Brianne and John got married, and I am very glad I was there.
One of the best things about university (acquiring long term employment not included) is meeting people you would not have otherwise known. Such was the case with my friend Brianne, who lived with me two years in Artz Haus and two years in a townhouse on campus. Hailing from a small, farming town, with brown wavy hair and a not-tall stature, Brianne has a completely un-ironic affection for fairies, country music and ‘Moulin Rouge’.
For an example of how our two personalities at times oddly overlap, we both know the lyrics to the weepy 1980’s ballad ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, but while Brianne learned them from her parents’ record collection, I know the song from ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.
With her pearls and occasionally-shocked expressions at the crap that came out of our mouths, Brianne quickly became the Charlotte York of our rag tag group. (An analogy which became obvious after she admitted to almost walking out of her first episode of ‘Sex and the City’ after a particularly dirty comment by Samantha, but not being able to as the character of Charlotte did it on the show before she could.) Of course, eventually we (re: I) got her hooked on the series, but the corrupting of Brianne is not my subject today.
In fact, quite the reverse: out of all of us, she always stayed true to who she was and what she believed. But I never once felt that she judged me or made assumptions based on our differences. We could talk about anything and everything for hours. And when I was going through my Bad Break-up, it was Brianne who let me pull my mattress into her room so I wouldn’t have to spend one particularly dark night alone.
It was about that same time that Brianne met John. Very occasionally, we tried to stay in shape, which led a few of us to university pool one evening. Brianne can’t swim, so she sort of fluttered on a floaty board while I kept her company. She had gone to a play that afternoon and forgot she was wearing make-up. Her mascara was now running down her cheeks, but we didn’t tell her, as it was the Guelph swimming pool at nine at night and who cares? Well, Brianne ended up caring, after a cute boy swam up to her and they talked for a bit. Later, when she saw her reflection in the women’s locker room, she apparently cried, “Why didn’t anybody tell me I look like Corpse Bride!”
Turns out John, also sweet and from a small town, didn’t care very much. He swiftly made his way into our group and into Brianne’s heart. Five years later, they got married.
A group of us from Artz Haus drove the three hours from Toronto for the wedding, stopping at a chip wagon and listening to CDs from the early 00’s to get us in the nostalgic mood. The ceremony took place at John’s aunt’s farm and we were kindly offered the ‘Hunter’s Cabin’ to stay in (a title particularly funny, given that we had two vegetarians among us).
When we arrived at the farm, it was clear that this was going to be a Country Wedding. And by that I don’t just mean the abundant presence of John Deere tractors, or the random sheepdog running around. By ‘Country Wedding’ I’m referring to the casual, not-terribly-organized manner in which the event played out. Who needs an over-reacting, stressed-out wedding planner anyway?
John’s warm and welcoming aunt took us to the cabin. The girls were invited to ride a John Deere ‘Gator’ while the boys walked. (Considering the girls were also told to use the inside facilities while the boys got to use the porta potty, I noted that gender differences played a larger role than they would, say, in Toronto’s Annex.) As we dropped off our stuff, John’s aunt explained what the word ‘rustic’ meant:
“Now, it’s unfinished, but there’s bunk beds in the back enough for all of you. But don’t sleep on the top bunks, because they’re plywood. The windows open, but only some of them have screens, so watch out for bugs. If you get hot, you can turn on the AC, but you probably don’t want to leave it on all night, as the cord gets very hot. You should probably keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burst into flames. The outhouse is just outside, but send one of the men in first, as we keep trying to get rid of that wasp’s nest, but you never know. I hope you’re all comfortable…”
Joking aside, it was exactly the space we needed and we were so grateful to be staying on the property.
The ceremony was held down a little path from the house by a babbling brook, under some tall tress which provided a cathedral-like canopy. A gorgeous dragonfly landed on a leaf right beside me. Indeed, for the anxious, bug spray had been left on a chair as you made your way to the site.
At least for the beginning of the ceremony, brides have it easier. They get to compose themselves at some undisclosed location, while the groom stands on display at the front, mingling with the guests and looking nervous. The only evidence of Brianne I had really seen so far was the ‘Moulin Rouge’ quote in the program: “The greatest thing is just to love, and to be loved in return.”
We had seen and greeted John, but we didn’t see the bride until the violinist began Pachelbel’s Canon. Maybe I didn’t fully believe it was happening until I spotted her with her top-hatted father in an achingly romantic gown. Suddenly it hit me; my friend was getting married. As she walked down the ‘aisle’ and was about to look in our direction, I heard a loud thap-thap-thap beside me. Looking down, I saw a giant black beetle-type insect had landed on my shoulder. Calmly and quietly, I swatted it away, but when I looked back up, Brianne had passed us.
