“Who is that woman sitting across from us?” my table companion leaned close to be heard over the conversations and music. I looked at her and glanced at her husband's enquiring face. They really had no clue. I looked across the table to the weathered face of the woman I had known all her life. Her skin had aged beyond her years and contrasted glaringly with her dyed blonde hair in a Stevie Nicks 80's style, thirty years behind the times. Her make up sat heavy on her too soon crepe eyelids and her hands shook as she reached into her bag for the ever present cigarettes. She wore clothes a teenage girl would have been proud to wear and I felt sad for the teen girl lost in this aging woman.
“She is my sister, the bride's sister. She is the next youngest after me.” The couple looked shocked and puzzled.
“We didn't even know she existed.” These people had been friends of the bride's parents for many many years.
“That's because we are the green sheep of the family” I laughed as I always do to cover awkward moments and ease things for others. “Besides daughters don't count.” I smiled and got up from the table to talk with people who had kept themselves strangers from me when I lived here but who had put on their wedding happy faces and pretended they had missed me. The same people who had taken bets on which local man would invade my grief to offer me sexual solace after my husband left. The people who had no interest in my pain or loneliness or grief.
By chance I sat with another of my sister's. This one a tall robust woman with a giant heart and a difficult nature. Pain does that to people. She had had pain for a long time, physically, mentally and emotionally. We all had, and tonight was no exception. People had noticed. The main table was set for the father and mother of the bride, the father and mother of the groom, three of the bride's brothers and their partners but not us. Her sister's were relegated to wherever we could find a seat amongst the general guests. I doubt we would even have been invited if the bride had not insisted. One brother and one sister had not been invited at all.
I looked up as our other sister joined us after her smoke. A girl approached us with a camcorder, gushing and grinning and asking us to record something for the bride.
A fairy tale from my childhood floated into my fore brain as I looked at us. The three wise old crones leaving our wisdom and wishes for the new bride. Each bestowing her own particular gem.
It was only a moment but it was too much. We were all wondering why she had a father and a wedding and all these trimmings and we had been cast aside like waste products in an abattoir.
The brides mother dandled her grandchild on her knee. “oh it is so lovely that we finally have a grandchild” emphasising the we, she gushed and cooed at the baby. I looked at the dance floor and counted the other ten grandchildren who didn't rate a mention.
Of course they wouldn't, they were the children of her husbands first family. Mine and my sister's children.
I knew this would be a gruelling ordeal and I had been working up to it for weeks. I hadn't been able to attend my baby sister's engagement. I wasn't mentally prepared to face her parents. I had a breakdown in the car fifteen kilometres from the wedding venue. Sobbing and punching my steering wheel and fighting with myself not to just turn around and drive for three hours back to the safety of my own home.
My children were horrified. They could not fathom what was wrong with me. I told them that the people they were about to meet would be lovely and friendly and kind and probably funny and they would never understand what was wrong with me or what they were really like because they hadn't lived with them.
When I arrived I had support from a most unexpected quarter.
“Don't worry Mum, if anyone gives you shit just let me know and I'll deal with them for ya.” I was so stunned by this I burst into tears again. My tall skinny boy had my back. I hadn't dared hope any of my boys would support me. I thought they all lived in happy families pretend land. My first born just told me to get a grip in that gruff, don't embarrass me mum way of his.
I managed to catch my breath and put on my public smile in time to greet several of my brothers whom I had not seen for some time. I smiled at people I had not seen for years and smiled at nephews and nieces and strangers. I hugged my sisters and kept smiling even when my cheeks hurt.
I sprinkled glitter on the bride and she laughed. In an attempt at a positive interaction with her mother I said that the glitter down her dress would make her remember me, to which she responded “Why would she remember you? Oh that's right you are one of the, er, sisters.” must be alzheimer's setting in early since she has known me for 39 years. I didn't think anything would have changed but I am ever the optimist and hope burns eternal even in the face of all opposition.
I wished the bride a long and happy marriage. I think that is what I said. I think I said that the way the groom looked at her gave me hope that her future would be full of love. I am not sure really what I said but I wanted her to know that I really was there for her in my own small way.
I had always felt sad for the crones in the story and now I am one.