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Written on June 27, 2023
The tiara was a last-minute idea. I was two weeks from getting married when I saw the wedding pictures of a beautiful woman I worked with whose name was Christy.
“Wait. You wore a crown?” I said.
“Not a crown; a tiara,” she corrected, then talked about how crystals light up a face and how perfect she felt from the minute she put it on. She called it “that one little touch that changes everything.”
A day later, I sat in a garment-district studio, as a woman studied and measured my head. I said “like Grace Kelly” when she asked how I wanted to look. She blinked unknowingly and since “the one who left Hollywood to marry a prince” didn’t ring a bell either, I blurted, “I want to look perfect.”
It was delivered the day before the wedding and when I put it on, my mouth fell open - indeed, the tiara’s sparkles reflected against my skin and in my eyes. Christy knew her crystals.
My mother gasped and clapped her hands when I donned my tiara; fashioning it, I hoped, the way Grace K. had worn hers - encircling my upswept hair, like a giant, sparkling donut, too precious to eat.
I looked into the mirror again, then gave my mother a hesitant look. I took a sip of the champagne that had been brought to the bridal suite, and suddenly, wished I could just stay in this room, with its makeup tray and hair products and my mother and sister.
“People won’t think I look silly, will they?” I asked.
My mother put her hands on my wedding-toned biceps, looked into my eyes, and with absolute certainty, said, “No one in that room is there to judge you. They’re here because they love you. Period.”
So simple, yet so cathartic. It was as if a door to joy had been flung open.
I beamed into the mirror as my sister fastened the tiny buttons up the back of my dress. My skin glowed. My fake lashes fluttered. My stomach was flat, my hair elegant. For the first time in my life, I’d achieved the unachievable - perfection.
Five minutes later, I started to frizz.
Philip and I got married at The Americas Society - a small, Georgian mansion on Park Avenue that was known for its elegance, but not its air conditioning. The caterers set it to its coldest temperature, which would have been fine, had we not gotten married on a day when it was 98 degrees and humid. Our wedding began at 7. By 6:45, the tendrils that framed my face were coiling and by 7, my gentle wisps had become a gang of springy misfits.
I descended a long, dramatic candle-lit staircase without falling or lighting my gown on fire. My parents walked me down an aisle, that indeed, was flanked by people who loved me. A glass was smashed. I do’s were proclaimed. Mazel Tovs were shouted. Champagne flowed.
It was perfect. And I was perfect, frizz or no frizz. Until, during the hora, I caught myself in a mirror and gasped. My perfect crystal donut was practically dunked. It teetered on the outskirts of my hair, like a tentative guest, about to leave.
And it stayed that way as I lunged back into the clapping mob and grabbed the hands of my mother and sister, forming a Fried Girl circle that made my eyes sting and my cheeks hurt. My brother whispered, “Grandma would be proud,” and my perfect eyeliner was smudged by the knuckle I dabbed at my eyes.
Much later, Philip and I walked arm in arm up Park Avenue, behind a wobbly procession of friends; my tiara as tipsy as they were.
I wore it to brunch the next day, partly as a joke, and partly because I loved it. My wobbly crown hung on for dear life as we drank mimosas and gossiped about the wedding.
I wore it when we stepped outside the restaurant and the Pride Parade was in full gear, forcing us to stand still and laugh and feel lucky.
I would have worn it to Anguilla the next day, but unlike the guests at my wedding, the people at the resort were not there because they loved me. And, I had no desire to be known as “the kook in the crown.” So my tiara stayed home.
But I felt it, sitting figuratively on my head, as I set about being the perfect honeymooner.
We spent the second part of our trip on St. Barth’s, where Philip pulled his back out and, couldn’t move for two days. As a doctor prescribed something for his excruciating pain, I had a pre-dinner drink at the pool alone. I could feel my figurative tiara slip as I muttered “what the fuck” and shook my head over my - not his - bad luck.
We honeymooners became married people. And we did what most married people do - love each other, annoy each other, work, have babies.
Motherhood both tested and secured my tiara’s ability to stay on my head. My bitchy reaction to sleeplessness made it hang on by a crystal. But feeding and changing twins propped it way up. After all, caring for yourself makes you strong. Caring for others makes you royal.
Year after year, I felt the tiara’s presence. Validating me when I was great. Taunting me when I sucked.
There it was, sitting perkily upright as I listened to glowing reviews of my kids during Parent-Teacher Nights. And threatening to fall when I got stupidly angry at my husband for leaving food in the sink drain. It came close to crashing to the ground when I said unkind things and yelled unforgivable ones.
Today marks 25 years since the glass was smashed. 25 years of my wobbly crown reminding me that I’m anything but perfect - and that life is anything but perfect.
This morning, I biked along the boardwalk wearing white. I got an iced coffee and grabbed a bench facing the ocean. It’s been a hard year. But I’m lucky and I know it. I put my face to the sun, closed my eyes, and felt sadness and worry and beauty and joy - which is all anyone can ask for in marriage, or in life.
I leaned back and took a picture of the ocean - and then one of myself. My favorite cap sat on top of the morning frizz I had no desire to fight.
The cap was sweaty.
And, as life would have it, crooked.
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