The garden is the site of my aunt’s second wedding to a guy named Phillip. Phillip. Like the prince. May he rest in peace. Technically, the garden is not the site of my aunt’s second wedding to a guy named Phillip. It is the site of the reception of my aunt’s second wedding to a guy named Phillip. It was April or March or...um...sometime early spring. I was only 10. Time works differently when you’re a kid. I once read that childhood is like being drunk: you don’t have much memory of it all, but everyone keeps telling you stories about it so you desperately try to piece it all together. But this story is about my aunt’s second wedding to a guy named Phillip. We drove endlessly from our home in my mom’s grey minivan up the giant mountain top to a church nestled in pine trees and a blanket of sow. I stood freezing in my little white dress, covered in tulle and water color style pink lilies. Everyone could hear the desperate sound of my stomach screaming for food. I couldn’t feel my toes. The church was all brown brick and concrete floors. The very best part was the sound of my feet, safely strapped into Mary Jane style white shoes, as we took our seats in the brown wooden pew up front. “Family sits up front at a wedding,” said my mother in a hushed tone, her warm, coffee breath against my ear. A man in a suit began droning on about faith and love. A beautifully tall woman with chestnut curls stood by my cousin. They wore matching pink dresses. I tugged on the dark blue velvet sleeve of my mother’s shirt and demanded her identity to which she replied, “That is your cousin’s new bride.”
The man in the suit invites everyone to discuss the bride and groom. I looked to the wooden ceiling as I felt cold snow plop down on my button nose. The left side started first, strangers dressed in fancy clothes began speaking about Phillip. They called him handsome, intelligent, brave, and classy. I requested my mother to define the word, classy, “It’s a person with a lot of class.” I began to ask a follow up question, but she pressed a long index finger to her lips, and shrugged my shoulders because I didn’t know what class was so I sure as hell didn’t understand classy any better. Finally, the man in the black suit asked for us to speak about the bride. My Aunt. In her shimmering white dress. With the long veil which had a few pink rose petals, evidence of her walk down the aisle. She beamed. She glowed. It was in her I saw a woman in love for the first time. Her mother, my grandmother spoke. In her matriarchal elegance, she turned to face the audience. Her perfectly coiffed grey hair grazed the top of her beautiful magenta dress. “My beautiful daughter is an artist at heart. She flourishes in anything creative, finds joy in the little things, and is an incredible mother,” compliments gushed forward from her classic red lips. My aunt mouthed thank you. I leaned forward on my toes and popped back on my heels. Clack, clack, clack. My mother’s long fingers reached for my hand. I needed to stop.
We all processed out of the church and followed the trail of colorful cars down the long hilled driveway. We merged onto the highway. I was relieved when we could start listening to the radio again. Rain began to pour down our windows. I jammed a stubby thumb on the window and raced the drops of water down, down, down. A pop song about love filled the car and I began to wonder what life would be like once I got married. I would have a long veil just like my aunt. My gaze darted down to my shoes as I decided I would wear real high heels at my wedding. Like the one my grandmother wore. A smile crossed my face as I began to doze in the backseat. “We’re here,” announced my mother. We unpiled ourselves from the car. The backyard was much warmer than the mountain top and as we weaved into my grandmother’s home, extended family rushed Tasha and I. They gave perfumed hugs, lipstick filled kisses, and picked us up so we could feel their scratchy beards on our velvet cheeks.
Eventually, we were free to run into the backyard where Tasha and I made a beeline for the tree house. In our fancy dresses and perfectly white shoes, we climbed the worn rope ladder up the oak tree. Our cousins waited for us and we all rushed to the windows to peer out at the adults below. They rushed around with wine filled goblets and swarmed my aunt like moths drawn to a single porch light. They bobbed in and out of her orbit in a kind of dance. The garden was in full bloom behind my aunt. A sea of rose buds surrounded her. She looked like Venus in that famous painting my mother took us to see a replica of. Instead of cupids, she had birds and butterflies to create a crown around her. “Here,” Lily held out a wine glass filled with water for me. My mouth closed and I blushed with embarrassment. We all clinked our cups and pretended to be fancy while sitting cross legged on the scratchy wood floor.
The Birthday Bash
The garden is the site of my uncle’s 50th birthday bash. 50. That feels old. I mean technically, not that old. “Given the fact that people live well into their 80s these days, I wouldn’t fret too much,” comforted my mother when I raised the question of mortality. We piled into the grey minivan and cranked on the AC as high as it would go. My uncle was born on June 30th so my grandmother planned a birthday/4th of July bash. We waited in traffic for ages. My sweat filled face searched for the best place to crane towards a little more breze. “This isn’t working,” huffed my mother as she tugged on the tiny spaghetti strap of her sundress which was falling off her shoulder. She turned off the AC and opened all the windows. I leaned my face out like a dog. The orchestra of beeps and honks from annoyed drivers along with the passive aggressive rush of traffic on the other side of the highway lulled me into a sense of exhaustion. The heat did not help. I pulled out my compact from my little black purse bought by my grandmother. In the tiny hand held mirror I stared in horrified amazement at the make up literally melting off my face. Desperately, I reached for my lip gloss and applied another coat. Strands of my long black, hair clung to it instantaneously. I blew raspberries out angrily.
