In Her Words
I was invisible in my marriage from the beginning
By: Charlotte Perkins
In the Pierre hotel, on the day of my wedding, the oddest thing happened. It was a portend, I suppose – a sign of what was to come.
That day, I was getting married to a man I’d met 10 weeks earlier. We were brought together by mutual friends, had gone on a blind date, and soon afterward (two weeks, to be exact), we decided we couldn’t live without one another. Julius was moving to Chicago. I was to follow shortly after, as his wife. The wife part might have been my idea. I vaguely remember saying I wouldn’t give up my job, my apartment and friends in New York to follow him without a marriage. I remember thinking it was too big of a risk to move away from the familiar, unless I was anchored by commitment. What I don’t remember is considering how much easier it would have been to remove myself from a strange city and a failed romance than it would be to remove myself from a failed marriage.
And, anyway, my dream was finally coming true. I’d have a husband. A family. A solid, middle-class existence. I was concerned about his parents, and I insisted on meeting them before the wedding. My own mother loathed her in-laws. I didn’t want to make the same mistake of picking the wrong in-laws.
I’d chosen the Pierre hotel as the place to stay on our wedding night. Another dream come true. I’d walked by the Pierre a thousand times. Often, I’d stop across the street, on the edge of Central Park to watch Upper East Side ladies revolve in and out of its lobby, wearing their ladies-who-lunch silk blouses and sleek gabardine pants. I’d never had the nerve to step inside. Now, with a brilliant pear-shaped diamond on my finger, I was a guest in residence. I made an extravagant leap and reserved an additional evening there for myself the night before the wedding.
On our wedding day, I went out early for a makeup application, running down to Bergdorf Goodman for a freebie at the cosmetics counter. My hair was pinned up high on my head in a tumble of uncombed curls. It was August and already sweltering. I rushed about, a crazed butterfly, as heady about my own brief sojourn into Park Avenue’s lush life as I was about the wedding itself. My dress was from Kleinfeld. The ceremony would be in the chapel at Columbia, never mind that the church was under renovation, its famous stained-glass windows covered with protective tarps. I’d taken reception tips straight from Martha Stewart’s Weddings book and reserved a private dining room at the Box Tree, directly across the street from Katharine Hepburn’s apartment. I still have matchboxes from there. They are so old, they rarely ignite.
After Bergdorf, on my way back to my room, I spied Julius. He and his brother were walking across the Pierre’s dizzy gold carpet. They were deeply engaged in conversation and had yet to notice me heading their way. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Wasn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the bride just before the wedding? Or was it the dress he shouldn’t see? Unsure, I could take no chances. Not able to escape or hide in the grand expanse of the gilded lobby, not able to turn and run away, I panicked and made a plan: I’d become invisible. If he didn’t look up, he wouldn’t see me, and we’d be safe. Safe from all the bad luck that could come our way in a stormy, troubled marriage with its attendant betrayals, complicated liaisons and awful dead silences.
I held my breath and tiptoed by. I was almost past when Julius looked up. I only know this because on the approach, I’d been watching him, my heart aflutter. Not with love, I’m afraid. My heart was trembling with something more akin to anxiety or even fear. Was it fear that he’d see me or was it fear that I was marrying a man I didn’t know in order to get what I wanted: security, children and a whole new family of friendly in-laws who were smart and comfortable in a world I’d always envied?
Julius looked up and for a moment he caught my eye. I stared right through him, treated him like the stranger he was. I became invisible.
Julius made no motion toward me. He said nothing. He looked on past, beyond my boinging curls and heavily made-up eyes. He kept on walking.
Thinking back, it could have been that he simply didn’t recognize me there in the lobby of the Pierre. I was completely out of my element. In truth, Julius always viewed me as the person I was when we first met: a working girl living in Queens. For all the years of our marriage, when he was most angry, he’d reproach, “You’ve never had it so good! I rescued you.” He’d pound the table. “You know that, don’t you? If it weren’t for me, you’d still be in that cramped apartment, working that lousy job.”
Perhaps on my wedding day I blended in too well, just another made-up face in a surge of silk shirts and gabardine pants. Julius and I never discussed it. All I know, was in that moment, only a couple of hours away from matrimony, I thought I’d preserved our luck: our terribly good luck of finding one other, of falling recklessly in love. I’d become invisible, and he did not see me. We would be safe, I thought, from the sorrows a marriage could bring: from great lies and grievances and lost dreams and tears.