Pairs well with Callin’ Baton Rouge, by Garth Brooks
I have a best friend and I’m worried. There are things we are meant to experience together, things I should be able to give her, that I seemingly can’t. Sure, I give her sparkling text message dialog and engaging commentary on current events and a safe place to stow offensive conversations we can’t have with other people. But really, she’s supposed to be my Maid of Honor. Which requires a wedding. Which requires a husband. Which is currently a vacant seat in the Senate of my life. She’s supposed to stand next to me as a symbol of her confidence in and approval of my impending union. She’s also supposed to stand there and give a firm “don’t-fuck-with-her” look to my intended lest he think this shit’s a game.
She’s seen me hurt and confused countless times, and is always the first person to accurately discern whether I’ve contributed to my own misfortune, or if situations are truly as WTF as they seem. She’s very honest with me and puts up with nothing, she will always tell me if I’ve taken a course of action that’s dumb, and therefore must suffer consequences. Which makes it all the more painful when my hopes go up, and then come crashing down, because hers go for the same ride. I need her hopes and optimism more than my own, I trust them more. My own body and mind will betray me into thinking, wanting, and rationalizing all manner of things unwise, but she is loyal as soldier’s German Shepherd and an oracle-like voice of reason. She’s also much smarter than me and having never heard her say “I think you should marry this guy,” I know for a fact I have not yet met my husband. She knows the difference. She’ll see him coming. She’ll even like him more than she likes me which is a real thing that she’s said to me before and I know for a fact it’s a little bit true. She’s been in the shit with me, and thus she is who I want standing next to me when I come out okay on the other side. I don’t want a slew of cousins and siblings standing there in matching dresses who don’t actually know my life. I want someone who knows how long that walk down the aisle really was.
I don’t even really want a wedding, the idea of a big affair designed to be Pinterest fodder makes me shudder. I do want some semblance of ceremony, a small celebration of some kind, but even if all I do is wait in line at city hall, she’s the person who’ll be sitting on the bench next to me, holding my coat and judging all the David’s Bridal gowns in the room for my personal amusement. I don’t need her to throw a lavish bachelorette party (or weekend, as they’ve now become. Ridiculous, more on them later), or a shower where I sit in front of a room full of women and unwrap gifts of lingerie with my mother watching. It’s just that I want to give her back a strong statement of recognition, of appreciation for everything she’s done for me, given me, over the single years. That bitch is ride or die and she deserves a ceremony. One day I’ll dedicate a fountain to her in my yard. We’ll serve cake, it’ll be lovely.
And naturally, I’ve been there for hers. A good partnership have we, and it has been my privilege to be there, to be a memory-sustaining vessel of our past for preservation’s sake. She doesn’t have the years of single struggle under her belt that I do (thank heaven), but she’s seen her fair share of live combat. There’s a story we don’t often tell, it’s not a pleasant one, but she likes the way I tell it. It’s one I believe we’ll both be very glad is written down one day when we’re old and the idea of telling it again seems crass. We’ll just toss this essay in the general direction of whichever grandchild is brave enough to delve into her dating past. It starts in law school, as many horror stories do. I’ve been given permission to tell it. I cannot make her my Maid of Honor, but I can seal her story in text.
Law school final exams are the stuff of endurance. Weeks on end spent studying and depriving oneself of all memory of normalcy, sometimes hygiene. Subsisting on bad free law school coffee and low-quality convenience food, it’s a wonder we survived with even a modicum of nutritional fortitude. My best friend’s birthday always fell during law school final exams. So for three years, we selected an arbitrary date in January to celebrate her birth. In our third and final year of school, we went to Vegas.
The year before this Vegas excursion, she began dating a medical student who lived in Indiana, we lived in L.A.. They met through a friend. A long distance relationship maintained as two people pursued doctoral degrees was nothing short of challenging, but neither of them are what’d you’d call fragile and they did just fine. Until they didn’t. And no matter what happens in the next 1,000 words or so, you need to know that they got married.
On the way to Vegas from LA (I was driving, I always volunteered to drive the first shift out of LA, it’s the return trip you want to avoid, for obvious reasons), she sensed something was a bit off. They hadn’t been communicating well or as often, there was a rift. A pea in the bottom of her stomach that would soon grow to the size of Ohio. The all-girls trip consisted of two law students (her and me) and three ladies (close friends of hers) just down for a good time. That evening’s plans involved checking into the Luxor (in a former smoking room which was one step above squalor), and partying the night away at Moon, a club at The Palms Hotel that has since closed. I don’t care if that ages us. You know I’m 33 and for all you need to know, she’s 26. Prior to Moon, we were set to have dinner at N9NE. My girl loves a good steak.
