I’ve been counting down the days till this wedding, marking X’s on my calendar. Sure, because two beautiful friends are marrying each other, congratulations! And sure, because I get to go home and it’s been too long since I’ve made the trip. But mostly I’m excited because I get to boogie on a wooden square of ballroom flooring. I get to refill my wine glass between sets, and hear old songs I’d never choose like “YMCA.” It’s been too long since I’ve been to a wedding. It’s been too long since I’ve been out dancing.
The band makes a bold choice, starts the reception off with “Respect,” and no, the leader singer ain’t Aretha Franklin, but she tries. I applaud her efforts but hate her rendition, so I shake things up a bit by ordering a martini. It’s strong. I shimmy back over to the movin’-and-groovin’ clump of bodies, and that’s when I see him near the speakers.
Kick ball change, one two three, an outside turn, then dips her. My father is dancing. He is dancing with my mother, and she’s pretending not to love it but then doing a little high kick after he spins her as if she’s a flamenco dancer, which totally gives away her joy. My eyes are fixed on my dad’s face because he’s mouthing the count. Because his big cheeks have unrolled into a huge smile, and he’s having the time of his life with the woman he adores close to him - what else could he need? Because he’s carefree in this moment, putting down all his burdens and pressures and obligations (the ones he never puts down.)
I am taken aback. I steady myself against the wall. Lastima starts in the center of my chest, a small tourniquet of emotion that grows and spreads. Pretty soon it’s louder than the music and more intense than the vodka. I start to worry he’s pushing himself too hard or straining his heart or his knees. I need the panic to numb me. I need to obsess about something bad happening out of the blue, something you’re never prepared for. I prepare so it won’t come. I need the fear because right now is so pure, I can barely stand it.
I chug my martini even though it’s not meant to be chugged. My friend thinks I’m crying over her vows and I don’t correct her. I just watch, and I take the love in, and I say a hundred times in my head, “I do, I do, I do.” I say it to everybody, secretly. Then “We are Family” begins to play, and I run out to my parents and into my dad’s arms. Because that’s where I belong.