BY ARMEN BACON
What I want you to know is that one tiny crack beneath our feet took us both to the ground. What I need for you to know is that she had lived her entire life taking falls for me. On the eve of my daughter’s wedding, I knew it was my turn to return the favor. Maybe this memory surfaces now because of the ensuing fall season. Or perhaps it’s written as a reminder that at any given moment, any one of us is capable of losing our footing.
In the Armenian culture, a wedding is a celebration of life, a feast of plenty. In our daughter’s case, magic sparked on an unsuspecting weekend when she returned home from college to attend a family wedding. Eyes locked across a dance floor, Armenian parents observed and whispered tacit approval, and before rumors could fly, a wedding date was set. My husband and I were ecstatic, but no one’s face shone like my mother’s. She had lived this chapter of life with singular purpose – to dance at her granddaughter’s wedding.
My mother, the center of gravity, is everyone’s keeper – grounded like Mother Earth and as nurturing as Mother Teresa. Our father’s death three decades ago left her in charge of everything. Financing my younger sister’s medical school education, watching my children so I could fast track my career, she even now, at 85, will summons me to pick up kufta or dolma (her culinary specialties) on my way home from work. Her personal vault holds my stash of misfortunes and mishaps, ranging from fender benders and curfew violations to ill-fated romances and life gone sideways. I thought you should know this.
As the wedding day approached, we rolled yalanchi (grape leaves), convened aunties to grate cheese, chop parsley, add eggs and their two cents worth to festivity preparations, all the while folding phyllo dough triangles into miniature cheese boregs, 750 of them, each drizzled with butter and love.
Lambs would be sacrificed and skewered, displayed on gold-rimmed plates boasting a mélange of half-bulgur, half-rice pilaf; vegetables grilled to perfection and smothered in sumac. Armenian desserts dripping with honey would top off the evening as dancers danced and guests would rush the newlyweds, wishing them health, happiness, offspring.
The ceremony, performed in traditional Armenian verse, included a choir of angels singing sacred hymns, the pair kneeling face-to-face at the altar, adorned with matching gold crowns, rings blessed, vows exchanged, culminating with rose petals and a swarm of ethnic embraces. Making their entrance into the reception, currency would float in mid-air while the sound of rhythmic, clapping hands kept time with Middle Eastern musicians strumming old world instruments.
On the eve of the wedding, a bitter wind chill filled the late October air. Chauffeuring my mother, we parked a half block south of Holy Trinity Armenian church, a bit of a jaunt, but with no trepidation, we grabbed hold of each other and walked toward the entrance. Accompanying her bursting anticipation, I noted this was as much her moment as anyone else’s.
What happened next occurred in the wisp of a moment, so fast and yet, I recall it in complete slow motion. Her heel caught a crack in the frigid cement, plunging her forward, heading for a nose dive into the ancient, jagged concrete. Feeling the quake of what might be, jerked by the weight of her arm against my own, I feared the sight and sound of ambulances, sirens, a broken hip or head injury – all threatening to trump my daughter’s day. Throwing my body beneath hers, I cushioned the fall as she landed across my belly and torso. Stunned, we lay motionless, breathless, a human pile-up of layered limbs. Adrenalin rushing, I raised us both to vertical posture, relieved she was conscious and in one piece. We brushed ourselves off, she fussed over a few displaced strands of hair and we scurried into the church.
The rehearsal procession began. My vision blurred – a mixture of salty tears and ascending pain. I caught her beaming through the corner of a watering eye. Insides torn and aching, I resorted to the same strategic breathing I had learned while carrying my daughter in utero. By evening’s end, laboring in pain, I surrendered, begging for first aid.
Diagnosed with multiple fractures and broken ribs, wrapped in sheets of Lidocaine patches – mummified moments before the wedding, I walked stiffly down the aisle, ribs anesthetized, wounds camouflaged, my heart exposed and nevertheless overflowing with a mother’s joy.
The pain would linger for months, as would a nagging, bittersweet memory of my daughter’s first day of kindergarten when she, much like my mother, had held on to me for dear life. In the end, we would all be just fine, me – happily sandwiched between the two women I love most, my mother and daughter.