As anyone who has ever been divorced will know, you can get rid of the wife, but you can't get rid of the life.
Looking back on it, I realize now that my biggest judgment error had been becoming friends with my wife's relatives. After Jane and I divorced, her brother and sisters were very supportive of me, in a patronizing, head-patting sort of way. I had to endure months of whispers in hallways, basset-hound expressions and deep, meaningful exchanges that involved double-hand holding and the inevitable "So how are you…really?" It was exhausting.
Jane on the other hand was deeply resentful that her family maintained contact with me. She assumed that her family simply enjoyed my company more than they enjoyed hers. In that respect, she was absolutely correct. I didn't divorce her because she was a warm and wonderful person with an unending capacity for joy. And she was no nicer to her family than she had been to her husband.
In fact, other than my father-in-law, who still saw Jane as a delicate six-year-old who needed to be sheltered from the world, Jane's family were neither surprised by our divorce, nor especially upset over it. In fact, they were always wondering just what had kept it going for six long years. I myself had no answer to that. Our lack of children could be connected directly to our lack of sex. Our lack of sex was directly linked to our lack of compatibility, and our lack of compatibility could be directly linked to the fact that Jane was a gloomy, self-centered pessimist and I had married her because I was young, impressionable and easily bullied by demanding women. I'm loveable that way.
My friendship with Jane's family continued and I felt on pretty solid ground as long as they didn't outnumber me three-to-one in any given situation. For about a year and a half this worked out well.
And then Jane's brother Tom decided to get married. He and his fiancée Anne had been together for a few years and they had finally come to the conclusion that since their relationship had held up well thus far, it was time to completely screw it up. I felt that marriage was something every man must go through at least once in their lives, like a hazing ritual or a vasectomy, so I held my tongue.
Shortly after this announcement, Tom cornered me at the mall. "I know you've had a rough go with our family and that things are still a bit rocky between you and Jane, but I really want you to stand up with me at my wedding. I know you're uncomfortable doing this, and I understand if you don't want to."
Well, of course I'd be uncomfortable and I was glad that he understood why I simply couldn't. I was about to say this when my mouth, without any prior consultation with my brain, opened up and started saying the weirdest crap. Crap like, "Of course I'll stand up at your wedding" and crap like, "This is your big day, don't worry about me." and crap like, "I'm honoured that you asked me, Tom." That kind of crap. My brain then turned to my conscience and asked if it was okay to tell my fist to punch me in the mouth.
Despite the fact that I was going to my ex-wife's brother's wedding, I had a plan. I figured that all I needed was a hot date and a lot of liquor. Unfortunately, Tom had scheduled his wedding on the holiday weekend in May, the first long weekend of the summer. In Canada, people simply don't go to weddings on the May long weekend. They go up north to open things up, like their cottages, their trailers, their tents and several dozen beers. And that was exactly what just about every woman I called up was planning on doing. My plan of having a hot date was slipping away. My mom said that she would go with me, but I don't write stories for that category.
And so I prepared myself for an incredibly excruciating night of smug scorn from my ex-wife, surrounded by ex-in-laws, and me in a tuxedo that was, to be honest, rather ghastly (I thought only rabbits in Disney movies wore waistcoats) and shoes that were pointy and shiny.
The wedding was being held up north, about a three hour drive away. I was duly impressed by the location. The hotel was situated at the foot of a scenic bay and the sparkling blue water added a lovely backdrop to the landscape. I was startled at the view from the lobby, looking out onto the wide expanse of water, with great white clouds piling up on the horizon and sailboats skidding across the waves. I checked into my room and threw open the curtains. I had a spectacular view of the wide expanse of glistening parking lot, with a great Chinese restaurant looming majestically up on the horizon and two broken down pick-up trucks rusting away in quaint silence on the pavement.
The church was right across the street and the reception was being held right in the hotel itself. It was a cozy set up. I showered and changed and headed over to the church for the rehearsal.
