My Dad’s fatherly lecture to my husband-to-be went something like this: “Keep in mind whose wedding this is. The star of the evening is the bride. The Mother of the bride is next, followed by Father of the bride. I’m the guy paying the bill. So, if you’re lucky you’re number four. Get yourself a tux and don’t forget the ring.”
Jim said if he had it his way we’d elope.
A tux, the ring, and the honeymoon, Jim’s Dad reminded him, so he chose Bermuda. We’d both thought of island nations. I suggested Iceland, but Jim wanted to relax somewhere that wasn’t a painting destination for him.
I walked down the aisle and said my secular vows in a creamy flowing gown with a lace fitted bodice and mutton-chop sleeves. My swimmer’s back was my best feature, so the dress was dramatically cut, which necessitated a complicated undergarment structurally reinforced with stripes of boning. I never adequately appreciated the hours Mom spent sewing so I could feel like a princess for one evening.
Mom’s doctor commanded her to stop the meticulous handwork of adding thousands of translucent sequins and seed beads to the lacy bodice and train, but she ignored him, vowing to rest only after the last tiny decoration was in place.
When Dad delivered me to my groom at the end of the short walk down the aisle, he kissed me on the cheek, then leaned over Don Corleone-style and said in a low voice, “Take care of my daughter.” I’m sure he meant it sincerely, with only a hint of menace and irony.
Guest demographics at our wedding skewed heavily in favor of our parent’s generation. Upside: Quality gifts. Downside: Only a single bachelorette for the bouquet toss. Reality: No shenanigans and nearly everyone was home in bed by ten o’clock.
The honeymoon was finally our time. There was mutual relief as we wheeled away with our suitcases filled with shorts, swimsuits, and sunscreen to catch our flight across the country and into the Atlantic. Mom fashioned a corsage out of the white orchids from my bouquet and pinned it to the breezy white dress I’d sewn for the trip. I imagined travelers noticing the new bride with her just-married glow and her handsome beau.
We’d read that Bermuda banned rental cars on their cramped island, so the first order of business was a visit to the scooter shop.
“Two scooters,” I said to the man. I may be married, I thought, but I’m not dependent. You won’t find me hanging around my guy’s waist like a Harley Momma.
“Just married?” he asked. He could tell. “You want one scooter.”
“Two,” I said. Here I am, I-don’t-know-how-many-hours into married life because I’m too tired to calculate the time change, and this guy thinks I’m a wilting willow!
“We should take two,” said Jim, glancing at me and back to Scooter Guy.
“Trust me,” the guy said. “I see newlyweds every day. You get one, you stay together. More harmony. No fights. Nobody gets lost.” This guy just wouldn’t leave it alone.
I made that face with my brow scrunched and my lips pursed. Gone was the blushing bride.
“You know,” now the guy was looking straight at me, “you get to snuggle him wherever you ride. And whisper in his ear. You take one scooter, you don’t like it, you come back and I give you another.”
“Okay fine.” He had me at the snuggling part. “I get to drive some, though.”
Jim shrugged and the two men exchanged a knowing look.
We got the keys, helmets, and a quick scootering lesson. Soon we were on the road. That is, the wrong side of the road! Thank-you Great Britain. As it turned out the ear-whispering came in handy as we talked each other through the treacherous and ubiquitous roundabouts.
“Stay left. Stay left. Third exit…now!”
We didn’t go back for the second scooter.
As beach honeymoons go, Bermuda in May seemed perfectly suited for my snowy-white Alaskan and me, the Seattlite with skin made pale from near continuous cloud cover. It was the cusp of the tourist season and the island’s northern latitude made for milder Spring temperatures compared to the beach-blanket Bahamas.
Even so, we felt obliged to spend a few hours on the beach. I had slimmed down for the wedding and was planning on looking fine in my two-piece bathing suit. But first, we took about a half an hour slathering on sunscreen, head to toe, cheeks and ears. It was late morning when we got to the beach and found a sandy spot where families and couples had claimed bits of turf among craggy jutting rocks and the occasional washed-up man-o-war jellyfish.
I spread my towel. Jim spread his towel. We peeled down to our bathing suits and lay side-by-side. First, face up. Then face down. I dug my feet into the firm sand and fine grains worked their way under my painted toenails. Closing my eyes, I felt the sun on my skin and a breeze across my back. All I could think about was burning flesh.
