Halloween, a Tuesday night, a barn in the middle of BFE... bit of an odd place to conduct a wedding. A costume party wedding, to boot. My cousin will do what she will do, however - one of my favourite things about her - and after my courthouse elopement, to which nobody was invited, some summers ago, well... let's just say that I'd set the bar so damn low for familial expectations regarding weddings, that it would've been near impossible for Lena's wedding to shock anybody. That goes double when accounting for the fact that Lena is the fluorescent purple sheep of the family, the Manic Pixie Razorgirl of us three grandkids, while I'm supposedly The Responsible One. Shows how little the family knows about either of us, if that's their perception, but it's hard to fault them; the two of us have leaned into these images, finding them high-utility misconceptions that we benefit by voluntarily cultivating. We cherish our artificial difference, for the social camouflage and insulation it supplies us: Lena her supposed feyness, I my supposed tameness. She gets away with things because people are relieved she doesn't go even farther over the line; the result is that she always gets to pursue her truest intentions without obstruction from people who mistakenly think they know better. I get away with things because people can't conceive of me crossing lines at all; the result is that I always have the enthusiastic good opinion and fond regard of my relatives and affines. She gets freedom; I get support and approval. It suits us, but it's a dynamic that rides on the involvement of the other half to reinforce the stark contrast.
With this symbiosis of images in mind, we continue our tale. This is a true story, by the way, having happened just earlier tonight; I've adjusted names for privacy's sake, but the rest is accurate enough.
My father and paternal grandparents share a home. He's severely disabled with regard to his ambulatory mobility. The grandparents are eighty-seven years old; Grandpa is in the advanced stage of dementia during which Sundown Syndrome occurs relentlessly every evening, turning a confused old man who is otherwise tolerant of his surroundings and circumstances, into an angry and confused old man who has difficulty articulating what he's angry about, but who expresses very clear suicidal ideation when he does manage to make himself understood. Grandma wanted to attend Lena's wedding; Da was not in physically viable condition to drive her there; Grandpa becomes increasingly alarmed and angry when he loses line of sight on Grandma, as she is the only thing he consistently recognises.
Gently, in an e-mail to my father, I expressed that I felt it unwise to have Grandpa join us at the wedding. I promised to come pick her up, to accompany my husband and myself to the wedding, and that we'd bring her home as soon as she felt tired enough to want to leave. Grandpa, though, could not be expected to behave himself non-disruptively at a wedding after sundown, in a location he doesn't know, where it's cold and he's surrounded by people in Halloween costumes. My father readily agreed with my assessment of the circumstances.
Nonetheless, my grandmother was peculiarly insistent on Grandpa's attendance. Oh, yes, he should stay home, but he wants to come, she said, although it's lost on all of us how, precisely, she has determined that he wanted to come, considering he spent the entire pick-up and departure process demanding we tell him what nursing home we're taking him to. He sincerely believed we were trying to pull a fast one over on him, despite my husband and me being clearly dressed in Halloween costumes (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jyn Erso) to corroborate our assertion that we would be attending a costume party.
This possibility had already occurred to me before going to pick them up - that somebody in their household would decide Grandpa ought to come along, for whatever reason - and I had already rehearsed with my husband, regarding how we would handle any mid-ceremony disruptions created by Grandpa. I would leave my husband to keep track of my grandmother and walk her anywhere she wanted to go; meanwhile I would escort Grandpa out of earshot of the ceremony, and once the formalities were concluded and the reception began, I'd bring him back, since the liveliness of a party can cover quite a bit of disruption from one fragile old gent. We'd stick around long enough for the wedding photographer to get pictures documenting the grandparents' presence, and then get them home quickly, before the party turned raucous enough to make crowd control difficult, and geriatric mobility even more difficult.
