I know weddings are special and you’re supposed to get excited about them, but I don’t generally care for them, and I don’t care about this one in particular.
Still, I have to go because my friend Julia and I share a long history.
We met at SFU several years ago, naive students thrilled about philosophy and spouting off about existential angst along with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and the rest of them. By the time we finished our degrees we had both become disillusioned with philosophy, she because she chose her Christian faith as the final solution, and I because I decided there were no answers, only more questions, and I was tired of questions.
We shared disappointments about it all, and together we made the descent back to earth to tackle issues such as making money and paying rent.
Now, eight years later, Julia is getting married.
Five years ago, it was me getting married. Although both Julia and I were raised by ultra-conservative Christian parents, she had largely stuck with it while I had not. However, I had for a time half-heartedly gone back to church life, both out of appreciation for some of the messages (so different from the ones I was raised with) and for the social aspect. I met my now ex-husband there, and I believed I had fallen in love.
He and I were instant buddies. We could talk for hours, we enjoyed lengthy silences, we understood each other, life was comfortable together, and he accepted my refusal to become a member of the church.
It all seemed good enough reason to get hitched.
Plus, my turn was long overdue. My sister was busy working on baby number four. Of course, I had spent enough time away from home by then to realize that the principles my parents endorsed were rather archaic in the broad scheme of things. But it’s funny how a person can hang on to familiar values, so soothing in all their discomfort.
So I got married, in a church and for all the wrong reasons.
Now I must attend Julia’s wedding, in a church, and I can’t help but question some of her reasons.
Perhaps I am superimposing too much of my life onto my friend’s, merely assuming that she will feel trapped and confused only months later. She is, after all, presumably a straight girl, and I am a gay girl. She may well live happily ever after, and I hope she does.
Meanwhile, I must find a way to cope with the wedding, its Christian songs and that feeling of oppression that I know will seep into every pore.
I deal with it by bringing my friend Michelle. In the sea of formally dressed, solemn Christians I feel my past come back, catch up with me, overwhelm me, make me fear that my coming out was nothing but a wonderful dream.
I fear that I am not free after all, that I wasn’t able to deal with the emotional costs of coming out.
I imagine that my parents and Christian friends are all back, smiling and loving, and I am so relieved they are back and that I haven’t lost them, even though I had to surrender my soul and true identity in the exchange.
I glance at my obviously lesbian friend, with her spiffy haircut and devil-may-care attitude, and I feel a wave of relief. I am gay, I did come out, I can handle the costs, and I am free.
The emotional spectres glide around the room, threatening to overwhelm my brain, and I begin to feel panicky. Then Michelle leans over and whispers, “OMG this is boring! Let’s go play catch!”
Play catch? Now? We are in the middle of a very solemn affair! Childhood punishments for whispering in church, for chewing on candies too loud, for slouching too much, flash through my brain. The audacity of leaving a church event because you’d rather enjoy a stint of catch is outstanding. We bow our heads and sneak out.
I step out in the brilliant sunshine and the ghosts no longer stand a chance. I look at my friend and stumble over my words: “I love you, man. I can’t say how much it means that you came, I —”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Let’s get that ball. I couldn’t stand another minute in there.”
You and me both.
We play catch until we have worked up an appetite and the thought of food encourages us to sneak back in.
“Oh no, they’re still singing,” Michelle hisses.
It’s true. Some people are waving their arms around. Others gaze rapturously heavenward. A few stare straight ahead, eyes glazed over with boredom.
We find our seats and try to sing. I glance over at my ex. He gives me a reassuring smile, but this causes a rush of mixed feelings, and the spectres once more move in for the kill. I stare at my plate and desperately will myself not to burst into tears.
The song ends and the row of tables at the back of the room have been filled with food. A general chatting erupts as who gets to eat first is negotiated.
“Hey man, I’m hungry,” Michelle announces, and gets up and heads to the food table.
I look up in surprise. I can’t believe this girl. I look around. Another table has been selected to go up first, but Michelle gets herself a plate and begins loading up. No one seems to care, so I jump up and join her.
“You’re supposed to wait!” I say. “Some of these dishes aren’t even unwrapped yet.”
“That’s why I’m unwrapping them,” she says, unconcernedly pulling the saran wrap off the potato salad and continuing to heap food on her plate.
I feel a huge grin spread across my face. I want to tell her again how much I appreciate her, but I know she doesn’t care: she is, after all, busy with food. So I grab a plate and load up, too.
We head back to our table, the only two rude lezzies who already have plates full of food, but Michelle deals with that, too. “I love food,” she announces cheerfully, and everyone smiles. She turns to the very pregnant woman at our table. “Here, do you want me to get you some? Seriously, I would love to get you some food.”
The woman laughs and insists she is okay, and the man with her laughs too.
“That’s okay,” he says, “I will get her some.” And he gets up along with two others, and they all grin and go for food before their turn.
A few days later, I am chatting with my ex, a man who values proper social conduct, and he asks if my “obnoxious” friend bothered me at the wedding, since I had appeared to be in pain of some sort.
I stare at him for a second and then burst out laughing. My friend broke a few social rules and I felt compelled to support her, and my ex wonders if that was the source of my pain.
I want to explain it to him, but I don’t believe he would understand. I ponder the depth and paradoxes of human connection — this same man had supported me in flagrantly breaking all of our families’ most cherished principles.
“No,” I say, “she helped me preserve my sanity.”
He looks confused, but I just shrug and grin.