I’ve come all this way to be a plus one: Part 3

If you get the chance
Go to an Indian wedding
Be a plus one
I don’t care

how bad
your date is.
You’re not there
for them

You’re there
for the celebration
of strangers. Eat
at their table. Dance

with their loved
ones. Lift them
into the air. With
your bare hands.

Toast to their story—
Their arrival

(Your arrival)
Your new friends

Then send them
off with well wishes

but, save a few
for yourself

Plus One.

RECAP: I willingly agreed to attend a wedding two thousand miles away from home. I have arrived, period panties on, single carry-on full of (already worn once) back-up clothing, and writing a poem in my phone notes in the periphery of the matrimonial festivities, about how far I’ve come to be a plus one.

Our cabin is small, possessing only a bed and two small night stands. There is no TV but there is a mini-fridge. There is no A/C but there is a fan. The bathroom has windows that remind me of [white trash] trailers back home, with the slatted glass panels that don’t quite close out the outside. Creak when they move. Fight back.

It is a small structure comically dwarfed by cathedral woods, as if stolen from a caricature of a Kentucky soul in America. I think I could live in a space this size. Exchange my many possessions for its few. A wealth of its own.

It is Friday, the first of a three day wedding event. The schedule invites us to dress casually for the evening, but of course, we dress-up. Because casual in Kentucky is a different breed than casual in California. I am wearing a solid purple wool dress, because the weather says it may dip down to the 50s. I dress-down the thrifted high-end attire with my rainbow vans sneakers.

Chasity only knows a few people. She introduces me as her best friend. I wish she would just introduce me as her partner. It’s only a half lie. I am her soulmate, but we are not lesbians. I am her best friend, but not her husband. It would be fun to play the part of a plus one bound by partnership. Instead, I am a “best friend”, a statement lost in this modern age where people don’t have best friends any more, but followers, subscribers, or fans, and thus the term falls flat.

A few dozen times, Chasity and I explain that I met the bride once. I was invited to their friend-date; a night dancing in clubs with fancy cocktails. Guests smile and nod. Backtrack to the topic of Chasity having met the bride while they both studied abroad in Ireland. This is a logical move to me. The semester after the bride left and Chasity remained, I visited my best friend/soulmate/partner in Ireland, but now is not the time to expect acknowledgement for own travel history.

I admittedly fall smitten for another plus one, who is a more legitimate guest than I. [I hope you know by now, that this is what I say, as an INFJ who so rarely finds anyone one interesting, I either don’t care about you, or I fall for you. There is no in between.] She is punk rock, queer, Hawaiian and dates one of the bridesmaids. She is not a wild animal [plus one] in uncharted [wedding] territory. She is calm and collected, possibly high.

This guest shares her insight in to what to expect for the talent show scheduled for the evening. As she describes, we see Indian dances, choreographed by the bride and groom and wedding party. We see Hawaiian hula dancing. The bride’s brother-in-law plays a saxophone. People sing. It is the extended version of every viral tiktok video captured at a wedding–not that anyone has a phone out.

After all that small talk and talent, it is when we go to our cabin, that Chasity tells me the bride is an editor for Lucas Films.

“Shit,” I say, “Josh is gonna be so jealous when I tell him.”

This is my process for taking in information, that’s cool, someone else will love that. Is there a problem here?

As Chasity and prepare for bed, I turn on the wall heater. Chas suggests we turn it off so that it doesn’t run all night. I try to tell her, it has a thermostat. It will reach a certain point and then turn off. I sense, she’s convinced it will burn the cabin down. I’m convinced we will develop pneumonia if we don’t leave the heater on. So our agreement is, I turn it on low, proving it has the ability to turn off on its own and we crawl in to bed. At some point in the night, I believe she gets up to turn it off. Josh would have done that, too. And maybe that’s why I love them both. They keep me from burning alive in my sleep. But at least I am no longer the paranoid, back-tracker. I am back to my trusting, carefree, who-gives-a-damn self.

It is the wedding day. The highly anticipated, hard earned, unicorn in the wild, singular moment of our lifetime; this is the day we see a banana slug. It is on the uphill side of the path, not hiding but still requiring focus and determination. It is a big boy [or girl], at least 6 inches long. The shade of yellow it wears is most intriguing, somewhere between green, yellow and gray. It is stretched out in the dappled sunlight, perhaps sunbathing, perhaps baking in the sun. I do not claim to know the preferences of these elusive creatures. We photograph the first one we see, and suddenly, as if the spell is broken, we see another, and another, and a half dozen more, without even taking a step from this OG slug–gatekeeper of the banana slugs.

