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Sunday, April 1, 200-
This can't be true.
But, of course, it is. And I am, therefore, by various connections, alliances, and accidents, happy and not, for one reason or another, hereby obligated to attend seventeen weddings in the next six months.
How I've managed to avoid confronting such a state of affairs, what with save-the-date cards and engagement party announcements and solicitations for bridal shower gifts fluttering down on me for months, a blizzard of tastefully engraved handmade paper collecting in heavy cream-colored drifts around the apartment--well, it's a testament to something. My capacity for denial, probably.
See, most rituals I hate. Which is not to say that I'm not a creature of habit, because I am, in the most profound of ways; I am a walking antonym for spontaneity. This, however, should not be confused with an affection for ceremony, and particularly not for the wedding ceremony.
This afternoon was given over to one of the few rituals I don't mind: the biannual transfer of my upcoming social and professional appointments from many, many small scraps of paper to the laminated six-month calendar that I keep on the wall above my desk at work, and which I have dragged home for this purpose. It usually gives me a sort of thrill, a bracing sense of victory over the forces of chaos. Not today, though. Today my study became the site of a psychic massacre, as I plucked wedding invitation after wedding invitation from the piles of paper around my desk, and felt my anxiety mount in spectacularly direct proportion to the number of ceremonies I have promised to attend.
"Goddamn," I tell the air around my desk.
"Goddamn," I tell Francis, the elderly and long-suffering dachshund asleep on my left foot.
"Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn," I tell the nearby photographs of my mother, my father, and my younger brother, Josh, whose third, second, and first marriages, respectively, are among those requiring my attendance. I blow a kiss at the photo of my elder brother, James, who in addition to being gay is also a certified, off-the-chart commitment-phobe, and unlikely to get hitched any time soon. I'm very fond of James.
"Goddamn," I add one more time, loudly, for good measure.
"Oh, don't stop." Gabriel pokes his head into the study. "I love it when you talk dirty, Joy. Don't stop." He has smudges on his face and a feather duster in his back pocket.
"Are you aware that we have seventeen weddings to go to between now and mid-September?" I wave a handful of the offending invitations at him.
"I hadn't counted, but it makes sense." Gabe slouches against the door frame.
"Beg to differ. It's totally senseless."
"Probably just a by-product of everyone you know turning thirty. Same thing happened to me a couple of years ago."
"To this extent?"
"Well, no. Seventeen? No." Gabe shrugs. "Something like five in a year. Guess that's not quite the same, is it?"
"Hey, maybe someone dosed the national water supply." He laughs. "A nation of brides. You remember that Cheever story where there's a costume party, and people are supposed to dress as they wish they were, and all the women come in their wedding dresses, and all the men come in their old football uniforms?"
"Gabe, I'm going to throw up."
"Don't do that. The bathroom is spotless." He assumes the Olympic victory pose, chest thrust out, arms raised above his head. "And the kitchen. I even defrosted the freezer."
"Truly uncommon valor. May I take you out for dinner?"
"Hero sandwiches? Veal medallions? Army bratwurst?" Gabe has an unredeemable fondness for puns, and the more like blunt instruments they are, the more pleased with himself he becomes.
"Not if you keep that up."
"Anyway, it's Girls' Night," he says. On cue, the phone rings, and I pick up.
"Hello, Henry," I say into the receiver.
"Hello, smartass," she answers. Henry is my best friend. By the grace of whatever forces govern student housing, she was assigned as my roommate freshman year at college, and my life hasn't been the same since. Henry, or Hank, if you prefer, is short and shorter for Henrietta, god forgive her parents, who must have named her with some kind of eerie prescience about and totem against her magnificent beauty--though ostensibly it was after a great-grandmother. Henry: six feet, one inch in stockings, with a body that would make Sports Illustrated swimsuit models gnash their little capped teeth in envy. Bales of blonde hair, Aegean eyes, an elegant nose, just slightly and winsomely too small for her face. A faint Louisiana accent, which she trots out at full strength for special occasions. Et cetera. And, to the everlasting chagrin of red-blooded boys worldwide, she's a lesbian.
"Want to meet me early for a drink?" Henry asks.
"That's my girl!" she yells.
"I'll be there in half an hour." I hold the phone away from my ear.
