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On Travel, Mortality and Marriage

This past New Year’s Eve, my sister’s oldest daughter, Alie was married. I made the trek back East for the wedding on December 29th. Or should I say, I PLANNED on making the trek back East on December 29th. My flight was cancelled under circumstances that were due to either an operational malfunction (the airline’s original excuse) or the weather (the airline’s latter excuse). I guess it depends on whom you talk to at United Airlines. After about 2.5 hours of waiting in line I finally got to the representative who looked for new flights for me. Sadly, the closest I could get in order to arrive in time for my niece’s rehearsal dinner, was at 6:30 am the following morning. For the first time ever, I spent the night at an airport hotel courtesy of an airline. I always watched in near horror when I would see other travelers whose flights were cancelled receive the dreaded news (and voucher) for an overnight airport hotel stay. In truth, it wasn’t all that bad. The hotel was very nice and if I was able to stay there longer, I probably would write rave reviews online about its cleanliness, courtesy of staff, etc. But I only got three hours of sleep while there, so I left feeling a bit like a disoriented hooker hastily leaving her trick’s hotel room at dawn. United also threw in $21 worth of food vouchers to use at airport restaurants. In all, not that terrible for any troubles caused by the delay.

My flight from LAX departed without incident. Before arriving at my destination in Providence, Rhode Island I had a short layover in Philadelphia before catching my connecting flight. I hadn’t been to the city of Brotherly Love since visiting on a grammar school field trip, which brought back some whistful memories of my early youth. Sadly, I had to board one of those tiny, two seats per each side of the aisle planes. I hadn’t been on one of those in years. Suddenly visions of small aircraft catastrophes and the fates suffered by JFK Jr., Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline started to fill my head. Tiny planes go down! I quickly tried to snap myself out of terror by reminding myself that I was neither American royalty nor a doomed rock n roll star and that flying was still one of the safest ways to travel. I am glad to report that following a bumpy flight, I arrived safely in Providence. Sadly, my luggage did not. Also for the first time in my life, my bag had mistakenly been left behind at the airport, After speaking to an airline rep, the bag was located online and I was reassured that it would arrive no later than the following morning. After being given a overnight bag of toothpaste, shampoo and other toiletries, I made my way to my hotel. Stepping outside in the chilly Northeast air to grab a cab, I was quickly reminded what it was like to live in a part of the country that had what could actually  be considered “weather”. The hotel where I was to stay could be seen from where I was standing, so I bravely decided to forgo a cab and just make the five minute walk to the hotel. Upon arrival, the Hamptons Inn manager gleefully screeched “You’re here for the wedding!” before handing me a wedding guest gift bag containing mostly hangover remedies (aspirin, water, etc.). I only had about two hours before the rehearsal dinner was to begin, so after a quick shower and clothes change, I anxiously prepared to meet up with my family, most of whom had already arrived at the hotel earlier in the day. I made my way down to the lobby to grab a cup of coffee and was quickly greeted by my smiling niece Alissa, her husband Jack and Alissa’s younger sister Aileen, all of whom had come from Charleston for the wedding. My brother Don (their father) trailed slightly behind them. It is of import to note that my brother Don, formerly the CFO of a hospital down South, has recently taken early retirement and relocated with his wife Rosemary to Charleston to be near Alissa and Aileen and Jack and Alissa’s son Mac. Like most guys with “Chief” in their job title, my brother has always been a rather intense, micro-managerial type who could never quite sit still. To say early retirement agrees with him would be a vast understatement. He now exhibited an almost Zen-like calm and ease of spirit that I hadn’t seen in years, if ever. His wife, Rosemary, was the Eucharistic minister for the wedding and was already at the rehearsal dinner since she participated in the actual wedding rehearsal. We all hugged and made the usual small talk and catch-up since we last saw each other.

In time we made our way to the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was being held via a hotel shuttle driven by a gregarious young man named Adam. Arriving at the restaurant, we quickly encountered my zany sister Carrie and her husband Dave (parents of the bride), both of whom were in high spirits. A few moments later emerged my niece Alie, the blushing bride-to-be. Tan, willowy and sparkling in a silver sequined dress, she now seemed more like one of the glamorous models on the Price Is Right than the child I used to throw in the pool during the Summertime. In quick succession, the rest of my family arrived. Rosemary perkily ran over and hugged me; then Alie’s sister, Nicole; my “little” sister, Kathleen; Dave’s brother Peter and his wife Pam. It was at this point that it really hit me, seeing all of my immediate family assembled together. My nieces were no longer children. They were  now fully grown women. Frighteningly attractive ones at that. With this realization came the even more dreaded one: I myself am no longer a child. I am no longer even what would be considered in today’s parlance a “young adult”. I am now “middle aged” and we are all “getting older”. How could that be? Wasn’t I just graduating from college yesterday? Wasn’t I just celebrating my tenth birthday yesterday?

As inevitably happens at events like this, we spent much of the evening laughing and swapping stories from the past. We happily recanted about trips to Roger Williams Park Zoo, Summers at Dave’s parents home in Cape Cod, drunken adventures in college, mishaps at birthday parties and Christmas’ celebrations. My thoughts often turned to my parents, both of whom have now passed away. I imagined what it would be like if they were here right now. I pictured my mother laughing along side us, while my father would sit quietly, a slight grin on his face, taking everything in. Towards the end of the night, a speech was given by John, Alie’s husband-to-be about how their lives have come together. Alie got emotional and John thanks everyone for coming.

Marriage, as it pertains to myself, is a subject I have never thought extensively about as an adult. For most of my life, it was neither legal nor an expectation for anyone gay to get married at all. Perhaps also because I have rarely been with a partner whom I could seriously envision myself entering into marriage with. Now that I am “getting older” and it has become legal and more gay people I know are getting married, would I like to enter into such a grand institution? Though I have romanticized the idea of many things (people, places, careers) I have never romanticized the idea of marriage. I have seen that it involves great sacrifice and great effort on both person’s part to be married.  At the time my mother passed away, my parents had been married nearly 50 years. My mother was 21 and my father 22 years old when they got married, as it was common for their time for people to get married at such a young age. My father was in the Air Force and during the course of their marriage they were often separated for long periods of time when my father was stationed overseas,  moved around the country repeatedly each time my father was stationed at a different Air Force base. They raised four children and saw each one leave home and set off into the world. They had good times and bad times. Is that a life I can envision for myself with someone? Everyone slowly heads out at the end of the night. We have come near and far for their wedding. This is Alie and John’s night and they have their entire future ahead of them.