As we (five of us in a room with two beds) readied ourselves for the night with one bathroom and too few power outlets, she received an email from him with an ominous subject line that I cannot now recall. The email would not load on her phone. The reception in that large, pyramid shaped hotel was less than ideal, go figure. The entire structure looks like something you’d use to contact life on Saturn. The unread email weighed on her, but part of her DNA is comprised of granite, and she didn’t visibly show concern. We arrived at The Palms, checked in at N9NE, and realized we had a few minutes to wait before our table would be ready. I, ever the opportunist, decided to sample Vegas’ finest at the Craps table. My best friend decided to check her email.
She’s a very good negotiator and convincer, my friend. She can talk pretty much anyone into anything, particularly if that person works in a service industry of some kind. She convinced the concierge at The Palms to pull up and print out this email as I rolled the dice. It took 90 seconds for me to lose $100, and for the love of her life to break up with her in an email.
She knew it wasn’t good news. The look on the concierge’s face was one of utmost concern for her wellbeing as multiple typed pages came through via Inkjet. She read it once, alone, and then came to collect her broke friend from Craps. We sat at two slot machines and I watched my friend, dressed in a gorgeous black dress, her recent haircut perfectly styled, cry for the first time ever in front of me as she read me his email, the sounds of the casino melting together like electronic wind chimes. The email was direct, matter-of-fact, and crushing. I won’t cite anything specific because it is a private communication and also I don’t want to give his ass a byline here. Let’s just say it got the job done.
Instead of discussing his concerns with her in person, like a person, or even calling her on the phone to have a real discussion, this shaking, scared chihuahua did his business in an email. Instead of facing the pain he was causing, he hid behind technology, and it faced me. I had never seen her hurt or even moderately upset before that night. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion — ever. But this night, dressed to the nines, in Las Vegas to celebrate her birthday, she cried. Quietly, and delicately, she cried as she told the rest of our companions the story. As we sat at down at our table. As we ordered dinner comprised of all the things she likes which are two things, meat and potatoes, she cried. We tried to end the evening, we would have done well to go upstairs, simply order room service and a rom-com, and let her relax in perfect privacy, but being who she is, she refused to ruin our evening. Sometimes I wish this bitch would just listen to reason.
We went to Moon. Actually first we stopped in at the Playboy Club because I really wanted to see it. I’m obsessed with Playboy, it doesn’t matter why. Then we went to Moon, and one of the goddesses in our crew found a way to get us a VIP table without us having to actually pay for it or be VIPs. At this point we felt we’d be letting her down if we didn’t at least try to have a good time. Bless her, she tried too. But it didn’t work. We sort of took turns sitting next to her, trying to make her laugh, ordering drinks, even dancing a little. One of us found a tall blonde doctor (not me — much to my disappointment), who she danced and flirted with quite a bit. She didn’t get to see that through to completion and it’s a slight she still reminds us of from time to time and I would, too. And all the while my friend was crying.
At the shank of the evening, as four out of five of us sat in our undeserved VIP booth, the club’s stooge came up to us and told us we’d have to leave soon, because the people who actually paid for the table would be arriving. We nodded in feigned disagreement, but fate, it seems, didn’t think we were VIPs either. A fight broke out in the room, at first at what seemed to be a safe distance, but one missed, drunken punch turned into a massive fall in our general direction that broke the glass table in front of us and distributed blood on the floor, in our drinks, and on us. It was time to leave.
We went back to our hotel room, acquired late-night snacks somehow, and did whatever drunk twenty-something girls do at the end of a night out in Vegas. I really don’t remember too much, I just remember wanting to get everyone home. We needed stable footing. We left in the morning, a day earlier than planned. She didn’t return his email, she didn’t call or text, they simply stopped speaking. I didn’t drive home.
About a year later, she and I had moved to Chicago and were studying for the bar exam. We’d already taken the California exam and thus felt slightly more prepared but nonetheless downtrodden by the sheer weight of impending legal doom that was the Illinois version of the test. I was working a full time job for a sadistic, soulless lump of a human being, but he was “nice” enough to give me an empty office to study in after hours. Notice he didn’t just give me the empty office outright, I had to work in a large open area just off the entryway. When I’d finished studying for the evening, I texted her, and asked if she’d like to go to dinner. We didn’t really do this, it was an infrequent indulgence during studying season, but I think we were both in need of something normal, so she said yes.
I arrived at her house to meet her and walk down the street to a pizza spot called Piece, that we both loved and still do. This should have been a quick process, but for the pants. I have a keen skill for ordering things online that don’t fit me. This pair of jeans was no exception, but at 80% off I figured they were, at the very least, worth a try. They’d arrived in the mail that day and I brought them to her apartment to try on before we went to dinner. For about 15 minutes I tried to sausage myself into too-little available fabric and finally gave up, sweaty and exhausted, the pants having won. I only tell you this because if those fifteen minutes hadn’t been wasted, she wouldn’t be married now.
