Monday, March 14, 2011

The stairs

I tap my foot impatiently, one step up from the last time I stood on these stairs, and three steps down from the time before that. There’s a bottle of lime beer held behind my back, hidden in the folds of my black and white sundress. I’m wearing sunglasses and I keep my face tilted up to the sun, passively listening to the echo of the preacher’s voice. He’s not saying anything I haven’t heard dozens of times, and been a part of a least half that.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...”

The beginning is as predictable as the conclusion, and though the middle can vary a bit, it’s still heavy with repetition. And it makes me wonder why there is a rehearsal. Everyone, even my sister standing on the topmost step, who has never before been blessed with bridesmaid duty, knows the drill. You walk, you stand, you smile benignly at the couple, and when they ask if anyone objects, you remain silent – no matter how many reasons you may have to speak out.

The place where the couple stands is shaped like a halved octagon with steps spilling down on every side, the bottom row surrounded by brick paths and greenery. The narrow flight of stairs behind the platform leads to the third floor balcony, and it’s at the beginning of these stairs that they put an archway of vines and flowers. There’s no doubt it’s beautiful, but I’ve no desire to stand in that spot. Should the day come that I have the option, I know I’ll disappoint my Papa by choosing a different path, one he doesn’t own. As immersed in the traditions of my family as I am (and there are a lot of traditions), a marriage is personal. And these steps have seen too many weddings, most of them filled with unspoken objections, for me to make them mine.

My cousin Ashley stands to my left, up a step, and her husband stands on the other side, down two from her. She whispers to me that she’s glad she doesn’t have to be his walking partner and I smile, amused because I had the same thought, though I know our reasons are vastly different. She simply wants a break, the feel of a different arm hooked through hers and the novelty of an unfamiliar gait. I, on the other hand, find him repulsive. I’ve learned far too much about his extra-marital habits since I stood gazing up at them on that platform ten years ago, and I already knew enough on that day. Just because she can take him back and forgive, doesn’t mean the rest of us forget – a fact he’s well aware of and, if the constant scowl is any indication, visibly bitter about.

There are three married couples in the wedding party and all of them were pronounced husband and wife on these steps. Two of them have children placed at intervals in front of each gender line, and my daughter stands in front of me – giggling next to Ashley’s. I tug on her ponytail and ask her to quiet down.

“Then I’ll ask if anyone can show just cause why this couple should not be wed, and so on”, the preacher says.

Ashley glances at me with a half grin and does a hacking cough to cover words I don’t catch, but I know what she’s implying. Thankfully it’s so quiet no one else catches them either. And though the majority of us are doing the same on the inside, and aren’t thrilled that our Papa is marrying again, we know better than to tell him so. He’s been with his fiancé for nearly eight years and he’s been pushing for this wedding for a very long time. Anyone that voices a concern is sure to be banned from “The Compound” indefinitely and we are all, in one way or another, too dependent upon him to risk it. I like to think of him as a mob boss – loving all, trusting none, and granting favors to those that please him most.

The bride, Tess, stands in the grass a few yards from the steps, watching with her arms crossed. One of the groomsmen’s girlfriends is standing in for her, as its bad luck for the bride to actively participate in the rehearsal. The wedding has come together in less than three months and Tess doesn’t care about a bit of it – it’s Papa that’s pushed for the traditional ceremony et al. She’s uncomfortable being the center of attention and I can’t say that I blame her, considering her rather checkered past. She answers every question with, “I don’t care”, or “it doesn’t matter”.

The preacher finally concludes his mock ceremony and asks us to bow our heads in prayer. I sigh as I do, knowing it will take awhile. He’s very loud and very long-winded. I notice that at the beginning of every sentence he says “please dear lord” and after the seventh or eighth time, it sounds quite comical.

I lift my eyes from the ground and glance around – it’s an old habit and one I enjoy. I’ve always found it interesting, watching people pray...or pretend to pray. To my right Claire is looking down, eyes wide open and focused on the ground while she scuffs her shoe against the pavement. Her fingers trace the words on the bottom of her t-shirt: “Whose baby is this?” To my left Ashley, Marie, Leigha, and Heather are all standing diligently with their eyes closed and hands clasped in front of them.