We finally arrived at my grandmother’s house. I teetered up the long driveway in my very high red heels. I smoothed out my tiny black pencil skirt and adjusted my newly found cleavage before I entered the kitchen. Relatives swarmed us like ants on a picnic. However, I had discovered a new weapon and offered kisses on the cheek, “Just like the French,” praising my grandfather. His prickly face smells like cologne. I brush him off while heading for the white French door leading to the backyard. Outside is a picnic table covered in deviled eggs, crudites, and cold cans of soda. I load up a red plate with lots of goodies. Tasha trails behind me. She picks plain crackers and little wedges of cheese. We sit silently next to one another on a few lawn chairs. Our cousins toss bean bags in the yard, hollering at each other. “Hey, look,” says my sister. She had positioned an apple slice on her top lips and pursed her lips in a duck face so the apple is a big, red mustache. She giggles. The apple falls and I roll my eyes while whipping out my cell phone. It’s 12pm. I told Marcos I’d call him at 4pm. It can’t come fast enough.
My uncle and his father exit the kitchen side by side holding large platters of raw meat. They stroll over to the BBQ, chattering. I watch as they discuss temperatures and seasonings before they expertly toss the meat on the grill. My mother approaches Tasha and I with hugs. Tasha asks if she can have a soda. Cracker crumbs cover her little mouth which elicits more eye rolling on my part. I take a long, dramatic drink of my cola. “Of course you can have a soda,” my mother says while looking at me. She takes my sister’s seat, “Put that phone away. We’re at your grandparents’.”
“Why?” I ask. The phone feels hot and heavy in my hand. “We’re here like all the time,” I complain.
“Not all the time, now put it away,” responds my mother. The look in her emerald eyes means the conversation is over so I stand, toss my plate in the black trash can, and tuck my phone in my purse. I dramatically pick it up and walk across the pristine, green lawn to the garden. There is a stone path, lovingly set by my grandfather, which cuts down the center of the garden. I am greeted by bold pink and white tulips. Their waxy petals are enticing. A plastic, ruby red press on the nail falls off when I try to stroke one. A blush the color of the roses that follow fills my cheeks. The roses perfume the air with a romantic day dream filled scent. I lean down, imagining myself in a movie. A tall, handsome man in a suit will wrap his arms around me. We will admire my handi work together. “There’s a lot of work your grandmother puts into this place,” says a deep voice. Startled, I gasp and face my grandfather. His face is worn like leather and full of laugh lines. I dramatically raise my hand to shade my eyes. “Come on,” he says and he leads me around the garden. He shows me the cucumbers and the carrots. I recognize the veiny vine of watermelon. His voice is full of excitement and pride. I glance back at my sister as my stomach rumbles. “Um, Grandpa, can we just like, go eat?” I ask as my uncle calls everyone to the table. Grandpa smiles and kisses the crown of my head. We leave the garden behind.
I take a seat next to my mother. She is discussing school with my cousins. They’re sitting in a circle underneath the shade of the big oak tree. The one the tree house used to be. “Do you kids remember climbing up there?” asks my mother. Everyone looks up while I roll my eyes and sneak a peek at my phone. It’s 1:15. “What’s so important there?” inquires my aunt. She takes a bite of her cheeseburger. A hint of ketchup lingers on her lip. Phillip wipes it away. I blush and shove my phone away. “Oh,” responds my mother, “She’s just obsessed with her new boyfriend.”
“Mom!” I exclaim and feel humiliation fill my heart.
“Wanna see a picture?” demands my mother. She has placed her plate on the grass and is reaching for her purse. She whips out a worn out photo of Marcus and me from his homecoming dance. I am wearing a long, red, strapless dress that we bought in Cancun the year before and heeled sandals. Marcus has on a black suit, white dress shirt, and cyan colored tie. My relatives ooh and aah over the photo. I stare at the garden as tears fill my eyes. My lip burns with pain as I bite down and taste iron. I toss my plate on the grass and stand. Relatives surround me demanding to know if I’m ok. My mother calls my name and I ignore her. I tear through the living room to the guest bathroom and dab water on my cheeks. My mascara is running. My eye liner which I carefully applied this morning is smudged and runny. I dry my hands on the powder blue towel and take a deep breath. Out of the corner of my eye, through the little bathroom window, I see my grandfather in the garden.
The garden is cold and grey. It is covered in a soft winter blanket that hangs on the brown leaves of my rose bushes. I stand in a sea of black. The faces around me are haunted like Halloween masks. They have deep bruises underneath their eyes and when I reach for my mother’s hand, it’s trembling. I take a deep breath. My aunt conducts all of us as we discuss the mountain of a man my grandfather was. My relatives take turns sharing stories. Their words crash against me like a raging sea. My own heartbeat rises with each person. Eventually, we break for food. Tasha loads up her blue plate with crackers and cheese before we take a seat on the living room floor. “Hey, look,” she taps me on the shoulder. I see my sister with a red, apple mustache and we giggle. A few tears escape our eyes. I don’t eat much, just push my food around. Tasha nibbles half heartedly. I decide I need some space and weave through the kitchen to the back door.
The air is cold and shocks my hot skin. Some part of my soul leads me down the porch and out to the garden. My arms wrap around the rough skin of the tree as I stare up at the shell that remains of our tree house. A graveyard of dead leaves peaks out beneath the dusting of Jack Frost. I decide that even mother nature is sad today. My black heels clack, clack, clack on the stone path. The tulips are hidden in a warm, dense, blanket of earth. The leaves of the rose bushes look green and cruel without their beautiful flowers. I lean down and imagine their perfume. Brisk snow tickles my button nose. I glance down the path to where I know the cucumbers will go. To the future home of the carrots and the watermelon. My legs fold underneath me and I sit on the cold stone of the cold garden. The one my grandmother and grandfather built over their six decades in this home. When I raise my head I imagine the laughter that filled this yard during barbecues and backyard camping nights. “I promise to visit her once a month, Grandpa. Granny will never be alone. I promise,” I whisper in the shelter of the garden.