There were a few different times when I haggled over which red and black dress to wear to the wedding. I would put one on and stand in front of the only thing in our apartment that passed for a full-length mirror, a large windowpane my father had fitted with a mirror where each of the six panes of glass would be. Standing in front of it, I would either cut off my head or my feet. I have never felt comfortable in a tight dress and, no matter what Jake told me, I would feel like a prostitute. When I ran into the gas station for cigarettes after the wedding was over, my thick-wedged strappy-black sandals exchanged for more comfortable flip-flops, to get smokes for the trip home, I felt like some jilted prom victim. It wasn’t a tasteless dress, a tacky or inappropriate dress. It was me. Dresses just never seemed to be me.

What you don’t understand, you can make mean anything.

For the two-hour trip to the wedding, I brought my book on CD copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary. To be short and to not ruin the ending by telling to much, so that someone who reads this will read the book, Diary is about an island upon which people who were born and raised have to maintain the old integrity of their hometown by kidnapping and torturing a woman who will save them through her art. This is the only book on CD I have ever listened to, but Chuck’s work is perfect for the format. His use of repetition is hypnotic, and yet the story is told in such flashback and present and future tenses that you are irritated and mesmerized, all at once. This would be our background for the return trip as well. It seemed fitting, in a sense.

We were going to a wedding of another of Jake’s ex-colleagues, a woman he dated briefly after his divorce but had become friends with afterwards, a woman I had the ability to like outside of who she once had been. She is a bright and brassy woman, younger, covered in tattoos and piercings and, only recently, had been taking medication for her ADD, something that has changed her life. I have known her for years, it seems, hung out with her a few times, but we only know each other on the periphery. The last time I saw her was at a Christmas party at another ex-worker of Jake’s. I always feel odd at these parties, because I never have as much to talk about as Jake does, but I remember seeing M’s boyfriend alone at the bar in the basement, so I went up and started talking to him. I realized that he and I were more alike and Jake and M were a lot alike, and I could see now why we had chosen who we had. Soon after that party, we got an invite to their wedding, and I felt more and more like they were doing it right.

We get to the wedding just before it starts, an outdoor wedding on a farm with plastic white chairs and a keyboardist up front. When M walked down the aisle in her creamy gown (showing her newest tattoos on her back) and flip flops, the smile she had on was scared, false, like a game show host. You could tell she was nervous, but happy, from the recitation of their handmade vows to her hugging every single person in attendance on her side of the walkway, her face was permanently happy looking but tired and somewhat relieved it was all over. I guess all brides do that. They said their “I will”s first, and then there followed what I felt to be too much God-talk. Jake reaching for my hand a few times, but I couldn’t really read his face. He was watching all this like someone might watch a play, or a football game, or passing traffic.

The after party was fun. We were seated, thankfully, with all of M and Jake’s old co-workers, all I had met before and felt comfortable with. The reception was in a barn that had been furnished to rent as a banquet hall, and it did look quaint, candles on each table and large globes of white paper lamps and sharp spined yellow stars hanging above. When the bride and groom finally appeared after photos, they played Pantera’s song This Love, and old headbanger hit I had fond memories of in college. We waded through Power Point presentations from the groomsmen, the bridesmaids, and finally M herself, a collection of pictures of both of them from infancy to their teens, which from that point on would catalog a 10 year relationship, starting in high school and coming all the way to now. 90’s haircuts, shifts in weight and loss of baby fat, spiky hair and blonde hair and then, no hair at all. We looked at this layout of photos and were amazed what can happen when people start out young and stay together. True, there was a space where they stopped being together, but it didn’t last long. He waited for M, and she returned to him.

We ate the meatballs in red sauce and white sauce, the chicken salad, and the free beer. A man I had met before and given the affectionate term “Sweaty Tits” who was also, on this day, drenched in sweat from doing the wedding photos outside, opens a bottle of what I can only determine is really good tequila, pours us all a shot, and salutes to the wedding’s success. I sniff Jake’s before he downs it, and the smell, once again, makes the hair on my neck stand up and sends a shiver through my body. I still can’t drink straight tequila. A few vomit filled evenings are permanently planted in my memory. We stay for ice cream cake and we watch the awkward procession of people lined up for a dance with the bride or groom, for which they pay a dollar. Again, they look stiff, like game show hosts, like they’re not really enjoying this. Not knowing either of them too well, I can’t fully imagine what it is they’d rather be doing right now, I am sure it involved the two of them, alone, away from all this, even though it was a small crowd by wedding standards.

What you don’t understand, you can make mean anything.