Now that we’ve conquered the world of banana slug sighting, we turn our energy to a portion of the wedding schedule that caught our eye. At the end of today, there will be a movie via a projector in “The Meadow.” Chasity and I love meadows. I can’t speak for the image in her head, but I’m thinking of Twilight, where so many of Bella and Edward’s moments end and begin. The patch of wildflowers, circled by living wooden sentinels that have watched over the songbirds and monarchs as they fly to Mexico for the winter. The summer sun spilling in on the singular space that the redwoods will allow it–like a roped off section for the elite/wealthy audience members at a concert. We want to find it, and see it in all it’s glory.

We hike the trails, follow the signs, ask fellow wandering guests, “Where is the meadow?” No one knows anything about a meadow. We are informed the movie will be at the lodge. Chas and I look at each other, “but the schedule says…”

I remember the behind-the-scenes footage of the Twilight series. I only watched to see more of Robert Pattinson, but I learn that the wildflower meadow is a fabrication. Silk flowers have been stuck into the tall grass on the edge of a forest. The part I love and remember, is not real. Perhaps there are no flowering meadows isolated by forests. Perhaps they exist only in our imaginations.

We do find more banana slugs. Chasity uses a fallen leaf to move a slug from the trail so it is not trampled on by careless human feet. It is beginning to get hot. We find a log behind the ceremony spot and sit and talk about nothing and everything. There’s no time keeping, but we can see the wedding party prepping the ceremony spot. Eventually, we relent. When your guests are trapped on a mountain top, their car parked on a hillside that they narrowly managed to fit onto, what else is there to do but help out with decor?

We eat lunch at the lodge and then stand around with our palms up as if to say, “here, I’m not using these, you can have them.” Our offers are taken. We await instructions and I notice something. The wedding party and family members keeps calling it a “diy” wedding in a tone, like oh this cheap flimsy thing. It’s the folk art of weddings. The mass production of weddings. It’s the classless, unimpressive, but charming and quaint version of a wedding. As if this three day event at a mountain top resort is the budget friendly option. It is the “casual” attire of weddings.

We are assigned the napkins, because I help them fold the cloth into a design that fits the size of the silverware. Lucky them, the bride’s American roommate in Ireland, brought a plus one who has photographed over two hundred weddings and operated a wedding venue with built in event design, and lives above a flower shop. They have a professional wedding diy-er, if there ever was one. [It’s me.]

Not only am I able to help with the napkin fold, I set 4-5 of us up in an efficient assembly line to get over one hundred napkins folded and ornamented with a sprig of rosemary grown from the bride’s backyard. Guests come and go, attend my impromptu crash course, and then revel in the art of napkin folding. I am praised for my talent and gumption. This is the only thing they know about me, which, lets face it, is more than I know about them.

[I find out later, that I taught a Senior Editor at Lucas Films how to fold dinner napkins to hold a sprig of greenery–and for context, this wedding was full of the editors who “could not talk about Indian Jones”–which is quite cool.]

It is ceremony time. I select my safari themed dress that looks more like a robe than I remember. My shoes look more office receptionist than wedding guest in an animal print dress and a pixie cut. I tell myself, this is a normal fear. It is so me, to doubt the decisions made by the version of myself that packed my bag. Future me, is never pleased with the decisions of past me.

The wedding is sweet and doesn’t take long. I can’t hear any of it, but I didn’t expect to. The time is spent convincing myself I look fine, and even if I don’t, I’ll never see anyone here again.

I run out of cigarettes. A fact Josh predicted, and the past me, swore would be fine. Here she is, future me huffing and puffing. If I were back home, I would just have to bum cigarettes. No big deal. Here in California, it means, I go without because smoking cigarettes is the equivalent to littering in the forest, or leaving a dog in a car on a hot day, or slaughtering an arena of Taylor Swift fans with a single puff of tobacco: second hand cancer for you, and you, and you, and your great great grand children too.

At the cocktail hour, without cigarettes, I no longer have an excuse to step away from the crowd of strangers. I must mingle, or linger oddly on the fringes. I would rather die than stand out. At least as a smoker, on-lookers can whisper, “see, they all smoke cancer over there. It’s a different world.”

I drink a special cocktail, an herb-y and floral concoction with rum, maybe. The groom’s mother drapes a long necklace over our shoulders. It is brightly colored, made of a ribbon accordion-ed back and forth on itself. The end result is something like flower pedals stacked on each other. I am thrilled by it. It’s true green and deer-hunter-orange and bright white palette does not match my attire in the slightest. The necklaces spark conversations about the Indian wedding that occurred in February. About how many times they had to change clothes–like, not just daily, but multiple times a day, for each portion of the day, and how expensive it could have gotten, if the American guests had fully committed to all the Indian wedding traditions and expectations. Chasity and I feel a ping of relief that we did not learn this first hand. We would have been mortified of failing to fully integrate. Or we would have bailed by day two and gotten lost in the city on scooters or something.

