We marry in the last beautiful place on Earth
January 11, 2022 / Kelly Wei
I guess everyone does cry at weddings.
Chloe wears a pink dress and her favorite cowboy hat to the reception.
The door to her house is spring green, wreathed in pearls and fresh bluebonnets. She elbows it open, and light floods out into the night, swaths of it settling across my boots, my dress, my gloves. The place is empty. Everyone is outside, talking and laughing in the clearing.
“I’ll be just a second,” she says, gliding past me and into a room down the hall. The ruffles on her dress trail behind her like a school of shiny fish.
While I wait, I pace with my hands clasped behind my back, the way my grandfather used to when I made him sad. I study the plants on her windowsill, the chipped floor-length mirror leaned against her couch, and the enormous clothing rack in the middle of her living room. The kitchen smells like fresh garlic. An abandoned candle flickers on the counter. Paranoid of housefire, I blow it out.
I have a hard time believing that Chloe’s house, though empty now, is that way on a regular day. It’s a beautiful place, so the people who move in and out of it must love each other. I look through the window, where — past the patio, past the unfenced yard, past the 10 paces of wild grass — two distant flood lights shine in the clearing, and a guest’s great, big guffaw echoes back to me.
I’ll deny it later to anyone who might have seen my face change through the window, but I suddenly feel an urge to sit down on the hardwood and dissolve into tears.
Love, beauty, the good life: I dress in black and pretend I’d rather read Cioran than be loved, but the truth is, there’s little else I want more.
I guess everyone does cry at weddings.
Then Chloe is waltzing back, ushering us out the door, and something must give away how I’m feeling — probably the distracted, gloom-and-doom glaze over my eyes that I haven’t been able to clear since last year — because she pats me gently on my arm and says something I don’t hear, but it sounds sweet.
Around the summer before the wedding, I collapsed into a dead-eyed, Sisyphean state of sorry existence. I staved off any coherent thought with midday naps, got up only to take my medication or decline phone calls, and came to in the evenings dizzy with weird dreams. I’d check the fridge for leftovers, for an appetite. Find neither. Crawl back under the blankets. Watch old sitcoms until I’d eventually doze off to the laugh track.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’d leave the apartment in a fit of uncharacteristic agitation, walk the half-hour to campus, and sit on south lawn to push my fingernails into the dirt and feel lucid in the June dark again, the way I used to before the pandemic sent us all home. Austin is a green city, hilly and lush if you know where to go, but it was the campus greenery I liked best.
Maybe because I’d trekked through it dozens of times my first two semesters at college, always late at night and always alone. There I was: carrying my heels as I walked down 22nd Street in a white initiation dress, bleary-eyed and feverishly hot, collapsing like Cinderella on a lawn bench when I couldn’t take it anymore. Crying like I’d never cried before — because I was 18 and not a virgin anymore, because he didn’t love me, because my mother could call me twice a day and never once ask if I was OK, too afraid to hear the answer. Because nothing in the world did not bruise-and-use me up anymore.
All the sadness I watered that little patch of grass with must have made it feel like home. Now, whenever I felt bad — or, in the case of summer 2020, felt nothing at all — I’d go sit there like an open nerve ending, waiting for the oaks and dandelions to tell me something about myself, my future, whatever the hell was going to make the meteoric hole in my chest sew itself back up. Something like, This too shall pass, or Someday you’ll get this splinter out of your heart and thank the universe for putting it there.
As we arrive, a rush of hands and shoulders greet us, flurry of kisses, punchline to a “left at the altar” joke I missed earlier that makes everyone laugh. Jade is handing me a slice of lemon meringue. Maddy is tucking a wildflower behind my ear; stolen, I suspect, from the vase at the center of the long picnic table. Someone I don’t recognize merrily asks me if I’m drunk, how come I’m not drunk, and whether I’ll need a ride back later. A little brown dog happily follows Chloe to her seat, ears flopping, then curls up at her feet with a yip.
I think it was Inger Christensen who wrote, “When I was 9 years old, the world, too, was 9 years old.” I still remember when things were beautiful. I used to sing, running from one corner of my family garden to the other, lyrics pouring out of me like I was a child oracle.
I’m a bird, I’m a bird, I would chant and lean over to skim my hands along the edge of the pool, cutting through the aquamarine with tiny, outstretched fingers. I liked to pretend the water had hands of its own, and that somehow, through “touch,” we could hear each other. I blow bubbles and send them out like happiness on wings.
“There was no difference between us, no opposition, no distance,” Christensen writes. “We just tumbled around from sunrise to sunset, earth and body as alike as two pennies.”
When I held my palms out under the backyard magnolia tree, the wind used to come each time to send a petal shivering into my hands. I wanted to get married under that tree. Back then, we were healthy as horses — cerulean sky, pink cheeks, lush foliage. What happened to me? What happened to the world?
Above us, sparkling mirror balls and pink streamers hang from the trees — “Bree, you shouldn’t have!” — and these are what I look at for the longest time, while people murmur and shift all around me, their voices joining and separating and joining again.
Admittedly, I don’t know how to write about good things yet, nor about things that haven’t finished happening to me. So this is where the moment on paper has to end. I’m still standing in the grass and watching the discos turn over and over, catching the rims of our champagne glasses, the sparkling jewels around our throats, and refracting all that light back onto us. It’s not exactly a dialogue, but I swear I can almost hear the woods say, Look at how beautiful you all are.
“Oh, baby,” someone’s hand, brushing my cheek. “Why are you crying?”
I feel small, like a child again — and I don’t know if that means I’m going to be OK someday, or if I’m ever going to meet the gaze of this earth and understand perfectly what it’s saying to me again. But it feels good. Like, something in me is breaking again so that it might set properly this time around.
The cake comes out at midnight, and we begin to sing a nonsensical mash-up of “Happy Birthday” and “Here Comes the Bride.” I can’t see anyone’s face, but I can hear our voices, smiling into the darkness.
When you’re in it, a bad summer feels like it’ll go on forever.
But here it is: the very first night of something else, grainy and cool, the sky and everything under it humming to the sound of us moving through dark lands. ■
by: Kelly Wei
layout: Melanie Huynh
photographer: Erin Dorney
stylists: Noella Campos
hmuas: Yeonsoo Jung
models: Mikaela Medina & Priscilla Takyi