. Six-year-old Amy twirled in a white T-shirt and white tulle ballet skirt, while toddler Jo wore only her Pull-Ups, messy red lipstick, and a tiara with a paper napkin tucked into it.
“Hugh,” Meryl called out, “get the camera.”
She watched as Meg methodically taped a paper napkin to her sister Amy's hair, and then did the same for her own.
“Your veil looks better than mine!” Amy cried out.
Hugh appeared beside Meryl, camera in one hand, the other gently finding the small of her back. “What's going on?”
She pressed her finger to her lips. “You've got to see this,” she whispered.
“Put on your dress,” Meg ordered Jo.
Meg, one hand on her head holding the napkin in place and the other holding a white sundress, began chasing Jo around the room.
“Noooo!” yelled Jo.
Meryl pushed open the door, and three wide-eyed little faces turned to her.
Meg stopped in her tracks, but Jo continued her circular dash around the bedroom, crying, “No! No! No!”
“We're having a wedding and Jo won't be a bride!” Meg's face was flushed with indignation.
“And Meg won't let me wear her other white dress. And I don't have one!” Amy said.
Jo began to cry.
“Okay, okay, girls, let's settle down. Josephine, darling, come here.” Meryl scooped Jo into her arms, kissing her plump cheek, salty with tears.
“Daddy,” Meg asked, “can you please walk me down the aisle?”
“Girls, I would be honored to walk you down the aisle,” said Hugh, gallantly offering his arm. Meg reached up for it solemnly. Crisis averted, Meg and Amy made their way into the hall. Meryl carried Jo along.
Meg adjusted her veil, her brow furrowed with concentration. Meryl planted Jo beside Amy as they waited their turns.
Hugh grinned. Then, shaking his head, he walked slowly down the hall while humming “Here Comes the Bride.” Meg gazed up at him adoringly.
Meryl knelt down, camera in front of her face, adjusting the lens until Hugh and Meg were clearly in the frame. She felt her chest tighten, overwhelmed with love for her family.
She also felt an intense need to capture the momentâto hold on to the innocent joy forever. Even with a photograph, she knew that she couldn't. This day would pass, the girls would grow up, and she and Hugh would get older. But she told herself that even when other things changed, one thing would not: They would always have each other. She and Hugh and the girls.
Hugh looked at her and, as if reading her thoughts, gave a wink.
Meryl snapped the perfect photo and smiled.
It was an “all hands on deck” kind of night. At least that's how it felt to Meryl. Unfortunately, judging by everyone else in her family, she would be doing the heavy lifting alone.
It was only noon, but in her nervous excitement, Meryl couldn't wait to set the table with the good dishes. She hated to put too much pressure on this dinner, but she felt an overwhelming sense that everything had to be absolutely perfect. She couldn't help but fuss.
“Remember, honey, it's not about you,” Hugh had said on his way out the door earlier that morning, a comment that both rankled her and served as useful caution.
“I'm doing this for Meg,” she had responded in a huff.
He had kissed her on the forehead with a knowing smile, squeezing her hand.
They were finally meeting the parents of the man her daughter was going to marry. Meryl had read up on them in the
New York Times
even seen them on CNN, but that had only served to make her ill at ease. They're just people, she reminded herself. And we're going to be family.
She dialed her mother's cell phone despite the odds being that she wouldn't answer. At eighty-six, her mother did not embrace technology and she made no apologies for it. Still, Meryl felt more comfortable knowing she had a cell phone, though in that particular moment, it served only to increase her frustration.
“Mother, it's me. I just want to make sure you'll be ready for me to pick you up at three for the dinner tonight? Please. It's important to us.”
She hesitated, wondering if she should sign off with “I love you” or “Looking forward to seeing you.” But that's not how they spoke to one another, and it would seem odd to tack it on nowâdesperate. As though Meryl needed her there tonight. Except, she did. Meryl hoped beyond hope that, for just one night, they could seem like a normal family. If not for her own sake, then for her daughter's.
That was the thing about weddings: they forced family members to deal with one another, like it or not.
Meryl drew back the dining room curtains and gazed out at the East River. The view was the best thing about their apartment, her favorite part of her home of the past twenty years. She always found it so calming. Meryl couldn't imagine living anywhere in Manhattan without a view of the water. But then, there had been a time when she couldn't imagine the girls being grown up and gone from the nest. And now it was normal not to see them for weeks at a time. More and more lately, it was as if Meryl needed an excuse to see themâto tear them away from their very busy lives.
She missed them.
Meg, Amy, and Jo. Named for the heroines of their father's favorite Louisa May Alcott novel, the much-cherished book that had set the course for his entire professional careerâand their romantic life, if she was being honest.
Carrying the names of literature's most beloved sisters was a lot to live up to, but Meryl felt that her girls did the originals justice. They had equally as distinct personalitiesâMeg, the easy daughter. Amy, endlessly dissatisfied. And Jo, the rebellious tomboy with the world's biggest heart.
Meryl found it infinitely fascinating to watch them clash with and complement one another as they grew up, in a constant primal dance of love and hate, envy and unconditional love. Meryl was an only child, and she took immense joy in bearing witness to sisterhood. She had often felt lonely as a child, much the way she did now.
If only it wasn't so difficult these days to get them all in one damn place.
She used to be able to rely on Amy to show up regularly. Amy, who still craved Meryl's undivided attention. But even that was coming to an end; a few weeks ago, when Meryl invited Amy and her boyfriend to their standing Sunday night dinner, Amy had begged off, saying she and Andy were staying an extra night in East Hampton. They never rescheduled.
Amy's boyfriend was the son of fashion designer Jeffrey Bruce, and Amy was living whatâat least to Merylâseemed to be a very glamorous life, working for the company and traveling the world for industry events. Yet despite all of it, Meryl knew Amy was still playing catch-up to her older sister, Meg.
Meg, Amy felt, was the favorite, the perfect daughter, the one for whom everything came too easily. At the same time, Amy secretly worshipped her. It was a dynamic Meryl had hoped would change as Amy grew older and more confidentâwhen she created an identity for herself outside of being one of the Becker sisters. But so far, no such luck.
Lately, Meryl felt something close to panic. She knew it was irrational, but she felt motherhood slipping away from her. And what was she if not a mother? Was this how it would be from now on? An occasional phone call. Seeing the girls here and there, a family dinner maybe once a year? Unfortunately, she made the tactical error of expressing her disappointment to Amy one night, at which Amy had scoffed and said, “Oh please, Mom. It's not like you even really cook.”