I was in a wedding. I wish my momma could have been there. I wish my sister could have seen. I wish all those women who said I'd never, ever be anywhere near a chapel could see me standing in front of a church in a blue suit and ruffled white shirt with neo-Elizabethan flavor.
But none of those people were there. Not my momma, who's not feeling very well. Not my sister, who chided me as a frivolous, immature dog just a few days ago. Not any of the women I'd disappointed by not "acting right."
None of them were here 'cause this wasn't my wedding. Right next to me in a blue suit that looked even more Elizabethan than mine was Timothy Waters Jr., whose lips wore the tight smile of a nervous contestant at a spelling bee. All his emotions, every bit of dread he felt at the prospect of husbandhood, were right on my friend's kisser.
There were moments at the bachelor party when, despite the bottle of Mo&3235;t in his hands and the incredibly buxom stripper squirming in his lap, Tim's face had this same look.
When he glances over I whisper, "If you wanna make a break for the door, I got your back, homie." For a moment he actually seems to be considering an escape.
The wedding march commences and we turn our attention to the back of the church, where bridesmaids in the faux Elizabethan dresses Bernice Wilson chose to fulfill some childhood fantasy stride toward us like comely members of the English court in Shakespeare in Love, albeit looking more chocolate than the Queen Mother was used to.
Caron, the bride's maid of honor, a beauty with bronze skin, aimed an incandescent, toothy smile my way. I was contemplating the possibilities when Bernice and her father, Dr. Thomas R. Wilson of Sherman Oaks, strode toward us. To my jaded mind Bernice and her pops appeared to me as ritualistic executioners marching to send an innocent man to an unjust reward. I glanced again at Tim, seeking confirmation of my apprehension, but my friend of ten years was seeing something else.
The strained look had evaporated. The tension in his body was gone. A look of immense satisfaction filled his brown face. His mustache twitched happily. Tim wasn't resigned to his fate; he was joyful in anticipation. By the time Bernice stood at his side Tim Waters Jr. looked beatific. Whatever had troubled him about the loss of freedom, the assuming of responsibility, plain old growing up -- Tim had suddenly made peace with. His transformation was startling, and so, to me, was my reaction. I was jealous.
Up until that moment I'd felt sorry for my man. After all our years scoping out honeys at ski summits, getting acquainted with MBAs at Martha's Vineyard beach parties, and macking coeds at the Howard homecoming, he was giving it all up for permanent residence in monogamyland, a place I'd never imagined he'd reside.
Bernice changed all that for Tim. Stability. Consistency. Sweet potato pie. Since he'd met Bernice, three years ago, Tim's options had slowly disappeared. Like an aging basketball player Tim no longer could go to his left and his right. Now he had only one move to the hoop and it always ended as a layup into Bernice's arms.
Now my man's face was shining like new money. Throughout the ceremony he held Bernice's hand, squeezing it tightly and even swinging it at one point like a giddy kid on his first date. When Reverend Myers announced, "You may kiss the bride," Tim tongued her down like the chapel was a short-stay motel out by LAX. Tim and Bernice got so into it people started whooping as if the ceremony was an episode of the Def Comedy Jam.
Before I knew it Tim and Bernice were striding down the church steps in a shower of birdseed -- nineties PC replacement for whole-grain rice -- while I was organizing chauffeurs, rounding up groomsmen, and otherwise seeming the attentive best man, despite feeling dazed. As we stood out on the church's lawn with the Santa Barbara sun cutting through the haze and a nice ocean breeze making our Elizabethan ruffles sway, I etched my professional-publicist smile across my lips while the wedding photos were taken. In my job I'd long ago learned the enduring value of an insincere smile, though I knew there was something unseemly about employing it at your best friend's wedding.
All through the reception I wore my insincere mask to guard my fragile self-esteem and do my duty for my now ecstatic friend. "I didn't think it would feel this good, Rod," he whispered to me before the toast.
"You look happy as hell, Tim."
"Yeah," he agreed, "I really am. Can you believe it?"
My toast, thankfully written before this unexpected burst of envy, actually sounded quite heartfelt. "In every person's life," I said, "there are people you date, people you become lovers with, people who romantically affect your life in profound ways. But there is only one true love -- one person who makes you whole, who completes you, who is your spiritual link to the future. Bernice and Timothy are two people lucky enough to have found their other half. Let us toast their good fortune."
Afterward I got patted on the back for my words. I wanted to respond, "Well thanks, but that's what I do. Hype is my middle name." Instead I did the right thing -- I smiled and said, "Hey, what's true is true."
What's actually true is that I didn't believe much of what I said even when I was writing it. I've always believed there were any number of good matches in the universe and that life was about exploring as many of these possibilities as possible. I'd lived my thirty-three years this way. So had Tim.
