In the months leading up to and following my sister's marriage, I — as sister of the bride and maid of honour — learned absolutely nothing about planning weddings, bachelorette parties or showers. I haven't even showered today. I thank my loving, understanding sister for the kindness of limiting my responsibilities. I do know if you want a kick-ass wedding, you should totally give her a call.
The day of Mara's wedding, I woke up grumpy. I had managed to go for a run the morning before, but on the day itself, jet-lag was exacting its cruel, delayed revenge and getting the better of me.
Funny story, actually: I went for a run the day before my sister's wedding — the day of the rehearsal — at our local track. I felt pretty darn good about myself. I'm on vacation, I thought, and I'm doing exercise. It was a Friday morning, and no one else was at the track, save one blonde woman who had entered the park on the other side. She was running towards me, and I didn't clock her until she was was about five feet away, at which point I realised that this woman — the one other jogger out on a Friday morning — was my sister. We laughed and shook our heads as we recognised one another.
This is the kind of person my sister is: she gets up early the day before her wedding — the day she has to bring together a large number of people for a rehearsal and a meal, deal with any last minute disasters with poise and panache — to make sure she has time to exercise. So, as it turns out, is her (then) fiancé, who rocked up sweaty a few minutes later from wherever he had been exercising. No wonder they threw a kick-ass wedding.
But I digress. I woke up grumpy the day of my sister's wedding. I was jet-lagged, yes, but I was also reverting to thoughts and habits of adolescence. The rehearsal lunch had been much more fun that I had anticipated. I had, admittedly, been dreading the high school reunion aspect of that weekend. You see, my sister's (now) husband was in my graduating class. He was a star football player, a good student, well-liked. He was (at least in my mind) one of the cool kids, and so were most of the guys who comprised his half of the wedding party.
Despite my anxieties, I found that ten years had been plenty long enough to level the playing field. I don't mean in a Romy-and-Michelle-my-life-is-way-better-than-yours-now-revenge-plot way, because they all had taken interesting paths, too. It seemed, thankfully, that we had all left high school far behind and had more in common than not.
Although I was getting on swimmingly with the groomsmen, I had a creeping, distinct, and most certainly fabricated and self-perpetuating feeling of outsiderness when it came to the bridal party. Let me reiterate, THIS WAS COMPLETELY IN MY HEAD. All of my sister's bridesmaids were lovely, friendly, welcoming and generally the kind of people that I'd expect Mara to hang out with, but their presence made me realise: I don't really hang out with Mara. She's my sister, I love her, and we've come a long way from the days of psychological torture (her) and physical retaliation (me). We get along really well, but I felt (in my own overly-anxious, -analytical head) that I couldn't compete. These people were her best friends. I was just an accident of parentage. I had to be there. She had to ask me to be her maid of honour. I was family.
Old insecurities were accompanied by new obstacles. My expired driver's license necessitated a reliance on my parents' transportation and an adherence to their respective schedules that I wasn't loving. I left the rehearsal lunch with my lovely, kind, wonderful cousin, who gave me a ride home and helped talk me back from the ledge overlooking self-effacing, pity-party land. At that point, I was dealing with reoccurring and aforementioned (in the previous post) feelings about being some kind of weird, non-marriage–wanting, hometown-leaving pariah (all completely self-inflicted titles). She talked sense to me.
I only found out later that night (curse you Facebook and your truth-telling photos!) that after we had left, my sister, Ben, and all the rest of the bridal party had carried on revelling together, and even in their imbibed state, had managed to work together to place all the name cards for the next day's reception. I was livid! (Privately.) How could they exclude me so thoughtlessly, I lamented to myself, I'm the maid of honour!
(Maybe because my cousin kindly drove me home when I would have had no other way of getting back across the river to my mom's house, as everyone else in the bridal party was staying in a nearby hotel?)
Oh, the humanity!
So yes, I woke up grumpy. I felt a little left out. All the ladies had stayed in a suite together the night before. I bet they had lots of fun and exciting late-night conversations without me. Was I invited to sleep on half a couch or one-third of a bed or the floor with the rest of them that night? Yes. Did I independently and sensibly decide to sleep in the comfort of an unshared double bed at my mom's house instead? Yes. But still.
I decided to shake it off. This was not about me, I reminded myself, just as I had when I was considering the best punchlines for my non-traditional maid-of-honour toast. This was Mara's day, and I was just a small part of it. The most important and helpful thing I could do was behave and butt out.