We dined at Piece, enjoying our particular brand of sparkling dialogue. I believe it was on this night she vowed to skywrite my name across Chicago if I actually managed to pass the Bar. It wasn’t that she thought I was dumb, it’s just that a 60 hour work week doesn’t leave much time to study, and you could study for this thing for a year with no job and still fail it. I passed, just so you know, and I’m still waiting to see my name in the sky.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but by this point her ex lived in Chicago, too. He’d moved there several months before we did. She never told him she moved, he thought she still lived in LA. It had been bothering me for a little while, I worried about what would happen if she didn’t at least prepare herself to run into him. The city is big, but not that big, and I run into old Tinder dates twice a month even in Manhattan. I told her she needed to tell him. A quick email was all it would take. Just make him aware, and move on. She agreed with me, and told me she’d tell him as soon as the Bar exam was over, to avoid any unnecessary pre-exam stress. I agreed with her logic, and we paid the check. And then I looked up from placing my credit card back in my wallet, and he walked in the door.
I’m assuming my face went white, because she asked me what was wrong. She was facing me, I was facing the door, and this sombitch walked in wearing a NorthFace jacket like he hadn’t broken my best friend’s heart one year ago. I somehow communicated the current vitals of the situation to her. I think there might have been tears in my eyes. She reacted as one might, by freaking out a little.
I should point out that we looked like shit. Neither of us in makeup, both wearing casual, comfortable study clothing bordering on what you’d give away to Goodwill. Over the last year, we’d both fantasized about seeing him in public, her looking flawless and desirable, me wielding a weapon, preferably of the medieval variety. The fantasy did not live up to expectation.
By this time, he’d seen me. My periphery saw his shocked expression because he could see the back of the head of the woman I was sitting with, and that hair is unmistakably Indian. (Long, thick, silky black strands I’d give five years off the end of my life for). He walked over, and I think all three of us stopped breathing. He said her name as a question, she turned around and said hi, like she’d just seen an old friend, instead of my nemesis. Hi, like he deserved it. I can’t remember what was said, but somehow we weaseled out a plan for us to finish paying our check and then she’d come over and catch up with him a bit. Why, I don’t know. The only reason I’d have walked over to his table would have been to light it on fire and place a ritual sacrifice atop it to be kissed by the flames.
She went to the restroom to collect herself. I sat at the table and kept watch to make sure he didn’t leave and avoid what I thought he had coming. But being who and what she is, this kind heart walked over to his table and made small talk. Small talk! She was sweet, courteous, friendly. I stood by the door and mentally gave him papercuts laced with lemon juice. When I couldn’t stand to see her being nice for no reason any longer, I took her arm, and bid him and the friend he was with goodnight.
We walked back to her apartment, and proceeded to call all three of our Vegas companions and relay the story to them. And by relay I mean we screamed it into the phone three times. The level of disbelief was biblical. The story too strange to process. By the way, he wasn’t supposed to have dinner there that night, but the first place he’d gone to had quite a long wait. Plus the pants. Don’t forget the pants.
Before he’d even taken a bite of his dinner he was pursuing her. There were texts and emails about Karma, and how for the last year he’d tried everything to be a good person to somehow earn her coming back into his life. At least he’d known he was previously unworthy, I’ll give him that. They went out on what I’ll consider their first date the next night. She looked amazing. I knew they’d never be apart again. I know what my best friend likes. A few years later, they married. It was a beautiful wedding in Louisiana, I’ll never attend its equal. I gave those pants away.
I wasn’t her Maid of Honor. She’s Indian, their weddings roll differently. I waited seven years of friendship to be able to attend an Indian wedding and child, it did not disappoint. I gave a speech. She loved it. Someday I want a wedding, just a small one, so that she can be my Maid of Honor. She knows when I say that, this reason alone makes up 50% of the overall reason I’d have a wedding at all. That such a percentage might actually be a soft estimate. I want her to pick out her own dress because she’ll do a better job than I ever could. I want her to charm my new husband’s family into loving me more, and she’ll do it. I want her to have whatever relation we’ve dragooned into being DJ play “Pony” by Ginuwine and “Too Close” by Next because I know both of those songs make her sexually uncomfortable but she’ll appreciate the nostalgia nonetheless. There are things she and I need to experience together, things I somehow think we deserve, and I need to make them happen, for both of us. I know that someday she will make an outstanding Maid of Honor. But until then, she makes a great wife.