Cynthia awoke Friday morning, tired. She had spent the night before at the bar, flirting with anyone who would look her way before guzzling wine from a box and stuffing her face with brownies while flipping through old yearbooks. Her pounding head and cotton filled mouth punished her for her sins.
Cynthia stumbled from the warm embrace of her bed to the bathroom, threw open the medicine cabinet, and dropped two aspirin tablets in the water glass to her right. She watched it bubble and sizzle with a certain sense of satisfaction. She threw her head back, drinking her potion like a shot. When she caught her reflection in the mirror she shuddered at the matted, bouncy curls, the tear streaked eyeliner, bloodshot eyes, and smeared lipstick. She splashed cold water on her pale cheeks before returning to her cocoon, tripping over the yearbooks, scattered, half open on the floor and cursed loudly. Their glossy photos were filled with sloppy teenage signatures and promises that they would stay in touch.
The night before, tears splashed and smeared the blue, black, pink ink. Her right thumb was covered in the ghosts of tracing his signatures, of his promises that she was his very bestest friend. His crooked smile from 9th grade yearbook photo, his pimpled covered forehead from 10th grade photos, his black rocker T-shirt which she remembered felt as soft as lamb’s fleece from his 11th grade photo, and the professional image of him standing on railroad tracks downtown from his 12th grade photo was burned in her mind. Cynthia slipped beneath the feather comforter, still warm from the night before and buried her face in her pillow, allowing cries full of anguish to break free from the prison of suppressed grief.
Cynthia reawoke at 11am. She had managed three more hours of rest and had finally slept the aches of the night before off. Her long, delicately manicured fingers pawed at her face like a kitten. She sat up in bed and checked social media. Cynthia sighed at the photos from last night; she had clearly drunk too much, illustrated by the ghost of her past self throwing her arms around a stranger or two...or three… Cynthia stumbled back to the bathroom and chugged three glasses of cold water. She turned on her shower and slipped out of her silk pajamas. While the hot water pumped down her back, she replayed the conversation she had with Michael nearly one year ago. He had approved her request for her day off for “my best friend’s wedding.” It was the most painful time off request she ever had to hand in. Michael had even asked, jokingly, “And you’re not the bride? Thia, you’ve talked about this guy for years…”
It maybe wasn’t entirely a joke for Cynthia. It was a joke for God who seemingly rubbed salt in the wound at every turn. He sprinkled the seasoning over Cynthia’s raw heart when her best friend called, his voice brimming with excitement, and asked her to come to the wedding. She could hear his happiness at finding his bride. The salt stung her soul when she came home a few months later and found their invitation, a cream colored card with a delicate lace border. It felt like rock salt, huge chunky crystals, massaged into her heartbreak when he called her asking why she didn’t go to the bridal shower. “I wanted you to meet her before the wedding. She’ll love you,” he had promised.
Because overnight, her approval of Cynthia mattered more than Cynthia’s approval of his bride. A change from the way the world used to be.
Cynthia aggressively pumped out three blobs of shampoo as fury boiled up from her stomach and nestled into her heart. She worked it into her matted curls. The sweet scent of lavender began to perfume the bathroom. She followed that with a conditioner and began to shave her legs. These tasks helped dampen the anxiety of the event. She had promised him she would go eight weeks ago. Last Sunday she had promised herself it was all just needless pain so she decided to just not show up. And three days ago, on Wednesday, she had decided that she should go. The blur of last night reappeared in the forefront of her mind, she had thought that maybe she should not.
Cynthia stepped out from the shower, reaching for her towel. She wrapped the warm, red, cotton around her bust and used her matching red hair wrap to tame and dry her curls, soothed by the shower and bath products. Cynthia frowned upon entering her room and inhaling the odor of sweat, tears, and dirty dishes. She opened the chiffon blue curtain and the window, breathing in the warm spring air. Her aching body plopped down on the bed as she listened to singing birds and buzzing insects.
She began to weigh the pros and cons of attending. They had promised each other as children that they would be at one another’s weddings. But she had always imagined the reason they’d be at each other’s weddings is because it was the same wedding. But, she reminded herself, she had RSVP’ed yes. But, the wedding was set to be large, there’s no way that he’d notice her absence. But he might, whispered a small voice in her head. And he might run to her and profess his love. And he might run away with her.
