Less than three weeks before my younger brother's wedding, I went swimming with my friend, Lizzie. She was house-sitting in a county north of Baltimore. The two of us swam in the in-ground pool in the properly fenced and impeccably landscaped backyard of this house, so naturally I asked for details. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Whose house is this?
Lizzie: My friend’s. We went to college together, she met her husband there, they got married and she’s pregnant with her third kid at thirty years old.
Me: Wow. Three kids, huh? She’s only thirty?
Lizzie: Yup. Three kids, a house with a big yard and a pool, a Labrador retriever and she doesn’t even have to work. Can you believe it?
Me: No – does she really want all those kids? She’s so young.
Lizzie: Yup. She’s only thirty and she’s living the dream.
Me: Whose dream?
Lizzie: Everyone’s; definitely mine.
This is about the time that I realized that Lizzie and I – bless her heart – have absolutely nothing in common. I have tons of dreams. Being a stay-at-home mother of three kids by the time I’m thirty is (thankfully) not one of them. I love labs, but prefer mutts, have never met anyone “forever”-worthy, and have never been keen on yard work. I like to pursue and participate in my dreams: I want my book published; I want to write and travel and swim with the dolphins; I want to be a better teacher every year; I want to write the curriculum for a 12th grade class that examines apathy in the face of history’s horrors; I want to start painting again and to teach myself eight of Chopin’s preludes on the piano; I want to go for a run with my dog while she’s still young, and I want – when this damn disease is cured – to coach track and ride horses on the weekends.
Some of my dreams, I suppose, are just as elusive as finding a rich husband, but they involve my own aspirations and passions; they involve cultivating contentment, happiness and personal success. This does not mean that I want to live my life alone. I want very much to share my achievements and failures with someone who I miss while I’m sleeping. I will not, however, rest the entirety of “my dream” in the hands of someone I have not yet met.
All of this led to a comforting moment of clarity, no wonder I didn’t mind being the single sister at my younger brother’s wedding: his life is closely aligned with Lizzie’s “dream”, but not necessarily mine. This doesn’t mean I successfully avoid occasional bouts of envy - I wish I had met the love of my life in college and I made more money and were as happy and healthy as my brother. Mostly, though, I’m just relieved that out of all the girls he’s dated, my sister-in-law is not only someone I can tolerate, she is someone I genuinely love.
Thankfully I made these revelations a good forty-eight hours prior to the wedding, and had sufficient time to think of a speech for the rehearsal dinner. I stopped thinking about Lizzie’s dream and figured out what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about my uncanny propensity to cry while public speaking, so my sentiments – while genuine and written with the intent to be expressed eloquently - came out as a blithering diatribe about how my brother reminds me of a dog. Below is what I wanted to say. I owe it to my brother to let him –
and anyone else – know that my intentions were good:
Since I’m a member of the bridal party, I guess technically what I’m about to say should pertain strictly to Katie, but – since the best man's in charge of the speech tomorrow – I’d better say something briefly about my brother too. I want to take some of the pressure off of Uber.
The first book I read this summer was Marley and Me. For those of you who haven’t read it or – for the groomsmen who don’t read – the book is about a badly behaved dog and its owner who comes to love him deeply and unconditionally. I bring this up because as I was reading, I saw a scary number of similarities between Marley and my brother. Marley was a little bit, well, outrageous. If he’d been a human, though, I think he’d have lived his life a lot like my brother: I imagine that he’d dress up as teen wolf for Halloween; he’d buy a brand new, enormous, gas-guzzling truck when a tire fell off his old one; he’d visit his sister in Baltimore and decide to walk to her apartment (alone and with a dead cell phone) in the middle of the night. He and his friends would shave each other mohawks in his sister’s bathroom and he would almost certainly run a marathon on the other side of the country less than a month before his wedding.
Much like Marley, my brother needs a special, patient and selfless companion in his life; he needs someone who can receive and reflect the kind of love he gives: loyal, genuine, enduring and unqualified (though absurd) love. He has found that companion in Katie. When circumstances (aka jobs) bring Pat frustration, she brings him compassion; when impulses get him into trouble (or, most recently, marathons); she offers him patience and support. She brings out the best in my brother and – most importantly – she sees and loves him for the outrageously loyal person he is.
I am proud to call you my sister, Katie, and I wish you both years and years of marital bliss.
So, while I’m not entirely sure that the dog-brother/owner-Katie analogy was completely flattering, I do know that I meant it to be. I also know that – in times that I turn into an emotional basket-case – the written word works a hell of a lot better than a tear-infested oratory.
I still remember that years ago, a close friend of mine was in her younger sister’s bridal party. For months before the wedding, I heard of the misery and humiliation that she endured as the older, single, maid of honor. I guess I just assumed that when I found myself in a similar circumstance, I too would experience such horrifying emotions. I thus modified my expectations accordingly: I prepared myself for endless wedding preparations, the inevitability of an awkwardly fitting and generally unflattering bridesmaid dress, and the potential to – gasp – not have a date by the wedding.
Except for the date part, though, none of my fears were realized. And, since I actively abhor crying in front of boyfriends anyway, my younger brother’s wedding weekend was absolutely perfect.