I. PRELUDE TO THE AFTERMATH
There’s a piece of writing advice out there that <I think> is well known. Something like: Get out of your way. I say this to myself whenever the pronoun at the beginning of this sentence starts cropping up too much in my writing. All the I/me/my’s, <example> in my opinion, personalize thoughts and experiences in a way that relegate them to the idiosyncratic rather than the relatable. Maybe this is why there aren’t more renowned or celebrated female writers–women are more likely to use tentative speech, which includes semantic inserts that, perhaps, paint their personal pictures of the world for the reader rather than the way the world “is,” I mean, I think, in my opinion, it seems that way, at least, if that makes sense.
Apparently, I’m very much a woman writing right now–one not taking right writing advice because the entire preceding paragraph was a qualifier for a very large insertion of self right up front, which is to follow. But <qualifier>, it’s just <qualifier> for context. Anyway:
I could call the summer strange in the harbinger-of-change way, since change upsets normalcy, which can be strange. It has been that. But for most of the other people involved in the SS, those have been life-cycle changes. A lot of marriage and moving. Mostly moving. And when change takes place at the time of life it’s supposed to, it’s re-normalized <exception: puberty, which is thanklessly awkward for all>. The oddity of the summer has been a change asynchronous to my stage of life, i.e. legitimate strangeness. In attempted succinctness, I did a reverse-lookup for the condition but the internet returned only baby name sites. I guess there is no one-word equivalent to parent-as-orphan, which is to say: I spent the summer as a childless young adult. After four.5 straight years of parenting: Strange. (1)
The period June 2nd to August 16th, which begins and ends at an airport, is the Strange Summer. These are the events of that summer as told by an asynchronously single, childless, young adult female.
II. GOING TO THE CHAPEL
It’s Thursday of the above-noted date in June. I’ve put in a partial work day–that word “work” which, when mentioned passingly in response to casual inquiries about the day, life, and weather always evokes a confounded brow. ”Explain to me what you do again? I mean, like, in an actual day. What do you do in a day?” But nevermind that. I’m fielding these questions at a rehearsal dinner in an ensemble plucked from Tuesday’s laundry <summer perspiration levels have not yet interdicted such recycling>
while knocking back liquid relief as remedy to the most recent in an endless series of manufactured emergencies and exigencies, all of which merit the designation, “middle class problems.”
I’ve arrived at the place-needing-remedy by car and by anger. Anger forged in that car <spurious relationship> from traveling in fits of exasperated silence with Former Spouse and Child to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, from whence the summer seems to have begun. In less than 24 hours, Former will return sans child in time, theoretically, for the wedding. This is part of The Plan, which probably ought to be called The Immoderate Orchestration to Secure Timely Childcare and Validate Everyone’s Sense of Entitlement to a Schedule of Events Consistent with Their Own Preferences and Obligations. Or maybe just, The Product of Suboptimal Planning. The IOSTC&VESoEtaSECw/TOP&O is as difficult to describe compellingly as it is to acronymize. But, diagrammatically, it is as follows:
PREEMPTORY SIDEBAR OF NEUROTIC PARENTAL INTERLUDE
Maybe a more entertaining entree is 10 nights prior which would put us in Daughter’s bedroom where I catch her white-dressed and red-handed playing wedding. <Or maybe I have generalized parent guilt about farming out her care, guilt for which referencing her is remedial. But maybe actually, I just miss my kid and find her inclusion in stories anodyne. And/or maybe also I, like most parents, have the disease that deludes you into thinking that the antics of your child are of general comic appeal (e.g. public verbal improprieties) or are otherwise objectively adorable (e.g. anytime your kid falls asleep anywhere, esp. if from exhaustion such that the resulting collapse leaves the kid in a position that looks like her head’s about to fall off, thus necessitating a picture). If you are not sympathetic to this disorder, you can save yourself a minute of indifference by glossing over the following exchange.> In fact, forget it. Neither of us–you or me–care by this point. Let’s consider it an outtake you can see if you choose to stick around until the end of the film. (2)
Suddenly, I’m sitting in a modified Lazy-Boy with my feet soaking in a jet tub, the side of which a woman of Korean origin is tapping to get my attention. This is a proverbial finger-snapping, anybody home, pay attention kind of maneuver that effectively reorients me to the present moment, which I’ve inadvertently left to process my childless state and the events of last evening’s rehearsal dinner.
