|LIFE AS A LOSER #44: "THE BEGINNING."|
|By Will Leitch|
I was all set to wallow this weekend. If ever a weekend were made - no, created - for wallowing, preferably in a huge vat of dripping, gelatinous self-pity, this was the one.
My friend MDS, whom I’ve written about concerning this very topic, had a wedding reception back in Chicago on Saturday. He had zipped to Vegas a couple of months ago and married his college sweetheart, and this was his first trip back to the Midwest to celebrate with family and friends. I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing it (though, evidently, MDS had; he was one of about 20 people to ask me, “You came all the way from New York for this?”).
But, as luck would have it, the weekend had an added little element of neuroticism. I learned the day after I booked my flight reservations that also on June 24 ... the ex-fiancée would be getting married - just a couple of towns over from MDS’ reception.
That’s right, folks ... by pure happenstance, I was going to be very near to my ex-fiancée, who was marrying some guy who wasn’t me. You’ve (presumably ... OK, probably not) read enough of these columns to understand the significance.
I was ready to wallow. I would be with old college friends, ones who knew the ex-fiancée well, my memories of whom will always be linked with her. And they all would know it. This wasn’t just MDS’ wedding reception, it was a (another) Will support group.
Stunningly, people kept asking me in the days preceding my trip if I would drop by her wedding. Seriously. People ... I a) wasn’t invited; b) haven’t talked to her in two years; c) was about to marry her; d) do not want another slip added to the stacks of restraining orders. The idea for the weekend was to suffer quietly, to wonder what time exactly the ceremony would take place, to compare what I imagined this wedding would have been like compared to mine, and to pray for rain. Lots of rain. A deluge. Motherfucking Ark-worthy rain.
So there I was, musing ... the ex-fiancée is finally getting married, two years, five months, 16 days later than expected but still right on schedule. She’s 25 shining years young on her golden day, as opposed to the 22 she would have been on our day. Perhaps this is why she waited: She must have possessed an overwhelming desire to rent a car the day after her wedding. Now, she can. I feel, through this, that I have somehow contributed something to their holy union.
I still have our invitation. You know how, just moments after a team wins the Super Bowl, they have all those hats, the ones that say, “St. Louis Rams, 2000 Super Bowl Champions?” Now, obviously they weren’t just put together in the 30 seconds after the horn sounded. Those suckers were pre-printed.
Therefore, by using my otherworldly powers of deduction, it stands to reason that the other team had hats made up too. Somewhere, there is a “Tennessee Titans, 2000 Super Bowl Champions” hat.
The ex-fiancée left me in August. We were to be married in January. I am Kevin Dyson, catching Steve McNair’s pass at the four-yard line, ducking forward, smacking in to Rams linebacker Mike Jones, who drags me downward. I stretch ... desperately reaching for the goal line, arm extended as far as it’ll go. But I am four months short of the end zone. From a cherished memento to a morbid collector’s item, in the span of one yard ... I will always keep my wedding invitation.
And that would be the wallowing in self-pity I referred to earlier.
I arrived Friday night, and my friend Mike picked me up from Chicago’s dreaded Midway Airport. We hit Wrigleyville and drank and drank and drank and drank, pausing for a while to drink. Poor Mike. He had to hear me the whole time. Maybe we’ll run into the ex-fiancée’s bachelorette party at some bar here, Mike. Do you think it’s a night wedding, Mike? Wonder if they’ll have cameras at every table, Mike. She didn’t want them at our wedding, but I insisted, Mike. Maybe she has short hair now, Mike. Always thought she might get short hair someday, Mike. Hey, Mike, maybe we should just drop by tomorrow, just for a little bit ... maybe?
Mike’s the perfect guy to hang around on weekends like this, because he’s smart, stable, caring and, if need be, I can talk him into shit. He put up some resistance - “Will, if you actually drop by that wedding, you’re a goddamned psychopath” - but I knew if push came to shove, he’d drive my ass to Kankakee, and we’d see the ex-fiancée’s wedding, dammit.
Saturday came. We headed to Lyons, Illinois, for MDS’ reception. I was surprised, immediately, by how few friends of MDS I knew. He was two years behind me in college, and, apparently, he made about a million friends in those couple of years. To them, I was ancient, a ghost of Daily Illini past. Instantly, I was out of place, the weirdo who would fly halfway across the country when they just came from down the street.