The rehearsal provided a lovely prelude to the horror I was about to experience. As if I needed to rehearse being uncomfortable and out of place, something that normally comes naturally. The bridesmaid that I was assigned to was the bride's sister Carla. Carla was a particularly startling creature, and I use both those words in a negative sense. Where Anne, the bride, was athletic, fair haired and of a pleasant disposition, Carla was shorter, round and had all the charm of a dock worker. She had burgundy hair and wore eye mascara like a drilling rig wore oil. She had a face full of hardware that looked not so much as she was trying to make some kind of a statement, but more like she was storing other people's earrings for safekeeping. She scowled at me and kept looking over at her boyfriend, a scrawny Goth with hair like an aloe plant and skin like vanilla pudding. He and Carla were in the midst of a fierce competition as to who could wear the most eye makeup and it appeared that he was winning. As we prepared to go down the aisle, I offered my arm to Carla and she hooked me with a linebacker's grip, hauling me forward with the determination of a drunk heading to the bar. All I could do was hold on and try not to look too intimidated. I noticed that those who were standing around watching were desperately trying not to laugh at Carla, not out of any sense of decorum or politeness, but out of genuine fear. It became apparent that the family was desperately afraid of her, and for good reason. Her grip alone told me that she was a force to be reckoned with.
After the rehearsal, we sat around a lovely restaurant and I watched as the family toasted each other with increasing drunkenness and affection. In fact it was turning downright sloppy. I sipped at my beer and watched as others kept coming around and slamming new drinks on my table. I was developing a small parapet of bottles which to be honest; I was feeling quite safe behind. I had my own little brown-bottle fort. And then Tom stood up for his sixth swaying speech of the night. With wild gesticulating arms, he appeared as if he was about to part a sea of some sort. But to my horror, he turned his bleary eyes and settled them, with some difficulty, on me.
"I'd lank to thike, er...like to thank, my good friend Mark for being an usher at my wedding." There was a smattering of applause from those who were not exactly completely passed out. "This was a big sissision...decisson...deshison...deal for Mark as the family here is no longer his family but his ex family thanks to Jane my ex-sister. I mean, Jane HIS ex-sister...er...ex-wife. Right? Jane isn't here tonight." Tom took a deep breath as if to gather his thoughts, looked at me with a smile and sat down, satisfied. There was a pause and then a few people clapped and raised their glasses in my general direction. It was a truly heartwarming toast. I retreated back behind my fort and remained there for the rest of the night.
The only other footnote came from Carla, who leaned over and told me that if I even thought of making a pass at her at the wedding her boyfriend would slash the tires on my car. I looked at her in disbelief. The very idea made me cross my legs in the same manner all men cross their legs when witnessing someone getting kicked in the nads. I told her truthfully that the thought hadn't even crossed my mind. I seriously doubted her boyfriend would ever attempt to slash my tires however. First it would involve actually going outside, something he clearly abhorred, and second, the adventure posed a very real danger that he may break a nail.
I arrived at the church the next day completely surrendered to my fate. I saw ahead of me a forlorn afternoon of soulless nodding and smiling like a bobble-head doll in a French waiter's suit. I helped ladies to their seats, talked politely to people who kept mistaking me for a cousin named Alex, whom I learned later had actually died in a traffic accident a few years earlier, and generally kept to myself as much as possible.
Finally Jane arrived. I had dreaded the moment, and it turned out to be all I expected and much, much worse. She looked radiant, even beneath her bored demeanour. Her hair was piled up atop her head, accentuating her long, lithe neck. She wore an elegant gown that clung to her form in a most appealing manner and she walked with that same cocky self-confidence that just made you want to slap her. Or maybe just me. Her date was a familiar-looking older man with a bald spot and a nice suit. And by nice I mean normal, unlike the Charlie Chaplin number I was monkeying around in. I was immediately irrationally jealous. It wasn't that I wanted Jane myself; I just didn't want anyone else to have her either.
Fortunately, I was spared the acute anguish of having to seat her as another usher took up the task. As I was turning away, I met Ellen, my ex-mother-in-law, and mother of the groom. Ellen looked wonderful. She lived for weddings and family get-togethers and she was truly in her element. She wore a stunning silvery dress and blazer which made her graying hair look elegant. I always liked Ellen, and we got on rather well.
"Jane does look nice today, doesn't she," she said.
"Yes," I replied evenly.
"Have you talked with her?"
"No, not yet."
