There’s nothing like taking a picture. It’s like capturing a moment in time to hold onto forever. A smile, a twinkle in the eye, a heartfelt conversation, a long coming embrace. Weddings have always been my favorite. Emotions always run high. To immortalize the look on the groom’s face when his bride walks down the aisle, the tears of a father never really ready to let go of his daughter, the envious look of a childhood rival. To have that kind of power, to see things that no one else sees, to know things no one else knows. That’s what I love so much about photographing weddings.
I take pictures of everything and everyone. The bride never wants to forget the way her bouquet was arranged. Her best friend wants to remember the color scheme for her own wedding in a year and a half (Lord willing her girlfriend actually proposes). I never want to forget a face.
I like the shorter ceremonies. The emotions go faster, are harder to catch. Which makes it that much more of a triumph when I actually do.
This ceremony is going long, though. The preacher won’t stop talking. I’ve taken pictures of the happy couple from every angle in the book that isn’t too distracting. If he keeps going, I might just have to start taking pictures from the floor to liven things up. The bride’s mother has a hand over her heart, tears in her eyes. That’s a beautiful picture. The bride and I will cherish it for a long time.
But I haven’t found the picture yet. That usually comes during the reception, when everyone is drunk and loose. They’re all too stiff during the ceremony. There is too much to mess up to have fun.
The bride can’t stay still. It’s going to make the pictures blurry. Doesn’t matter to me though. I don’t really care about the pictures of her. As long as she and her groom don’t care, the blurriness of the pictures of her are don’t really matter to me.
The best man won’t stop making eyes at the bride’s youngest sister. The sister looks uncomfortable. I would be too. She’s not even seventeen yet. I take a picture of the way his eyes narrow, the upturn of his lips. I take a picture of her eyes downcast, her young cheeks tinted pink. These pictures are for me. The bride will never see them.
The groom’s dad never showed up. Deadbeat, or so I heard from his mother whining in the bathroom to her long-time friend. He’d shown up to the groom’s graduation drunk out of his mind a few years back. She didn’t want him at her son’s wedding anyway. I take a picture of the empty seat next to her.
When the preacher finally gets to the vows, it’s like a breath of life has been breathed into the entire room. One of the guests elbows her ten-year-old son awake. Across the way, a man so wrinkled from age he looks like a prune does the same thing to his slumbering wife. Dresses are smoothed, ties are fixed, glasses readjusted. Everyone wants to look their best for the end of the ceremony.
If I thought that the bride was jittery before, she is even worse now that everything is a little bit more real. Her smile pulls so wide that the caked-on makeup around her lips cracks. She rolls back and forth, shifting her weight, unable to contain her excitement. Her soon-to-be husband just smiles at her, holding her hands tighter to keep her steady.
I’ve been to a lot of weddings and sometimes you can tell when the two won’t work out. She’s overstressed, he’s overbearing. But they seem like a happy couple. I give it at least a decade or two before they throw in the towel. Everyone does eventually, even if it doesn’t end in divorce. Growing out of love with someone is inevitable, like regretting the tattoo you got when you first turned 18.
The groom could barely say “I do” for the tears that choked him. A ripple of laughter passes through the crowd. He clears his throat, tries again. Another bout of laughter as his voice deepens. I roll my eyes.
She says “I do” and she sounds like the happiest person on the planet. Maybe they’d last longer than most couples. But maybe that “flame” would burn out even faster.
I know that the picture of the kiss is always everyone’s favorite. I always hate it. The bridal party is so busy looking at how happy the couple are to notice all the little things that I can’t ignore. Their lips are pressed together weirdly. Her nose is pressed against his cheek. The flower girl is picking her nose. The preacher is so old I’m not sure he can even breathe properly anymore. The best man is staring at his shoes.
And then comes my favorite part. The reception. They have an open bar, good food. I’ll get to sit down for thirty minutes, eat some mac and cheese and potatoes. I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t eat the meat they provided. Still, cheese and carbs, what’s better than that?
Even though my camera hangs loosely around my neck, I don’t stop watching people. The bride and groom are out, having a moment together. I’m not supposed to be there for those. Her older sister is taking those pictures. The best man has the bride’s sister trapped in a dull conversation. I can tell by the look on her face that she wishes to be somewhere else, that someone would come and save her. Unfortunately for her, I’m the only one who notices and I’m off the clock.
One of the aunts, I can’t keep them organized, is already drunk and dancing on the dance floor, even though there’s no music playing. Her husband watches between his fingers, already given up trying to keep her in order. Those rolls peaking out through the back of her dress were too “loose” for my picture. I need something not so stiff as the ceremony but not so loose as Aunt Karen’s favorite midday tonic. There was a perfect inbetween. Free but sophisticated. That’s my favorite kind of picture.
Just as everyone finishes eating, the bride and groom return and my thirty minutes of people watching are up. I think I know who will be the subject of my favorite picture. I saw her standing at the bar, flirting with the bartender. She was the groom’s best friend growing up. Why she wasn’t a bridesmaid is only up for speculation. I can paint a pretty picture in my head though. She was too close to him. The bride felt threatened. The best friend had to be in the wedding, but she sure as hell didn’t have to be in the bridal party.
The thought makes me laugh. Jealousy is a funny thing. I have never made a habit of wanting things I can’t have. Maybe that’s envy. I’m not sure anyone really knows the difference anymore. You want something you can’t have, you don’t want anyone to touch the things you do. Envy, jealousy. It’s all the same and all people suffer from it.
