Chapter 8: The Rehearsal Dinner
I pulled in next to Alanna and the rest of the hapless wedding party at the Stevenson Hotel. It was large and full of wind, the green and white marquee sparking off the most depressing of messages from up high: Brinker-Marcus Wedding Reception Saturday at Six P.M. I started to wish that I had thought of several excuses for avoiding all the forthcoming festivities. They would have to be larger than life, not just the common cold or reasonably hungover convictions. Such excuses would have to be speak louder than all previous reasons, and leave the true believers with enough of a warm feeling inside as they loosely thought about my weakened condition amongst chatter of Ivy League partnerships and double expresso shots.
I wanted a terminal disease, something new that they didn’t have a cure or treatment for. A seasoned professional seeking fame and a false sense of accomplishment could write a book about it. The pages would sit silently on all of their shelves, next to other gratifyingly boring literature in plain view of all the hapless wanderers sipping their highballs and making sure not to spill anything. The carpets would be brand new. Ken would buy it because his colleagues recommended such a clever indulgence. It would eventually become a coaster or a paperweight in the basement. The grandchildren would wander why their mother’s maiden name was in the title of the book, but quickly drown out all of their thoughts on the past with newly designed attention-deficient drugs or flashing lights from the new flat screen.
I began to wonder what I’d be doing if they had allowed me to simply excuse myself from the wedding, to stay home and let the cruel shake of suburban boredom sink in. I would call old friends who most likely had other plans. They would call their friends, everyone eventually showing up late to my parents’ structured establishment and tearing apart every little aspect of what they would occasionally brag about at the parties they used to get invited to. Joy and Fred were once a booming social couple of the Reagan era, patrolling their two children to covered dish extravaganzas in backyards. I sometimes thought about my parents’ friends’ daughters, and what they were doing at this particular point in their lives.
Had they found false sentimentalities in college, men with school spirit and fathers who had depleting checking accounts? Or was it more so a variation of my own dilapidated experiences, searching for an education away from hardbacks, and dipping into the proverbial pool of lingering hardships? All of my college friends were somehow better at faking their own grand discoveries and letting everything eventually die off in a fad or an argument over what was written in-between the lines. In any sense, had I been stuck in the my own bedroom at that very moment, searching and dialing frantically, the heavy cases of beer slowly chilling in the garage fridge, I didn’t necessarily see myself having a hypothetical good time in that position.
I would broken down and called Muriel. She wouldn’t have anything better to do, unless of course there was a pretentious movie showing in the city or a new boyfriend on the horizon. Their online conversations starting to linger even after she shutdown the computer and allowed herself the time to simply attempt creativity. She would sit in her bedroom and look at barrage of materials; unread books, magazine clippings, notes from concerned out-of-towners, and yet none of it would have much of a bearing on her supposed empathetic creation.
She was already stuck again, falling in love with the spectacles of the past; dolled up to look more like a modern statuesque presence in the future. He would be metal or hardcore, pretend like he enjoyed old punk and some new, but above everything else, already be rather excellent at duping girls exactly like her. I was in the wrong field, I knew that. It took me months to accomplish what some could easily do in a few days, dates in chain restaurants and long sessions perusing old records despite the fact that this particular brand of a bullshitter was unaware of how something as terribly beautiful and elaborate as a turntable worked. He could download his emotions into tight-nicked blue glowing rechargeable devices, and show her cropped pictures of the two of them, standing in front of flashing lights from large buildings, their dual elongated smirks making even the most settled of individuals feel slightly uncomfortable in his own skin.
I couldn’t turn my mind off in the least bit as we all trudged around the normal routine. Alanna ventured off to the head table with Sue, Jeannie, Neal and Fiona, some introductions intertwined with the reiteration of past topics all coming to light again. Amongst them were some smug faces I didn’t know. The best man and some others who looked like carbon copies of Brian. I saw them coming off of the conveyor belt in drones, their switches being turned on in unison. Also, there were a few bridesmaids who didn’t understand why they had been asked to fill such a position.
They were friends from work or friends of friends, deciding that they could manage to fake enthusiasm just so long as they got a free dress and meal out of it. Plus there were always possibilities on the other end of the table. Some of them were looking for a Brian Brinker to fill their life with frantic expectations and shallow experiences. Others simply wanted the late night in the back seat of the limo, after the rest of the bridle party had dozed off in their folding chairs to the sound of “Young at Heart” being played on repeat. It was a strange atmosphere, and all signs of intelligent life were already harvested, dulled down to positions of depleting accountability.