"Give Pretty Boy my best," Henry says, and hangs up. Really, she likes Gabe well enough. And it's a fact that Gabe is possessed of those fine-boned, patrician good looks only minutely removed from overt prettiness by a square jaw and a jaunty, assured, I-just-finished-my-rowing-practice glow of testosterone. However, the first time we met, Hank introduced herself to me as, quote, swamp trash hauled dripping from the Louisiana bayou by a state scholarship fund and the kindness of strangers, unquote. So it's not a wild leap to say that class resentment may be the basis of a tiny grudge she bears my boyfriend, whose family, through absolutely no fault of his own, is listed in the Social Register.
"Hank sends her love," I tell Gabe, who is perched on the edge of my desk, flipping through the stack of invitations. "This is going to be a season in hell."
"Nah, it'll be fine." He looks at my calendar. "Inconvenient, is all."
"And annoying. And expensive."
"Don't worry about that, Red. You can leave the wedding gifts to me. Just think of the dancing. We haven't gone dancing for months."
"Think of all the people asking when we plan to tie the knot."
"Opportunity for witty remarks." Gabe pushes his hair out of his eyes, languid and unperturbed. "Bon mot body building. We'll find so many different variations on 'when hell freezes over'."
"Thereby exposing ourselves to impertinent personal questions, peer pressure, and misguided ridicule."
"You're funny. Hey, I know what." Gabe snaps his fingers. "We'll make a documentary out of it."
"Lifestyles of the White and Foolish?"
"A sort of Wildlife Safari nature special. Mating Rituals of the American Upper-Middle Class. You can be the fearless anthropologist, and I'll be the trusty cinematographer." He hoists an imaginary camera onto his shoulder and zooms in on my face. "Here we see the intrepid Adventurer Silverman approaching that most dangerous of all connubial creatures, the mother of the bride. She's made contact! Note the Adventurer's mode of engagement here: downcast eyes, limp-wristed handshake, demure manner, all deployed to communicate passive acceptance of authority and avoid being set up with one of the bride's horrible medical student cousins." Gabe sets down the invisible camera. "In the end, I'll be attacked and devoured by a rabid band of bridesmaids and you'll have to forge on bravely without me. Ah, look at that. I got a smile."
"Gabe, you're an angel."
"I love you, too." He assumes the Olympic victory pose again. "So, will you do that swearing thing some more when you get back from dinner?"
Gabe and I met, as it happens, at a wedding.
It was the first I'd attended for one of my peers, and I went not so much out of affection for the couple as out of a slightly morbid curiosity. The invitation, issued by a semi-friend of mine from college, was printed in an ersatz Art Deco typeface; guests were instructed to dress for the occasion in "croquet formal." Thus I found myself, along with Henry and our friend Joan, on a brilliant afternoon in mid-September, in the nether regions of Long Island. We had traveled by rental car, getting lost twice, to an estate landscaped within an inch of its green life and featuring a built-to-order, very loosely Tudor-esque mansion. There we joined the crowds strewn across these rolling acres--several hundred guests attired in white and off-white and ivory, adorned with straw hats and fedoras and cunning chapeaux with little veils, endlessly refilling fluted glasses at the champagne fountains and picking over mile-long buffet tables. To me we looked like nothing so much as a herd of escapees from an insane asylum with a semiformal dress code.
In a show of good sportsmanship, my friends and I had bent to the sartorial dictates and arrayed ourselves in white tea dresses; bonhomie ended when the bride, who had majored in theater, attempted to recruit us for the post-ceremony croquet tournament. We retreated to a small table in the dappled shade of several old trees, where we had an excellent view of an eighteen-piece swing band performing under a white-canopied tent the size of a city block.
"We are one giant fashion faux pas," Joan said, sighing. "Three weeks past Labor Day, and nothing but white shoes as far as the eye can see."
"Sweetheart, you can hardly see the end of your cigarette." Henry patted Joan's shoulder. "There are champagne bubbles coming out your ears." Joan gave her a wicked grin, peered at the few drops of champagne remaining in her glass, and emptied them onto Henry's blonde coiffure. I heard a loud crack and watched a croquet ball roll by us.
"What country, friends, is this?" I asked.
"Who cares? Get a load of the natives." Joan nodded in the direction of the tent. "Hunk of burning love at twenty paces."