“You done?” I asked, about fifteen minutes in.
“Yeah, you?” Jim sounded incredibly relieved.
“Yeah, that was good,” I said.
“Yeah. Nice beach. We should come back again.”
We never went back. We were at our cottage by noon.
That was our beach time, and I’d gotten to show off my bod as well as the sundress I’d made from a dark hand-dyed batik fabric. Fitted and cap-sleeved, I thought it made me look pretty sexy. A row of buttons ran down the back and I had Jim un-button me so I could change out of my bathing suit.
I felt like teenage-me on one of those scorching weekend trips to Lake Chelan as I hooked a thumb into my swimsuit bottom and nudged it down at the hip. Wow, I could already see a tan line. Upon closer inspection, I realized my skin was not, in fact, tan. It was not even the expected shade of pink. My skin was purple!
“Oh. My. God!” I shrieked from the bathroom. “I’m purple!”
“No, that can’t be.” Jim tried to comfort me from the bedroom. “It must be the bad lighting.”
“No! I’m purple! This is what I get for avoiding the sun for so many years. One day on the beach and my skin has turned a funny color. Look!” I swiveled my butt toward him to show the clear line of white below the smudgy purple on my back.
“It does look purple,” he said.
“That’s not helping!” I shouted, vowing in my mind to wear only long sleeves and big hats for the rest of my life.
“I wonder how that could have happened,” said Jim. He was staying remarkably calm.
“Still not helping! Look at me.”
“That’s funny,” he said, getting really close.
“What? What’s funny?” How can I show up anywhere in public looking like an Oompa Loompa! No, wait, they were orange. Violet Beauregard!
“My face? My face? What’s so funny about my face?”
“It’s not. I mean, it’s not funny. Or purple. Look in the mirror.”
He stood next to me and we looked in the bathroom mirror together. I brought my face within inches of the glass and studied my skin. Nothing. Pasty as ever. The sunscreen had done its job. I turned and looked at my back. Purple, and the tan lines were distinct. I looked at my hands. White.
“I don’t understand,” I thought out loud. “You’d think the exposed areas would be pink, but it’s the skin covered by my dress…”
I looked at my sun dress puddled in a heap on the linoleum.
“My dress…” I picked it up.
Jim was starting to catch on. “The dye, do you think maybe…”
“Yeah, I think maybe,” I said as I turned over my hands, revealing purple fingertips. “I think maybe the sunscreen reacted to the fabric dye.”
I washed my dress in the sink and hung it on the shower rod to dry, watching purple water drip-drip-drip into the tub. I’d be staying well covered for the next few days until stain to wore off.
We got our doses of sun puttering around the island on our red scooter, taking in the sights. One day we motored past a perfume factory, and I used my whispering powers to get Jim to make a u-turn. A sign advertised free samples, and the honeymoon was making me feel a just a little bit feminine. Perhaps I could find my signature scent.
“Spray it on your arm,” advised the shop keeper, “and try to keep the scents separate.” I sampled the whole selection, spraying spots up and down both forearms. After two or three spritzes the odors blended and I could distinguish nothing.
“Do you want to buy one?” Jim wanted to make his new bride happy. I thought I wanted to buy one. I picked up and put back slender vials, examining their contents, reading their names.
“Nah, nothing really jumps out at me.”
In reality, the combined fragrances were all jumping out at me, my head swimming with mild dizzy nausea.
Jim exchanged another shrug and a knowing look with the shop keeper before we stepped into the sunshine followed by a swirling cloud of floral essence.
Dinner that night was rich for our meager resources, but due to an unnecessary cosmic coincidence, my boss from San Francisco had planned a high-end golf excursion to Bermuda at exactly the same time as our honeymoon. Luckily there was no real chance we’d accidentally meet up given our non-intersecting interests, so we’d agreed to see each other at a restaurant he knew.
The place was dark and upscale, and it was clear our interpretation of resort wear wasn’t up to the room’s standard. I fidgeted and organized my place setting. I arranged the buds in the table vase and checked to see how much wax remained in the votive candle. Unconsciously I rubbed my arms, then started scratching them furiously, both at the same time.
“Stop that.” Jim looked alarmed.