To be honest, the psychic departure isn’t all that inadvertent. It’s more of a coping mechanism for felt awkwardness. The Lazy-Boy of note is my throne in a manicure/pedicure salon run entirely by women for whom English is not a native tongue. Though they do maintain a repertoire of key phrases related to their services–delivery of, payment for–and their clients’ marital status/prospects.
This is part of the prenuptial beautification process required of women involved in wedding theatrics. Today we will eat salad and fruit, drink only those liquids that do not stain our teeth, have the nails of our digits filed and polished, the skin around them softened and massaged, our hair piled onto to our heads in fashions requiring a surfeit of bobby pins, our makeup applied for stage lighting, and so forth. By contrast, the groom and his merry men are golfing and otherwise killing time. Later, in a veritable closet behind the chapel, they’ll sit drinking Shiner and playing poker, the echoes of their clanking chips and boisterous laughter occasionally drifting up to the spacious loft at the chapel afforded to us for wardrobing by virtue of our gender.
Here at Signature Nails, I’ve chosen the Hot-Stone Spa Pedicure because the description said that I must, but also for its promise to maximize my skin’s softness potential. I’m also keen to understand how the experience of someone rubbing my skin with hot rocks will “ease away [my] tension and melt away [my] stress,” though this will turn out to be a mistake. My arms are filled with an Ozarka 2-liter, an oversized coffee, keys, a wallet, a cellular, and some papers, making for clumsy navigation as I hurl myself and my carry-ons into the throne of relaxation. The woman directing my movements pulls from the right armrest a 3″ x 3″ ish plywood polygon for the precarious situation of my wares that’s something like those stow-able writing surfaces that accompany seats in stadium-style college classrooms. Ever-protective of my coffee, I manage not to upset only it over the duration of this pamperfest–everything else falls or is knocked over a number of times that I do not keep count of because I am both be-mitted (paraffin hand wax) and embarrassed to have the nail tech continually restore my clutter to the makeshift table.
I’m not sure how the interaction is supposed to proceed in this situation. The nail tech doesn’t speak English, so we kind of smile at each other now and then for no clear reason, by which I think I mean to communicate something like, “I’m sorry.” I can’t make out whether I’m complicit in her inferred indentured servitude and position in the American stratification system, and also I still have a headache because I can’t drink my water or my coffee under the circumstances (3), so I try not to think about the ethics at play here. The search for distraction results in the use of my elbow to navigate the touchscreen on my phone in order to revisit the insights from the rehearsal dinner recorded care of my opposable thumbs on the notes app. It’s actually a series of inquiries directed to our waiter, Carlos. I have this habit of scripting what I’m going to say sometimes to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of having to be spontaneously witty or otherwise precise in my off-the-cuff verbalizations.
Dear Carlos, Should I be afraid to order seafood in Central Texas? I’m kinda into the description on this picatta, but I have some reservations related to its freshness in light of our landlocked locale. Like, how far did this filet travel? It had to be frozen, right?
Carlos, The groom says this is a Pacific fish. Do you have anything local?
Nevermind, Carlos, I can see you’re tied up. Tell tale sweat on the brow. And I am low-maintenance. Looooww maintence. I’ll go with the tortellini. Be cool, Carlos.
Carlos, Hey man. Could you put that low-maintenance dressing on the side? Thanks!
Dear Carlos, Did you guys know that the lighting in the bathroom is different from the lighting in the dining area?
