Editor’s Note: Names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
By Horus Alas
After a seven-hour drive from Maryland, I pull up to a parking space in the rear of the Comfort Inn in Hadley, Massachusetts, around 9:30 p.m. April 27. As far as I can tell, I’m the only person around. There’s a brisk stillness in the air.
Enter headlights from behind my rental car as I’m pulling out my guitar and duffel bag from the trunk. A small car comes speeding toward me. It blares its horn. I stagger back and dramatically clasp a hand to my chest like one of those forlorn romantic poets.
Maggie Let emerges from the driver’s seat of the car, light and effervescent like the champagne we’d be drinking at her wedding the next day. She promptly gives me a hug, and perhaps she greets me with a “¡Che boludo!” as she would’ve done when we crossed paths in Argentina.
Nick Cader emerges from the passenger’s seat. I only know him via Twitter, but he’ll be the groom at tomorrow’s ceremony. He gives me a hug, and expresses approbation at the fact that I’ve brought my guitar and some yerba mate. He’s Argentine, but has lived in Massachusetts with the bride-to-be for some time now.
From one of the rear passenger seats, a pretty German girl with blonde hair emerges. I’ll come to know her as Leslie.
In short order, I’m introduced to the other wedding guests who’ll be staying at the same hotel that evening: Harley, who writes for the Cape Cod Times with Maggie, and her main squeeze, Tom—who … does something, I’m sure.
Nick and Maggie help us get settled in and then depart to the home of Jack and Carol Let.
As we’re collectively taking our effects up to our rooms, I ask Harley, Tom and Leslie, “Are you guys tired, or would you want to hang out for a bit? I have some alcohol in the trunk of my car.”
I’d like to say there was a collective glow on their faces—a marvelous effusion, some mischievous grins, internal sparks of enthusiasm bursting through their bodies out into the ether; something like that—but no. There was instead a collective light approval—some nods, a “Yeah, sure,” and “okay.” That sort of thing.
I invite them into my room. We sit and chat and drink. “I like your president more than ours,” I tell Leslie. “Me too,” she says with a smoky, Teutonic laugh. After an hour or so of exchanges, Harley declares, “Well, we should probably get some sleep.”
Fast forward to 5:00 p.m. the next day. The sky was overcast in the morning, but now, there’s sunshine beaming down resplendently on the hill behind the Red Barn at Hampshire College.
Jack Let stands by a microphone beneath a sturdy oak tree, looking out at the 40 or so wedding guests seated in two grids of folding chairs with an aisle down the middle. He sports an elegant black blazer with white piping, and his long, silver hair and beard are swaying serenely in this zephyr.
The bridesmaids walk down the aisle two by two, clad in these flowing, pink dresses that waft around like foliage in the breeze. They begin flanking Jack Let on his left and right side.
I don’t know it yet because I’m seated near the front, watching the bridesmaids enter, but the bride and groom are walking toward us.
Jack List, gazing past us at the two silhouettes that are becoming more and more concrete on his horizon, declares, “I told myself I wasn’t gonna cry at this thing, but now I’m not so sure I’ll be able to do that.” Still, he stands stoically, his hands clasped together at his waist.
Much to my amazement, the man in the jacket with the white piping begins officiating the wedding ceremony. It’s short and sweet. He mentions Maggie’s older sister Annie, who passed away a few years ago, and couldn’t be there with us in person, but “is here today, with us, in our hearts.”
He recounts how Maggie and Nick met. She was crossing over from San Juan, Argentina to Santiago, Chile with some friends. He was coming back from a Paul McCartney concert in Santiago. He wanted to talk to her—if only she knew Spanish.
As fate would have it, she did. He heard her speak some incipient Argentine Spanish with her traveling companions. The rest is a story that would be more apt for a romance novelist to retell rather than for me to do so.
Jack Let asks the bride and groom if they accept their nuptial vows. Maggie Let leans into the microphone and says, “I do,” at which point we all laugh. Nico says “I do” sans the embellishment.
“Well then, Nick, you may now kiss the bride,” the new father-in-law declares.
It’s 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning. I wake up on a couch in Jack and Carol List’s home, where many of us spent the night following the wedding. We raged until 4:00 in the morning, and at least to some degree, everyone is either drunk or hungover.
Collectively, we decide we want some water. Tera Rae, whom I met when she was Maggie’s roommate at this university, does us all a huge solid and brings in a pack of water bottles from outside. She has this big, gruesome gash on her right knee, and when I ask her about it, she explains she fell off a motorcycle.
We sit around for a bit, languid and disheveled, nursing our booze-drenched brains, until the bride suggests going into town for brunch.
Amherst has a quaint, idyllic sort of feel. The narrow streets are lined with houses no taller than two stories. Their shutters, mailboxes and lawns make you think of a 1950s suburb, but this isn’t kitschy, mid-century Americana. There are churches with spires, and next to them, there are bars frequented by the college kids. Past meets future; present, past.
Extravaganja is going on today, but they’ve moved the venue from Amherst to Northampton, and no one quite has the volition to drive out there. As we walk up North Pleasant Street, we pass a spot called Bruegger’s Bagels. Mark Pack, a senior music performance major at this university exclaims, “Yo, the bagel place is lit!”
The vernacular is enough to rend my heart with happiness.
We walk past a bar called High Horse, where Maggie intimates we can go drinking later that evening. For now, we content ourselves with some food from a Starbucks across the street, and sit around beneath a tree in front of St. Brigid’s parish.
The gash on Tera’s knee becomes a hot topic of conversation. At the suggestion of Penny Smith, a percussionist graduate student in music at this university, Tera writes, “I FELL” on her knee next to the wound. Ink and irony have a habit of becoming friends on one’s epidermis.
As we’re sitting around chatting and munching, a group of raucous elementary school kids rolls by in a school bus. Neil Cane, Penny’s boyfriend, and a trombonist with this university’s school of music, notes, “They’re probably going to Extravaganja, those lucky fucks.”
He pulls out a piece and lights up a few nuggets of tree beneath the shade of another, different kind of tree. Smoke fills the air, wafting ever upwards, as he releases a contented sigh with his exhale. Had Neil been alive in the 1930s, I’m sure he would’ve been a great stand-in for that insidious piano player in Reefer Madness.
Our food consumed, quips parried, daring deeds done—we, these monied vagrants, angel-headed scoundrels, handsome devils, dismal heroines, happy, beautiful and damned—leave the lawn at St. Brigid’s Parish for newer, no less verdant pastures.
There’s more to life than walking, sure. But not much more. Not right now.
Featured Photo Cred: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.