It would be the first time in 10 years they would see each other face to face.
Cynthia felt tears prick the back of her eyes. She allowed them to fall down her cheeks.
After five minutes of pure wallowing, she stood. She applied body lotion and chose a yellow summer dress. It was cotton and a decent length. It reached her mid thigh. Cynthia grabbed a pair of brown heels and applied a quick layer of makeup. In a moment of shame fueled rage, she began to clean her room. Pop songs filled her room and she sang along to songs about heartbreak and betrayal. She took out the trash and started a load of laundry.
The last thing she picked up was the year books. The slam of each hardcover echoed in the daylight. The sound drowned out the songs she had played to drown out her own heartbreak. She swallowed the lump blossoming in her throat. She willed herself to not burst into tears-you’re wearing makeup she chastised herself. Cynthia spread out fresh sheets on the bed and transferred the wet clothes to the dryer before tossing her dirty bedding into the washer and starting a second cycle.
She carried her cell phone out to her white kitchen. It was smaller than she liked, but perfectly sized for a one bedroom apartment. Before he had met his bride, her best friend helped her move in. His biceps had flexed as he carried box after box inside. He built her black end tables and positioned them next to her black couch. She had split a large pizza with him and they drank a six pack.
She had offered him the comfort of her bed which he had refused.
Radio silence for two years followed that night.
He broke down first, calling her to announce his engagement. He had met “The One”. She had dazzled him with her humor, kindness, generosity, and triumphant faith in God—leaving Cynthia speechless on the other end of the line.
Cynthia began to load the dishwasher, attempting to drown out those memories in hardwork. She tossed her bedding into the dryer and folded her clothes out. As she took in the evidence of her hard work, she felt the familiar pains of hunger. She took a deep breath, returned to her bedroom to close her window, and locked up her apartment. In a small, tan purse was lipstick, a compact mirror, her phone, her license, her credit card, and her keys. It was 1pm.
Cynthia drove to a local sandwich shop for a late lunch. She ate each bite of turkey and cheese slowly, methodically. She turned each bite of savory cheddar and cured meat over in her mouth four times before swallowing. She sipped her Cola. She swished each sip around her mouth twice before swallowing. She bit into her chocolate chip cookie. She relished each bite before swallowing them. Cynthia saw that it was only 3pm which caused her frown to return. Tears pricked her eyes once again. Her hand reached into her purse and she slowly typed the address of the church into her GPS. If she left right now she’d be 30 minutes early, right on time. Cynthia bit her lip so hard it began to bleed. She blotted her lip with a napkin, bussed her table, and sat in the car.
Begrudgingly, she realized it was perfect wedding weather: 70 degrees out with a slight breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Her mind drifted on the drive to the groom. She imagined him getting ready with his father and brother. Cynthia could practically envision the way that he’d tie his own tie, but let his mother pin a boutonniere to his chest. If it had been her wedding, she mused, she would have him wear a white rose. As she approached the church, she watched as guests in fancy dress walked in proudly. Her grip whiteknuckled the black steering wheel. She wanted to run. She wanted to throw her car in reverse and shoot out of the black parking lot like a bullet.
Cynthia sat frozen in her car. Time ticked on. 4pm arrived. The lot was now empty of people and full of cars. Her grip released on the steering wheel. Cynthia opened her car door with a deafening click. She swiveled her head as quickly as an owl to see if anyone had caught her. I could still run away, she thought. But the parking lot was filled with soft birds harmonizing and the sounds of scuttling insects. Her heart had hoped vainly that she’d watch him walk out of the church, his shoulders slumped in distress. She imagined him running his hand through his styled brown curls, destroying the hours of work that it took to tame them in one instant. She could see herself, in her mind’s eye, rushing to him, helping him into her car, and running away together. But he wasn’t there.
