The view from my mom's hotel room included a corner of Walmart, as well as this horse pasture. Spying on the horses became a hobby while in her room.
It came to no one's surprise (except possibly their own) that they were part of numerous small arguments. The groom, my only sibling, called his best man four times before rehearsal even began Friday afternoon.
"He's stressed," Tom told me as we stood in the sanctuary, watching Keith pace back and forth. He smirked. "He'll call me and I'll say, 'Hey, how are you doing?' 'Fine. I'm okay.'" Tom paused and made sure I was listening. We both smiled. "'Are you sure, Keith? Do you need me to come over?' 'No, no. I'm okay. Just checkin' in.'" Tom laughed a voluptuous laugh, one that echoed about the church entertainingly. His eyes ignited. "He's stressed."
Keith strolled from one side of the side to the other, half-listening to my uncles-turned-groomsmen suggest possibilities. Their roles in dozens of weddings in the past prompted them to offer assistance, which my brother probably found oppressive. "How are you ushering out the extra overflow seats over there? How do you want the ushers to look? How do you want us to look? Do you want us to have the jackets buttoned up? Open? How do you want us to stand?"
But those things--the wait, the mild arguments, the chaos--don't enunciate what everyone had waited for, what everyone had planned for and bookmarked and anticipated--the union of two souls.
The ceremony itself was a perfect harmony of short and sweet--the sixteen-minute-long nuptials were interspersed with tearful vows and promises of eternal love. "I'm honored to marry Keith and Alicia," the pastor announced, "A couple whose first date was held at this church." They smiled at the memory, and everyone laughed as the pastor continued. "I'm glad Keith is so cheap," he joked. "I vividly remember giving them a ride home, and I never considered this--today--to be what it is."
As one of five bridesmaids, I witnessed my brother pledge his vows to his wife. I knew that the guests could not hear his words, as they were only whispers, but I can attest that they were truthful, and spoken from the heart. His entire being was wrapped into those truths, and he gripped Alicia's hands with assurance when he whispered, "With all that I am." His face, his words, his promises, his eyes--I was not the only one who cried that day.
I felt distant; my brother was giving himself, devoting himself to a woman resplendent in a sparkling white gown. Simultaneously, I was close enough to him, just within distance to see the sheen of tears on his cheeks. I could see the streaks on his face, the glossiness of his dark eyes. My own face welled, and I blinked repeatedly. I gazed to the right, to mom, to Hans, looked at them as vows were repeated, promised. Mom, I knew, would cry, but not when I was looking. I looked at my father, my aunts. Teresa sat diligently, interested. Maureen, when I looked, lifted her glasses to wipe the dampness from her plump face. I was later told that my father--a wall, a porous rock when it comes to emotions--even had a moment of tearful joy.
We all smiled. We all cried. Alicia, in a moment of delicateness, tenderly wiped away Keith's tears as the pastor spoke of their attributes. "Keith, Alicia has said that you have respected her for who she is now, and that she is grateful for the love you shower her with."
At the reception, they fawned over each other, kissing like giddy teenagers. They shared dances, laughed as Keith--handcuffed and blindfolded--dentally searched for a garter. Keith jubilantly paraded with a tambourine as Phil Collins, his favorite, crooned to the guests. The cutting of the cake. The tossing of the bouquet. The unfortunate non-slushie-ing slushie machines. The melting red candles. The red rose petals. A broken vase. Candy favors. A second helping of tacos. Michael Jackson. Hugs. Kisses. A dollar dance.
I cried more than my mother when Hans and I danced to "Over The Rainbow," the song Keith dedicated to my mother. (For years, she has told us that this is the song we have to play at her funeral.) "Keith, I can't dance to this," she insisted. "No, mom! Come on!" "Keeeith," she whined." "GET UP!" he instructed. "You're going to dance because you're not going to hear it when you're dead!" Mom did as she was told, laughing later about the truthful absurdity of his statement.
I danced with Keith, awkwardly at first, then pleasantly, then joyfully. A blurry photo of us laughing is in my position; my teeth are wide with a smile. Dad danced with Alicia. Members of my family danced with each other. "What the hell is a box step, dad? Can't we just dance?" My cousins would ask their father, who was eager to show his children--daughters and sons alike--his moves. "You gotta have rhythm!"
It was only around 9:00 when the party ended. The mothers had been tackling the clean-up, blowing out candles and throwing away tablecloths. The cake was packed up and the slushie machine that had never frozen its contents was shut down. Purses and shoes were recovered. It was discovered that Keith's car had been vandalized with shaving cream, silly string, and toilet paper. Indeed, he spent the first hour at home sweeping up rose petals that someone had scattered about the house.
Hugs were exchanged, congratulations were given. Family that I had not seen for months--years even--spoke kindly to each other, joked, laughed, reminisced, commented positively on the black, white and red decorations. "You did good," they said.
It was over. The bride and groom would leave for their road trip soon, a time of post-marital bonding. Hans would leave on a flight early the next morning, and my heart sagged with the emptiness of saying goodbye. Not even 48 hours earlier, I had run out of the hotel lobby and into his arms, clasping his shoulders and letting myself be crushed in an embrace I had craved for four weeks. I hugged my brother as much as I hugged Hans, repeatedly saying "Congratulations" and "Don't go" to them, respectively. And as for "I love you?" That's a mantra I said to them both.
Ten months ago, they were engaged. Ten months ago, we began planning for a weekend that would drown us with emotions, smother us with stress. Ten months ago we began arranging for family and friends to gather from across the United States. Ten months ago, we could imagine the short-lived whirlwind of an August wedding, of tearful, joyous vows and an eternity of devoting glances.
Ten months ago, I could not have imagined standing in the vestibule of a church, looking at my mother, my brother, my father, myself, and saying to Hans, almost admirably, "This is my family." Ten months ago, I could not imagine myself on a dance floor with my aunts, uncles or cousins, who debated the choreography of "Thriller" in addition to obediently dancing to "Cha Cha." Ten months ago, I could not have imagined my mother divulging her secrets to her ex-sister-in-law. Ten months ago, I did not even know my mother had secrets to share.
Sure, the weekend was stacked against us from the beginning--weddings automatically run on high emotions. And sure, the weekend was short. It's not something I can forget easily, though; my chest continues to swell when I think of my brother's loving and dutiful face, and my mother still brings her hand to her mouth in a rush of joyful tears when show her this picture, that picture. "They'll like that," she'll say, struggling through tears. "Yes they will."
And in the end, that's all that matters; the frustration is steamed out, and all that remains is an enveloping and inviting joy for the couple who now shares everything--a house, a bathroom, a family, a church, a last name. Congratulations, my loved ones.