Bobblehead. I’m a bobblehead, he thought, and smiled at the mental picture of an Albert Einstein one that he saw online one time. It woke him up slightly, which he needed to do; falling asleep in public would be embarrassing.
Sean created another picture that made him smile again: it was a tiny crane lifting his head up, followed by two more that propped open his swollen eyes. But he knew he had to pay attention on his own. He had to pretend to care, for the sake of his nephew and the rest of the family.
“To love and to cherish…”
Yes, he did. That was a big part of the problem, and why he drank himself into oblivion last night, and why he got three hours of fitful sleep. Maybe he was still drunk a bit. Sweat drizzled under his collar; the suit was tighter than usual, probably because of the weight gain. His diet sucked lately, and he had stopped working out.
On his left, Sean’s mother stared at him; she stared with no emotion, only awareness and judgment. Okay, judgment in a church. The woman still hasn’t smiled or laughed in the two years since the death of her husband and Sean’s father. Funny, he thought she would be happier. No more of his father’s drunken rages, verbal abuse, physical abuse and generally acting like an ass. Maybe he beat the smiles out of her for good.
“This is my solemn vow…”
A vow. Did they really mean it? Did they understand it? When Sean first read his own wedding vows, the word vow blossomed in his mind. A vow is an anchor for some people. Betrayal is a sport for others.
At the altar, the smiling bride wore cascading clouds of white and the slightly nervous groom had somber black. Giant bouquets of fresh red roses stood on pillars on either side of them. The giant stained glass window beyond the altar at the back of the church sprayed them with the afternoon sunlight. Oddly, a shaft of light from another window rested on the head of the smiling Methodist minister as if he were receiving a visit from God. Sean pondered that one for a moment. If nothing else, Sean had faith that he would get through the darkest period of his life so far.
He finally dared to look at Marisa next to him on his right. She was beautiful as always in her simple blue dress. Even though they were sitting next to each other, they had nearly two feet of space between them. He wanted to pretend that she didn’t exist. She seemed to sense his gaze, glanced at him and awkwardly went back to watching the ceremony. Good. The guilt is still there. Let it stay there forever.
The remaining ceremony went by in a haze. Something about “Introducing Mr. and Mrs.” and applause along with a few whoops from the rowdies in the audience. The rowdies were probably some of the former friends they now avoided. It was their stupid, alcohol-fueled playtime that caused all of this pain.
The procession marched by Sean’s mother, who still didn’t smile, along with the immediate families of the bride and groom. Everyone stood in respect. Sean took a moment to realize he was the only one who hadn’t stood yet. He got up and, after the aisles began to empty, shuffled out of his own followed by Marisa. His mother walked ahead of him without turning around or saying anything other than greeting the few people she knew.
As he went down the aisle to the front door, Sean glanced up a few times and saw some familiar faces watching him. It seemed as if the women were looking at him and the men, of course, were looking at his stunning Marissa. For the ones who watched him, he nodded and dropped his eyes again.
They must know what had happened. Whatever. The asshole was one of his friends, and Sean had vented about the affair with a couple of his other friends. He didn’t know if Marissa had told anyone, and he didn’t want to ask her. The situation was already too humiliating for him. He thought bitterly, I got screwed, and so did my wife. Alcohol was the curse of his entire life — his terrible father, his soulless mother and his shattered marriage.
Outside the front door, the guests sprayed rice at the bride and groom as they rushed from the door to their decorated BMW. Sean just stood behind most of the crowd. The bride still looked happy; the groom still looked nervous and even confused. Good luck to both of you.
As the crowd melted, Sean and Marissa started toward the church parking lot. Halfway to the car, he suddenly hesitated and gazed up at the church steeple. Despite its small size, the plain white cross at the top seemed to dominate the cloudless blue sky.
He turned to Marissa, who was staring at him. “I’ve lost part of us, but maybe I haven’t lost all,” he said. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive you, but I’m going to try. I think I can do it.”
Marissa put both hands on her cheeks and began to cry; she nodded her head. “I can’t ask for anything more,” she said. “But I promise I will do everything I can to make this up to you.”
They reached their Camry in the now-busy parking lot and stopped by the passenger door. Sean opened it for Marisa, turned away from her and abruptly sobbed. She grabbed his hand with a powerfully redeeming grip; he didn’t pull it away. “I love you,” she insisted. “I honestly do.”
“I know. I love you too,” he replied.
Scott S. Bateman is an author, publisher and professional journalist who lives in Richmond, Virginia.