I sat with Violet, Kieran, and Harriet at a neighboring round table; picking away at my catered plate and watching my cousin fall for her cousin. It almost felt slightly incestuous, had I not already completely disregarded any such thoughts with my normal way of handling most things from the start of that weekend. In any case, it was weird starring at youth and somewhat wishing that it had been me in such a troubled and naïve position. Kieran would still hate the world on Sunday, even after his hands grazed new properties and his heart sunk uncontrollably, and yet he still had tons of similar experiences lined up right in front of him.
There were more late nights, stolen beer from the fringes of father’s fridge, shaky illegal narcotics bought from the already glazed-over eyes of older siblings, girls with excuses and thoughts of falling for all the right looks for all the wrong reasons. Eventually he would find somebody somewhat superior to all the regularities. These two would become something tailor-made until that one final summer where they both inevitably became too emotional to function as anything but a message sent through a frantic online service or a look from across a crowded basement, both knowing that it would most likely be the last of its kind.
All of the jagged problems never necessarily outweighed the slightly manufactured feeling that when you’re young, nothing really matters that much at all. I saw such a feeling from a distance, talking to the rest of my family, drinking champagne and occasionally looking over in my hazy direction. The two of us were ready for a grandiose escape into the woods; a chance to crawl out of our highly functional and yet awkwardly uncomfortably skins. I could barely contain myself.
“So why aren’t there more people at this wedding?” Violet said as she wiped her face with the red embroidered napkin. I spotted a few hotel workers, some from the kitchen, others with small green hats on, standing off to the side, not so annoyed by this particular night, but also with all of them and took a sip of water. Our table far from looking forward to the travesty that the potential tomorrow had to offer. I sympathized wasn’t offered a bottle to drown away nervous feelings. If they only knew how many were already out in the open at that point.
“It’s just the rehearsal grandma.”
“Oh, well where’s the bathroom in this hellhole?”
“I don’t know.”
“I have to go too. I’ll help her find it.” Harriet stood up and walked off with Violet as Kieran and I both stared at our nearly empty plates for a few moments before eventually looking up at one another. We were once the inseparable first cousins, but it had quickly diminished as I became desensitized to the entire human race through college and he managed to fall right in with the rest of them his age, a recklessly depressed horny sixteen-year-old who recently discovered the truest of all of man’s philosophies. Everything sucks.
“So how’s it going?”
“Alright, I guess. What do you know about Harriet?”
“Well, I met her about fifteen minutes before you did, so a whole lot of nothing, why?”
“Well, she just seems cool, that’s all.”
“And you’re more than ready to jump her bones.”
“Man, you are repressed Noah. It’s not like that. I mean, it’s sort of like that, but right now I’m just trying to find out a few things, ya know?”
“Yeah, no, I get it.”
“But you don’t know anything, I guess.”
“I could find out.”
“Don’t ask her.”
“Yeah, no shit retard. I’ll ask Alanna.”
“Oh. Well what’s the deal with you two?”
“Man, that is some question. Ya know, I almost wish it was the future so you and I could quickly link minds and then you could maybe come close to having some vague idea as to what’s up with Alanna and myself.”
“Did something happen?”
“I don’t know. I mean, well… At this point, I can’t really tell you what I would define ‘something’ as.”
“Ya know, you don’t have to be a dick about it.”
“I’m sorry. I just… Well I sort of have mixed emotions about everything that’s happened in my life in the past twenty-four hours.”
“And you’re not gonna tell me anything about it, huh?”
“Well no offense Kieran, but there is a substantial age difference between the two of us, and I could explain a few things to you, but I find that it’s better if you just figure those few things out on your own. It’s a much better learning experience”
“So you’re not gonna find about Harriet for me?”
“No, I’ll find out. I’m just not gonna tell you what’s going on with Alanna and I.”
“Well that’s fine. I think I can live with that.”
“Cool.” I hadn’t noticed her stand up from the table, or any of the others for that matter, starting to get slowly drunk and ready to head off in numerous opposite directions. The women for the most part would stay at the house. Gail, Joy, Colleen, Fiona, Sue and Jeannie all had numerous topics to discuss, Violet sitting off to the side, wondering what all the fuss was about. The men would exaggerate the concept of freedom way past its normal bounds. They were Thomas Jeffersons writing prestigious verses for later parties to simply misinterpret.