Hi Carlos! What’s up with the water to wine ratio and whose favor is this in exactly?
Carlos, do you experience feelings of nominal dissonance over working in an Italian restaurant? Have you considered assuming an Italian nom de guerre like Carlo?
Carlo, why is the man behind the bar pouring box-wine into wine bottles? I see him, Carlos, and I am not deceived.
Carlo, Can I call you Charlie? Charles. Chuck.
Chas, the gang and I were talking and we think it’s not your fault about the food coming out at different times or anything. And, like, who needs to eat salad before the entree? I mean, the Romans, they ate it after the main course. Better for digestion. And this place is Italian! Look, I snagged you a drink ticket as a peace offering.
Hey Carlo, hey it’s cool if you’re not gonna use that ticket and all but if not, can I hav it back? They movde the bag with the red tickets and everyone else is out or withholding.
[Tap, tap, tap] And I’m smiling again, although I sense a physical delay between the neurological command that instructs my face to move and the actual upturn of my mouth’s corners. I’m sorry. At this mechanical prompting, I’m sucked back into the internal debate about whether, how, and to what extent I’m dehumanizing the nail tech by my commercial endorsement of this interaction. I try to reason that objectification of people doing this work is necessary if you’re going to enjoy or even just allow a stranger to do what is otherwise an intimate set of things to your body (4). By now, I’m feeling too guilty about it all to tell her that the hot stones she’s using on my calves are too hot until they’re actually burning my skin, at which point my reflexes supersede my ability to suffer through the hot stone massage penitentially, and I nearly kick her in the face. Something about this draws my attention to the fact that she (and all the other workers in view) is wearing a surgical mask and gloves, which makes me feel mutually dehumanized, thereby slightly offsetting my guilt.
In a 30-second whirlwind of green nail-polishing followed by a final series of taps, the nail tech sends me to the drying table–an apparatus with table -top and -under dryers where the freshly polished place their hands and feet to expedite the drying–and disinfects my former space.
Here at the table, I’m reunited with a group of bridesmaids, wives, and girlfriends also undergoing the requisite prenuptial prim. And soon the Bridesmaids’ Chief of Staff joins us, too. She’s wearing an expression meant to pass for a smile but isn’t. It’s the product, she shares with the group, of the sole verbal exchange of her manicure–a swapping of interrogatives with the manicurist, who points to her vacant ring finger, “What happened?” “Huh?” “Where’s your husband?” “I, uh–huh?” She is, after all, 25 now. The surrounding women take this as a cue to chime in with their stories of similar relationship status probes at disparate nail salons, which sufficiently rounds off the 1950s time warp feel.
Given this brief stint at the table with the use of my hands reinstated, I’m feeling sufficiently dried and caffeinated. In the medieval manner of Catholic indulgences, I make a final attempt at atonement by overtipping for the services rendered and head to my oven of a car. Team Wedding has decided to break for an interlude of revitalization in the form of locating the hotel and finally-taking-a-shower. Or that’s my prime directive. It seems redundant and rude to wash anything below my knees in light of the morning’s honey-sugar-sand exfoliation, but the top half of me is stale from a showerless period of length undisclosed. So I communicate a telepathic apology to my legs and their aesthetician and bathe for the greater good.
Somehow this takes 3 hours. But in reaching the dressing suite at the chapel, consumption of non-staining liquids already-in-progress, this seems unnoticed. The absence of any passive aggressive communique about my inability to read a watch suggests I’ve been unproblematically de-prioritized in the styling and preparatory queue. Which is unproblematically fine except that it leaves me momentarily aimless in beauty school purgatory–air-dried hair and unpainted face, I’m consciously avoiding the wall to wall mirrors, which basically means I’m staring at my feet. I’m all too relieved when K, the roving hair-stylist, is “ready for me.”
