My daughter was getting married.
I suppose it was the happiest day of my life, succeeding my own marriage, and then my second marriage. My own baby girl, who had worshipped me, hated me, idolized me, and tolerated me, was taking a leap of faith into an institution that my family so cherished that few of us had been sated by a single occurrence.
My daughter had been engaged to a woman, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but now she was settling down. Given the family history, it was hard to see this as more than a dress rehearsal, but… maybe this was in fact the second true love and the one that would prove lasting. I certainly hoped so.
The night before my daughter was to be married I was preoccupied with various details, all of which seemed to involve my credit card, when the phone rang and a new twist developed because it was my brother on the line.
Half-brother, of course, or more accurately .1035% brother for all the interest he’d shown in the family in general and my family in particular. I’d last seen him at our father’s wake, in that drafty old house I’d never lived in, never understood. My parents divorced when I was six, five, and the Old Man had managed to knock up two women at once; my sister born only months before my half-brother. I only forgave him for that when I was in the army. Somehow, it seemed important then.
So here the Young Buck was, although since I’m 50 he can hardly be considered young, dialing a too-da-loo and asking about tomorrow’s events. Bastard, and I mean that literally, since my parents weren’t fully divorced… well, never mind. There’s been no signal for ten years. Why should you pop up now, uninvited? But I let the smooth sounds of his voice remind me of my love for single malts, and soon we are at a spot in Seattle that I don’t know about, staring into glasses that I’ve never heard of. And somehow, the bartender doesn’t need our money or credit cards and just melts away like fog.
He looks older than I remember, though truthfully I’ll always think of him as that 13-year-old punk trying to make my friends his own. His face is lined, his hair missing, his jawline sharp and angry. But the words, so gentle. Wanting to be there for Jane, wanting to stand and be counted, wondering why he was not invited, but understanding the oversight. At first I take it, because it’s easy, because simmering resentment burns so much better than angry, boiling rage.
But then I can’t take it any longer, the gentleness. I order another because clearly he has the number, and I lash out without purpose, why, why, why, why does he even exist, why does he insist on existing, why is there any reason to be having this conversation, and why did our father always point to him as some sort of reference check? Why was I never good enough, why was I always the fuck up? All I ever wanted to do was follow my path and not be judged and now my daughter is following hers so excuse the fuck outta me if you’re not invited because you’re a fucking toxic element in our family and I have no idea who you are.
So I sip my scotch and he has this annoying blissful look. He reminds me of a story that I don’t remember, of when I told him I lost my virginity to a hooker who invited me back time and again on the house because it was the best she could remember. He reminds me of our father writing to me in the army and the secrecy of those letters and what he imagines we shared. He reminds me of the difference five years can make to a kid, searching for identity and relevance and finding a brother to idolize. And everything he’s talking about is bullshit. But it’s clear he’s held it for a long, long time.
When I look at him, I see myself. I see our father. I even see his mother. But I see beyond that. I see the face of guys I knew in the army, guys who were there before me, the thousand-yard stare, the scary place. He’s my younger brother but the older soul, and he’s reaching. Struggling to find some semblance of normal life, some difference from whatever it is that’s going on in his world. He’s asking to celebrate something, anything, to seize upon a moment and glorify it. He wants my daughter’s wedding to stand in for the graduations, the birthdays, the Christmases and the Easters; the invisible moments in his own non-existent family’s non-existent world, and he doesn’t want to be the center of attention for the novelty of his presence… he just wants to feed on the proximity of happiness, of hope, of the future.
“Look,” I say finally, “I’m sorry. We’ve got a tight head count on the reception and she’s already had to tell a bunch of friends no. We’re trying to keep things small and concentrated, and… well, you know. Maybe next time you’re in Seattle…? But it’s been great seeing you, and let’s exchange email addresses because I want to keep up with your world, too.”
And my eyes say it all. I can’t let you, Ernest. She means too much to me.