‘I’m Going to Go Chill in the Bathroom’
A family wedding.
October 19, 2017
Amelia Bishop, homie, class of ‘17, drives home to Vancouver for the first of two funeral services for her grandmother. The Gorge along I-84 isn’t actually so charred. Amelia drops me near the airport and I take the MAX to my grandmother’s apartment near the Lloyd Center in Northeast Portland.
Her apartment looks east over red and yellow trees, toward a spiring Mt. Hood. It is decorated by her past, with the same furniture and art and aesthetic taste I’ve always taken for granted, gathered through inheritance and travel and instinct and posited with care. Her husband, my grandfather, died my first year at Whitman–took the call in front of Penrose Library–and his picture stands about, some of him in young incarnations Navy sailor bygone era, most older as I knew him.
Grandma offers me a gift when I arrive. I open it and it is a framed copy of her pencil drawing of the Deschutes river valley in Central Oregon, from the vantage of the special place outside my uncle’s home where half of grandpa’s ashes are spread. The picture says on the bottom “Grandpa’s View.”
Grandma has been doing more drawing recently. In her bathroom hangs a lovely framed set of penciled renderings of Portland houses and businesses all glued together in a line.
My mother arrives from Seattle. The clan is gathering for the wedding of my uncle to an amicably intense local businesswoman–their second marriage both–with whom he shares unexpectedly similar Portland roots. The family reunion in Central Oregon at which we have converged every year that I have been alive has gradually lost momentum as jobs and distance and age and apathy have evermore impeded the spirit of an event once animated by the 15 youthful cousins of the six children (and spouses) of the one matriarch and the one patriarch.
More cousins in particular are coming to this wedding than have come to the reunion for some years now.
We converge at dinner at the bride’s condominium on the westside. Many of my cousins are there and we hobnob and settle into our cousin-ly relationships. I tell one cousin who I haven’t seen for a few years that, “I haven’t met his son yet, where is he!” He tells me he is actually a she but we decide in reality it is too early to tell what with the year being 2017 and all.
One cousin is driving down from Canada and her car dies around Bellingham and another cousin, her sister who has just arrived from Philadelphia, leaves the dinner to pick her up and bring her back, which we all agree is a g-move. My brother arrives from New York and I give him lasagna, and then me and him and one of our cousins around our age go to his apartment near Mt. Taber and we play FIFA and drink Makers Mark and Coors. My cousin calls them “foamers.”
The next day we turn our swag on and go to the opulent country club for the wedding. Mingling–“I’m going to go chill in the bathroom,” says one cousin; vows–the groom and bride maintain extended eye contact. This was also the case at my cousin’s wedding over the summer, and both times I wonder if when my own time comes (insha’allah) the eye contact will make me uncomfortable because eye contact is something I struggle with.
Number one is my grandma boogies off down the aisle after the ceremony.
Highlight number two: Dinner winds down and folks are giving toasts. The toasts are very nice and thoughtful but they are getting old, as toasts do. My sister, the youngest at the cousin table–and second youngest overall–tells us that she is going to say something. I tense up and try to tactfully dissuade her because I am nervous it won’t go well and probably 100 people are in attendance. She rolls her eyes, defiant and upset. I make uneasy eye contact with my parents at another table, and then look down at my food. A big name Hollywood director speaks and then with no introduction, my sister walks up to the mic and starts talking over the conversational din. She does not waver. The din subsides into focused silence. And she has composure and grace. And she recounts a special moment she exchanged with the woman who would be the new member of our family. And she says what this exchange meant to her. She says how the woman inspires her. She welcomes the woman into our family. The cousin table racks with tears.
Highlight number three occurs on the dancefloor, where we boogie and shimmy buckwild to the 1996 Mark Morrison’s hit, “Return of the Mack.”
I return to my cousin’s apartment and we play FIFA and drink foamers and watch “Are You the One,” a reality show about ridiculously attractive poor daters who live in a house together and try to find their match … for one million dollars.
Some of us have a flashy brunch in the morning at “Autentica,” a tasty Mexican joint in northeast Portland. All of the sudden, we the cousins find a generation beneath us. Two new babes now, and one of them trundles about the brunch yelling ‘ga-ga’ and gnawing on bread, just like we did in those nostalgia-inducing ‘80s and ‘90s era videocassettes our parents showed us.
Then Amelia picks me up and we drive back to Whitman and consider the force of a good wedding, a good funeral, the last truly unironic rituals of secular America, moments beyond time, the interface of constancy and change, where you take stock of your proper role, where you remind yourself to whom you are beholden.