My brother and I had the following conversation this morning, me while sitting in my office, dressed in my gray suit that I think makes me look like a nun, while drinking coffee – he while walking down Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, heading towards the restaurant/bar he runs, trying to combat a hangover from last night. I don’t know what he was wearing but I’m I can safely say (a.) his clothes in no way make him look like a member of the clerby and (b.) his shoes were his everlasting Birkenstocks since he refuses, even working on his feet all day, to wear anything else.
Me: Oh. My. God. You are getting married this weekend.
(I may have squealed this, nun-suit nonwithstanding)
Baby Duck: Yes, I am. God. I think I’m still drunk from last night. I mean, I slept for ten hours. I FEEL refreshed. I shouldn’t still be drunk.
Me: Maybe you just feel, you know, rested. Maybe you just feel good.
Baby Duck: No, I think it’s the vitamin water. Have you discovered vitamin water? It fucking rocks. I got a case each from my guy in three different flavors – lemon/lime, grape and something else I can’t remember. I’m addicted.
(My brother has all sorts of “guys” – guys who get him box seats at sporting events, guys who cut him great deals on amazing steaks, guys who place bets on his behalf, but he is honest and does refer to them as bookies)
Me: No, I haven’t tried it yet. Aren’t you excited? You are (lest he forget) getting married!
Baby Duck: Well, I’m happy. Jesus, there is the hottest chick walking towards me right now. Anyway, you know me, I don’t get excited until I’m actually in the moment, you know?
Me: Um. Yes. Well, I can’t wait to see you Friday.
Baby Duck: It’s going to rock. We are gonna blow the roof off the place, that’s for sure. Tell S. it’s no-holds-bar partying, man. I mean, after all, I’m getting married.
(and then we made a whole bunch of logistical plans, of no interest to the general reader, I am sure)
When my brother was born, my mom and my uncle immediately began calling him “Doc” as an homage to my great-grandfather who was a surgeon, the same one who performed Ernest Hemingway’s surgery after WWI. You know, no pressure. I couldn’t pronounce “Doc” but had no trouble calling him Duck, and somewhere along the line, so as not to confuse him with the actual Doc, he became Baby Doc to everyone else, and Baby Duck to me.
I’m three years older than Baby Duck and so I don’t remember him joining our family. My parents don’t recall any animosity or noticable jealousy on my part when he arrived, except for once, when I apparently in a very business like manner informed my dad I thought things had been “just fine” before the baby and “could he please go back now.” With our difference in ages and genders, we fufilled very different roles in our household and while we had our fair share of fights, for the most part we’ve always gotten along extremely well. Our relationship is at its best when it is just him and me, hanging out and spending time together, and at its worst when its just him and me, with my parents. We do larger family gatherings well, but the four of us together, just our nuclear family, for whatever reason, has never worked particularly well which, now that I think about it, is probably why my parents so rarely forced family dinners or family functions on us. As a family, we came together only occasionally and when we did so we would look around the dinner table, smile, remark on how nice it was that my mom didn’t have to work and my dad wasn’t hunting and both Baby Duck and I didn’t have any activities and so we could spend an evening as a family. It happened rarely enough to always be remarked upon. We paired off in twos and even threes quite well, but the four of us together just did not work. It’s frankly amazing to me the four of us have as solid a relationship as we do, given our disparate personalities. We all are too sensitive practically to live. This sensitivity causes my mom to lash out, my dad to escape to the woods, me to cry, and baby duck to smoke copious amounts of dope. Growing up, it often felt like you were walking a long a tightrope, trying not to falter despite the net below, ready to catch you. Our family dynamics were, and still are, pretty text-book – My dad is a Vietnam vet and like so many veterans of this war I know, he dictated the emotional baramoter of the house. My mom spent much of her adulthood responding to his moods and this caused her to become reactionary in most of her relationships. I was and am a classic first-born child, desperate to achieve good grades and accomplish signficant things, wanting people to be happy. What I hated most was causing a stir. From the beginning, Baby Duck followed his own star and refused for even a moment to have our parents dictate what or who he should be.
I thought I had so much time to write this post! From the first vague mutterings from Baby Duck in March of this year, asking me how he could get his ring our grandmother left him from mom without her asking him any questions, I imagined what I would write, I guess because writing is my way of making sense out of things, whether it’s a recipe, literary theory or the unreal fact of my brother’s wedding. I thought I would write a tribute post to my new sister-in-law, and finally complete my know-it-all guide to marriage – I thought I would say so many things.
As it turned out, I had only two months from the day my brother proposed to Mandy until the wedding. Neither of them like people looking at them, and this Quaker ceremony in the middle of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands is their tight-lipped way of honoring their mothers, both of whom wept at the possibility of elopement. The ceremony and reception will be on a Sunday, followed by an informal barbecue of hotdogs and s’mores. The bride will wear a sundress she proudly told my mom (my mom, who spent more on her dress for my wedding than I did), that she bought a sundress from Target for fifteen dollars for the wedding. I am standing up, but was quickly reminded that I am NOT a bridesmaid and therefor showers or undue attention – I am merely to shield Mandy from the prying eyes of people who might want to see her. They have not registered and do not want gifts, although certainly they’ll receive some. As they pointed out, they already have the things they need for their home…who in the world needs more, than what they have?
In the beginning, wedding caused angst for many of us, myself included. I already had plans to attend the wedding of a college friend that weekend, a college friend giving me a choice of chicken or steak, with guaranteed dancing. My mom worried about offending family and friends. My dad worried about the whole Quaker situation. We talked. We obsessed. I don’t know about other people, but I prayed – prayed for my negative feelings to be removed because there were so many of them swirling around inside of me – I just wanted everyone to be happy and I felt my brother wasn’t taking my parents into account – their happiness.
Somewhere along the line, all of this dissipated. I can’t tell you exactly when or where, but it did. And now, on the eve of the eve of the eve of my brother’s wedding, I feel, just, pure joy for him and Mandy, and I don’t want to write some big thoughtful thing about marriage, or even something sappy about how once I had zero sisters, and now I have three. I just want to witness and revel in this one fact: Baby Duck is getting married. And not only to I get to celebrate with him and his bride, I get him all to myself Saturday, after brunch in Pittsburgh, because he and I are driving to the Highlands together, doing errands for the wedding on the way. I am going to try and refrain from giving marital advice; I’m going to try and refrain from crying (because that is, you know, what I do). I am going to try and do what my brother needs, and I imagine that is light his cigarettes, help pick out some flowers, and tell the stories from our youth that has become now a solid narrative directing our lives. I am going to tell him why he’s called Baby Duck, even though he knows, and I am going to remind him about the time we hid him in the back of the closet at a party in my college apartment when the cops showed, and I will remind him of the time he was attacked by swans. And I am going to try and tell him, without telling him, because it would embarrass him, how very much I love him, and how proud I am of him, and what a great husband I think he’s going to be, and how deserving he is even though he doesn’t think so, of grace and light and love and happiness, and how very glad I am, my parents never took him back.