Anyway, there turns out to be ample time for hairstyling and the application of product with which K is volumizing my hair to Texas-sized proportions. I can’t see it yet because she has me turned away from the mirror while she teases it with Big Sexy Hair (these are the technical terms). I can’t see it, but it feels big. I’m angling for eye contact with someone else in the room for outside reaction to what’s happening on my head. We’re nearing the completion of the “up ‘do” <a seemingly impossible feat for hair that is 2″ in length all around> with its characteristic chair spin, viola! finale where the ‘do recipient is finally shown her reflection, and so I’m hoping for a look that will clue me into what to expect. What I really need is preparation for the on-the-spot response to K’s inevitable, “What’d’ya think?” But the spin is in motion and– there it is, my Big Sexy Texy Hair. I manage an ambiguous remark meant to signal thanks but left open to interpretation in terms of satisfaction with the actual outcome.
A lengthy period of final aesthetic preparation ensues. It’s filled with all of the expected sentimental moments that are unmoving to strangers of the bride, and that for that reason I’ll avoid adulterating by chronicling. Eventually, someone herds the bridal party out of a back door and into a bathroom outside the chapel entrance where we stand in wait for our processional cue, and where also we collectively attempt to ply the ringbearer with promises of sweets and praise if he’ll just please do his job and get the ring to the groom quietly and with a smile or without a grimace and pretty please don’t be a prat. Before I know it, I’m mid-aisle focusing very hard on a seamless 6″-heel trek and the maintenance of posture <the simultaneous patting of head and rubbing of tummy>. This is known as gliding.
The ceremony is, as they say, lovely. The flower girl spreads her fertility symbols in the prescribed few-and-far-between manner. The bride descends the stairs from the dressing suite without falling and processes gracefully down the aisle. The cousin performs an acoustic guitar number such that no one has to lie when they compliment him on it afterward. The sister-as-reader is laudable in her elocution. The officiant, at the recommendation of bridal party members well-versed in traditional southern culture <”you know more than half these people are from East Texas, right?”>, has removed the racy existentialist bits* from his remarks.
<* Former opener: ”Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether or not to kill ourselves…”>
The ring bearer eventually shuts up.*
<*Sigh. A known hazard–he’s vocally antagonistic toward his role in the ceremony before and during. But a series of death stares from the bridal party seems to super-hero-style silence the villainous attempt at appropriating the audience’s attention. Like how Ursala takes Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid, except if Ursala was the heroine.>
And by the end there are no audible gasps when the couple is pronounced as official bearing the same names they entered into this fray with.
We pass an hour doing post-nuptial photos in various scenic spots and artsy poses. This includes a series on a grassy slope between the chapel and reception hall, where the photographer staggers the bridesmaids variously as background to the bride. It’s obvious that he–the photographer–has limited experience in high heels on yielding surfaces. The bridesmaids can manage only about 5 seconds before the veritable quicksand under their shoes renders them Leaning Towers of Pisa and disrupts the symmetry of the photo’s composition. We’re soon dismissed to the reception for noncompliance.
Personally, colored-liquid ban lifted, I’m ready to recept. The crowd is still in the early and polite phase: guests are seated and sipping White Zin, discussing the lovely ceremony, being highly appropriate and amicable. Those of us assigned to Table 2 follow suit and maintain decorum defaulting to various conversational exchanges about the lovely reception and its guests. Among them is an unknown figure who looks remarkably like James Lipton with his slicked-back receding brown hair and who is inexplicably busy darting around the room. His oddity is exceptional to the setting and consequently magnetic: he’s clad in all-black like a stagehand in a theatre, but his ensemble is offset by “formal” flourishes that include black platforms and a trenchcoat-like jacket. For context, it’s helpful to remember that it’s the year 2011. It’s not until I get within spitting distance that I realize he’s also wearing a mic’d headset and carrying a handheld video-device. This must be Peter, Peter the Motivator.
