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My family isn’t white trash but I was a fetus at the first wedding that the five of us attended. The shotgun ceremony between my father and our mother. My two older sisters and I have since reversed some of our Roseanne-karma with college educations and a palate for feta cheese but it didn’t help when my oldest sibling, Jillian, eloped in Las Vegas a few years ago. While I was elated to have a working punch line about my sister and brother-in-law being my very own Britney Spears and 55-hour-long-husband, my mother wasn’t as thrilled.
“What am I supposed to tell my coworkers? My customers?” my mom said, as TMZ blared on our living room television and a box of Rice-a-Roni simmered on the stove. “I work in a nice town, these people have money. I feel bad enough when I have to admit I shop at Dress Barn.”
Seeing as how they were already legally betrothed, Jillian and Scott didn’t need a legitimate justice of the peace to officiate the ceremony they later planned for all our relatives in New Jersey. So, they had me do it. I wasn’t exactly qualified to be presiding over this sort of thing, the source of writing something so sincere just about impossible to find for someone already wrinkled from scowling. The closest I’ve ever felt to love was with Mr. Ryan, my fourth grade music teacher, and that had more to do with the mystery of his khakied-mooseknuckle than anything else. Scrapping the sap, I drew on what Jillian and I have in common—Madonna and taking less than nothing seriously in life—and took some liberties.
“I, Scott,” I dictated to them. “Will cherish the thought of always having you here in my life. In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer, now just your voice can take me there. I, Jillian, will make him express how he feels ‘cause, baby, then you know your love is real. I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through, didn’t know how lost I was until I found you. Justify my love.”
Squirming all the while in their seats, our relatives left feeling either offended or confused—the usual par for my course. But whatever sense of tradition that Jillian’s wedding lacked was reclaimed the next year by our middle sister. Lindsay and Cody’s ceremony took place inside a church and I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the altar so my Romney-voting relatives were appeased. The rehearsal dinner was Halloween night and a few of Cody’s party-bound friends decided to come in costume.
“Lindsay,” I hissed, snatching her at the arm and drawing her close to my cheese platter perch. “Who’s that guy? The hot one. Over there. In the gorilla suit.”
Lindsay glanced over at my prospective primate, looked back at me with pity and said, “Yeah. He’s our most troubled friend.”
The most recent wedding that brought me to New Jersey was, clearly, not my own.
“117! My old exit!” my mom yelled, sticking her hands up through the sunroof as we drove south on the Garden State Parkway. “And my weight in the fifth grade!”
Scott’s sibling, Amy, was getting married. She’s my sister’s husband’s sister and though that sounds simultaneously distant and incestuous, I’ve known her and that family for most my life. The wedding was held in Freehold, the town where I grew up. I’ve slept on the court of a high school gymnasium in Spain and saw someone casually roll their eyes while getting fondled on the Paris metro but leaving New Jersey for New Hampshire in the eighth grade still takes the culture shock cake for me. But checking into a hotel that night in a town I hadn’t called home in almost ten years, I couldn’t tell if the pang I was feeling was just a habit.
Weddings, like most things, make me nervous. On the morning of both Jillian and Lindsay’s nuptials, there were knots in my stomach and heartbeats in my throat and hours spent ungratified on the toilet.
“Brian, do you need to shit?” I recall being asked by Lindsay, fully dressed in her gown, minutes away from the altar. “No? Okay, then calm the eff down!”
But as church became cocktail hour became reception, Amy’s wedding proved to be different. I wasn’t drinking any heavier than usual, the only abused substances being Cool Ranch Doritos and a bottle of Andre Spumante while I got ready in the hotel. If retribution truly exists, I should have felt like shit but as my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law and I sat down at our designated table, all I felt was there.
Besides the propensity to alcoholism on my dad’s side and the crippling repressive tendencies on my mom’s, the Burnses and Conways make for a good time. But now that my parents live in New Hampshire, my sisters moved in with their husbands and I went to college, it’s rare that the five of us ever get together without it being an extended family affair. And as much as I cherish the consistency of my Nana asking if I’m watching the latest season of American Idol, I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get used to my family not being just mine anymore.
“Okay, come on, all together, you three look so fricken beautiful,” our mother slurred at us on the dancefloor, holding her camera with one hand and her vodka-soda with the other. “For the Christmas card! This is my one chance! Beautiful, all of you! You’re welcome!”
“The booze-induced-Kristine-Burns-slack-jaw,” I lamented under my breath to Jill and Lindsay. “At least we know where we get it from.”
Happy tears pooling in our mom’s eyes, we gagged in harmony, took the camera out of her hands and dragged both parents onto the floor. “Don’t Stop Believin’” was playing and I didn’t hate it and I didn’t hate myself for not hating it. The night was almost over, most guests already wearing their coats and making their way out of the hall, but we formed a ring and kept dancing as Journey’s keyboard riffs soared around us. While it lasted, we were home.