life is continually and inexorably chronological, but there’s no rule against writing it backwards. especially when life is a bit backwards right now, and my shirt is inside out. so instead of a dawn, I’ll begin with a sunset.
squinting eyes and sweaty foreheads as a sister of 9 years tramps besides me west down the beach where a dock hugs the coastline of treasure island. one sunburnt girl is laden with shells, the other with a ukulele and a mind where vivid scenes of the past week are begging for refuge in sentences. they’re piled together like brushwood, just dry enough to catch flame perchance a spark ventures close.
fortunately, the spark is only a few miles away; dipping low in the sky, teasing the blue waters of the gulf, tantalizing the clouds that are steadily drawing near to the horizon.
we reach the dock right as the flame ignites. in seconds there are orange warships plunging into a cerulean battlefield that melts into green and then sinks into the water, brilliant gold. huddling on the outskirts of the scene are masses of wide womanly clouds, wearing shawls over their heads that reflect the many pigments at war. to the south a dark mass of belligerent indigo is invading, spewing murky blues and violets. yet in moments the orange warships blush away in rosy hues and the most cotton-candy-colored of clouds you have ever seen spread across the vibrant blue and gold. crane your neck upwards and you encounter a startling purple, ushered in by the southern invading force. my sister and I are walking home backwards, watching the sky unveil itself and reveal a dazzling carnage of blood and gold and water beneath each fold. eventually the color expends itself and a muted, soft sky remains. we finally turn our backs on it and patter home through shallow water, accumulating darkness around us and shells in our pockets.
by the time I reach the gate and my little brothers’ sandy hands are grasped tight in my own, the flaming orange warships are now a dusky, dying burgundy.
that was a sunset that will live in words and memories alone, unlike many others still existing on camera rolls and Polaroid pictures. which is more glorious, I wonder?
the previous Saturday’s sky was devoid of color. I woke early to the sound of heavy rain, and dressed to it. makeup and bracelets glinting on the girls and little overalls and bowties on the boys were all ushered through the downpour into the car.
right around then is when I found out that I was going to be the maid of honor. to the wedding that we were already late to.
we knew we weren’t too late, however, when we caught a glimpse of the snow-and-lace bride and her white-lily girl beside her, climbing down the wet staircase of our hotel with their skirts in their arms. they were smiling wide as they caught sight of our car, and we snapped a photo of them standing under the porch, unaware of the enormous hummer limousine approaching to chauffeur them to the church.
I was to be the maid of honor. on a half-hour’s notice. none of the bride’s relatives had been able to come, even her twin sister. covid decided that for us. but marriage is more important, and all of us knew it. even if her family wasn’t able to come, her husband-to-be’s 10 siblings wouldn’t miss their oldest brother’s marriage for the world. especially not for some face masks and difficulty finding places to stay.
I had thought that out of those 10, plus wives, a more qualified maid of honor would be found. but half of them were singing, and the other half were holding babies.
“Don’t worry about it, you’ll do fine!” the best man whispers to me after I dashed through the rain into the church and joined a little huddle in the sacristy, “You won’t need to march down the isle, just make sure to smooth out her dress when she’s kneeling. And when they go up to the altar to make the vows, hold her bouquet and just copy what I’m doing. You’ll be fine.”
I had forgotten to adjust my shoe straps or make sure that my hair was parted right but …. I’d be fine.
my oldest uncle made his appearance in the front of the church. his anticipation was bursting from his tanned and tuxedoed self, filling us all. he had waited 45 years for his bride, for someone as beautiful as his sisters and as faithful as his mother and worthy enough to assume his last name. she was perfect, and we all knew it. she was something more than perfect.
I was so lost in thought that the flower girl was halfway down the isle before I realized that the wedding had begun. I squeezed my knees against the bench as she glided into my aisle, and the bride drifted forward, clutching her bouquet with unsteady hands and a smile so very wide.
she knelt next to her espoused and after a signal from an aunt i scurried out on my knees and smoothed out her train. cameras flashed.
