It wasn't until I raised my champagne flute in front of crowd of 150 that it hit me: My best friend was married.
It was as if in an instant, she'd morphed from the 17-year-old I met during Freshman orientation to a wholly actualized adult. You know how in Greek mythology goddesses are born fully grown by straight busting out of Zeus' dome? It was like that.
The entire day I'd been fine. Watching Dee get her hair did, sliding her into her dress, even fixing her train before she walked back down the aisle a married lady didn't squeeze out more than a million bright smiles from me. More than half the crowd was in tears during the ceremony, but I kept my game face on.
"I've got ice in my veins," I announced while we gathered under a tree for pictures as groomsmen and bridesmaids traded "who broke down first" stories. One girl claimed she had allergies. "The wedding was inside though," someone pointed out. Maybe it was the bouquet? None of us wanted to be the weak link because getting understandably emotional about a major accomplishment in your good friend's life isn't what the cool kids are into these days. Plus, makeup.
It was a perfect storm that sent me overboard. After being cut off from the outside world in the bride bubble all day I finally spotted my boyfriend in the crowd at the tail end of the cocktail hour. He smiled at me and whispered, "You look amazing." A go-to phrase for most men that nonetheless did me in.
We all looked amazing, and happy and tipsy and triumphant. Blame feminism, Facebook or fervent apathy, but too often the road signs pointing to this grown-up life get bulldozed by endless traffic. Graduation, first apartments, promotions zip by just briefly in the fast moving information coming at us about our friends. There's no time to process any change in course as we all speed on. You see someone got married, divorced, had a baby or bought a dog. You take a look through their photo album and think to yourself, "That's cool," and that's it.
But when I stood up beside my friend searching for the words I'd prepared beforehand, just one look messed me up. I turned to her and her new husband and remembered that it wasn't always like this. We hadn't just popped out of someone's head fully grown. We weren't born adults out of college, or after that first real job or even after the first time we paid a bill without wincing. We were the sum of all those things and were still adding more.
"I'm so very proud of the woman you've become," I said, going off the cuff from my planned speech, which was riddled with heartwarming jokes about the two broke girls in Manhattan we once were.
I meant it. I was proud. Of her. Of me. Of the entire state of New York in that moment. An early onset curmudgeon by trade, the fact that my insides could be stuffed with so many warm and fuzzies surprised even me. And you're reading the words of the "Chubby Bunny" champion of every summer camp ever. I was filled up to the brim, and that's when the tears came.
Before I could become a sobbing maid of honor cliche I called cut with a "Here's to the bride and groom" and floated back to my seat. The rest of the night was a blur of more champagne, silly photo booth pictures and sparklers.
The scary part about getting older is the idea that all the good stuff already happened. That the rest of the birthdays after 30 are just heavy stones to add to the duffle bag somebody dumps you in the river in. And not more gas in your jet pack to awesome. I don't know why we think this.
I planned on feeling a little sad, a little jealous and maybe even a little mad that my friend was now someone else's responsibility. But in the end all that was left after the sparklers hissed out in a bucket of water (safety first, people) was a glowing realization that instead of losing a sister-in-arms, I was gaining a lot of insight. That there is no finish line, or that the finish line keeps getting pushed back. We bust through the proverbial tape every few years, the confetti rains down, we take a breather and then start all over again.