I am dancing at my sister’s wedding reception.
When the party starts in the early evening -- still light out -- everything is lush and green. The salt water is making the cool air sticky. My glitzy gold heels keep sinking into the grass, so I take them off, and hold them while I talk and drink Scotch. The air is vibrating all around the small gathering. Don’t worry. It was doing that before the Scotch. Some guy I don’t know is wearing a hat that makes me think of Van Gogh. “Douche,” I say quietly -- but not with any real venom.
I spot my sister flitting around the tent and the grounds, her husband in hand. Her husband, my sister is married. For a minute a million different pictures of her dance before my eyes. I remember every fight we’ve ever had and the feel of her annoyingly pointy chin digging into the small of back. “My sister is married,” I say out loud. I feel giggles burbling up in my throat, but I swallow them down along with an ice-cube. There’s a big bruise in my throat now, but at least no one who happened to look over my way would see me and think I was insane.
My sister is married, and I am dancing at her wedding reception. Big, fat Junebugs ricochet off my head, bounce, bounce, bounce, buzz. I shouldn’t be so happy. I should be deeply uncomfortable. I am, after all, wearing a strapless bra and a dress that weighs roughly eighty pounds. My hair isn’t moving on my head thanks to the gallon of product holding my retro-waves in place. It looks nice but it feels terrible.
The top of my head is throbbing from where the hairdresser accidentally dug a comb into my scalp and lifted up half a mole. I’ve got a scab the size of a quarter there now. I’m scared to pick it in case my brains start to pop out. “It’s fine, I’m fine, oh don’t worry, I should have told you about it,” I say to the hairdresser. “You’re bleeding all over me,” she says. “Sorry,” I say. Angry Becca Bear rears up on her hind legs in my mind: “YOU STUPID ASSHOLE I HAVE HAD THAT MOLE MY ENTIRE LIFE AND THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE, YOU ARE LUCKY TO HAVE MY BLOOD COAT YOUR FINGERS. THAT’S A SACRED EXCHANGE.”
Instead I say nothing but “sorry,” and I watch my sister as she gets ready to marry the love of her life. I feel nervous for her, I see her tight, white, anxious mouth. It’s all going to happen so fast and then it will all be over, and the relief that will well up out of nowhere, that’s going to feel so tremendous. And it was and it is, and it did, and now I’m watching her, smiley and pink and married. I’m watching her and I’m watching everyone else, and I’m here, I’m seeing it all.
My dress is dragging a little bit on the dance floor. I’m shedding beads like a slutty snake or something. I kicked off my shoes a while ago. I don’t know if it was when I was carrying my sister’s veil up from the edges of the vineyard where the reception is being held, or if I left them by the rocking chairs where my two best friends in the world are sitting and calmly watching the night play out. I can’t tell what Alex is thinking when she wears her ridiculously thick sunglasses. Jesse’s Mona Lisa smile (that’s exactly what it is, I’m not being lazy) is a relief. I feel like I haven’t seen either them in a million years -- maybe ever?
“How you doing buddy?” Jesse asks. I roll my eyes the way a Maid of Honor is supposed to. But the truth is that It’s been a very good day.
Now I’m dancing. I don’t know what song is playing. I’m dancing with a guy. We’re dancing in that old-fashioned way, my right hand clutching his left and he applies pressure when he says certain words and for the first time in maybe my whole life I’m not inside my own head. Life isn’t a thing happening to me in a vacuum. There are other people here, and they are watching, and they are seeing. I do not leave the dance floor often. When I do it is for cake, or to flirt with the handsome out-of-towner who goes forth and returns to me with wine.
“He thinks I’m pretty,” I realize and I smile at him, trying to ignore the too-drunk-and-also-crazy party-goer who wants to tell me how brave I am for writing for a living. “Maybe I’m not brave,” I say, “maybe I’m just mentally ill and being impulsive.” That’s kind of a hard thing to respond to, so instead of talking we form a dance circle and I try not to regret losing sight of the nice guy with the wine. Not once do I feel ugly. Not once do I sing a song of how awful I am quietly to myself. It's so far from my mind that I only realize it now, upon writing it down. It was unexpected. It was great.
“On Sunday,” I said to my best friend Alex as she drove us from Brooklyn to Rhode Island the day before the wedding, “promise me we can stop at Cracker Barrel on the way home, and then get back, eat burgers, and watch Penny Dreadful?” She agreed over the strains of the Adam Green and Binki Shapiro track I’d played three times already. My lips were already chapped. I was nervous, I was edgy, I was not at my best. I was tired.
Alex knew all of this. It’s kind of a miracle that Alex is still my friend. I think she’s one of almost no people who have seen me at my actual worst and been, you know, relatively fine with it. When I got blackout drunk in college, threw up, and then rolled off of my bed into that throw-up, it was Alex’s voice I heard before the cheap vodka and shame and lack of consciousness overtook me: “Oh Becca....” She kind of demands thick skin of all her friends, and I feel like I got lucky: I’m the exception to the rule. I’m sensitive Becca. She’s the only person who can cosset me without making me feeling like I’m rotten, like I’m not good.
“You should dance,” I say to Alex, and to Jesse too. They both demur but by the end of the night we are all on the dance floor. My hand is squeezed by my partner. He’s a friend of my sister’s, a guy I’ve met a few times before but don’t know very well at all. I keep looking around and listening and thinking how strangely out of touch I’ve been with everything for so, so, so, long. Alex is shaking her tail-feathers, Jesse and her husband Justin dance together sweetly, even my mother has dragged my father back up to the dance floor. I never knew I came from a dancing family -- I guess I do. The song is ending.
“Thank you for dancing with me,” says my partner. I have a crazy impulse to cry and hug the guy. But I don’t do that. Instead, I just smile and say, “Thank you.”