We will go to another of Jake’s friends' wedding in a few weeks. By now, most or all of Jake’s and my friends who have been in relationships long enough are getting married. I look at attending weddings as the ability to enjoy for myself what I wouldn’t enjoy if I have a formal wedding, which I won’t. I already told Jake that. No engagement ring, no wedding, no honeymoon. Some may say how thoughtful, given how broke we always are, but I have my eyes on bigger, more important things. We already pay on a car in both our names, and soon we will be looking at the first steps of buying a house. Security. Reality. These are the things I cherish. Not formal wear and things I don’t need. Not a lot of money blown to say something that is said all the time in our home: I love you. Plus, I mean, I know Jake didn’t want to get married the first time, that he’s not the type to buy rings and flowers and think up romantic things to show how much he loves me. It’s just not his style, and for the most part, it’s fine by me. We share a general indifference to most holidays and Valentine’s Day. We haven’t had a Christmas tree two years in a row, and we abhor the V-Day advertising. So, when it comes to that, all I ask for is a marriage license and a gold band, an afternoon on $55. Then we can save for a trip somewhere special, but really, there’s no rush.

What you don’t understand, you can make mean anything.

On the way home, Jake hits Pause on the CD player and says, “All of M’s bridemaids looked like porn stars.” I said, well, yes, weddings involve a lot of pancake makeup and over-done hair, perfect nails. I said, it’s all about the perfect look, so yeah, I could see that.

”It’s not just that. The style. Their clothes. You can definitely tell that M is younger than we are.” He said it in such a way that made me question if that was something he regretted. More recently, he’s made such distinctions between us and them, them being the TV ads, the younger people, and I still don’t know if it’s just and observation or a lamentation. Is he happy? Does he want to be younger? Does he want me to be younger?

We got to talking about the concept of marrying your high school sweetheart. They say, more and more, that it doesn’t happen much these days, but M and her husband grew up in the same town. Jake said, “Part of me wishes that people would branch out, travel, get out of small towns. It’s like they missed out. It’s like they really are the same people they were in high school.”

Jake and I both share that sort of mixed reaction to such unions. His friends from high school, they had known each other since elementary school, while he had just met them when his family moved there after his dad retired from the Air Force. Before that, he spent a good part of adolescence in North Carolina, where another, different chapter of childhood memories would be written. Even though I had lived in the same town all through childhood, it was a resort town, where people came and went. When I moved to New Orleans, it was the same thing. I said, “You know, you are the oldest close friend I have,” and he seemed surprised by this. “You were the only one I kept close contact with over the years.” I met Jake when he was 17, 13 years ago, when he was dating my freshman roommate. Now she is his ex-wife, and they have two kids.

And here we were, now, a couple. The world is small when you don't let many people into yours.

What you don’t understand, you can make mean anything.

The next wedding we go to is similar. The bride and groom were junior high school sweethearts even, and again grew up in the same small town. After enjoying this one, I debate if I will attend the next one. I just don’t know. I don’t know where Jake is going with this line of conversation. I wonder if he laments getting older, or if he is simply adjusting to it. Would he rather have some younger girl, blonde and thin, someone less jaded than he is? I wonder if he is not as comforted by how much we know about each other as I am. He has this knack for asking every question like it’s a serious, mind-blowing question. He’ll say, “Let me ask you a question about something,” elbow on a knee, sipping his coffee, plain faced. And then he asks me if I think Britney Spears is officially gone for good after being pregnant. Once again, I have no idea what to expect.

And I guess that’s what being married is to most people, one more step in learning what to expect. I still like surprises, just not the kind that upend everything I like about my life. I like not always knowing what Jake will say, or do, or uncover about himself, or me. He has been doing that a lot more lately, making statements or discoveries about himself. I think we all are.

When I think of getting married, it’s mostly at night, when I’m lying there and I can’t sleep and want to think of something nice. I think only about going to the Justice of the Peace, getting rings put on our fingers, and then eating a lot of steamed crabs and shrimp at my parents’ house. I don’t think about being nervous. I envision us opening the front doors of houses as we look for the one we want most to bid on, and unpacking just the TV and DVD player our first night there, ordering Chinese and the room lit only by the movie that’s playing. Bare walls. A new beginning. Once, again, a new address to show up on a credit check. I think of the dream of having equity, of getting a loan to pay off my college loans. How’s THAT for boring? While awake, we’ve talked of getting a dog and a cat, both short-haired, both raised from infancy with us. All of it sounds so good to me, so right, so much what I have always wanted, to be married to my best friend.

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