I wasn’t mad. More so relieved. The worst had happened. I didn’t feel the pain yet -- the pipeline from my brain to my heart had long sprung a leak. I’d process everything later.
I couldn’t think. Not because of outrage, I just hadn’t drunk coffee that morning for the first time in 22 years. My breath would smell bad no matter how much gum I chewed, and I was a clumsy liability. Knowing my shaky hands, there’d be little brown coffee spots all over my wedding dress.
I wasn’t anxious like everyone said I’d be. Just calm, placated, uncaffeinated, shuffling from room to room as they did my hair, my makeup. Glittery flecks got in my left eyeball, made it water. I went to the bathroom. It was a small venue, only one bathroom for 50 guests, so of course John and I almost ran into each other. I spotted him first and hid behind a corner. It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding.
The funny thing is, my mother didn’t even like John at first. She thought I could do better. But her grew on her.
They were similar. They were both beautiful, the saddest kind of beautiful, like gorgeous and exhausted waitresses wasting away in those teeny towns you stop at during road trips.
They both went occasionally silent, smiling if you called their name, but with empty eyes. They lived life in double vision, their own melancholy fantasies playing at the same time as reality, like a soundtrack that didn’t quite fit the movie.
They were unsaveable. That’s a lesson people like me never learn. I thought I learned with my mother. When I left home for the first time, breaking from the lacy black veil she weaved over our household, I saw sunlight and colors, kids running wild in public pools, bright-eyed teenagers hanging from Jeeps, birds and babies and fuzzy lapdogs with bedazzled leashes. I saw love, the kind that glows, boisterous and loud, the kind that doesn’t fear showing itself. I’d never seen, smelled, tasted anything like it -- a foreign, golden soup I kept ordering again and again.
But the thing about foreign soup is that it will never taste as good as the one your mother made. You can try to make foreign soup yourself, and it can be quite good. But something will always be off.
That’s what happened when I tried to date handsome people instead of beautiful ones. Boys with strong chins who loved sports and who’d never been so sad as the day their dog died. They had strong backs and big warm paws and heavy tongues. They laughed loudly and drank sloppy and said “I love you” every morning. And it felt good. But something was off.
Something was always missing. It buzzed near my left ear, a fly just out of sight. I couldn’t identify it. The handsome boys, they had no idea what I was talking about. People like John and my mother though, they knew. They stared it dead in the face when they woke up. It haunted them. It was nothing they could put into words and explain to me.
I was never beautiful, so I couldn’t understand how beautiful people could be sad. Maybe it was the people around them. My mother herself had married a handsome man. She tried to mold happiness from him, but he was made from brittle clay. It never shaped how she wanted. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand her. He didn’t think there was anything to understand.
For a few years, I think she believed him. She convinced herself that there really was nothing there, nothing glimmering at night, in the stars above the ocean and radiating off the cold moon, nothing in the sad autumn breezes, the abandoned rain-soaked paperbacks left by the curb. But she was too smart to pretend forever. She tried to be optimistic -- I don’t know how many thousands she spent on marriage therapy. But even as a kid, laying awake at night, hearing her tip-toe downstairs to sleep on the couch, I knew they wouldn’t last.
When he left, I thought it was my job to cheer her up. I did the normal little-kid things: oversalted pancake breakfasts in bed, washing dishes without being asked, crayon-scribbled hearts on construction paper. She smiled at each new attempt, but with her mouth and not her eyes. She would ruffle my hair and make a clicking noise, like “aw that’s sweet,” an “I can see you’re trying but you’re too young to help me” noise. When she fell silent for days at a time, I’d ask her what was wrong, but she never answered. It was some adult secret I wouldn’t comprehend.
It used to make me sad. Then it just made me angry. I felt patronized, not taken seriously, a cute and dumb hamster kept on display to fawn over when convenient. I vowed to find people who would take me seriously, who would trust me with their darkest visions. I realized her ship was sinking and I best jump myself, call her name from the shore and hope she had the courage to jump also.
John had his silent days too. He wouldn’t tell me what happened when he snapped out of it. It was too familiar. It made me want to leave.
He never said “I love you,” either, not aloud. But he didn’t need to. I felt it in his gentle touch, the way he would go so limp in my arms, surrender his weight fully onto mine, rest his head between my neck and my shoulder. His touch said so much, and I almost believed it.
Something always held me back though. I couldn’t let myself go as limp in his arms. I wanted to believe, I really did, but it just didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand why he would chose me over any other girl. I was nice, I listened well, but so did plenty of other doe-eyed round-faced girls, many of them much prettier, funnier, richer.
I came very very close to believing him when he proposed. I asked, “Are you sure?” before I said yes. He didn’t answer my question aloud, just nodded.
I planned the wedding in a daze. I always imagined it would take place in the mountains. But my mother said the beach, and I went along with it -- she knew about these things. Nearly every detail was negotiated, the veil, the silverware, the tablecloths. I didn’t really have much preference anyway. It all seemed too good to be true.
And I guess it really was. As I hid behind the corner, I watched John walk towards the bathroom. He looked so beautiful in his suit. He stopped by the door, eyes shifting side to side. He leaned on the wall. Footsteps from the other end of the hallway -- my mother. Seemed like everyone needed the bathroom 20 minutes before the ceremony began. She stopped to talk to JOhn, They spoke in hushed tones, nodding solemnly. Then she leaned in to kiss him. He kissed back. His hands wrapped gently around the back of her head.
It’s tradition for the bride to be late to the ceremony anyway, so I decided to take my time. I was all ready, all dressed up except for my shoes, but those could wait. I slinked around barefoot, holding my dress up so it wouldn’t drag. The venue had a little kitchen, old and dusty with linoleum floors like a church breakroom. I was so relieved to see they had a coffeemaker.
We’d decided to have the actual ceremony indoors and go to the beach at dusk. That way, guests wouldn’t be pouring sand out of their nice trousers all night. I hated the idea initially -- why have a beach wedding and not use the beach? But I was glad I made the choice then. Everyone would be inside, and no one would see me gliding barefoot on the sand, dress now trailing as I neared the water.
The waves rolled in gentle around my ankles. The bottom of my dress was ruined for sure, horribly stained. When I drank my coffee from its teeny paper cup, and a few drops escaped, making brown circles on the neckline, it didn’t really matter anymore. I just stood and let the waves tug on my dress, this way and that, as if the ocean were a needy child begging for attention. It felt good, and it felt right, like nothing was missing.
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Really interesting story. I love how you were able to play with the idea of time while still keeping to story straight. The added details with the coffee definitely helped that and created a nice visual image.