“Did you miss your father on your wedding day?” asked A. We stood on the back deck of another friend’s new house, munching hot pizza. Two-year-olds in soft Halloween costumes (bear, dog, tutu) rode up and down the stairs in parents’ arms, giving the illusion of a funicular. I watched the birthday boy, long free from his locomotive costume but still wearing a conductor’s hat, grab chip after chip, and searched my memory.
“No,” I said. “I don’t think I did.”
A described the moment she thought of her dad. The Dance. She danced with her stepfather and thought of her father. As she told me her story, her eyes gradually tearing up, I grasped at something I could offer in return – a tender moment, an exercise of will, a whisper in the heart. I had nothing.
“I thought of him afterwards,” I said. “When I saw the pictures.” One picture shows my brother-in-law, after reading the names of people we wish could have been with us, squeezing my mother’s shoulder. Another features a bird circling high above our heads during our vows. My other brother-in-law told me he took that picture because he believed the bird had something to do with my dad – his presence, his blessing. Mom, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my aunts and uncles and cousins. Friends who’d never met my father. I’m sure many guests thought of him that day. I didn’t.
Months before the wedding, I developed a complicated processional plan. Draft after draft of pairings and groupings. Order, re-order, start again. Two officiants, five children (two of them infants), fifteen attendants, three parents. Odd numbers! We didn’t have traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen, either. Having dated for a long time, when it came to asking friends and family to stand up for us we didn’t have separate sides. We had one posse. I mapped my final plan on a poster, color-coded and illustrated, to bring to the rehearsal. J’s parents and brother, all the friends, the babies, the sisters, the kids. Mom would walk me from the house to the back row of chairs where my brother-in-law would be waiting to escort her to a seat at the front. At the end of it all, somehow, at the back of the aisle, J would be waiting for me. We would walk down the aisle together.
As I drew squiggly blue lines to indicate Long Island Sound, I thought of my father. Mom says he loved the water. I sketched a sailboat. I didn’t think, I wish he were here to walk me down the aisle. I designed the complicated processional so that I could avoid thinking about that. My father and mother got me to six. My mother got me to adulthood. I got myself to this point. Now J and I choose to lean on each other the rest of the way. It all made sense. It negated loss. I selected a teal marker to add dimension to my illustration of the water, ultramarine to add depth. Not bad, I thought. It was a really nice picture.
As we unpacked from our wedding weekend and repacked for our honeymoon, I asked J what happened to my chart. “Someone must have thrown it out,” he said. So much had made it back with us – extra programs, placecards guests had left behind, empty vases. But not the chart.
I miss the water, the squiggly lines I drew for my father. I really wish I had that chart.