Wednesday, 18 March 2015
I thought I knew what I was doing
He was the kind of guy that referred to his wife as "wifey" and she for her part would reciprocate with "hubby". He was the kind of guy that would take your childhood toys and sell them on ebay and not give you a cent. The kind of guy that thought he was exceptionally classy driving around in a sunbaked, thrashed out, old sports car, flaunting his penniless vain attempts at appearing fabulously wealthy. The kind of guy that went to church and put on facade after facade of pretence, and then went home and pushed his step kids through the drywall. A scumbag, basically. A scumbag who thought every thing out of his mouth was either profoundly intelligent or ridiculously funny. As a guide to which of those two he was currently aiming for, he would helpfully either pull an all-knowing earnestly wise face, or a silent mock-laughing face.
It was one of those silent laugh times, with his head tilted back, open-mouthed, head shaking up and down like he was retarded, or as if he had just stubbed his toe and snapped it in fourteen places - the unbearable searing pain somehow stopping all noise from escaping his lips, but leaving his face to contort as if it was trying to eat itself. I looked at him, unbearably aware of how much of a tool he was. He'd just finished making an unfunny, vaguely racist joke, before his voice-over came through on the home-video he was playing, making the exact same joke word-for-word again. His face contorted again, at the sound of his own echo, and this time he literally slapped his knee.
He'd asked me round to try on the 'genuine' Armani suit he'd sourced from some 'genuine' tailor somewhere in a third world country for $100. Except instead of trying on a suit I was compelled to first watch three full hours of shaky handycam footage and still photo slideshows of his latest trip away. I was feeling physically nauseas by the end. I tried the suit on hurriedly, said it was perfect despite it not fitting quite right, bundled it up and left. I ended up having to get the trousers and cuffs shortened. It was a thin, cheap looking suit, but I stood by quietly when he told everyone it was a genuine Amani. What else was I to do? The best man has to be accommodating. On the drive home I felt sorry for him, that he'd had to ask his own brother to be best man; we barely spoke and had never had a good relationship or any interest in each other. The poor bastard mustn't have had anyone else to ask, so I said yes. I was far too timid to say no, even if this was the man who had rung me late one night, two years before, to apologize for hating me all my life. I briefly considered the idea of going over to his place more often, having a beer, finding a common interest. Then I remembered he exclusively drank a skunked out lemon-lime radler, and thought better of it. Even so, on the long drive home I made a promise to myself to try and forgive and move on, every male wants a brotherly brother to bro it up with after all.
I didn't have to throw a bucks night, my task for the big day was merely to collect sand. There was to be a sand ceremony (whatever that was), and I was to bring sands in various colours, as well as some sand from the place they first met. For those who don't know Brisbane, there is a fake beach built along the river in the centre of the city. I turned up there looking like a turd in a $100 tux, carrying three old empty chinese containers. They'd been through the dishwasher so they were warped and the lids didn't fit right. He never specified quite how much sand he needed, so I thought I'd play it safe. I scraped up the sand whilst children and parents watched me with suspicion. There was a bit of speculation on our part at the time - how could this open public space, where little kids go to swim, be the first place they met? It doesn't make sense, not when they claim to have met in a coffee shop whilst she was somehow reading his self-published book which no one bought copies of. Who meets in open public spaces besides e-daters looking not to get murdered? There are no coffee shops along this fake beach at all. Regardless, I turned up with three half spilt containers of mucky looking sand. Looking at the carpet in my car, I wished I'd just brought a bag of the gardening sand that I kept under my house and passed it off as the real thing. In fact, it probably even comes from the same place they get the sand for the fake beach.
The ceremony was to be at 3PM on one of the main beaches in Caloundra, but god had different plans. He tried his best to stop the whole disaster by brewing up a storm. We watched out the window of the hotel as the palm trees bent at 45 degree angles. That was 2:30PM. The future 'hubby' still hadn't turned up. He was supposed to pick me up mid-morning to go have lunch and a chat about what would happen at the ceremony. To go over things, to prepare, to do a dry-run of where to stand and what to do. Instead I got a call to say he'd be there soon and the 'other best man' would be coming up to the hotel to get ready. An awkward conversation ensued:
"Other... best man?"
"Yeah, you're both the best man. I can have two best-men you know."
"OK..." I couldn't be bothered to argue or ask how it was supposed to work.
The other best-man showed up, took a seat on the sofa and got to chatting. He asked in his Greek accent for embarrassing stories to say in his best-man's speech. At least I got out of having to come up with one of those, I thought. My sister tried her best: "He used to eat luncheon meat slices with peanut butter on them..." The best-best-man wasn't impressed.
"You know, when I first met him, I thought: "this guy is such a wanker. This guy is such a dickhead." He paused and my sister and I looked at each other wondering if we were supposed to laugh or if that was the end of his story. I started laughing out of surprize at how completely accurate the statement was, but he wasn't done.
