As you check your mail, you notice a letter that makes you stop in your tracks, a large brown envelope, addressed to you with the return address:
Office of the Attorney General
PO Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711-2548
You have been dreading this day and it’s finally here, the day when your questions will be answered, at least with 99% accuracy. You hesitate, then put the envelope in the book safe on the top shelf, where you keep all personal items. Only this time you lock it.
Taking your keys and your cell phone and looking one final time in the mirror, you walk out the front door. You are on the way to the church to celebrate your daughter Kelli’s big day. Today is the day you give her away to the man of her dreams, a nice young fellow named Kyle. They make a nice couple and will give you beautiful grandchildren.
Your ex will be there, but you have agreed with her via email to put your differences aside for Kelli’s wedding. The haggling can begin again after the ceremony, or not.
On the way to the church, you rehearse your lines, not much to say, but so important in your little girl’s life, “her mother and I.” You chuckle. The lines make it sound like you are one in spirit, that you have agreed to move on and let your daughter move on. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have been arguing over Kelli for years, first in person, then by email and finally, through lawyers and the Office of the Attorney General.
At the church, you pull your rented Ford Focus into the parking spot reserved for you. The large pink and purple sign, clearly designates you as “Father of the Bride.” You check the rearview mirror one final time. Yes, your purple bowtie is straight. Thank goodness Kelli agreed to allow you a clip-on. You run a comb through your newly-cut hair and check your face for nicks. You look acceptably well-groomed with only a twinge of regret for the locks of hair and beard, probably now swept into the trash at Rudy’s Barber Shop. It will take you a year to grow them back, but it was a sacrifice you willingly made for your little girl.
Inside the church, the wedding planner shows you where you will sit, on the bride’s side, near, but not next to. her mother, your ex. Then she escorts you to a chamber at the back of the sanctuary, where Kelli is waiting for you. Kelli is a vision in white with accents of purple and pink, carrying a bouquet of lilacs and white roses. She pins a white rose to the lapel of your rented tux and kisses your newly-naked cheek. “You look nice, Dad,” she says, squeezing your shaking hand.
Nice? That wasn’t what her mother had forced her to say to the social worker. If anybody believed even half of what she said, you should have gone to prison for life. But the judge didn’t believe most of it. She did believe that you had an unpredictable temper and often were a danger to yourself. Your ex was granted full custody. You got supervised visitation, but you also had to pay child support that seemed to be equivalent to the gross national product of a small South American country. Old resentments and hurts begin to bubble to the surface, and you have the urge to get to the nearest bar for a stiff drink, but that isn’t going to happen. Kelli had made you promise sobriety for the privilege of walking her down the aisle.
The organist begins to play “My Heart Will Go On,” a completely appropriate song to honor the survivor of the shipwreck that was your marriage to her mother. Whatever happened to good old “Here Comes the Bride?” Kelli’s little half-sister, the flower girl, is eating rose petals from the basket she is carrying while her grandmother is begging her to “spit it out.” One of the groomsmen is returning from his fifth trip outside so the ring bearer could lift his leg. You secretly wish he’d do it again on your ex’s fashionable mother of the bride gown, right in the middle of the ceremony.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen are lining up shortest to tallest. This works until she gets to the last couple, the circus midget sized cousin of the groom and the bride’s aunt on her mother’s side, who could play center for the Harlem Globetrotters. You fidget with the bowtie again. It’s choking you. You know that’s impossible since it is a clip on, but, nevertheless, it’s choking you. Finally, the wedding planner rescues you and points to your spot on the floor. She’s actually marked it with an X made from purple duct tape. You stand on your spot to wait for Kelli, who has taken a last-minute trip to the ladies’ room. Finally, she arrives and takes your arm.
“And one, and two, and three, Kelli and Dad, go!” the wedding planner commands. You step out and walk slowly down the aisle. As you pass, people stand and applaud. It’s not for you, but for your daughter, who looks radiant in her wedding gown. You escort her to the altar, where her groom, the frightened Kyle, and the minister are waiting. “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” she asks. You want to say your line, but the word mother sticks in your throat. What you really want to say is “this soul sucking harridan and I, her former doormat,” but you stop yourself short and swallow, then speak through clenched teeth, “her mother and I.” There! Your line is spoken, and you make your way to your designated seat, marked with a purple sign, “Father of the Bride,” near, but not next to your ex.