I branch out a bit, sweeping my gaze over the spectators and Tess, standing alone in front of the staircase filled with someone else’s family. I watch her laced fingers, thumbs rhythmically sliding over each other again and again, and I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder if she’s starting to get nervous or if her attitude of disinterest extends from the dress and decoration choices, to the man up there practicing his vows to her. I wonder who, out of the two of them, is making the greater sacrifice.

I know that she knows next weekend, when she’s standing under the archway, there will be silent objections. I wonder if she cares. But even more than that, I wonder how many silent objections of her own will be joining their ranks. And if, like the 12 of us standing watch, there are enough to fill these stairs.

24 comments:

Sharon Longworth said...

Glorious. Funny, touching, thought-provoking. You are one very writer and I am in awe of your ability to continuously post work of this quality.

light208 said...

Lords above. It is like you invite us into your life and share these moments. I always feel like I'm stood next to you while you explain what's going on.

I continue to enjoy your posts. Your writing is enthralling.

Ed said...

WAIT!

A wedding post and no pictures?!

That's like a UFO sighting and no trailer-park-living white trash claiming an abduction.

theTsaritsa said...

So descriptive, I could see it all playing out before me. When are you going to write a novel?

Baglady said...

Fab stuff. I love those inter-connections between you all, the back stories and the history. That's what makes this post sing for me.

I look forward to hearing all about the wedding.

Mr London Street said...

One of your best and cleverest, I reckon. You should be justly very proud of this one, there is an awful lot going on here but you take us through it perfectly. Your family really is a fascinating hall of mirrors when you write about it like this.

tennysoneehemingway said...

Loved it.

Robbie Grey said...

"when they ask if anyone objects, you remain silent – no matter how many reasons you may have to speak out..."

The truth in this line is utterly mesmerizing.

Mollie said...

BLergh. A preacher that goes through the entirety of the ceremony just for a dress rehearsal?

Well crafted.

Sarah P said...

I think Sharon's comment up there appropriately expresses what I would say.

Clare Dunn said...

Put me in the ranks of "Loved it!"

...so many of us can relate in some way to this. Good stuff.

xoxoxo, cd

Meowlissa said...

You paint the most powerful pictures with your words. Fabulous. Just fabulous.

BugginWord said...

...and now my heart hurts.

Anthony Hodgson said...

Superb writing as always. You posted a comment to a blog recently where you said talent. This one has it. Make sure next time you include yourself mate as you certainly have a gift for words.

Happy Frog and I said...

I really enjoy your posts but this one is so special for me. So much going on but so brilliantly written. You are such an amazing writer.

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

I have always found praying people fascinating too.

jerrod said...

I don't have the cleverness or smoothness of some of the others... but you know I loved it. A perfect window into your life. Flawless descriptions.

I'm always in awe.

Philip said...

You were put on this planet to write about families and how they relate to each other. It's what you do best. This is almost a screenplay, you describe it all so well. Did you watch Six Feet Under? It is my fave tv ever. You unfold characters stories and how they relate to each other in a really similar way. Write me that family epic you were born to write.

Lady Jennie said...

Great post. It's interesting that you know the same people for so long. I've never had that.

Our wedding was different. We had dancers and I walked in to Braveheart, my husband to salsa. The preacher cracked jokes and everyone was loud and cheering. It was perfect as I don't think I would be comfortable in a stuffy ceremony. No room for giggling and mistakes.

le Chef said...

I've just now finished walking those very steps, though it was a brother, not a father. All of our objections were screamingly silent as well, as they have to be to keep the peace.

Her disinterest could lie in the knowledge that regardless of how many steps she climbs towards that man, she'll always be several steps down in everyones eyes.
Though honestly, sometimes you almost want them to know up front...

Nari said...

For me, the wedding was the worst part of my marriage. I really think I would have enjoyed it much more, if it were outdoors with a minister with a truly ridiculous speech impediment and everyone completely tanked.

Bth said...

Gosh, you write so wonderfully about people. You catch their personalities in the smallest of gestures. Such a touching piece; funny, and real.

Lola Lakely said...

How could I possibly forget how awesome this blog is? What is wrong with me. Oh wait, everything. Including a few month hiatis on posting or reading ANYTHING.

Missed you.

joeygirl said...

It's bad luck for a bride to participate in the wedding rehearsal?
How come?