"Oh," Ellen leaned forward and lowered her voice. "She's still a stuck-up thing." We both laughed lightly. I looked up and caught Jane glaring at us from across the sanctuary. "You save me a dance, young man." Ellen patted my arm and wandered off.
The wedding was nice, bland and uneventful. This is pretty much what everyone wants from a wedding. I allowed myself to be hauled down the aisle by Carla, stood with a blank look on my face for about forty minutes, and then allowed myself to be hauled back up the aisle again. After the wedding I noticed Carla and her boyfriend making out madly in one of the alcoves. They looked as if they were trying to eat each other. I shuddered and averted my eyes.
I was just about to join up with the bridal party when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and looked into the warmest, friendliest, softest eyes I had ever seen. Kate, Jane's cousin stood with a great big smile on her face. She embraced me warmly and for the first time all day, I felt pretty good.
"You looked great up there," she said smiling, "despite the suit."
Kate and I had always gotten along. She and her husband had actually married the weekend before Jane and I, and we always shared a special kinship. Kate was a lovely woman, in every sense of the word. She had long auburn hair, a wickedly sinful smile and a lovely, full and curvy body that I had admired since the day I met her. But most of all, Kate had a sense of humour. She was always laughing, smiling, smirking or grinning, and her personality was infectious, lighting up the smiles of all those around her. Even the dour Jane would occasionally crack a grin when Kate was around, but when Jane smiled it reminded me of the old adage that dogs smile just before they bite. Jane's moods were governed by Newton's Third Law, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. As happy as she would be at Kate's, that would be as angry and irritated she would be at me immediately upon returning home. It got to the point where I would equate a visit with Kate to a heavy drinking binge: as good a time as I was having, there was always hell to pay afterwards.
"So, where's Craig?" I asked, looking around.
"Didn't you hear?" Kate asked. Her smile was still there but her eyes had hardened somewhat. "Craig and I are divorced."
"What?" This shook me terribly. Craig and Kate were my ideal; they were the kind of couple that I aspired to. If Craig and Kate couldn't make it what hope was there for the rest of us?
"Craig discovered that he loved me, but he loved fucking his legal associate even more."
"Craig?" I couldn't believe it. Craig was such a...regular Joe. He was self-deprecating, modest, relaxed and frankly one of the most asexual people I had ever met. I couldn't picture him even being interested in sex, let alone being interested in it with someone other than his wife. My image of Craig was that from the waist down he was appendage free, like a Ken doll.
"Hard to believe, isn't it?"
"How long ago was this?"
"Oh not long after you and Jane split," she said. "And speaking of Jane..." Kate looked over my shoulder and I turned to see my ex walking towards us.
"Hi, Kate!" Jane said brightly. She turned her cool gaze on me, "Mark."
"Hey, Jane." I tried to keep my voice as even and casual as possible.
"Kate, I bumped into Laura..." Jane started. I was not worth much more than the most perfunctory acknowledgment. I looked at Kate and nodded at her. She smiled brightly and I walked off. As I did I passed by Jane's date and was startled by how familiar he looked. He had to be at least twenty years older than me. I decided to introduce myself.
"Hey, I'm Mark," I said, shaking his hand.
"I know, I'm Dr. Westland, Jane used to work for me at the hospital."
"That's where I knew you from!" I said, "I've met you a few times. I'm so sorry, Dr. Westland."
"Well, it was a while ago," he said. An uncomfortable silence ensued.
"So, you and Jane..." I opened.
"Yes, well, we kept in touch after she left the clinic. We went to a few functions together and things sort of progressed from there." It was obvious that Dr. Westland was not exactly comfortable discussing this with me.
"How long have you two been seeing each other?"
"Let's see, I guess since Christmas."
"Ah. That's great." I decided to switch topics. "Didn't you used to drive a Bricklin?"
"Yes, I sold it to a collector a few years back," he said. You could tell he was relieved to be off the subject of Jane. "I kind of miss it now though."
"Thinking about getting another exotic car?"
"Actually, I hadn't been until just a few weeks ago. I noticed an ad in a trade paper for a Qvale Mangusta. I've been looking into it."
Just then I noticed Jane coming over. She was very concerned that the good doctor was talking to me without her supervision.