Thankfully these plans never proved necessary. Grandpa was visibly confused the whole night, but he was sedate about it as long as there were other people around. He accepted the Pepsi and slider sandwiches I carried to the table from the trays of nearby catering. He watched his radiant granddaughter get married, dressed as some nonspecific Greek goddess in a gown she sewed herself (and finished only an hour before the ceremony), to a young man whose vows were heartbreakingly eloquent and sincere. He recognised nobody there but his wife - not the son and daughter left of him, not me across from him, not the ones whose wedding we came to see. Tomorrow morning he won't remember the least bit of it, and will complain at the breakfast table about having had very strange dreams.
The wedding was amazing. Its informality - costumes strongly encouraged - was sufficient for my rather anxious and asocial husband to feel comfortable participating in it. An ordinary barn was transformed by fairy lights into an otherworldly environment populated by bizarre and marvelous characters, Gandalf and Mozart (the latter serving as the officiant!) sharing space with Bob Ross and Maleficent. In place of a flower girl or ring bearer, there was a small and disorganized squad of trick-or-treaters, none older than five years, toddling a sweetly clumsy path up the aisle. During Lena's vows, her composure began to break, and she gestured wordlessly to her intended, who immediately understood her request and placed his blue handkerchief in her hand so she could dab her eyes and keep her mascara from smearing. During his own vows, he made the same nonverbal request, which she answered in the same manner, so clearly unrehearsed and effortless that all in attendance let out a wistful, happy noise in unison.
The wedding concluded, and the reception began, and Grandma began making pointed sighs of fatigue, telling me in her indirect way that she was ready to go home. I searched for Lena to let her know we were preparing to leave, so that she could see the grandparents off. Before reconvening with them, Lena expressed to me that she knew the grandparents wouldn't have been there if not for my husband and me volunteering to bring them, going fairly far out of our way to do so. That's what it would have sounded like, to an outside listener who does not understand the dynamic between Lena and me. What she actually said was, "This couldn't have happened without what you did. I want you to know that." She was referring to the frowned-upon circumstances of my own earlier wedding. She was referring to how much unkind familial judgment I kited away from her, and how that left enough room for her to have the wedding she wanted, to a man she'd lived with outside wedlock for six years - about as long as I'd lived in sin with my own fellow, before our wedding. Lena was acknowledging the role I'd played in getting the family to accept her wedding and her husband so kindly: eating the social damage and forcing aggressively conservative people to second-guess their attitudes on the matter. If "The Responsible One" can cross some lines, then it's not so shocking or awful if "The Wild One" does the same thing, a few years later. Instead of this being the final straw for extended family who would pursue any excuse to exclude her, this event brought everyone together.
I am sure I have both dramatised and understated any number of things, in this review of the occasion. I may, perhaps, be forgiven for this; if I have emphasised some things, it is because they hold greater valence for me personally.
I will not be surprised if this is the last major social event Grandpa attends. I will not be surprised if these are the last photographs taken, which feature him and Lena in the same image, as she lives several states away. I don't expect him to be with us very long, and it's clear from his own statements that he believes it will be a kindness if that departure is sooner than later. No sooner did we get the grandparents safely home and their jackets removed, than Grandpa began repeatedly expressing the wish that he could just die, and this late in the process, it is difficult to feel anything more strongly about that, than "Thank whatever Powers That Be, that he kept those opinions to himself while we were at the wedding." At least let the happy couple remember this night well, without the bitterness mixed in with all the sweetness. The longer he continues in this condition and worse, the more bad memories I'll have of him, and there's a point at which they will outnumber the good ones. Perhaps selfishly, I don't want that. Perhaps unkindly, I think that Lena had the right idea, moving thousands of miles out of reach, where her memories of this family stop short at a fixed point in time, densely populated and happy, with only a handful of scattered memories after that point in time, always at large gatherings, always rendered mostly happy by the sheer abundance of people who are smiling to see her after such long absences. She's not here for the bad moments. She's not here to help, or to be hurt by the things she sees and hears while helping. I am. I'll eat this damage for her, too, so she can keep smiling the way she did tonight, lit by fairy lights, a hundred loving faces smiling back at her. She'll get to have only good memories about our grandfather, tonight and every night to come.
That's why I'm the responsible one.
Iron Noder 2017, 1/30