New Ulm, MN. August 3rd. The Pictures.
Colleen and I are strolling over to the Fire Department to take pictures before my sister’s wedding. My stomach is a koosh ball of nerves. Why? Because I have to take a ‘first look’ photo with my sister. The day prior, during the rehearsal dinner, I consulted my cousin Jessica about how to plan ‘the look’ so I didn’t turn around and make this face:
Before the picture, Dale (the brother-in-law to be) and I were escorted to a far off room in the fire station, giving my sister adequate time to hide and prepare for our respective ‘first looks’. I could not be more excited for Dale to become my brother-in-law. Let me list the reasons:
1. He grumbles more at church than I do, which means more Mom-laser-beam-eyes for him and less Mom-laser-beam-eyes for me.
2. His willingness to assimilate to our crazy family. For example: my 80 year old great aunt Margie told him ‘she’d show him a thing or two’ (yes, in that way), my mom makes a living off of making fun of him, and my various cousins bombard him with copious amounts of teenage energy. He’s always game and enjoys himself. Anyone in a relationship can tell you what a valuable commodity that is in a partner. It relaxes that caretaker part in you and allows you the freedom to enjoy yourself.
3. Dale is the easiest person to talk to. He’s curious and asks questions. Dale has a sense of humor that gifts him the ability to let things go, and this ‘eghh’ quality is one that runs on the male side of our family (sorry Mom, sorry Amy, you’re more firecracker than sparkler). His kindness is apparent in the care he has for my sister. I’ve never seen her happier, and as well taken care of as she has been with Dale.
The First Look
After a brief wait, I was escorted by the photographers assistant to the place of demise, standing a few feet in front of the firetruck that my sister was stationed behind. I heard her laughing, her Minnes’O’ta accent, and I perspired with dread. I’m going to fuck this all up. I know it. Then, without any warning, the photographer beckoned her out from behind the truck. She walked up behind me. I could hear her nervous laugh as she stood a few inches from my sweaty back. Then I was told that I could turn around, and I thought, ‘Here comes the first look from Hell! I hope you’re happy, Amy!’ I turned around, and she saved me. She started to cry. I saw her, my sister, the bride, in her beautiful dress, crying in front of me, her older brother, and I hugged her. Then she pulled back, and I was shocked. I saw our Mother. This is the only time I can remember looking my sister in the face, and recognizing how much she looked like our Mother. Let my emotions begin!
Father and Daughter
If I was emotional seeing my sister in her wedding dress, I was not prepared to watch my sister and our Dad have their ‘first look’, or the moment during the wedding when Dale and Amy hugged both sets of parents. Watching my sister hug my mother, and my father set off a mental montage of our childhood. Walking with my sister from Vogel Arena, riding our bikes to Aunt Susie and Uncle Dennis’ house, spitting venom at each other as teenagers, standing together for a family photo at the entrance to Valleyfair, asking my sister if I could open some of her presents at Xmas because I had, in a flash, ripped through all of mine.
At previous weddings, I had a hard time understanding anything other than the traditional reason for the bride and groom to greet and hug the parents. Having those parents be mine, and the bride my sister, illuminated more than the ceremony of the whole thing, but the deeper symbolism in those traditions. AKA, they made me all emotional.
I had told my sister I wanted to give a speech. Giving a speech at a wedding sounds like the best idea 6 weeks before the wedding. Then, without fail, 5 minutes before I’m set to give the speech, I want to crawl into a cave where no one is looking at me expecting me to say something funny or poignant. The worst part of a wedding speech, is that when you get up there to speak, you have no idea if you’ll have a captive audience or not. I’ve given a half dozen wedding oratory’s before, and the people at the reception are thinking one of two things, either “shut up, where’s our food?”, or “you’ve got 30 seconds to convince me this is worth my time or I’m joining the ‘shut up, where’s our food? crowd. Go.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Wow, you’re making a big deal about a speech.” This is what I do. Not only are the people who know I’m an actor expecting me to be entertaining, but I’m expecting myself to be entertaining. I can’t be tens of thousands of dollars in debt and suck at this. Needless to say, I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver.
After the last best man speech is given, I say to Colleen, “I think they forgot about me. Good. I’m going to get out of giving a speech. Phew. That was a close one.” Then my sister sees me. “Do you want to give your speech now? Or wait and do it later? It’s up to you,” she says. Shit. Shit. Shitty shit shit. “I’ll do it now,” I say as I feign confidence and super crap my pants.
I had given the speech a lot of thought, but never committed to anything, and placed zero pens to zero paper. I knew I wanted to share a few amusing anecdotes about my sister, express how much we hated each other as teenagers, and then sum it up with something sincere. Yeah, that last bit, about being sincere and saying something to encapsulate how I felt about my sister, was nothing more than ‘der der der being kids is fun right Amy derrrrrrrrrrr’ as I walked up to the microphone. So…I got up there and I told a few funny stories of my sister as a wee little girl, and then told everyone how antagonistic we were as teenagers, and subsequently arrived at the pre-designated heartfelt moment of the speech. I was lucky in that I had everyone’s attention. Then the choice presented itself. To be brave, or not to be brave: that’s the question. The nature of my sister and I’s relationship was that we truly saw each other, how we were both very good people, and very awful. She had seen me at my disgusting and most petty, and I had seen her at her most deceitful and mean, and because of that, I was standing up at her wedding. Could I look out at this room full of meat and potatoes Midwesterners and really talk about something as fruit-loopy as what it means to really ‘see’ someone? It was the scariest thing I could say, and thus I knew the most brave, and truthful. The tenants of improv and acting suggest several key ingredients: prepare, let it go, say yes to whatever finds you there, and ride the rollercoaster. I listened to my study, struggled through my emotions to deliver my feelings, and congratulated the happy couple.
Before I leave, I have to speak about another partner, another partner that is easy to talk to, and assimilates herself into my crazy family. All day long I had been dragged this way and that by old family friends and past acquaintances and mother/son dancing, and the entire time I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I was able to because I knew Colleen, my beautiful girl, would take care of herself and allow me that freedom. I can’t thank her enough for this, and for her kindness and patience. As easy as it is to be in a familiar place with familiar faces, it’s work, and sometimes exhausting work being the plus one, getting to know everyone, and keeping tabs on your date. It was a perfect day, and so much of that, for me, was due to Colleen.
Oh, and the ASL interpreter danced with my sister and signed ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Baby Got Back’. So there’s that 🙂