I was the maid of honor on half-an-hour’s notice in my Fitbit and hotel wristband.
they pledged their vows, beautiful vows centuries old in the Church, as I held her bouquet and smiled, smiled, smiled. what was two had become one.
in what seemed like an instant later, the mass was over and I was back in the sacristy, signing the marriage certificate. I held her train as she reentered the church for photos.
in the next half-hour, I chased a certain bow-tied and suspendered little man as he dashed too close to furiously flashing cameras. the rain had relented a little; it languished into a steady drizzle as all of the children were herded into the limo beneath the chauffeur’s wide umbrella.
the interior consisted of flashing lights and mirrors and champagne. big blue eyes belonging to mischievous little boys sparkled as they reached for wine glasses and forbidden drinks. I settled on a bench where an erratic dripping graced my knee. the bride and groom tumbled in, and celebratory champagne was opened as I tried to catch water droplets before they could reach either lace or tuxedo.
there was no formal reception. the only place that would take our clan of newly-weds and the 10 siblings and their parents and their children was Skidders. we were allotted the porch to ourselves, and our dinner table occupied half of it. when I saw that the other side was vacant, and my uncle’s portable speaker, I knew exactly what was going to happen.
they danced their first dance in the porch at Skidders, to the sound of a song streamed from YouTube and the rain singing outside. it was beautiful. no one cared about the fact that unaware diners kept poking their heads in the door and then hurriedly withdrawing them after one look. all they could see was their oldest brother with the love of his life, and a union blessed and sanctified by God himself.
we ate. and then we had wedding cake; a two-tiered grocery-store cake that had only been procured after emotional entreaties on behalf of the bride. it was delicious.
and then tables were pushed aside, and shoes abandoned, and we danced.
when our hungarian-irish-Catholic family comes together, we mainly do three things. we fish, we sing, and we dance.
and wow, did we dance.
all of the classic songs. the slow ones, the fast ones, the funky 80s, a couple from the past 20 years, Irish songs, Hungarian songs, Spanish songs, Michael Jackson.
that cramped porch was alive. every person in the room shared the same blue-green-grey eyes and the same Faith and the same sense of family. nothing was lacking.
we danced until it was dark and then we parted – for an hour or so – until somehow 10 of the siblings and their parents ended up under a gazebo at our hotel, laughing and talking politics in the dark. every last moment that could be stolen from the night was hung onto before planes and cars returned the 11 to their daily lives across the states.
the day ended with a guitar and quiet conversation between brothers on our hotel room’s deck.
may my own immediate family be half as bonded as those 11 in years to come.
a week earlier I was softly strumming guitar with a suitcase at my feet and a bag on my lap and a mom and sister as living bookends surrounding me. we were on our way to the airport; our grandparents were driving us and returning the car to our house. we drove a loop around the airport and the silence was deafening; the parking lots were empty and there was no one else being dropped off or picked up. after fond farewells were exchanged with our grandparents we donned masks for the very first time and checked our luggage within minutes (after a slight delay due to the amount of art supplies I stuffed into my suitcase). none of the restaurants in the airport were open, so we arrived at the terminal in minutes and seated ourselves in various places. I may have been one of the only people to have played the guitar in an airport terminal, but then again I may have not. either way, we were introduced to the first bird we had ever seen living inside an airport.
boarding time and surprisingly we weren’t the only passengers heading to Tampa. social distancing required every middle seat to be empty, which lead to the preservation of equanimity between siblings. but even with the other passengers on the plane, many aisles were empty. every face had its mask, including my own (it did not fit, and I couldn’t breathe, but only a minor panic attack ensued and no real damage was done).
2 and a half hours of noise-cancelling headphones, drawing, and being dazzled by the fact that humans somehow have been able to reach the clouds, and we arrived in the sunshine state.
jumping from a phase 0 to a phase 2 state is like going from winter to summer. the change was so refreshing; the resentment and anxiety and coldness of the North disappeared upon breathing Floridian air. It didn’t even feel like a worldwide pandemic was happening. masks were discarded along with all of the tension we had been holding onto.
that morning, I had gone down into the basement one final time to turn off all the lights. I wouldn’t be in our little band room for a whole month. I would be a different age, maybe even a different person by the time I stood there again. the glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on the wall behind the drum set were shining in the absence of light. I snapped a photo. I knew i was going to miss the drums.