Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Sister’s Wedding

I never attended a wedding until I was 21 years old.

And so, my first time at a wedding was also my first time as a groomsman, celebrating the union of my sister, Diane, and the groom, Scott.

The wedding marked a family reunion. From my sister's side of the family, there was me, our mother and father, one grandmother and three uncles—in total, all but one of the known, living blood relatives. With a clan as small as ours, you might think we were free of some of the intrigue and grudges that plague larger families.

You’d be mistaken.

My mother and father had separated two years earlier, and this wedding would mark a rare instance in which the two of them would spend a sustained period of time together. Furthermore, there was the appearance of an estranged uncle who diverged from the family in the aftermath of my grandfather’s death three years before.

There were several non-traditional aspects of the wedding. Eschewing patriarchal norms, my sister would not be given away by my father, and he was fine with that. He was less pleased with the remaining order in which we’d walk down the aisle--the groom’s parents together, me with my mother, my father with his mother. The principle that he wouldn’t accompany the mother of the bride was unacceptable.

Harsh words were exchanged. Certain parties never spoke again. In the end, I volunteered to accompany my grandmother and each pair of parents walked down the aisle together.

I don’t mean to paint the wedding day in an ugly light. Despite some ugly moments it was, on the whole, a beautiful affair, held at a golf club in Webster, New York, an outdoor ceremony amidst the lush greenery, the reception mere footsteps away, inside.

I came to the wedding with the woman I’d started seeing that summer. Another first: the first time I had introduced a girlfriend to my family. She didn’t tell me until afterwards how nervous the proposition made her.

But for that one night, after the fighting was over and after the nerves had worn off, after dinner was served and most of us had had a couple drinks—after all of that, what I remember most is the dancing.

Dancing in a circle around my sister and my father, engaged in a father-daughter dance, the spectacle of which I’d never seen anything like before, and haven’t seen since.

Dancing to “Walk Like an Egyptian” with my mother and my brother-in-law.

Dancing close with my girlfriend, me in my tux, her in a purple dress while the old folks looked on. Feeling adult and maybe even a little debonair.

But much more than all this, I remember watching Diane and Scott share their first dance as a married couple. The song was Lucy Kaplansky’s “Ten Year Night.” It’s a lovely song about the maturation of love from two young people meeting in a bar, to sex on a kitchen floor, to late night travel as a well-worn couple. While the “ten years” part may have been a touch premature for the wedding, I listened to every word and every bar as I watched the two of them smile and touch noses, my sister a beautiful bride, her forearms hanging over the shoulders of the love of her life. Something about that night felt like a culmination. I had just started my final year of undergrad, and here my sister was, already moved to Chicago but back in New York State for one last autumn night. One last celebration. One last dance.

Of course, the wedding didn’t really mark the end of anything. More of a beginning. While I haven’t spent as much time with Diane and Scott as I’d like, in the years since, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my sister anew as two adults, and enjoyed growing comfortable with Scott as family, over games of Dominion and cartons of Chinese takeout.

Some folks don’t like weddings for all the weight and expectation and pretension that can surround them. I get that. Just the same, the first wedding I attended established my perception for what weddings can and should be. Celebrations of families, friendships, and love—broken and troubled as they all may be—made perfect for one night.

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