"Oh, Donald, I see you're getting reacquainted with Mark."
"Yes. It's been awhile since I've seen him."
"That's wonderful, but if we're going to get to the reception on time, I need to get back to the hotel fairly soon." She gave Donald a meaningful look.
"You're staying across the street?" I asked.
"Yes, we are," Donald said. I smiled. The dinner didn't start until 6:30 and it was just after four. I could see why Jane would be in such a rush, what with that long walk and all. Jane looked at me with a steely gaze, the gaze that would make me whither when I was married to her. I still felt myself drawing back from her slightly.
"I need to get freshened up," she said evenly.
"Oooh," I grinned. "I get it." I waggled my eyebrows at Donald but he was a bit slow to catch it. Jane however was not.
"Really, Mark," she huffed. "You never change."
The dinner was the stamina Olympics. Events included who had the most stamina behind the podium and who had the most stamina to listen to the person behind the podium. By the end of the dinner, I called it a draw, a very painful and exhausting draw.
I had no idea that Tom's life was so utterly and despondently boring, but if one were to gauge him by the stories told about him he would rate just above an actual rock and a fair bit below say, to pick an object at random, a napkin. A typical story about Tom, and I will paraphrase and condense as I don't want my own story tainted with his blandness, would go like so: Tom was born, and that simple fact brought people around him a great deal of happiness, and if not actual happiness, than something similar to contentment. Or perhaps a sense of agreement, such as "Oh, Tom's been born, well, I have no problem with that." From there the story winds down and ends with the mandatory, "And here we are today."
Now Anne was no slouch either. Her own mother was nodding off during the enthusiastic speeches about the bride. Oh she had done some marvelous things...such as...went to school and got straight A's, which was unbearably exciting. And then she graduated and got a job at a dental clinic where all kinds of amazing and hilarious stories just completely failed to materialize. Apparently Tom and Anne met in the most predictable manner possible. He was a patient of all things, and she was, quite surprisingly, the dental hygienist working on him. He somehow managed to ask her out and they dated for an excruciatingly long time before he asked her to marry him. Then they were engaged for another excruciatingly long time before finally setting the wedding date. And three years later..."Here we are today."
As the speeches wound down and the dance began, I found Tom and congratulated him.
"You're talking as if you're heading out," Tom said.
"Well, I was thinking that I'd have maybe another drink and turn in for the night."
"You can't do that, my mom will kill you. You have to dance with her." Tom turned to me, "look, I know that this is uncomfortable for you, what with everyone being an ex-relative and all, but to my mom and to me and to just about everyone but Jane and my dad, you're still family. We really want you to stay. I really want you to stay." The sincerity in his voice was touching, I had to admit. So I just nodded. He patted me on the back and I headed for the bar for a much needed drink.
I found an empty table and sat down, scanning the room. It was a good-sized party and with the family dances being done with the dance floor was jumping. I slipped my jacket off and threw it over the chair next to me. Jane picked it up.
"Mind if I sit down?"
"No." I lied. "Where's the doctor?"
"Donald? He's getting me a drink." She sat down next to me and looked around the table. "Where's your date?"
"Ah, well. What with it being a long weekend..."
"You came stag?"
"I'm secure enough in my manhood to come alone."
"Been doing that a lot lately?" Jane asked with a grin.
"Oh, the wit. It's the wit I miss the most."
"I'm sure it is."
Just then Donald arrived with a drink for Jane. He seemed a bit reluctant to interrupt us but Jane pulled a chair out for him. As he sat down, Jane slid her chair close to his and snuggled up against him. "I think it's a shame that you couldn't find a date for the wedding. You look so forlorn over here by yourself. Perhaps one of the bridesmaids is single?"
There is a moment in every man's life when he finally receives a feeling where he doesn't care what others think anymore, where he realizes that he is comfortable and confident in whom he is that he no longer lives by the approval of others.
I wish I could have experienced that feeling at that moment.
I picked up my beer bottle which was still two-thirds full and drained it. "I need another drink." I said and made my escape.
I hovered around the bar, hoping that through some tragic accident, a chandelier would come crashing down on my ex. There were no chandeliers in her vicinity so that would have been quite a feat, but we cling to our dreams no matter how irrational.