Peter the Motivator (official name) is the emcee for the reception. I didn’t see his credentials personally, but I was told that he has an impressive curriculum vitae in Group Event Motivation. And as the night goes on, he really does show his feathers with such dance favorites as “Love Shack” and “The Macarena,” which cause guests to rush the dance floor to engage in much White Dancing and Sassy Face-Making (5). Admittedly, though, I’m a little peeved with Pete. I submitted a lengthy song list at the request of the bride, and there are noticeable omissions from the current playlist, e.g. “Like a Virgin” and “White Wedding.” It’s apparent that Mr. Motivation does not appreciate the nuance of my humor. Nevertheless, Peter works the crowd from lovely to conga-lining around the building and so gets a pass.
It’s possible that I am likewise failing to appreciate some of his motivational finesse if it’s being flossed during the periodic absences from the reception required by my bridal duties. Like right now, I’m standing in the parking lot, and Peter could be pulling off the grand finale right now. What’s happened is that there’s been a miscommunication regarding decoration of the couple’s vehicle, and as a result all relevant parties believed that other relevant parties were charged with procuring the materials to do so. In a light bulb of a moment earlier in the evening where I fancied myself clever and friendly with the bartenders, I asked them to save us some empty cans, thereby filling the need for Objects to Tie to the Newlyweds’ Car.
Now we’ve got a trashbag, minimum, of cans with beer dregs but are still mulling over the starkest oversight–the shoe polish. A liaison from the reception has been sent to give us the two-minute warning. With the pressure on, it has become apparent that the only recourse is to exploit the bridesmaids’ makeup supply for writing implements. Lipsticks and liners in hand, the groomsmen have taken to hurriedly sketching phallic symbols on the windows replete with illegible references to sex, female anatomy, and prophylactics. Meanwhile, I’m frantically ripping apart various lengths of ribbon with which the bridesmaids are securing the cans to the car. <Unlike the hot-stone massage, this doesn’t seem to hurt at the time. Like the hot-stone massage, it will leave lesions on my skin whose source is not immediately clear when I wake up the next morning.>
When the bride and groom’s departure can no longer be delayed, we settle for the number of cans and penises on the car and scurry back to the reception hall to collect our bubbles for blowing at the couple during their exit. Perhaps it’s all the bubbles in the air and the cheering and this excellent post-reception lighting, but things are getting a little hazy out here. Peter, is that you in the background? I think Peter’s directing this farewell with a portable speaker system attached to his belt like a middle-aged man would do a cell phone. I don’t know how exuberant to be with this send off since, aren’t we planning to hot tub, all of us, with the bride and groom back at Hotel Honeymoon? Ah, to hell with it; there’s feel-goodery in surplus: Good-bye! Adieu! Good luck! Congratulations! We watch them drive off into the dark Texas country, and for a moment, a wistful feeling settles on those of us who remain in the bubble shower. A minute later, having taken off in the wrong direction, we hear the rattle of the trailing cans as the couple passes by again now headed west. With that, the wistful spell is broken and all present determine to reconvene at Room 218.
The order of the remaining series of events I piece together in the morning after fog from a combination of memory and hearsay and may not be important anyway. I can tell you that a woman named something like Wendy or Dorothy of 40 some odd years and an inability to read social cues joins the wedding party after meeting one of its members in the hotel bar. I can tell you that numerous fire codes pertaining to occupancy and various other hotel ordinances are violated throughout the night in Room 218. Various competitions prompting displays of masculinity and howls from spectators. Various bottles upended, spotting the carpet and staining the ne’er-to-be-worn-again dresses of bridesmaids.
I can tell you that I spend an extended period of time in the men’s restroom of the hotel lobby with Former, who I follow in there with the aim of extinguishing an argument of unknown origin/substance–a bathroom argument guest-starring such wedding personalities as Father of the Bride and Friend of Father of the Bride. I can tell you that this continues into the bathroom of Room 218 amid a sea of oblivious after-partiers <preference for discussion in bathrooms: unknown>. I can also tell you that this argument goes unresolved because of its inherently unresolvable nature, but that a truce is formed the next morning for the greater good known as dealing with the bacchanalian state of the hotel room <hint: amass bribe for housekeeping pinned with note of contrition under bottle on dresser>, getting my wedding date to the airport, and drowning our emoto-physio-hangovers in bacon cheese fries.
