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The Time I Didn't Die of Breast Cancer | 2016 |


I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true.  

-Dorothy Parker

Bryan's Engagement

"You aren't going to say anything awful at my wedding, right?" Bryan, my younger brother, asks before his fiancée arrives to the restaurant for Thanksgiving. This is close to the first thing he says to me all day, as though he needs to get this squared away before we can begin our annual meal.

"Of course not!" I protest. "Why would I?"

"Colleen thought you might, then her mom asked me, so I got worried."

"No, Bryan, I wouldn't," I say, feeling a touch offended that he would suggest such a thing. "Then again, now that you are telling me not to, I have to admit I am tempted. You shouldn't have put the idea in my head. What exactly could I say that would be most awful...?"

I do not broach this offense when Colleen arrives. It's better not to know if she actually felt threatened by my mouth or if he is just using her as an excuse to state his own inexplicable fears. I don't think I am particularly notorious for saying awful things.

He proposed about a week ago, at a heavy metal show. I didn't recognize any of the people he listed as headliners, though he thought listing the bands would be enough to satisfy my curiosity about my younger brother being suddenly engaged. I only found out because he listed their engagement on social media. I teased him then that maybe I could have been given a call, before if not after. He just excused that his phone had a better signal, so he changed their Facebook status instead of her. This does not answer my chastisement.

Over dinner, I harass him a little for specifics of the story, but he repeats only the generalities. They were at the show. He gave her the citrine and silver ring he had in his possession for multiple years. She said yes. They were engaged.

He lacks my flare for dramatic storytelling.

Over subsequent courses, I slowly wheedle details of the wedding out of him, if he will not appease me with a romantic proposal story. With every detail, I remind myself of my promise to say nothing untoward at their wedding.

To save money and because they are not churchgoers, they are going to get married at a scenic estate (the Hudson Valley is lousy with these) on a Thursday evening in October. The meal will be catered breakfast food, as it is both delicious and accords with Colleen's dietary restrictions. Their colors are sage and lavender. He will wear a kilt.

"Isn't that usually done if you are Scottish?" Amber asks.

Bryan shrugs. "I might be Scottish. Or Irish. I don't know. I'm wearing a kilt."

Given this choice of array, etiquette demands I bring the conversation to a more self-serving point. "So, on the topic of what you will be wearing - how does one put this? - have you given any thought to who will be standing up there with you?"


"Who is your best man?" I say less floridly.

"Oh, I think I'm going to have my friend Gene as my best man," he says.

"Were you angling for the job?" asks Amber. "It sounds like you were."

"Quite the opposite," I assure her. "Not that I wouldn't serve with distinction had you asked me," I say to Bryan, "but I saw at my wedding that the job of best man is a lot of work and I don't think I would feel comfortable getting you strippers. So, yes, good choice picking someone who isn't me."

He mentions that he needs to find a wedding photographer, the implied rest of the sentence being "who will work cheap." Before a second course, I message a woman I know who does wedding photography, tell her the date and location, and connect her to Bryan. He will tell me the next day that he has selected her. I do not know if she had any competition, but let this be simple.

This seems to settle matters. Though, with all this free time I will have not having to be the best man, I do seem to have an excess of time to craft a speech...

I don't know what emotion I am supposed to have about his engagement. There was a time when I doubt anyone in my immediate family expected him to marry at all. For long stretches - he was too busy getting various nursing certifications - he did not date anyone and would occasionally mention with horror exes from college, some of whom still shriek into my parents' answering machine.

I had no attachment to his singledom; his being unmarried did not represent anything to me, as it might were we a television family. As the most recently married brother (our older brother Dan married his pregnant longtime girlfriend before a justice of the peace to ease the cost of his son's birth), I didn't want him to remain unmarried as my representative into that world. He did not enjoy being single as I would have, with self-discovery, snow angels, and sunsets. It was simply an apparently default state he never seemed to put much effort into relieving. I tried a few times, largely for my own entertainment, to help him flirt with women or be social. He took to it like a duck to an evangelical, apex predator, chainsaw enthusiast convention. Dating and relationships had long been the world in which I could move with ease as a naturalized citizen, but he was perpetually alien.

Colleen seems to like him well enough to bestow upon him pet names and continued attention, which may be all the testament needed for their relationship. I don't mean to suggest that he marry whoever could put up with him the longest, but there are worse metrics in the world than compatibility in the face of an uncomprehending world.

Marriage is a fine institution, in my eyes. The only time I have questioned my role in it was when I worried I was not the man for Amber, but I never wondered if she were the woman for me. It just seemed obvious. No one has come close to loving me as much as she has and I would gladly wish that sort of connection on Bryan for its pacifying influence.

I mark my marriage with Amber as one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I acknowledge that a marriage to any previous lover would have been a mistake bordering on a terminal disaster. Marriage is only a blessing when one marries well.

Should I, as the older brother, offer him some sage words for easing this transition into married life?

I don't think I have many. I dated tumultuous women before finding a woman who let me be calm. I cannot generalize my success onto him, since the factors almost couldn't be more different. I have a long string of serial monogamy behind me, an adolescence spend canoodling. I figured out how to keep a girlfriend before I learned how to keep myself sane. Bryan ignored the majority of that. I wanted to be a good boyfriend, whereas I do not think Bryan ever wanted to be someone's boyfriend before meeting Colleen. I had lived long-term with a woman and learned all that entailed once before meeting (and quickly moving in with) Amber. Without moving in together, I may not have discovered how deeply I loved her and she may not have found out how to let herself be the woman I love. Prior to Amber, I lived on my own and struggled for survival. Bryan has only lived in a dorm or with my parents, never wanting for much.

When Bryan and Colleen marry and live together, he will start his own journey. He will have to learn their rhythm in a way he never had before. He will have different struggles than I did, different decisions to make in negotiating a marriage. Before any of that, he has to figure out how to have the wedding they both want without getting too distracted about what family members may or may not say on the day in question. Marriage is easy, if you let it be. Weddings, however, are a pain that tend to be more fun for the guests than the bride and groom, a lesson he is about to learn in earnest.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: Only Lovers Left Alive
reading: The Martian
listening: Tori Amos

The Time I Didn't Die of Breast Cancer | 2016 |

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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