When the minister permitted the couple to kiss. It came earlier than she expected, Brianne told me later, and, as not a tall person, she grasped John’s arms, went up on her toes and planted a big one on his lips. There was awkward silence until I shrieked “Woooooo!” like a studio audience member, and everybody laughed and cheered. I’m so proud of her for just going for it. Perhaps some Samantha did rub off after all.
The reception was held in the ‘barn’, which was very new and large and felt more like a wooden airplane hangar. The Guelph people had a prominent spot near the head table, with our named place settings attached to small rocks. A rumour spread that Brianne had personally matched each name to a stone. (I guess this is why brides are so busy.) Before dinner was served, dehydrated and on my second glass of white wine, I wandered up to the head table:
“Brianne. Brianne! Why did you pick this rock for me?”
Without missing a beat she answered, “Because it’s craggy and kind of antique-looking.”
“Oh. Okay. I’m keeping it.”
Sometimes country folk say completely unprompted country things that sound made up.
“Pretty good party, eh?” a man said to me out of nowhere.
“Yes, it is.”
“Not like those fancy, city weddings!”
“No,” I laughed. “Definitely not.”
After dinner, she danced with her father to a country song which had the chorus ‘I Held Her First’ before joining John in a waltz to ‘Come What May’ from ‘Moulin Rouge’. That’s when many of us started crying, although I first teared up when John said in his speech that, having known Brianne for five, he couldn’t wait to know her for ten, fifty and one hundred years.
During her speech, Brianne gave me a shout-out, thanking me for taking her swimming. She said my surprised expression was priceless.
And I tried to catch the bouquet with all the ladies. Gender differences be damned! It sailed through my hands, I actually felt the petals before a girl behind me with blue hair caught it. Turns out, I wasn’t the only subversive friend present. They made the blue-haired girl dance with the guy who caught the bride’s garter, so it was probably for the best.
I kept feeling like I wanted a moment alone with the bride, as impossible as I knew that was. The feeling was given special urgency because the couple are leaving for Alberta soon, perhaps never to return. But I didn’t even know what I wanted to say. Thank you for always being an amazing friend? Congratulations on finding love in this rough, relationship status ‘It’s complicated’ world? Maybe I just wanted a moment with her to get a breath, take it all in and acknowledge how much everything’s changed since we shared a wall at Guelph.
Brianne kept her energy up and danced in the barn until one in the morning. I tried to keep up, and at some point lost my shoes. Her parents danced together, especially when the DJ played a Beatles’ song.
TV shows and movies about weddings often focus on how they divide (family versus family, inter-bridesmaid rivalries) but the truth about weddings is that they bring us together. Even if only for one night, older relatives from the country, attention-grabbing toddlers running around screaming, parents, siblings and queer and non-queer university friends combine to form an ad hoc group to support the couple in the next phase of their life together. And the glue that holds this diverse band together is their love for the bride and groom.
There was a moment near the end of the night when there were four couples slow-dancing and I stood off by myself. There wasn’t even an unoccupied bridesmaid to dance with (although I wouldn’t want to lead her on and break her heart). In truth, I felt a little sad. Here were two people promising each other to love one another for a hundred years, ‘come what may’, and I hadn’t been on a second date for longer than I care to admit. But it’s okay. I thought of Carrie Bradshaw dancing by herself at a ‘gay prom’ (a humorously reversed situation than I was in). Besides dirty words, ‘Sex and the City’ taught me that it’s okay to dance by yourself if you know who you are and what you’re waiting for.
And I had evidence right in front of me that love really exists.
That night at the cabin, our formal clothes soaked in sweat, we brushed our teeth on the front porch and I accidentally spit on the picnic table down below.
“It’s fine; it’ll look like bird poo in the morning.”
The next day, all of the Guelph people reassembled in the barn, tired and hung-over, for a breakfast feast of left overs and waffles. Looking totally refreshed and rested, John and Brianne joined our table and we momentarily acted like we were back at Creelman, the cafeteria we went to practically every day. But then everyone had to leave and no one wanted to say goodbye.
Realizing I hadn’t said anything to Brianne’s parents yet, I sought out her Mom.
“Oh, Max!” she said, giving me a hug. “You look so different without long hair!” (I had long hair in third year. Yeah, I don’t know either. ) “Thank you so much for coming all this way! It means a lot to Brianne.” She said it as though Toronto was countries away.
“It’s not that far,” I replied.
My friends were trying to leave, but I wanted to make it clear to her how glad I was to be Brianne’s friend. “Thank you… for having such a wonderful daughter!” I called out.
Then we went to the car, for a quiet, contemplative drive back to the city and regular life.
Congratulations, John and Brianne. I am very happy for you and proud to know you both.
Make sure Alberta is ready for my visit.