The closing ceremony to this affair is a double-feature which includes the summer hit Bridesmaids. Watching it serves the dual function of processing something relevant and doing nothing at all. The next 2 weeks I spend wallowing in exhaustion– sleeping and waking at odd hours in the way that I imagine addicts do when going through withdrawals and recovery and so forth. It’s almost like I’ve been sleep-deprived for 4.5 years. Two weeks of this and then the temporary return of my child, but not my parenting. Two weeks and then a month of mom. My mom.
TBC: STRANGE SUMMER, PT. 2
—QUALIFIERS, ASIDES, & OUTTAKES—
(1) Which, whenever I tell anybody about my summer-as-anomaly, I always feel compelled to include the fact that I saw 10 movies. In the theatre. It might even have been 12. This is a lot, right? I’m not completely certain that this is a lot, since the last movie I saw in the theatre was Titanic <Yes, I cried. Don’t ask about this. I didn’t mean to; I just felt like I was supposed to. It’s a different story from the category “Real Life Dramatizations Based on Postmodern Prototypes.”> But when I say it out loud, I have the impression of bragging to myself. So I think it’s a lot.
(2) [Sometime in late May before bedtime]
Daughter: Umm, mom, you might want to shut this door because I’m going to have a baby and I’m gong to marry…
<One wonders about her choice of syntactical order here.>
…and you don’t want to see us kissing.
[With attempted neutrality so as not to undercut her play, but so as also not to endorse the idea that marriage is a fairy-tale that this 4-year-old female out to be emphasizing. Or the idea that she should be kissing.]
ap: Can I brush your hair?
D: No ’cause I’m s’posed to leave it curly for when I marry.
She’s evidently not immune to the wedding hysteria sweeping our small community of friends in recent months. It would be difficult to remain aloof with a mother in the wedding party, the betrothed couple living next door, and all the other immediate neighbors involved somehow or other.
ap: Who are you marrying?
“Bellarana.” A deviation from the recently favored “Curlatta.” Don’t worry, the ambiguity of Bellarana’s gender will be resolved shortly.
D: I even have a kid to put the petals on the ground.
This, a jab at her adult handlers for arranging to sequester her with Grammy in another state for a period that includes the wedding. Two weddings worth of experience as flower girl, and she’s feeling entitled to the position. Only Children. Pft.
[To her imagined bridal party.]
D: Bridesmaids, shut the door so you don’t see his penis.*
[Coy look askance at me.]
And we’re done.
* She knows the correct anatomical words for a variety of body parts by gender. Her teachers seemed concerned about this until they realized her parents weren’t. Nevertheless, it’s unclear how or why she’s aware that this particular organ has anything to do with wedding ceremonies.
(3) Actually, I can drink my coffee. Imagine a lobster using both claws to pick-up the cup.
(4) For reference, think about the dialogues over foot-rubbing in Pulp Fiction.
(5) and whereupon this White-Sassy-Dance-Faced enthusiast got a little carried away in a flurry of boogie, woogie, woogie/ Dale-a-tu-cuerpo-alegria-Macarena/ slide to left, slide to the right, criss-cross! everybody clap your hands/ to the hip hop the hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop, a rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat…and cupid shuffled, electric slid right onto the foot of a guest, and whereupon said guest hobbled off the dance floor on the shoulders of friends and smiling through pain, laughing at the rain explained that no, it’s cool, she was just about to leave anyway, and no, it’s fine, really, and yes, she can drive, no, she’ll just use the other foot, and no, really it’s fine, it’s hardly even bleeding, but thanks I’m ok. I’m told it was nearly healed 2 weeks later. Good as new.