“Stop what?” I said.
“Your arms. Look at them, they’re all red.”
I looked down. My forearms burned as if they’d undergone a botched derm peel.
“Got a bit of a sunburn, I see.”
What timing. My boss, Mike, was standing at our table, something-on-the-rocks in his hand and the most absurd outfit on the rest of him. In keeping with Bermuda tradition, he was wearing above-the-knee shorts in a wide plaid and a fitted lightweight polo shirt that allowed me to see more of his middle-aged chest contour than I ever would have wanted. On his legs he wore knee socks, and on his head… On his head was a floppy plaid beret with a pom-pom perched on top like a teed-up golf ball. He caught me staring.
“Like it? It’s called a Tam O Shanter,” he slurred.
“Nice,” I said. My hands clenched my forearms, and a large portion of my brain was straining to resist vigorous scratching.
“Have you kids been having a nice honeymoon?” He pulled out one of the empty chairs at our table and sat down. I felt that getting married at 30 and 33 put us outside the kid category, but I smiled and tried to formulate an answer.
Thankfully, Jim saw my distress and took the reins. “It’s great to see you, Mike. We’re having a really nice time. How’s the golf?”
Mike launched into a discussion of holes and handicaps and birdies and bunkers. I’d worked with him long enough, so I knew how to feign interest, smile and laugh. Then he waved his non-drink hand at a loud group in the center of the dining room and said it looked like dinner was being served. He gave Jim a hearty congratulatory handshake, patted me on the shoulder, and left us with the image of his plaid behind.
“Jim, my arms are burning up. I haven’t gotten that much sun. This is from riding around on the scooter in short sleeves, isn’t it?” I went back to scratching and Jim reached over to try and stop my frantic hands.
“We’ve got to put something on that when we get back to the cottage,” he said, looking at his watch and then at the menu.
I noticed my glass of ice water was sweating so I inelegantly began to rub it on my searing skin. The next intruder to appear was our waiter. He was holding a bottle of wine, and he presented the label to Jim.
“From the gentleman at the table over there,” he explained.
Mike turned his plaid head in our direction and raised his wine glass in a toast. I waved, and thought how we could complain about being called “kids” when we started to do classy stuff like that.
Then I went back to rubbing ice water on my hideous rash.
With a little more detective work we made a connection between the rash and the perfume samples. The chemicals I sprayed on my arm most likely reacted with the sun, giving me what looked to be first degree burns. Lotion helped. Cold water gave the most relief. That’s when the lake outside our front porch started to look very refreshing.
“I thought you were done with the beach,” Jim said as he reclined on the bed and watched me tug on my Speedo.
“This is a swimming suit, not a bathing suit. Are you coming with?” I swung my goggles around on my index finger.
“You’re the swimmer,” he said, “but we’re here and I should probably use my trunks.”
The water was clear and cooling. I eyed a target in the distance so I could swim straight and set out with my efficient crawl stroke. I didn’t look up until I’d swam several yards. Enjoying the weightlessness, I spun around, treading water and looking back at the dock. Jim was splashing along. He was right, he was more of a land animal.
A dark shape appeared on the dock and began pacing back and forth excitedly. Every once in a while it would stop and bark at the water. I could tell by the crouch of the hind legs it was a German Shepherd, but the fur was all black. It seemed excited.
After several minutes of pacing came a dramatic leap. Off the dock and, splash, like a pro. Then the dog was swimming toward us. How cute, I thought, he wants to swim with us. I swam back, hoping to intercept the dog. When I approached, he steamed right past me. It was Jim he was paddling for, and when the dog got to his destination, he began circling. I watched with amazement. The look on the Shepherd’s face said, “Grab on. I’ll save you!”
We found out Champ was the dog’s name and this wasn’t the first time he’d taken it upon himself to rescue someone he deemed to be in distress. We laughed about it later, but that was the first and last time Jim ever swam with me.
The final task before leaving Bermuda and starting our “real” married life was to return the rented scooter. That meant humbling myself to Scooter Guy. He was right, after all. In married life I was going to have to give up some of my independence, but I’d also gained a partner who’d be there when problems became overwhelming. And sometimes, maybe lots of times, we’d be happiest when we’re each doing our own thing.
Copyright Liz Behlke 2017