I used to look forward to weddings. I grew up with the false idol of the lonesome bridesmaid at her friend’s big day, wondering where she had gone wrong, where her big day was, emptying one libation after another. What better way to enjoy a wedding, I thought, than with someone just as crestfallen as you. Worst-case scenario: we drown our sorrows in a pool of intermingled sweat. Best-case: we grow old regaling our children with Mom & Dad’s meet-cute.
But as the nuptials came and went—my sister’s, my cousins’, my friends’—I found that I was the only one propping using the open bar to prop up a smile. After entering the reception on the arm of a groomsman, each bridesmaid broke rank and made straight for her boyfriend. And the few who were single chose to remain single. Even a night of respite from the tatters of her ambitions couldn’t prod a single woman at a wedding onto the dance floor with me. As the matrimonial parade progressed, weddings became less an opportunity and more an agony of attrition. But the Parasite always came with me.
I was dreading my younger cousin’s wedding in Baltimore. I would have gladly forgone the comely cavalcade of alumni from the Marquis of Queensbury School of Rejection. Unfortunately I’ve been cursed not only with the Parasite, but also an unshakable sense of familial obligation and a healthy dose of Catholic guilt.
The day before the wedding was the rehearsal and obligatory dinner. I greeted my cousin and the bride-to-be before the altar, and the bride introduced me to her bridal party right next to the tabernacle. The majority of the distaff reliquary was already taken, but sure enough the maid of honor was single and singularly talented to wake the Parasite. She was tall and lithe and, somehow, miraculously curvaceous. Her face was bright and bubbly with large, dark eyes that seemed fluent in the private language of your soul. The girl’s smile was a nourishing spring rain, free of patronizing falsehood. Her voice was lyrical and opened like a budding rose. I was ensorcelled, and the slow reedy crunch of vampirism filled my ears.
We chatted more at dinner. She worked in child services, a big-hearted giver who felt every blow from an abusive parent, who bruised and swelled from a harsh word. I plied her with questions, peppering her with interest, nudging her to talk ever more intimately about herself. Anything to prevent her from—
“So, what do you do?”
—from that. I’d arrived at this crossroads many times. It was where the water of opportunity fled into the serrated cracks of a dry barren waste, where the Parasite couldn’t survive.
“Well,” I hemmed, “I’m in sales, but I’m really a musician.” I tried to reset the trajectory of conversation, redirect her to my actual interests rather than responsibilities. But passion is secondary to income, or whatever it’s supposed to emblematize, and the maid of honor would not be deterred. I had no choice but to elaborate, to spell out what was at the time my unprepossessing and uninspiring employment.
I could see the strain she was exerting in keeping the smile on her face. I could hear the tinkle of enthusiasm she belched from her well of civility. I could feel her exertion to maintain the social contract even as she began to fidget, as her feet started to lead her away from me. I made it easy for both of us, and excused myself. She could barely meet my eyes the following day through the entire wedding.
The one advantage a depressive has at a wedding is that everyone else is too busy enjoying themselves to notice your torpor. While they danced and drank, posed for pictures, testified into the video camera, laughed and celebrated, I kept company with a bottomless glass of whiskey. Not that it did much good—I was too downtrodden to drink for fun, and the few whiskeys I imbibed had little effect on me. The reception wound down, and once the house lights were up, the younger celebrants repaired to the fourteenth floor for the after party.
I went to my room on the thirteenth, the lurch of revelry thundering through the ceiling, and changed into jeans and a t-shirt. I left my phone, my wallet, even the room’s key card on the little desk in the corner. At two in the morning I walked through the hotel lobby, out the front door, and headed northwest.
As the Inner Harbor receded behind me, I made for Grove Park. I watched the city decay around me. Tenements wept from neglect and abuse. The streets bled garbage and cast-off vials. A stray dog, shrunken and near-feral, crossed me with a growl. I was strutting through a thunderdome of betrayed dreams and tactile nightmares. Good, I thought. I turned a corner and saw a group of younger black men walking on the sidewalk, heading my way. They were talking amongst themselves and likely hadn’t even seen me yet. I kept walking toward them, my chin up, my eyes glinting with defiant privilege. My every step dared them to remember five hundred years of injustice. I wanted those black men to see me as I approached and see the face of every white man who’d called them, “nigger.” I wanted them to see an arrogant pale incongruity invading their sanctuary. I wanted them to teach me a lesson. I wanted to provoke them into attacking me.
I didn’t have a death wish. I wanted an excuse to kill someone.
As we passed one another, one of them nodded my way. “How you doing?”
I nodded back, walked on, and returned to the hotel.