Goodbye, Baltimore

Atatürk_dancing_at_a_weddingThe champagne I had spilled on the white shirt was still drying against my skin, but the rest of the tuxedo lay in a heap at the foot of the bed. The hotel room was nice enough – clean, well lit. But the two full-size beds the hotel had given me instead of the one queen I had requested seemed only to magnify the loneliness of the scene.

The clock read 3:30 am.

The wedding was everything it had promised. I was the Best Man, a position I had felt certain to receive for many years, but one that felt foreign and undeserved for most of the weekend. Still, I hadn’t lost the rings, and made good with all the appropriate family members and casual acquaintances. There was a matter of an irritated bridesmaid who didn’t fully appreciate my charm, but that felt small when tallied against the balance of my behavior. I stood to my best friend’s left as his bride walked down the aisle.

At the reception, friends new and old over-served themselves from the multiple bars that were available. I had never been to a Ritz Carlton, though I made certain not to mention this, as it might give the impression I was too hillbilly to conduct myself. Initially, the mingling felt forced, and photos stiff, but social graces swiftly gave way to easy interaction and quick laughter.

After the cake was sliced, glasses were raised and toasts given. I had written mine months in advance, approaching it as an exercise in scripted life. Instead, the lines blurred together and words bottlenecked in my throat. I sputtered my way to the ending – a Mark Twain quote tied neatly into a metaphor for wedded bliss – before retreating to the safety of the bar to firmly pack my nerves under layers of Coors beer, then stepping outside for a cigarette.

The meal had been exquisite, but between the alcohol and conversation, I woofed it down without much thought. After dinner, the music rose and the floor filled with men we had gone to college with. They had finally grown into their suits. Their dates were dressed to match – spinning round and round in dresses that broke your heart at every turn.

“None of us will ever look this good again!” I shouted at a circle of my closest friends.

The night went quickly, as those things always do. After the last song played, we were shuffled into the hallway and made to line the staircase that led outside to the limo. Rice was strictly forbidden, and bubbles were out of the question, so we waved streamers the bride’s young sister had made of ribbon matching the wedding colors. Most people on the stairs were busy snapping their dates with the festive whips when the newlyweds passed them by. The couple reached the bottom and turned to beam smiles at the assembled mass. A roar went up, chanting their now-shared last name until they kissed once more and made their way to a waiting limousine.

I found a local bar with a handful of stragglers, all still decked out in our wedding finery. Many more rounds were purchased on credit cards that seemed endless. I struck up conversation with a brunette from Atlanta, but she was too tall for me and her eyes wandered the room when I desperately wanted them to stay with my own. Sweat poured from my face and chest as the tuxedo grew unbearable in the cramped space. I tried raising another toast, but the din was too loud and the shot was a bad one anyhow. At last, the crowd thinned and the bar closed.

Back in my room, I stripped off most of the tux and dug for a bottle of champagne I had sequestered earlier in the evening. Drunkenly, I pried the cork off, spraying most on myself and the floor. I laid in bed while the television looped the day’s sports highlights, and ordered pizza from a store across the street.

The clock said 3:30 am. My lungs felt weak from smoking and my body was pale and sunken.

I fell asleep with the lights on.

-JS

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