We looked. Walking toward us was a tall, slender man in a pale linen suit, carrying a pair of empty champagne glasses. His nearly black hair curled in a forelock that fell across long-lashed, dark blue eyes. His mouth looked like an overripe valentine. As he passed near our table, he saw the three of us staring and paused.
"A little more champagne?" The vision gathered up our glasses and headed off without waiting for an answer. We stared after him.
"Good God." Joan shook her head. "I could impale myself on those cheekbones and die happy."
"He's a prop," I told them. "He came with the floral arrangements."
"You really think a boy in a three-piece suit is playing for your team?" Henry asked. "That hunk of burning love is pure, one hundred percent USDA fairy. Big fag. Bet you money."
"He just hasn't found the right woman yet." Joan mock-sobbed, dabbing at her eyes with the hem of her dress.
"Nice undies," Henry said; Joan lifted her skirt higher, swishing it back and forth like a Moulin Rouge dancer.
"Steady, there," I told her. "The cheekbones are back."
The vision was nearing our table, managing five full champagne glasses with remarkable grace.
"Well, thanks." Henry's bayou accent made a surprise guest appearance. "That was sure nice of you."
"You're welcome." He had a furry, warm, tenor voice, and very white, slightly crooked teeth. I don't generally have an irrational weakness for male beauty, but the total effect of this young man made me want to wrap my arms around a stack of school books, swing back and forth, and dig the dainty toe of one saddle shoe into the gravel of a high school parking lot.
"And you are?" Joan raised her glass unsteadily.
"Gabe. Gabriel Winslow."
"Of course he is," Joan murmured to me.
"Charmed." Henry kicked Joan under the table. "I'm Hank, and this is Joan. And Joy."
Gabe nodded to them, and turned to me.
"Gesundheit," I told him, extending a cocktail napkin.
"Listen," Gabe said. "I have to deliver a glass of this swill to the mother of the groom. But I'll lose my mind if I have to hear any more stories about her brilliant son, so I need an alibi. That's where you come in."
Joan and Henry were grinning and bobbing like toy ducks in a carnival shooting gallery.
"You're taking the fate of your feet into your own hands," I said. Gabe laughed and offered me his arm.
"I promise to have her back before midnight." He gave the girls a little bow. As we walked toward the tent, I looked back over my shoulder and saw them doing their best Lenny and Squiggy impression: pelvis-thrusting, wrist-biting shimmies around the table.
Some of my friends say you can tell everything you need to know about a prospective beau from a kiss. I say dance with him. Gabriel deeply endeared himself to me in this way: After a couple of not too awkward turns around the floor, he stopped and smiled at me. I'm on the tall side, so our eyes were almost level.
"I think I know what our problem is." He pulled my right hand around to the small of his back. "You should be leading. I'll follow you."
Now let me be clear. This was not about gender politics, per se. What I liked about Gabe's gesture had to do with how it was unconscious, not a showy inversion of roles intended as comment on my character, or a demonstration of how profoundly comfortable he was with his masculinity. It simply meant nothing to him one way or another who did the leading, so long as the dancing was good. And as it happens, the dancing was good.
As the festivities drew to a close, Gabriel and I sat alone at a table under the big top, picking over the remains of what had been a very large slice of chocolate wedding cake and watching girls gather for the ceremonial toss of the bridal bouquet.
"Aren't you going to go fight the good fight?" Gabe nodded toward the lacy white mob knotting together on the dance floor.
"Ah," Gabe said. "You don't want to get married?" A funny half-smile dimpled his face.
"No. And specifically, no." I eyed him with suspicion, bracing myself for the usual queries, the predictable patient scorn, but they were not forthcoming.
"Never cared much for weddings myself." Gabe leaned back in his chair and looked intently at me. "Never saw the point of marriage, really."
Now, this exchange may not strike the average Jane as the quintessence of romance, but it was an aphrodisiac for me. Gabe and I stared at each other for a few long moments, during which I felt as though my chest were filling with helium. It was terribly cinematic. There was a thud behind us, and we turned to see that the bouquet had hit the floor. Several women dove for it. Gabe stood and held his hand out to me.
"Would you like to take a turn around the grounds and discuss the possibility of forming an allergen-free colony with me?"
"That sounds like an excellent idea," I told him, and put my hand in his.
And it was.