little brother's wedding day
little brother got married in madera on saturday. not my little brother, but may as well be. when he was 12, i used to take him to the 7-eleven to buy ring pops, cherry icees, and the occasional lottery ticket. now he’s on his honeymoon with his new bride. weird.
the night before the wedding and after the rehearsal dinner, natty, amy, and i went to the bride’s house. a hacienda-style house on a piece of rural california in the middle of nowhere. there were no lights for miles, and all you could see outside the house was the fence and the long dirt road in front of your headlights.
but the inside of the house was bigger than life. a wood burning stove in the heart of the house with tiled floors and wooden beams across high ceilings. i half-expected to see large lizards curving their graceful bodies against the tops of the walls, like in india. instead, every wall, surface, and alcove was spotted with the father’s collection of wooden ducks, the mother’s assortment of brightly-colored ceramic mexican parrots hanging by large windows, and in the guest bathroom, three large statuettes of golf-playing monkeys.
we painted our nails at the living room table while we sipped short, heavy glasses of long-island iced-tea, the father’s specialty. the bride showed us red and gold wedding topiaries, seating charts, and her old gymnastics pictures. she played old records of cumbia music and danced in the arms of her mother, laughing easily and skipping across the tiled floors in bare feet. we joined them. the long-island ice teas helped lighten our steps.
we left after midnight and drove half an hour back to the skeletal house where we would stay the night. it was mostly bare after natty’s parents’ move back to L.A. some lonely pieces of furniture looking out-of-place. a few pillows and quilts. some walls lined with pictures and others with shadowy outlines where pictures had been. i shared a mattress on the floor with natty while elliot slept off the bachelor poker game in another empty room.
i don’t remember falling asleep, but i remember being stirred awake by natty crawling out of bed. she put something on her pillow in the dark, then stumbled into the dimly lit hallway. i lifted my heavy head to look at her pillow and tried to make sense of it for a few lucid moments, but quickly fell back asleep. in the morning i learned she’d been sleepwalking. “did i wake you last night?” she asked. it was the first time in years, she said. she’d felt compelled to stand up and take two small framed paintings of renaissance women off the wall, and lay them on her pillow. once this task was complete, she’d left the room, feeling terrified. it was the stuff of legends—the girl who sleepwalked on the eve of her young brother’s wedding, removing the old photographs from the walls of her mother’s empty house and placing them neatly on her pillow…
that afternoon, everyone else had left for the church already, so i drove alone through endless patchworks of farmland and big, big skies—light blue and white and sprinkled with rain. i’d had pools of water burning my eyes all morning, even before i got to the church. my heart felt raw. why do moments of joy always hold tinges of sadness?
i only cried in the beginning. before the bride walked down the aisle. just after i sat down and saw the groom take his place a few feet from me. he was looking ahead at the back door of the church, his face glowing with anticipation. he looked at me for a moment, as if to say hello, and i smiled at him, big. then he smiled back at me—the biggest, toothiest, most bright-eyed, giddy and genuinely happy smile that anyone has given me in a long, long time.