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When C. asked me to accompany him to the wedding, there was no question I'd go. But once we got there, and the awkward jokes started the minute we stepped in the door, I once again felt like a fish out of water. I began to wonder, as I had so many times before, if the obstacle of our opposing cultures was one I could — or should — continue to surmount.
Nonetheless, I did my duty: I participated, smiled, and talked to everyone. By midnight, asking to leave seemed reasonable. To prepare for departure, I visited the ladies' room. As I was exiting the lavatory, a girlishly pretty woman with jet-black hair came in. I recognized her; she was the one who'd put a fair amount of effort into catching the bouquet. Slightly inebriated and very sweet, she was looking for ibuprofen. Unfortunately, though, there weren't any painkillers in the requisite wicker basket of hygiene products; I didn't have any on me either. So, after wishing her well on her Advil search, I went to the back patio, where C. was smoking a cigar with his buddies.
"It's getting late," I said into his ear. "Can we head home soon?"
He'd begun saying his goodbyes when someone behind me exclaimed, "She bumped into me and spilled an entire pot of coffee down my dress!"
Turning, I saw the raven-haired bouquet-catcher. My guess was that she'd bumped into the waitress in question, not the other way around.
With the coveted flowers in one hand and a pair of strappy black platform stilettos dangling from her wrist, the woman picked up the skirt of her gown. "It's ruined!" she said to her boyfriend.
In an instant, I felt for her; wrecking your outfit is so disappointing. And there really was something unusually sweet about her, almost child-like. So I said, "The stain's really not that noticeable, because of the fabric pattern. But maybe club soda will help?"
Stepping closer to me, she said, "Do you think?"
"I'm not a stain expert — but maybe it's worth a try?"
Her boyfriend went off to get some fizzy water. She sighed then, and confided in me something that made me realize she had a lot more on her mind than dry cleaning: "We came here straight from a funeral."
The friend of hers who'd died had killed himself by sticking a piece of dynamite in his mouth. She and her boyfriend had discovered the body. "I can't get the image of him out of my head," the woman said.
Years ago, my closest friend committed suicide. The police found him, not I — and yet, for months and months, terrible images and relentless questions haunted me as I tried to come to terms with the shocking loss. I felt that I should have some wisdom to share with this poor woman — but everything that came to mind seemed too trite, facile. Recovering had been a long, complex process for me. In fact, it wasn't until I met C. — nearly a decade later — that the constant fog of pessimism that had overtaken me after the suicide really began to lift.
I felt an urge to tell the woman to hang on tight to her boyfriend, who seemed like he was good to her. We can't always understand death, but it's easier to bear when love reminds us of our attachment to this world. Having someone you can truly rely on — someone whose patience and love helps your sadness recede naturally — makes life so much gentler, no matter how you feel about his social group.
But before I could say anything, she mentioned that this was the fifth bouquet she'd caught in the last year or two, and that this one wouldn't make any difference either; her boyfriend kept saying he didn't want to get married.
When C. came up a moment later and squeezed my shoulders, I kissed him, and then I kissed him again, and again.
Now that he's in my life, I no longer have to fight a feeling of hopelessness every time the sun goes down. I no longer have to defend myself from a ferocious sense of despair at the end of every weekend. These days, I don't suddenly start sobbing uncontrollably on subways because I'm so exhausted by the effort of living. All the little agonies are not quite as crippling or misery-making as they used to be. Everything is so much easier than I ever thought it would be again.
Everything but having an ideally shared social life, that is. C. hasn't expanded my network, it's true. But he's made the world that I live in easier to navigate. You might say he's helped me scale up — to take on new challenges (like writing my first book and getting off antidepressants) and live my life more hopefully.
In the moonlight outside my apartment building, when we got home from the wedding and found a parking space, C. and I danced our silent dance, heads on each other's shoulders. More than just making me happy, he makes me feel like I finally have a home in the world. I can't choose my boyfriend's friends, but I can choose him, and I do.