But what struck me more was MDS. The wild-haired prophet MDS I knew, the crazed Pied Piper to the complacent, he now was ... well, now he was married. He was still brilliant and caustic, instantly puncturing pretensions with nary an eyebrow lifted, but he had changed. He looked sedated, he looked less restless ... he looked happy. Scared me a little, to be honest.
In addition to me, MDS was also a close friend of the ex-fiancée. I took him aside for a moment and jovially (ha ha, ho ho) reminded him that, hey, MDS, it’s not just your day, heh heh, it’s also the ex-fiancée’s big day, how about that, what a coincidence, har har.
He barely turned his head. “Yeah, Will, that’s kinda crazy, you must th- Paula, hi! Oh, it’s so good to see you! How are the kids?!” And he was off, and I sat there, alone. Mike invited me to grab a cigarette outside. It was raining.
It was a cheesy reception, like all good-hearted Midwestern wedding receptions are, with the hokey-pokey and Macarena and “YMCA.” Some full-full-full-figured woman hopped on the dance floor during “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and her eight-year-old son joined in beside her, jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, falling down, picking his nose, enjoying the attention. A mulleted DJ-for-hire spurred the crowd on. An old man at the end of the open bar sipped a bourbon, smoked a stogie and argued about the Bears with a man who looked to be his son. A new mother breast-fed in the corner.
And somehow ... I forgot about it. The entire flight to Chicago, I kept wondering what time the wedding was, when that precise moment was that the ex-fiancée became a true ex-fiancée and transferred into wifedom. Would it be noon? Five p.m.? Seven?
But as the day passed, and the goofiness of watching 55-year-old women groove to “Mambo No. 5” occupied the frontal lobe, I lost track of time, and I stopped asking. I met MDS’ wife’s family, and we played some darts, and we talked about Sammy Sosa, and I answered questions about whom I would vote for in the New York Senate race, and suddenly it was midnight. I turned to Mike.
“I bet the ex-fiancée is married now,” I said.
“Yep, I’d certainly think so.”
“Well, congratulations to her.”
Her name is Jess. Jessica, to be exact. This is the first time I’ve mentioned her name in one of these columns ... and it’ll be the last. Mandie, my beleaguered ex-girlfriend whose life likely would have been much more pleasant had I never existed, knew me for eight months before she ever knew that the ex-fiancée’s name was Jessica. Close, close friends of mine have never heard her referred to as anything but “the ex-fiancée.”
It was kind of dopey-sweet, sad-sack-loser wacky for a while, still lamenting what happened that day on Win Ben Stein’s Money. It gave me some gravitas, made it clear, yes, I have suffered, I am still suffering, I know how to feel, I’ve hurt, look at me. And it was a pretty fucking funny story if it didn’t happen to you, one that’s provided me plenty of comedic mileage, one I’ve told a thousand times, one that’s guaranteed to provide me with some sympathetic looks, preferably from attractive women.
But it’s not cute anymore. Once Jess is married, my pining for her, my retelling of my gloomy tale is just, well, creepy. Game over. She’s married now. She has a husband. She will start a family soon. We are officially in each other’s pasts ... it’s on the books; the law even says so. This chapter is closed.
I saw MDS laughing with his wife’s mother, sharing a private joke with a distant cousin, goofing off with his newly acquired nephew. Uncles came over and shook his hand. Her brothers popped him in the shoulder playfully. He was a member of their family. I know some of MDS’ ex-girlfriends. They were not there, and they were certainly not on his mind. They were from a different world. He had a new life now.
And, suddenly, I missed New York a whole bunch.
The next day, Mike dropped me back off at the airport, but thanks to bad-weather-in-New-York-related delays, I spent about eight hours sitting in a chair, waiting, thinking. In a moment of extreme boredom, I called home to Mattoon. My mom answered, and I complained to her about how awful this airport was, and how incompetent this airline was, how I was sick of Chicago and how I just had to get back to Manhattan as soon as goddamned possible.
“Yeah, I always think that when I’m gone for Mattoon for more than a few days,” she said. “It means it’s home. It’s your home now.”
We finally took off about 11:30, and I planted my nose on the window and slept. Woke up a little more than an hour later, wiped the grease stain off the mirror and glanced out. We were flying over Manhattan on a clear night. The Statue of Liberty was so radiant, so beautiful ... the whole damned island lit up and welcoming, wondering why the hell I was gone so long.
Because, contrary to the weather reports - and unlike Chicago - it was not raining in New York. I was fucking home.