The minister continues the marriage ceremony and vows. The word obey is completely absent from the script. When everyone has spoken their lines, the minister says, “You may now kiss the bride,” and Kyle grabs Kelli, dips her almost to the floor and kisses her passionately. Before the bride and groom are allowed to walk down the aisle, the minister sermonizes about protecting the environment and avoiding cruelty to animals. The couple has chosen to forgo the traditional throwing of rice or any of the currently popular substitutes. Instead they will be collecting donations for PETA at the doorway after the reception.
You wait at your seat until your ex and her current husband have left the sanctuary, then you stand and make your way into the reception hall for pictures. When the bride’s dance is announced, Kelli has chosen to forgo the traditional father-daughter dance. Instead she and Kyle entertain with a professionally choreographed country swing dance number, complete with a repetition of the sanctuary kiss. Afterward, the band plays “All My Exes Live in Texas,” completely appropriate for your ex, who is on her fourth husband.
You aren’t hungry so you choose to skip the filet mignon. You notice that the flower girl hasn’t skipped hers but is feeding it to the ring bearer. Your check writing hand begins to itch, and you fight the urge to scream, “You idiot! That costs $30 per pound!” but you resist. Instead you inch closer to the bar and begin to search for an exit. Only two more tasks, then you can blow this joint.
The midget size groomsman finds you. “The minister needs to see you,” he says, pointing toward the church office. You go in that direction and when you reach the office, she beckons you to come in. “I’ll get to the point. We reserve the church for weddings of members and charge a modest fee for use of the church. However, it’s come to my attention that you are not a member of our church, so we are charging you a greater fee.” She shows you a figure roughly equivalent to the national debt. “But Kyle’s parents are members of this church,” you counter. “They are the groom’s parents. It’s customary for the bride’s parents to pay for the wedding.” She smiles and you can tell from her demeanor that she isn’t going to budge a penny. Reluctantly, you write a check then make mental plans to sell a kidney.
Word spreads that the bride is going to throw the bouquet, so you make your way toward the front door. A chirpy woman in a nice pantsuit stands next to you. “Aren’t the flowers beautiful?” she sighs. You nod your head. “You can tell that the bride’s parents love her very much to pay for such exquisite flowers.” Again, you nod. Kelli throws the bouquet and the rose petal eating flower girl trips the bridesmaid who is about to catch it. She grabs the bouquet and runs to a corner to begin eating it. “Don’t worry,” the pant suit woman says. “We only use non-toxic flowers in our bouquets.” She hands you a bill for the flowers. “You can make the check out to ‘Flowers by Florence.’” You write the check. There goes your 401K!
Finally, you make it out the front door but not before the children with the PETA donation baskets accost you. Since there isn’t room for your right leg in the basket, you write a check. You suppress the desire to run to your car, instead walking at a leisurely pace. You are about to open the front door when a waiter runs up to you. “Thank goodness I caught you sir. Here is the bill for today’s dinner. We’ve already included a 27% gratuity in the final bill. There is quite a bit of leftover food, which we are donating to the Main Street Soup Kitchen in your daughter’s name.” You look at the bill and suppress the urge to scream, choosing instead to write a check and make a mental note of appropriate things to say when you rob a bank. “Thank you very much. It’s been our pleasure to serve you.” Yeah, you’re sure it has been their pleasure. It had to be somebody’s pleasure.
At last, you sit behind the wheel of your rented Ford Focus and check your watch. It’s 4:00 p.m., just enough time to get it back to Enterprise before you are charged for another day. You turn the key, and nothing happens. You try again and this time, the car wheezes and tries to start, but without success. Finally, you call Enterprise to inform them of the car’s location and authorize the towing fee, then walk to the rooming house where you have been staying. You change clothes to a more comfortable sweatpants and t-shirt, then take the tux back to the rental, which charges you extra for cleaning dog stains off the leg.
Finally, you go back to your room, retrieve the book safe from the top shelf and take out the brown envelope. You stare at it for a long time, thinking about the decision you made to have the DNA test, which could prove that you are not Kelli’s father. Finally, after much consideration, you tear the letter into tiny pieces and throw them away. Some things are better left secret.