Cynthia’s heel hit the pavement. That felt loud, too. As calmly as she could, Cynthia began to approach the big, oak doors of the church adorned with a carving of St. Michael the archangel clutching his sword. She decided it was God this time, rubbing salt in the wound. St. Michael was protecting this matrimony. St. Michael hasn’t fought a woman scorned, she thought. Her heart rate rose and her cheeks flushed brighter with each step she took and it felt as if she was pouring sweat down her back. The air began to feel cold, despite the warmth of the sun radiating down.
As she entered the silent church, she examined the rectory. It was a wide, open area for the congregation to gather in. Her steps echoed on the black and white tiled floor. Cynthia examined the paintings on the wall of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Her heart broke at the thought of the perfect family she had created in her brain. At the reception to the wedding that should be happening, all the guests would discuss how the bride and groom were lifelong friends. They might say that their love story was written in the stars. Cynthia always figured it was. She saw images of saints, of Mother Teresa, and a recent photo of the pope. In front of her loomed another set of oak doors. She rushed forward so as not to be spotted by the bride and groom who she imagined had yet to arrive.
Cynthia entered the church. Everyone had been told to stand. She slipped into the final pew on her left as a single final chime of a church bell rang out. How perfectly perfect in every way, she thought. The wedding was large. Guests seemed excited and anxious. At the front of the church stood the bridal parties. Cynthia recognized a few of the groomsmen, but none of the bridesmaids. Cynthia shut her eyes softly and imagined her sister in a flower crown as the maid of honor and she took a deep, steadying breath as a small string quartet started playing Canon in D.
The doors opened.
Cynthia felt herself take gasp and hold her breath as if the air in her lungs could keep her afloat in this chaos. They entered the church. Cynthia’s best friend clung to his young bride who was clad in a ball gown style dress with a long veil. He beamed with joy. Cynthia’s heart shattered. She determined he would not come rushing to her. He would not profess their love. He would not ask her to run away.
His bride smiled and glanced around the room nervously. She had her hair done in long, dark beach waves. It was a style she could never manage with her curls. No, Cynthia had planned an updo with a flower tiara. He always said he loved her curls. Envy filled her heart as she took her seat. There would be a full Catholic mass. She did not stand to receive Communion as she had done with him when they were young children.
Overtime, her anger toward God grew from a small seed, planted when her father abandoned her mother with three mouths to feed, to a terrible knotted tree. When her first boyfriend was caught kissing her sister another branch grew. When her mother hit her dog in the driveway and lied to Cynthia about it, claiming that the dog ran away, a branch grew. Today, another branch grew as she watched the mass while Cynthia lingered in the back of the church, nursing her own heart break.
As the ceremony wound down, vows were exchanged, promises were made. Many of the guests were crying, Cynthia realized bitterly that they were tears of joy. In a moment of pure masochism, Cynthia forced herself to watch the groom kiss his bride. Her hope of being the woman in white facing him was crushed.
Cynthia quietly applauded the couple as they walked back down the aisle. She heard the exclamations of joy from the direct family. She slipped out of her pew as fast as she could. Her hurried steps were halted suddenly as she saw the groom, crossing the rectory to the back corner. He seemed stunned to see her. The two stared at one another, her green eyes locking with his brown. Cynthia smoothed her dress and reached to tuck a curl behind her ear. The groom broke eye contact and turned away without a word.
Cynthia pushed with all her strength to open the church doors. Anger fueled her as she cursed at God because He seemed to trap her in this prison. It’s a prison you created. You knew that he wasn’t yours. You knew it’d hurt today, she chastised herself. The sunlight blinded her briefly as she ran to her car, her heels tripping over the loose gravel on the pavement. As she reached her car, she fumbled with the keys. Cynthia cursed as she broke a nail trying to open her door.
In the shelter of her vehicle, she began to sob tears of anguish. She cried for her teenage self who loved the groom from day one. She cried for the moments she chose someone else over him. She cried over the teenage version of the groom who had spent years in the friend-zone. Cynthia cried for the bride who knew that Cynthia and the groom once shared love. Mostly, Cynthia cried for herself. For the woman in the yellow dress, in the church parking lot, with soft pink lips, who was too little too late. This, Cynthia decided, is an insurmountable pain. An insurmountable loss.