So as some of you, O readers, already know, I have a fair-sized extended family, since both my parents have three siblings, and almost all of them are married with children of their own. Yesterday, I attended the wedding of the only cousin on my mom's side who's older than I am, her sister's only son. Why don't we call him Rich, just for fun.
Rich is a doctor, as is his new wife. The ceremony, their first dance, even the way they look at each other, all made it clear they're very much in love. I'm incredibly happy for Rich, and it was nice to see this start of their new lives together. But what happened after the ceremony, after the toasts and the dinner and the cake-cutting, I'm afraid ruined the night for me, and has left me with some mixed feelings about a lot of things.
I want to say before I tell this story that nothing that happened last night was intentional on anyone's part, and I recognize that. Unfortunately, sometimes painful things happen even when no one means them to.
My parents took up ballroom dancing after the wedding of another of my cousins (on my dad's side, this time) back in 2007. It started as my dad feeling awkward trying to dance with my mom at that wedding, but it has grown into something they both enjoy very much. They had brought their dancing shoes to Rich's wedding, and were discussing over dinner the types of dances they might be able to do in the slightly limited space available to us.
The father-daughter and mother-son dances finished, and the DJ began to play "My Brown-Eyed Girl". My parents went straight out to the floor and began to swing-dance, which is one of the styles they most enjoy. They were doing very well, enjoying themselves, making me and the older of my brothers smile as we watched them. Then I noticed that the song was beginning to speed up, little by little, and that the bass was becoming louder and more emphasized.
Rich's friends, most of whom, like Rich himself, are about my same age, jumped up and began to dance, the simple body-shaking moves that are so popular these days. Little by little, the crowd on the dance floor grew. To make room, my parents moved back. And back. And back again. And then they were off the floor, crowded out. Their time was over.
The next song up was louder, faster, and featured heavier bass. The song after that, even more so. The dance floor was filled with thrashing bodies, waving hands, laughing faces. Everyone was having a wonderful time. But all I could see was my mother's disappointed face, sitting back at her table off to the side.
I tried to dance a little bit myself, with my sister and a couple of my cousins, but although they tried to make me welcome, I could see in their eyes that they really didn't think I belonged there. And they were right. The fourth song on the list was played so loud that I physically could not stay in the reception venue any longer.
I went outside. I may even have run outside. And I'm afraid the next thing I did was find a spot to sit down and cry. By age, by education, by every measure the world recognizes, my cousin's wedding guests ought to be my peers. And yet I can't think of another time in my life when I have felt so alienated, so rejected and excluded, both on my own part and on the part of people I love.
My parents and my brothers and I left the reception very shortly thereafter, and when I brought up to my sister (who stayed) the reason we'd had to leave, she told me, "Well, all modern parties are like that. With the loud music and the flashing lights and that kind of dancing. I like it." Unspoken, but quite loud all the same, was the subtext of "So why don't you just go back to your rocking chair, Grandma, and tend to your knitting."
My cousin doesn't know about this, and I'm hoping a little bit that he never finds out. He and his new wife designed their wedding and reception to reflect who they are, how they live, what they and their friends like best. It's not their fault that my parents and I had hoped for something different. It's not anybody's fault. But I'm afraid that the next time that side of the family holds a get-together, I'm going to be awfully tempted to have a previous engagement which I shall make as soon as possible.