Brian, Ken, Neil and regretfully my father would venture out with some of the other suits and drunkenly remind each other what it was once like to breathe fresh air. The younger ones would laugh it all off, ordering more shots from the tight black tank-topped bartender, swooning over their looks and tips. It would be an adventure that I regrettably declined, deciding that even after a stern talking to from the opposite sex, I couldn’t help but resist the illustrious pull she had on me, that night, and potentially forever after.
Alanna walked over behind my chair, leaning in and inviting me outside for a cigarette. She knew I didn’t smoke, and yet Harriet was stuck in the facilities and Fiona had more drinking and impressions to be made. I felt slightly bad leaving Kieran alone to fend off some introductions, and yet knew that he couldn’t be any happier. Sometimes we all enjoyed being sectioned off for the sake of own good. It helped the progressions of things to come.
She leaned against the back wall, neighboring the parking lot, smoking her cigarette and unwinding in a normal fashion I felt I was almost growing accustomed to. I waited for something to ground us again, to let our words carry past the supposed genius of our uniquely destructive pairing and simply float along, cool and breezy, like the beautiful billboard peopl in the cigarette ads lied to us. It took longer than I had imagined.
“So that food was terrible.”
“Well it is just the rehearsal.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How was the champagne?”
“It tasted like rehearsal champagne Noah.” She said sarcastically.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So Kieran’s wondering what the deal with Harriet is?”
“I was unaware that there was any deal associated with my cousin.”
“Oh C’mon, you know what I mean. Is she going to be on her cellphone all night, talking to some idiot in a garage band, or are the two of them going to end up making-out somewhere by the end of this shitshow?”
“Ya know, for a writer, you have the worst fucking way of putting everything.”
“Well, I didn’t really feel like elaborating on something that, at this point anyway, is only hypothetically possible.”
“Yeah, I guess I can understand that. How old is he?”
“And she’s fifteen. Wow, that’s bad news.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“No, just… Well nevermind.”
“What? What were you gonna say?”
“I don’t know really. I was just thinking about how much easier it is for the them, ya know?”
“Yeah, I was thinking the exact same thing earlier.”
“You’re just saying that, trying to find some kind of common ground.”
“I think we’re well past the point where we need to find common ground Alanna.” She took the comment lighter than I expected, flicking the ash from her drag onto the ground and exhaling like an old movie star. I pictured us in different places, meeting under varying circumstances and yet at that point I could only really see us as a Casablanca kind of ending. One of us inevitably deciding that it would be better if the other wandered off in another direction. I would regret not being nearly as romantic as those from the past.
Then again, considering the speeches from Ken, the penetrating looks from family and friends, and all of it seeming more so like a temporary escape, the idea that such righteous frivolousness with Alanna wasn’t necessarily something out of Hollywood began to resonate. Maybe all my previous convictions were above everything else, accurate. She didn’t have anything better to do. The flirting was out of habit, the kiss a result of heavy drinking, the day of dictation a way to past the time before the main event. We weren’t the focus of anybody’s kind words or soundly aged advice.
Instead, it was easier to ignore what was happening. While Fiona and Alanna’s friends saw trouble in the making, I simply wanted her to understand the impossibility of myself changing in any sense of the word. I fell in love too fast with all the wrong people and would later simply think about ways to turn them into something less than spectacular. I would make the comparisons to avoid more troublesome thoughts centered on my shattered sense of future prospects and the fact that the garbage cans had to be placed comfortably on the curb every Tuesday morning. The sprawl was having an extreme effect on my already diminishing sense of self-respect. Come Monday, I was a dead man walking. My father in a younger body. The last of a dying breed. Creatively comatose. It was unsettling to think about.
“We’re different people, though Noah. I mean, despite the fact that you might think you know everything about me from conversations with my friends or looks from across the room, the fact of the matter is that you still have no idea what kind of person I am. I mean, I could just be faking it this whole time.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
“Oh yeah, well what makes you so sure?”
“Why would you fake this particular kind of misery Alanna?” She tried not to smile, before flicking her cigarette on the ground with vigorous conviction. I hated it when I got to her like that. It always seemed better when we kept our distance. Opening up was more than a little difficult for most illustrious spectators. I let conversations stay in the foreground of my head for the longest of times before deciding to bring them up. There were still girls from high school who didn’t know their unimaginably divine effect on my own personal arduous process of self-development.