For dinner, there are Indian dishes along side Italian. I want it all. In my humble opinion, this is what weddings are for. The heart is not for love and commitment, it’s for living the metaphor of eating your heart out. If you are not miserably full, you’ve not wedding guest-ed right.

During the speeches, the father jokes that he’s done paying for weddings. This is the couple’s third wedding. He explains, because of the Pandemic, they had a small beach side elopement. Then they had a 5 day Indian wedding. And now they are having had a 3 day “diy” American wedding. Like they sampled all the weddings from the world’s buffet of wedding traditions.

My period panties are maxed out. There are a couple points to be made here. One, I should really go get a tampon, but then I’d have to come up with an excuse to leave the reception and walk alone back to my cabin. Two, I have kept the fact of my period occurring from Chasity so as not to dampen her own spirits for the trip. [It’s not a perfect trip if a period arrives. Not for you, and not for you if your plus one is the afflicted.] So, instead of the mature thing, of admitting defeat, I strategically roll toilet paper as a tampon substitute. This is less of a proverbial band-aid, than an actual band-aid.

It’s one of those situations where, if I move wrong, I feel the make-shift tampon slip. It’s all i=I can do to not spend all night in the bathroom. I decline the invitation to dance. Chasity dances with a new friend we’ve made. I feel like a prude, or a terrible plus one, but I’m miserable and I’m trying to give myself grace, even if I can’t allow myself to explain the situation to Chasity and accept the grace I know she would give me.

The sliver lining is, I’m granted the ability to people watch. It is one of the first times in my adult life, that I am able to witness a wedding without the responsibility of documenting it. I take snapshots with my mind, instead of an expensive camera that is breaking my wrists, or neck, or shoulders. I enjoy a beer. I really look at the faux movie posters that the bride made of her and her groom. I pick up the Indian trinkets that fill corners with festive colors and family heritage. I write a poem on my phone.

It gets very cold. I’ve not packed for how cold it is. I put on the wool dress I wore the day before, right over top of my dress. The robe-y thing peaks out at the edges. It is not a good look. I change into my tennis shoes. We score a spot by the fire. We’ve got fleece blankets wrapped around us, but it’s not enough. We do not make it through the movie. I don’t even remember the movie–a classic, possibly black and white. I am just focused on rotating my body like a chicken carcass so that all sides get a taste of the warmth.

On our walk back to our cabin, Chasity saves a banana slug from the roadway, so that a car doesn’t squish it. I refrain from telling her, these are not an endangered species. We aren’t here to save anything. It’s not our responsibility.

I question my own mood. Why am I being such a fatalist? Why am I so critical of this good Samaritan act on behalf of the [slug] animal kingdom?

I admit to myself, I am a bit tired, in an overarching sense. I’m tired of small talk, and trying not look like I’m physically uncomfortable, so that no one thinks it’s a social discomfort. I’m tired of the smell of smoke. I’m tired of resorting to criticizing myself for always making the wrong decision when I pack and prepare for the unknown. I’m tired of the moisture that clings to the fabric of the two dresses I’m wearing, and the blanket draped over them. I’m tired of traveling. I need a vacation from traveling, already. In the middle of our trip, I realize I would rather be vacationing.

I think about the difference between the two. Traveling is a project in and of itself. It’s the attempt to maximize an experience. Our lists of things to see and do, is just another to-do list. Our sub-par experience at the Mystery Spot, is just another obstacle to accomplishing our goal of achieving a perfect trip. When this project is done, I’ll go home to more projects, more work, more to-do lists.

Too late, I’m thinking of how much I need an absence of a goal. I need to pack a bag and leave my ambition at home. The next time I get on a plane, I’m promising my future self I will not travel. I will vacation.

When I get to the cabin, I can’t stand it anymore. I find one of the two tampons I brought. Chasity finds the wrapper and barges out of the bathroom, “Did you start your period?!”

I nod, ashamed I was so careless.

“Oh no!” she says, “You should have told me!”

Why is this is enough to make me feel better? A friend who would rather suffer with you, than not know you are suffering.

The third day begins slowly and perhaps Chasity is also feeling a bit tired. We say aloud to each other, “we aren’t in any hurry,” and it feels more true. We eat a “diy” breakfast, which is to say, we eat left over wedding day dinner. I, again, load up on snacks that can sustain us. This is our last day in California. When we get to the airport hotel, we will go to bed and wake up early to get on a plane. In a way, it feels as though we have survived a desert of temptation. The East Coast has tried like hell to entice us with its waterfalls, and tacos, and world-record trees, and coast lines, and banana slugs, and roller coasters. It has one more day to give us everything its got: the golden gate bridge, the bay, the fog, the painted ladies, the house from Full-House, the lobster rolls at fisherman’s wharf. But it will fail. Of this, we are certain. We have only home sweet home on our minds, and we are in the home stretch.


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