Love, Oscar, and What I Wore

Her marriage was the stuff of Hollywood drama: cancer, infertility, estrangement. But when her husband was up for a second Academy Award, all Peggy Orenstein wanted was a happy ending — and a killer dress.

By Peggy Orenstein
I compensated for the cost by skimping on the shoes: 4-inch spike heels with toes that pinched and whose silver glitter shed like a golden retriever. If Prince Charming had come round the next morning with one of those glass babies, he would’ve passed me over — by then the only slippers my swollen feet fit into were made of terry cloth. I didn’t care. Comfort, at the time, was secondary, if not irrelevant, to glamour. (That philosophy had its hazards; if you watch the tape of the ceremony closely, you’ll see Steven stumble as he makes his way to the aisle. I’d shucked the torturous pumps as soon as I’d sat down and left them directly in his path.) I went commando from the waist up: I was 29, and the girls were still riding high. Just before leaving the hotel, I pinked my lips with a little gloss. It was all I needed: My skin was naturally as rosy as our infatuation with one another — both were effortless.Trip #1 to the Emmys: Rallying, Sort OfIf part of marriage is developing a mythology of destiny, the Oscar that now sits on top of our fridge was integral to ours. Fifteen years later, however, we’ve been through a lot, and not all of it the stuff of happy endings. There have been books for me, other films for him, and successes and failures for us both. We’ve weathered the death of Steven’s father and those of several dear friends. On the sixth anniversary of our first date, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgery and radiation treated the disease, but it was Steven’s tenderness that healed me. And after all that, I thought nothing could divide us. Then came our six-year attempt to have a child.Do all women who can’t immediately conceive become obsessed with pregnancy? Do all of their husbands feel rejected and angry? There were months, maybe years, when we lay together at night not touching, not even thinking of touching, unless compelled by what we called "fertility sex." Our golden couple sheen began to seem as thin as the plating that was now dissolving on the Oscar’s legs, leaving a trail of rust that looked like necrosis.At the worst of it, Steven was nominated for another award — this time an Emmy — for a film on heroin addiction he’d made for HBO. The ceremony was smack in the middle of our second IVF cycle, right after whatever embryos we had were to be transferred back to my womb. There was no medical reason for me to stay home, though I desperately wanted to nurse my hopes and delusions in my own bed. "Would you mind if I didn’t go?" I asked.He sighed, his face weary. "It’s your decision. But it’s not like we have a lot of fun together anymore," he said.Touché. In weighing all the risks of fertility treatments, I realized, I’d willfully ignored the ones to my marriage. So I rallied. Sort of. I bought a $90 floor-length burgundy sheath. I can’t even recall the shoes. At the ceremony, in a Times Square hotel, three embryos tucked (uselessly, it would turn out) in my womb, I clapped politely as some network flunky who’d beat out my husband thanked his third-grade teacher. I wished desperately I hadn’t come. When I got the photos back from that night, I appeared to be naked in every one. Under the glare of the flashbulbs, my cheap dress had turned transparent. "How appropriate," I muttered as I threw all the snapshots away.For a while, things improved between Steven and me, but two miscarriages and another round of fertility treatment took their toll. Then, two years after the Emmys, when we least expected it, we conceived our daughter the old-fashioned way. Life is full of surprises. I like to think that our love would have held regardless, that we would’ve found our way through the thicket of disappointment and recriminations, but I’ll never know for sure.Trip #2 to the Oscars: Real & GorgeousAnd so, the morning of this latest nomination, I cast a cold eye on myself in the bathroom mirror. There I was. The lumpectomy and radiation left one breast smaller than the other and unable to lactate, which means I nursed our daughter entirely on my right side. Let’s just say, bralessness is no longer an option. There is also a seam across my belly — a souvenir from the C-section — and a little roll of baby fat that is apparently here to stay. (Silly me.

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