"The first time I met him I punched him in the balls," he said. I laughed harder. "I grabbed his balls through his jeans a-like this," he said as he acted it out, "and then with my other hand, I punch him, right in the balls, I said to him, stop being a dickhead, or I will do it again. He cried. He had tears in his eyes." If only I'd known that was the way to get through to my brother, then perhaps I could've been using the technique for years.
The man with the punching bag goolies finally strode through the door at 2:50PM in a world of carefree self-involvement. His suit was un-pressed, and he hadn't showered or shaved. My nephew-in-law began scrambling about trying to get him organized, grabbed his suit and started ironing it. The storm outside had died down slightly, God obviously hadn't got the memo that we were running late and to keep it up a bit longer. It was futile in the end though, as they had made rain arrangements. There was a fifties-era retro diner that had been booked for the reception, the wedding would simply happen there a little later. He'd not deemed it necessary to pass that information on to anyone else up until 3:30PM though, after all our frantic panicking to rush him out the door.
We arrived at the vinyl seated, linoleum floored diner. The walls were strewn with 50's memorabilia, and there was a neon rainbow jukebox in the corner filled with LP's. This was the wedding venue for the so-called super wealthy, self-made millionaire who tells others what to do with their money. For a few minutes we milled with the other guests who arrived, after finding a notice posted at the beach. And then the wedding began. Sand was poured. Things were said. People cheered, and then the bridal party left. Whilst we were gone the whole room was seated and then there was a shake-down for cash by the emcee. On the RSVP there was a "no gifts" clause - but it now seemed that in lieu of gifts there was apparently a mandatory $50 or more per person 'donation', to be handed into a bucket on the stage. This was claimed to merely be a cover charge for the cost of the food. But why we had to cover the cost of food for the town's own self-made wealth guru was anyone's guess. There were grumblings from people saying they wouldn't have come if they'd known. People who didn't have cash looked around, frantic and embarrassed. Humiliation, resentment and awkwardness abounded. Luckily I wasn't there to deal with it. But I had a much worse job.
I ended up being the bride's umbrella carrier. The bridal gown's train carrier. The running around general dog's body whilst the photographs were taken. Sploshing through puddles and sacrificing myself for the dress. I hadn't eaten all day - expecting to be having lunch with the new 'hubby', which he never showed up for, I'd decided to skip breakfast. The photo shoot took over an hour due to the bad weather. By the time we got back, it was 5PM.
The normal downtime between wedding and reception didn't exist for the other guests due to it all being at the one venue. For some reason, only drinks had been served whilst everyone waited for the bridal party's return, appetizers apparently were not covered by their $50 'donation'. One of my sisters had been drinking the entire time without a single bit of food. She was drunk. She was loud, and shouting obscenities. It wasn't her fault. The whole place was a mess.
I was sitting quietly amongst the chaos that was unfurling around me, thinking back to the time we moved house as a kid. I was seven years old and had never ventured very long or far from the family home. We were moving interstate, I'd never see my best friends again - I'd never see my regular friends again, nor some of my cousins. My brother was 20. He'd come back to help us pack, and for the one rare time in my life he included me in something, asking me to join him on his walk with his best and, as far as I was aware, only friend. We walked across the town, they talked about things I didn't understand but I was happy just to be there. One of them bought me a spearmint lolly. It was the first time I'd ever had spearmint. I didn't like it but I ate it anyway and pretended I did. As I walked I heard a voice shout out behind me. It was his friend, "hey! Remember this?" he'd called and I became aware he was some way behind us looking at the footpath. My brother laughed and nodded. He'd written my name in the cement 7 and a bit years ago, the day I was born. I felt for the first time in my life that maybe he liked me. It was a strange thing for a 7 year old to think, kids normally implicitly assume everyone loves them, or don't really understand what exactly love is, but I always felt nothing but resentment and jealousy from my brother, interspersed with a fleeting interest whenever he wanted to impress me. That day shook my belief that he simply didn't like me. It was a far cry from the previous time I walked with him and his friend; back then I was 6 and they left me at a park to go and get McDonalds without me. I have no recollection of how I got home. I just remember the annoyance of being left out as it slowly faded into terror and panic.
I realized the day had become a perfect encapsulation of our lives together: a shaky start, a brewing ominous storm lingering overhead, more absence than presence, constant frustration with or without close proximity, always being the third or fourth wheel, and finally where I was with him now: indifference. It dawned on me that I no longer cared. I had broken through the pain barrier and found a formless void of nothingness on the other side. He stood up and made a speech full of crap and lies. I no longer got annoyed. He created his own cult. I didn't get mad. His wife sent me death threats. I pretended to care and cut him off. Just so I wouldn't have to deal with him ever again. People can only take so much out of you before there's nothing left to give. They expect more, even after punching holes through you and letting it all drain out, but it's gone for good. You can't sticky tape it all back together and wait for it to refill. You can't force yourself to love someone any more than you can force someone to love you. My brother died the day he wrote my name in the pavement. His zombie corpse has shambled off to Bali to con tourists out of money, good luck to it. Or bad luck. Or no luck. Who cares?