In America 9/3

In which Athenae’s friends rehearse their wedding, drink, and set their deck on fire.

The hottest night of the summer.

On the back porch: two straight couples, a single straight girl, a lesbian couple, a gay man and one very stressed out bride and groom. There were grocery bags of produce and bread on the kitchen counter and open bottles of alcohol everywhere. The tiniest charcoal grill possible was lit and we were laying steaks on it.

“Guys? Umm, the deck is smoking. Should that be happening?”

It was then that the bride informed us we should line up in the order in which we’d be walking down the aisle.

“Not now, honey, the house is burning down.”

I wasn’t really that surprised. This wedding had begun six months before with the following romantic proposal: the groom, on his way out the door to work, stops mid-step, turns, drops to one knee before his beloved and says, “I almost forgot. Will you marry me?”

We extinguished the fire but it went downhill from there: Hard to walk down the imaginary aisle with one of your attendants singing “big, fat and wide,” hard to keep a straight face when the gay members of the wedding party pretended to be religious officiants and mimed getting struck by lightning. Hard to concentrate on anything after the second case of beer was consumed.

And this was pretty low on the screwy-meter as weddings among my friends went. This wedding did not end with anyone sitting in the hallway drinking wine from the box as the Milwaukee Police Department busted down the door to arrest the father of the bride. This wedding did not take place in a country club in Kansas, where an actual catfight between the bride’s mom’s friends and some out of town guests broke out over the last available table. Nor did this wedding’s ceremony prominently feature NASCAR.

Attendants wore their own clothing — lace-up leather pants for one groomsman, a flowery flowy dress for one bridesmaid and a tight blue Harlow gown for the glamorous maid of honor. The bride won two significant arguments with her intended: Yes, you must wear a tuxedo. No, you cannot cook your own reception food. I do not care how good you think your lasagna is. The judge pronounced no one man and wife, they were declared “married.” Then the podium was shoved out of the way and somebody brought out a big smoked fish. The groom didn’t dance, so it was decreed: no dancing. Everybody picked at the fish and ate sandwiches. The air conditioning started to fail.

By the end of the afternoon, somebody had pulled out a boombox and was flagrantly disregarding the no-dancing rule. Sitting out on the cement back steps of the community center, a Corona in hand, the bride propped her tired feet up on the metal railing and leaned her red head back into the warm breeze. She was wearing deep emerald green silk and looked regally beautiful. The groom, who has the silliest smile and kindest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, was leaning over his mother’s shoulder, listening intently to her conversation.

The pictures from that day give no indication that 24 hours before, we were pouring water through the porch to try to put out a fire and drenching a cat that had settled under the floor. Or that we set up rows of beer bottles to simulate guests. People find ways to do what needs to be done, no matter how hot it gets or who doesn’t show up. The man who would be my husband three years later, who would handle me being late for my own wedding, and the priest screwing up the pronouns in our vows so that I think I married myself, looked across the room at me and smiled.

A.