Even me I suppose. But I don’t make a habit of it.
But now I’m repeating myself.
The bride and groom choreographed a dance for when they walked into the reception hall. A disco ball drops from the ceiling. I snap a picture. The newly weds start their dance, I take a few pictures of that too, but everyone has their phones out, recording the entire thing, so they don’t need a million pictures from me. I turn my camera toward the best friend. She’s smiling, tapping her index finger against the side of her tequila glass. Even though she wasn’t in the bridal party, I can still see that she’s happy for her friend. I can tell she has a good heart. To be so slighted and yet still show up with a genuine smile on her face? You rarely ever meet a girl like her.
I take another picture.
The night wears on. Everyone is dancing under the light of the disco ball. The DJ is amateur at best, but he’s playing all the songs my little sister listened to in middle school and everyone seems to vibe with it so no one really complains. He plays a slow song, the couples pair off. The bride’s sister is dancing with her girlfriend, a pretty pink smile on her lips. The groom’s mom sits by herself in a chair, staring at her perfectly manicured nails. I’m almost tempted to walk over to her and ask her to dance myself. It’s not her fault her pitiful husband couldn’t sober up enough to come to his son’s wedding.
But the best friend beats me to it. Her little black dress slides up her thigh as she lowers herself into the seat beside the mother, who brightens at the sight of her. I sneak closer, hoping to catch a pinch of their conversation. I take a quick picture. The best friend lays a hand on the mother’s shoulder.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” she says. I watch, mesmerized, as her lips move.
“It really was.” There was another sentence left hanging in the air. I wish he was here to see it.
“You can tell they love each other.” The best friend looks up at husband and wife, her lips by his ear as she whispered something to him that made him smile. The best friend looks away.
The mother lays her hand on the best friend’s knee.
“You’ve always been a part of this family, you know,” she says. “That’s not going to change.”
The best friend nods her head, but I can tell that her head is heavy and it’s hard to pick back up.
“Are you going to dance?” the mother asks, to try and clear the tension.
“No,” the best friend shakes her head, dark hair falling around her bare shoulders. “Not to this song. Unless you’ll dance with me?”
“Amanda!” the mother is aghast, but smiling. “I’m too old for this.”
“Not in the slightest.”
The best friend, Amanda, it means ‘loveable’ I’m pretty sure, stands and smiles, her shining white teeth bright against the darkness of the hall. She holds the mother’s hands in hers.
That’s the one.
A light from the discoball passes just behind her as I take the picture, illuminating her from behind. She shines like an angel, her hair dark, her smile bright, her eyes squinted in delight. Her hands are outstretched and in her shadow, you can barely see the mother at all. Even better.
It is probably one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. I’m breathless as I look at it and I look back at her, pulling the mother onto the dance floor. I put my camera up and I take another picture. It’s just as perfect. Her head is thrown back with laughter, her arms and legs in perfect triangles, as if she knew I was taking the picture. As if she wanted it to be just as good as I wanted it to be. My heart pounds in my chest. Two amazing pictures in one day. Two perfect pictures. That had never happened before.
A woman only gets so lucky in a picture every now and again. But Amanda is so much more than every other woman. Two perfect pictures. It takes me a long time to stop flipping between the two, my thumb nearly cramped before I finally tear my gaze away. Things are winding down. People are going to start going home. Most have already left.
Amanda is walking toward me. My knees go weak. I don’t think I can stand. I need her. But of course she’s not walking toward me. She doesn’t see me. No one sees the wedding photographer. She walks right by me and I can smell her lavender perfume, her coconut hair. I had never thought that lavender and coconut would go together, but on her it works perfectly. I can also smell the liquor. Whatever her poison is, she wears it well. There isn’t a wobble in her step as she walks by.
I’m the last one to leave. I can’t bring myself to take anymore pictures. I should have. I should have taken more pictures of the bride and groom, but it’s not possible. I can never take a more perfect picture than the two I took of Amanda.
I go home, my feet dragging. The soles of my shoes needed to be replaced about four weddings ago. My feet ache, but there’s enough left in me to pull myself through the house. It’s quiet and dark, as usual. I cling to the camera in my hand. With those pictures of Amanda on there, this camera is the most precious thing in the world. I unlock the door to my garage, flip on the light.
The girl chained to the wall jolts awake. Four day old mascara runs down from her eyes. She’s so dehydrated she can’t even cry anymore. Her dark hair is in shambles. She rattles the chains, desparate pleas trapped behind the gag tucked between her lips.
But I don’t care about her anymore. She can beg as much as she wants. I don’t need her.
Without even looking in her direction, I walk toward my computer, pull the memory card out of the camera, and shove it into the computer port. The girl, I don’t even know her name, cries louder and pulls against the chain again. All the others I took were quiet by now, curled up in a ball to die. But this one is too resiliant, to assertive. She wants to live too much. But she won’t.
“Hush!” I snap, not even turning to look at her.
The pictures upload to my computer and I pull up the only two that matter.
Her. Amanda. The loveable.
The girl pleading for her life behind me will die, not because she wanted to live too much, but because there was someone else I wanted and I only had room for one. Her picture had been good, it had brought me joy once upon a time. But now I had Amanda. Or I would have Amanda.
But before I could get her, the trash needed to be disposed of.
There’s nothing like taking a picture. It’s like capturing a moment in time to hold onto forever.