Without a regular meeting place, the group continued to meet informally at different members’ homes, or in Diners around South Philly, and newcomers kept finding us, even though we were no longer on the meeting list, or part of N.A. As long as we remained ready to take care of them, they came. We proceeded thus for a couple of months before we worked it out with St. Rita’s Church, and began have meetings in the basement there, where the group used to have its N.A. meetings before it had moved over to the Dickson House.
Kathy and I had set a date for our wedding, and thus began the most stressful few months that I have experienced in recovery. I had no idea so much went into planning a wedding! Many times I fantasized about just going to the Justice of the Peace and getting it done plain and simple. But, that wasn’t going to happen. We were getting married in the Catholic Church, even though neither of us had been practicing Catholics for years. It was necessary to keep her parents happy. Her cousin was a priest at a church in Wilmington, Delaware, so that’s where we planned to get hitched. We were getting married in April, and I couldn’t wait until that day came.
Work became my least stressful place, almost like a refuge. I wound up getting an award for helping to clean up a royal mess that was discovered when one of our supply clerks went out with an injury. It turned out, he hadn’t been filling a lot of orders for awhile, hiding them in drawers and what-not, so a lot of inspectors were not getting what they needed to do their jobs. I put in a lot of extra time cleaning that mess up. My new boss really appreciated my efforts, and appreciated my showing him the ropes of his job. The cash award was a nice, and unexpected, way of showing that appreciation.
Wedding preparations were never a dull moment. As Kathy had her bridesmaids at the dress shop getting fitted for their gowns, one of her party had a complete meltdown. Turns out another one who had secretly held a flame for me for a long time, never bothering to tell anyone, myself included, couldn’t handle it anymore, and just lost it with Kathy and the others. She got the boot from the wedding party. I’d honestly never had a clue that this girl had anything for me – not that I was ever the least bit interested in her, beyond friendship.
Finally, the weekend of our wedding had arrived. For my stag party, they decided to take me to the Rocky Horror Picture Show on South Street. I had loved going to that over the years, and had great times at the show (except for the very first time I’d seen it) – but, I was so uptight and stressed over all of the planning and preparation that had gone into the wedding, I could not enjoy it that night. The wedding itself was a blast. It was hilarious. Kathy laughed all the way through the ceremony. Nerves.
One of my sponsors, Andy, was also a Limo driver, and he had offered his services. He would drive us from the church back to our home after the reception, while friends would bring our car back for us. Andy insisted on driving Kathy from the convent, where the ladies had readied themselves before the wedding, to the church, right across the parking lot. He insisted in putting a penny in her shoe, for good luck. He, along with most of our friends, were sure we were going to need a lot of luck. Many still had their doubts about the likelihood of our union lasting very long.
Sherri, who was Kathy’s Matron of Honor, had never been to a Catholic mass before. As the wedding party was lining up along the steps of the altar, a nun was unexpectedly filming the wedding for us, and while angling for a vantage shot of Kathy coming down the aisle, from the altar, accidentally bumped into my sister Mary, causing her to fall down on the steps of the altar. She let out an “Oh, fuck” as she went down. Sherri looked over, saw her sitting there, and said, “Oh, are we supposed to sit, now?” (She’d heard that Catholic services have a lot of ups and downs, standing and sitting and kneeling).
Meanwhile, as I stood there at the end of the aisle, waiting with my best man, my brother Ken, as Kathy’s father slowly walked her down the aisle, they suddenly stopped halfway down. I was standing there trying to figure out what was going on. I looked over at Ken – he shrugged his shoulders. We looked back down at Kathy and her father. The music kept playing. She appeared to be arguing with her father, saying “Come on, Dad!” He had decided, right then and there, that I was going to have to meet him halfway if he was going to give his youngest daughter away to me! (It would have been nice to know that was his plan).
We hadn’t had a wedding rehearsal. Now I knew why they did those! I looked back at my brother for guidance on what to do, and he just gave me a shove down the aisle and said, “I think you’re going to have to go get her, Pete!” So, I go stumbling up the aisle to get her. Meanwhile, she’s bound and determined to get down that aisle, father or no, and as she starts off without him, but he puts his foot on her train, and she gets yanked backwards. My Dad was standing in a pew, holding his 3 year old grandson, having a good laugh at the drama playing out in the aisle, as I gathered up my bride, thanked her father, and we made our way down the rest of the aisle together. Oh, the fun was just beginning!
My groomsmen had written, in marker, on the soles of my shoes the words “Help” and “Me”, so when we knelt at the altar, the large church crowd would see “Help Me” on my shoes. Luckily, no one could actually see it, as they could only find a dark marker that didn’t show up.
Kathy’s parents weren’t doing too well financially, at the time, so we had pretty much paid for the whole wedding, ourselves. Having it at her cousin’s church was a big break. It was a week after Easter, and he had just left all the flowers up from Easter services, which worked fine for our flowers. We had the reception right there, and the food was very affordable. So, we invited all of our friends, none of who drank, so the bar bill was cheap. We had close to 300 people. The reception was a total blast. We had the time of our lives. After all the stress of the planning and the preparations, we just cut loose and had a grand time.
For our honeymoon, our friends, knowing that after handling all of the wedding arrangements ourselves we couldn’t afford much of a honeymoon, had put a down payment on one of these honeymoon packages in the Poconos Mountains, 5 days at a place similar to where Breen and Sherri had gone on their honeymoon the year before. They’d said they loved it.
We got there, took one look at the layout, looked at each other, and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” There were all these other honey-mooners there, all lovey-dovey and living in some kind of wedded bliss la-la land. We weren’t exactly there. They sat you 4 couples to a table for meals – not exactly what we’d been expecting, at all! We’d been living together for the better part of a year, at that point, and considered ourselves to be much more anchored in reality than most of these other couples seemed to be. They all seemed to be so plastic, like the little plastic wedding couples on the wedding cakes.
Fortunately, we discovered another couple from Long Island who were a lot more like us, down to earth, real people, and they were also hockey fans, and the Stanly Cup playoffs were going on, so we had something in common, and just hit it off with them. We made sure we always went to meals when they did, so we at least had someone else at the table who was a little more real and not spouting all these lovely platitudes about the joys of marriage – we just wanted to have some fun for 5 days, and that’s what we did. While it wasn’t exactly our cup of tea, we decided to make the most of it, and we wound up having a blast. There were game rooms, with pool tables and ping pong tables, and lots of activities to partake in around the grounds, and we just cut loose and had fun. We didn’t care what any of the other couples thought of us, we were going to enjoy ourselves, and we did. Our marriage was off to a great start. We were resilient, and we knew how to make the most out of strange situations.
After 5 days in Paradise Stream, we made our way back to the real world in Philadelphia, where a real shock, followed by a delightful surprise, awaited me at my job.