In fact, they didn’t know me in the least bit, and such a vicious trend would continue endlessly unless I actually decided for once in my life to allow myself the trouble of letting them know; letting them understand how it is for somebody like me to run around with a full tank of nitrous oxide, pretending like all those numb grins were a mere result of purposeful discourse. Needless to say the parking lot of the glossed over Stevenson Hotel wasn’t the place to tell Alanna. It was just another location to think about the possibilities that were still patiently waiting for the both of us. I let it die again and without much regret.
“You’re an asshole, ya know that? Of course, I’m not really sure if you’re just acting like one because you think I’ll think it’s cute or something, or that this is possibly the real you, ya know?”
“I was just joking.”
“I know. But well… I have a pretty big question for you. I’m not sure if you’re gonna be able to handle it, but I think now would be the time to ask, ya know, before we go any further.”
“Okay, well what is it?”
“You haven’t said one thing about any of your friends. I mean, you met my friends, and sure they’re not necessarily the most intelligent of people, but they’re in my life for a reason and well… Are you a complete recluse back home or something?”
“No. I’m… Well I’m sort of going through a rebuilding period as far as all of that stuff’s concerned.”
“Well what’s the deal Noah?”
“Half of my friends were Muriel’s friends. I let her have them though, for a number of reasons, the main one being that I really didn’t like them all that much.”
“Well okay, what about the other half?”
“The other half I haven’t hung out with for about a month. Life was sort of hectic before graduation and uh… Well I’d say that all my friends from high school, ya know, the ones that you consider friends for life I guess.”
“Well Everett’s a different story, but for the sake of wrapping this shit up, we’ll say yes. The majority of my friends like Everett are either drug dealers or too hip for their own good, and it’s sort of weird at this point. I mean, I know I’ll eventually call them, fall back into routine, but at this point in my life, the future on the horizon, I just sort of wanna see what happens with us.”
“You’re unbelievable, ya know that?”
“What, that’s the truth. I mean, you just said ‘before we go any further’”
“I meant with the conversation Noah.”
“Sure you did.” I said sarcastically, shifting my weight towards her. She wasn’t having any of it, though; opening the door to the banquet hall, and taking one final look at my shattered disposition; her partner in crime, good company for the occasional smoke and the lone gunman desperately trying not to fall in love. It hurt more to attempt to try rather than letting it simply come crashing down.
“I’m pretty sure Harriet’s single.”
“Awesome.” She walked back inside as I allowed myself the time to wonder and reflect on words left unsaid. It felt beyond familiar. The rest of my past and future family members were finishing up the harrowing process of bullshitting, and getting ready to leave one place and take refuge in another. My father stepped over next to me as both of us walked away from the double doors, asking for his car keys. I handed them over, reminding him that he had to drive Neil and the rest of his clan back to the Brinker establishment. He reiterated a perfectly programmed answer as usual.
“Anything to get away from your mother.” I watched him walk away before getting in the back of Alanna’s car, explaining what had just occurred. She almost cringed at me, before allowing herself the time to think about what such an expression would do. It was slowly becoming a battle of wills as I let her have her cake on occasion. I squeezed in next to Harriet as we barreled down the highway once again. I thought about my father and how his day had been some slow-motion form of torture, the night offering with it little to no sanctuary.
I would always promise myself that when the inclination of marriage did occur, I would make sure to be aware of how big all of it was. That way it would make sense when I let every feeling wash over me. I thought about how they had never been in love, and kids were just subsequent byproducts of what was expected of their generation. Neil and Sue still had somewhat of a spark left in them. They compromised and steered past all the bullshit. I could tell the difference from the earliest of ages, and yet didn’t necessarily see their more structured settlement as something better, not until later in life at least.
In the same sense, though, I would continually promise myself that if I ever became a father, that I would try and be better at it than my own. Not to say that Fred was the worst of father figures, it’s just that he eventually gave up on the idea of it. Gail turned out far too perfect and I simply chose an alternative path, one lined with fool’s gold and defiant yet somewhat artistic truth. I saw the majority of things in black and white, and if nothing else I suppose I could have considered that a grand inheritance from my father. Our genes never ran nearly as deep as our affinity to simply not give a shit at the right time. With travesties and problematic discourses on the cusp of the rest of my night spent tap dancing around topics and open-ended emotions with Alanna Brinker, I couldn’t help but feel that for once in my life, heredity was paying off.