I held her body tight and breathed in. She smelled just like I remembered.
“I’m here alone,” I said.
I stood on the dance floor with my ex-girlfriend from high school. We hadn’t seen each other in years—not since I came out. My twin brother married that weekend, and by chance, she attended with one of his college friends. We were chatting during the reception when she asked if I was there with a date.
I paused before answering. Drunk young men and women danced around us. Then I told what we convince ourselves is the most innocent of lies, the one of omission. It’s true I was there alone.
I left out that my boyfriend was back in New York where we lived. My brother had told me not to bring him.
That weekend often comes to mind. Right now, our polarized nation is rife with the mis-characterization of those we don’t know and even those we do. And so I find myself reflecting on which could be worse: To go on faith that people will surpass expectations and then be let down? It happens. Or be confined to a head-space of doubt that never yields?
I woke up early the morning of my brother’s wedding, sprawled across a King-sized bed in a hotel room. It was a blue-skied Saturday in October. The best man speech, not-yet-written, buzzed around my head like a fly. I lay there a long time, staring blankly at the ceiling. The wedding was taking place not far from where we grew up—in Ft. Worth, Texas—a town I hadn’t been to in years. I had flown in the day before, ambivalent about my presence. And I already missed my boyfriend.
From the start, my role in the wedding had felt performative. My brother and I have never been particularly close. Still, when he called one afternoon the winter before and asked me to serve as best man I said yes. Siblings kinda have to be in on the wedding party mix.
I was sitting in my boyfriend’s apartment a couple months later when my brother and I had another conversation. “We don’t really have a problem with it,” he said. “Some of my friends and co-workers might.” His deep voice seemed to echo over the whir of the window air conditioner. It being the distasteful idea of seeing a gay couple. I didn’t argue with him. For a few long minutes, I said nothing at all.
As straight friends have married over the years, I’ve attended few of their weddings. Being there often meant traveling, and I couldn’t afford it. I haven’t minded missing them. Maybe it’s because I didn’t give the institution of marriage much mind. It wasn’t an option for us gays until recently. Pomp and circumstance also kinda bore me. And while growing up, I watched as friends’ baby boomer parents divorced, one after another. I can’t say I saw a demonstration of binding commitment I particularly aspired to.
One wedding I did make, for a college friend the year before my brother’s, was also in Texas. My friend had asked me to be a groomsman and he was footing the bill, so I went. His dad is a Church of Christ minister – evangelical to the core. During the service he performed, he expressed genuine relief that my friend had finally found a good Christian woman, at the advanced age of 27. There were two wedding receptions that night – one with drinking and dancing, the other without – for the church-going folk. Even as a lapsed Catholic, this seemed crazily antiquated. My boyfriend stayed home that weekend too.
When I tell friends about my brother’s wedding and his request, they usually get angry or shake their heads, disappointed. At the time, I felt neither. Even as a part of me wished the day we talked my brother had said—Hell, bring him anyway—it didn’t surprise me that he didn’t. I well remembered the culture where he lived as homophobic.
The truth is, I agreed because I believed what my brother did. There probably would have been people who had a problem with me showing up with a man as a date.
As months passed and the wedding neared, my brother and I talked only occasionally—mainly logistics like tuxedo measurements and hotel reservations. I skipped the bachelor party in New Orleans, a predictable choice of close-quartered debauchery. Staying with a group of heavy-drinking guys who clearly didn’t know I’m gay guaranteed to be a weekend of sloppiness, crude jokes, and clubs with naked women.
For his part, my boyfriend didn’t care about staying home. He hadn’t met my brother yet anyway. It was for the best. His brash, forthright, British sensibility would have clashed with any prejudice we encountered, an idea I found both hilarious and horrifying.
We’ll never know, of course. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I got caught up in something playing out all-too-frequently these days. Suspicion breeds suspicion. I don’t blame my brother. Still, his lack of faith in the character of some of the folks in his world triggered my lack of faith in all of them, including someone I knew better than he did. She was the only person, in the end, who mattered.
At the Saturday afternoon wedding ceremony, I heard nothing the priest said. It was a Catholic service in a vast downtown church and seemed interminable. Her sister—the maid of honor—and I knelt at the altar with the bride and groom the whole time. I felt happy for my brother, but in a detached way. I hadn’t set foot in a Catholic church since a funeral years before. I tend to dismiss institutions that roundly dismiss me – faithless, in the face of their faith. I was completely absent and didn’t hear the couple’s vows either.
At the start of wedding planning, I had made what seemed a reasonable assumption that my boyfriend would join me. This concerned my mother. She called distant family members I never see to alert them that I – by the way, he’s gay – would be there with my boyfriend. Forewarned, they were actually expecting him. Only for my brother to later say – leave him home. As it turned out, two separate aunts made a point that weekend to say to me – albeit in a whisper – they were sorry my ‘friend’ wasn’t there. They had hoped to meet him. Their comments caught me off guard. I just nodded and smiled.
In the parking lot the day of the wedding, sweating in tuxedos, the other groomsmen and I gathered for photos. The guys poked and teased each other, locker room-style, jockeying over where to stand. One of them said to another – Dude, don’t be gay! The others laughed and oooo-ed, depending, I guess, whether they thought it was a joke or an insult. These were the folks I remembered.
The wedding reception after the ceremony was fancy – sit down dinner, cloth napkins that matched the color scheme – that kinda thing. I sat at a table with my family and hers. At one point, I caught a glimpse of my brother and his new wife laughing. I watched people at other tables spread across an overly-decorated banquet room. Couples of varying ages—all of them a man and a woman—laughed too. Wine glasses clinked.
Being at a wedding by yourself begs for self-pity under any circumstance. When your own love is missing, it feels worse. I hardly said a word while we ate.
I started to wonder if I made the right decision to go alone that weekend.
As I danced with my ex later, I thought of how my boyfriend would have gotten along well with her. They have the same biting sense of humor that attracted me to both of them. In those moments with her, I felt more alone than any other time that weekend. Had I been in an environment less laden with suspicion, I might have reacted differently with her. Instead, I wallowed in regret as I walked back to the hotel alone after the reception—not for who I am, but for what I didn’t say.
The day after the wedding, I was back at the airport. By the time I got to the gate, a load started to lift from my shoulders. It had been heavier than I realized until that moment. I called my boyfriend, and he told me about the neighbors’ baby shower I missed. “I can’t wait to see you,” we each said before I hung up for departure.
The following year, I was back in Texas visiting family. One night, my brother and I met a few of his friends at a bar. Among them was my ex-girlfriend.
She and I were talking at one point. I was a few beers in when I said something like, “Can we go somewhere with cuter boys?” She pulled away, looked at me a second, head sideways, and smiled. The group watched her drag me by the hand out the door. We jumped into a cab and she directed us right to at a popular gay bar — where apparently she was a regular.
She greeted the bartender when we walked in and we sat, drinking beer, and talked about everything but our failed courtship. Both of us seemed to understand that, now, it was beside the point. As I watched her order another round, I found myself thinking back to my brother’s wedding. I shook my head—in one of those moments when everything suddenly seems clear. By withholding my faith in her, I had robbed her of an opportunity to exhibit simple humanity. In doing so, I realized, I had also diminished my own.
Faith may sometimes let us down. Unlike doubt, faith can also lift us. If only we give it the chance.
She and I stayed at the bar for hours. The music got louder and we wound up dancing until closing time. Then we cabbed it back to join my brother and the others.
I never felt so close to her.
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