My step-dad gave me a ride to the hotel in Portland, and we swung by an ATM so I could get some cash for whatever booze/taxi situation was to arise later that night. I scuttled into the shop, inserted my UK card, entered the pin, and was denied. Several times. Idiot. I completely forgot to tell my bank that I was travelling. Idiot.
I returned to the car, frustrated, fighting a mounting sensation that the world was against me, but determined not to let it get to me. My step-dad kindly offered to lend me money, as did my dad over the phone, and all was well again. I was dropped off outside the Marriott hotel, bridesmaid dress bagged and draped over my arm.
I proceeded to the 16th floor where I knocked on the door with the room number I'd been given. No response. That's funny, I thought, but they're probably all just having such a great time that they can't even hear me. Or they were at breakfast. One of those.
I called my sister and told her I was at the door. 'That's weird', she said, 'I thought you needed a key card to get to this floor'.
'Nope!' I replied confidently.
'Okay I'm coming', she said, so I hung up.
Still no one at the door. Hmmm.
I called her back.
Mara: 'Which Marriott are you at?'
Me: 'I don't know, the one I was dropped off at.'
Mara: 'The Waterfront?'
Me (becoming frantic): 'I don't know! Is there more than one?'
Mara: 'Oh my gaaaahhhd, I wrote City Center in the email. Why did he take you to the Waterfront one?'
Me (nearing tears): 'I don't know! Where's the one you're at? Is it far?'
Mara: 'I don't know. Can't you get him to drive you here?'
Me (eyes burning, indignation rising): 'No! He's gone and I don't have his number in this stupid phone!'
Mara: 'Don't panic. The hair and makeup girls aren't even here yet. They went to the wrong hotel, too.'
We agreed that I would get there somehow, and that it couldn't be to far, as downtown Portland is fairly small and walkable.
I burst into tears and called my mom. Yes: 27 years old, wearing shorts, flip-flops, no make-up, and carrying a very fancy dress, I cried for my mommy in an upscale hotel lobby.
She answered the phone with, 'Hello? Oh no! I can't believe he took you to the wrong place, but I'm driving so I'm going to have to pass you to your aunt', at which point I tried really hard not to cry over the phone to my aunt, to whom I hadn't spoken since the previous Christmas.
'It's okay,' she assured me, 'Where are you?'
Drawing on my vague recollections of local geography from my high school and college summers of working in Portland, I described my location (I had walked a few blocks from the wrong hotel) and the address my sister had given me of the correct hotel. At this point, my aunt made the extremely logical suggestion that I go back inside the lobby and ask them for directions to the other hotel, as it was part of the same chain, and they would know how to get there. She also suggested I take a taxi. I thanked her, hung up the phone, and did neither of those things.
It wasn't far to walk — maybe 20 minutes — and I was glad for the fresh air and the time to decompress. I even impressed myself slightly with my memory of street names and landmarks in downtown Portland. When I finally arrived at the City Center Marriott, I was slightly frazzled, but ready to do whatever was needed to help out.
Mara was composed, drinking gallons of water from a SuperGulp-style cup, and saying, 'Oh my god you guys, I'm freaking out', in an incredibly calm voice. I delivered Ben's ring to the boys' suite downstairs, made some unwanted suggestions, got told, 'I don't need another mother!', tried not to cry, and drank champagne as it arrived — one bottle at a time — in the room.
(I was sharing the champagne with 8 or 9 other women in the room. I was not drinking bottles on my own. I was aware that I still had to stand in front of a crowd of people and speak twice without embarrassing my sister, so I was well-behaved.)
Everyone was having a good time, getting hair and makeup done, discussing the day's schedule, but there was a palpable tension in the air. Weddings do make people a little bit crazy. My sister was remarkably calm. She only nearly lost her shit when Ben almost (or so she thought, actually) saw her in her dress before the ceremony for the second time, but she apologised later. As this was my first 'behind the scenes' experience, I was struck by my sister's ability to remain calm while trying to act as the organiser and main event in one of the most important experiences of her life thus far. Considering I nearly broke down over a malfunctioning debit card, a little bit of misdirection, and a hackneyed, sisterly insult, I am not cut out for such serenity under pressure.
What I loved the most about my sister's wedding was that it was her. Okay, I'm sure there were some compromises and attempts to please both families, but what she wanted, more than anything, was to throw the best party ever. And she succeeded.