Of course, a year ago Tim had decided to marry Bernice, which was the end of his quest, though my take was he'd just gotten tired and that this whole showy ritual was less about exhilaration than exhaustion. Now, after all this time Tim and Bernice had dated, the months they'd been engaged, and the Elizabethan splendor of the day, I was having to doubt myself.
Even when Caron, that beauty of a bridesmaid, scribbled her pager number on my wedding program, my mind was elsewhere. All these thoughts of true love made the prospect of trying to pick up girls at a wedding seem roach. So when Caron asked, "You gonna page me?" I said, "Sure," way too halfheartedly.
"Don't say it like it's a favor."
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, trying to recover. "I sure didn't mean it that way."
"Whatever," she said. "I heard you were trifling but" -- she gave me an appraising up-and-down -- "I figure if Tim can become a good man, you can too." This kinda pissed me off but I let it slide since, I guess, she was paying me a sideways compliment. I too, she was saying, could one day be a husband. "When you learn to act right, use that number." Then she turned and somebody's aunt came up and gave her a big hug. The combination of intense jealousy and low self-esteem I was feeling would have been an appropriate way to end the day.
Yet my day was far from over. There were still things to do -- making sure the bridal suite at the hotel was ready, that the limo would pick them up in the morning, that the tickets to Bora Bora were in Tim's travel bag. Even as Tim and Bernice were cutting the wedding cake I was in the kitchen paying Reverend Myers along with Bernice's father.
About 1 A.M., after the toasts and the cake cutting and dances with strangers, I was lying on my hotel bed in my rented tux, staring at the ceiling. I remembered the night, some three years ago, when Tim and Bernice met. I was there. I was right there. The NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena. We were in the lobby of an ornate old Hollywood theater, Tim and I tuxed out and side by side again, glasses of wine in our hands, as we checked out the room.
Bernice strolled by. Classy beige dress. Elegant stride. The gleam of intelligence in her brown eyes. And a smile. A smile at two brothers in tuxes holding wine. I smiled. Tim smiled bigger. A half hour later Bernice and Tim were looking into each other's eyes and it was on.
Maybe if I'd smiled wider, better, bigger, things might have been different. Maybe tonight I would be making absolutely legal, religiously sanctioned, enthusiastically matrimonial love in the same hotel I was now laid up in with my tux disheveled, brain strained, and my mood as dark as late night over the Pacific.
"Things might have been different." That sentence rolled around my dome for a while. Then stronger, and as insistent as a nightmare, were the words I'd uttered so glibly that afternoon: "But there is only one true love -- one person who makes you whole, who completes you, who is your spiritual link to the future."
It was all hyperromantic bull. I knew that when I scribbled it down in my notebook. I felt that even as it flowed smoothly from my nut brown lips. I knew that. Yet what I knew was having no impact on how profoundly lonely I felt.
Then a curious thing happened. I reached over to the hotel nightstand and picked up the peach-colored notepad next to the phone. Next I picked up the white-and-peach-colored hotel pen. The white-and-peach-colored pen moved haltingly across the peach paper, and in thin blue ink, a named appeared. Peachina Evans.
Twenty years ago, when I was a skinny adolescent with a sprinkling of acne and long, embarrassingly girlish eyelashes, Peachina, best friend of my cousin Becky, brazen beyond her fifteen years and quite taken with my eyelashes, took me into a toolshed behind her father's Newport News, Virginia, house. That day in the toolshed, amid rakes and hammers, garden hose, and a big bottle of carefully marked rat poison, Peachina showed me what El DeBarge called "the ways of love."
I remember it in flashes. Her mouth on mine. My zipper going down. Her fumbling with her bra. My terror at her father's possible sudden appearance. Her smell filling my nose with a ripe, pungent scent I hated, then learned to love. My body quivered like a coed in Scream. Our bodies, awkward, frantic, moaning, and breathless, experienced a fleeting exchange of energy and then separated, guilty and proud, out of the shed and into a strange and woozy early evening.
Peachina Evans. She was the first name on my list. Or was I just the third or fourth on hers? Either way I just kept on writing. Name after name after name. When I'd finished racking my brain it was nearly dawn.
Copyright © 2000 by Nelson George
One Woman Short
Will one of them become his future?
Rodney Hampton, a thirty-three-year-old L.A. native, is a pro at juggling women. He and his best friend, Timothy Waters Jr., spent many years recklessly scoping out honeys at ski summits, getting acquainted with MBAs at Martha's Vineyard beach parties, and macking coeds at the Howard homecoming. Yet when Tim gets married, Rodney begins to wonder whether what his ailing mother tells him is true -- is he really "one woman short"?
After compiling a list of all his previous lovers, he goes knocking on the doors of three ex-girlfriends to see if he may have let true love (and matrimony) slip away: Belinda Myles, a club promoter; Sabena, a Cedars-Sinai nurse/dancer; and Amy Davis, a born-again bus dispatcher. The question is: Will anyone in this trio let the man who loved and then left come back into her life?