We met in the back corner of Mr. M’s 7th grade drama class, and Lord, if life is cruel jam you into a drama class in seventh grade, may God grant you the grace of a best friend. (You’ll still have to pantomime a robbery in front of all the popular kids, but at least afterwards you can write notes furiously back and forth about how much that completely sucked.)
Our jam was “Jesus Freak,” and we sang along absent-mindedly while we cut how-to articles about “7 tricks for perfect skin” and “best ten-minute workouts” and “how to dress for your shape” out of Teen Magazines bought surreptitiously behind our mothers’ backs. We were relieved to learn about the organization Models for Christ, which would allow us to keep our Jesus-Freakness while still achieving our dream of becoming beautiful and famous and meeting/marrying Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
On summer days, we rode our bikes to the Christian bookstore, hair flying madly behind us. We bought pastel Christian romance novels and both thought, for a time, that we might save our first kiss for marriage like the teen heroines of the stories.
When we learned, later, that life and love and God were a little more complex than the fiction and 90s evangelical culture made them out to be, we propped each other up. We cried it out during long road trips, our other best friend sidled up between us. We ate Triscuits with spray-cheese and learned that it was okay to be angry, to doubt, to hurt, to find our broken way.
I celebrate my ten year anniversary two weeks before her wedding day. There are a million beautiful things about getting married young. And yet, also, there are hard things. It means, for instance, that you choose to grow up with your spouse instead of with your best friends.
They do their coming-of-age together across cities and continents, in European pubs and Chicago swing clubs and tiny loft apartments. They are still your touchstones, and you meet them as often as you can to sort it out, to talk through the details of your lives. But there is so much you miss.
At thirty years old, her jam is “Baby Got Back,” and she’s sung it on stage at every karaoke bar we’ve ever been too. I don’t know the story of how she fell in love with its catchy crudeness, but I dance with her anyway whenever she starts to sing.
The ostentatious lyrics sound funny and ironic coming from her small, slim frame as she sings in the bridal suite. We dance around the bedroom in our sweatpants holding blue Solo cups of champagne. She is laughing in her white Bride sweatshirt and her beautiful chandelier earrings, and her whole face is lit with joy.
When she gets her gown on, I want to take a hundred pictures. I want to remember this moment – my junior-high best friend turned bride. She is so much the same as she was back then, and yet, not.
And this is one of the beautiful things about getting married when you’re a little older. You get a little time to grow into yourself, to figure out what it means to be you. You get a chance to find your voice, your style, your jam.
In the bridal room in the Newberry Library, we wait for the wedding to begin, and she wants to have a dance party. “I have too much pent up energy,” she says, so we crank up the iPod and kick off our terrible shoes. The floor’s carpet is bright red and soft on our feet as we sing “You Can’t Hurry Love” at the top of our lungs and I practice my shimmy.
She wants to marry him like, yesterday, but she’s nervous about being the center of attention. They decided to wait and take pictures afterwards because he 99% doesn’t care…but 1% wants to wait to see her when she’s walking down the aisle.
The coordinator says it’s time, and we walk outside to the park. The music starts, and the guests turn in their white chairs, and each of the five bridesmaids get stuck walking down the aisle, our heels sinking into the grass as we walk. We try not to grimace as we pull the spikes out of the earth and push our shoes back on our feet. Smile. Step. Yank. Smile. Step. Yank.
But when the classical guitarist starts playing Pachelbel’s Canon, she floats over the grass to her man, and her gown is lace, and her smile is radiant, and the look on his face is Love.
By the time she descends the spiral staircase into the reception with her brand, new husband, I’ve already traded my uncomfortable heels for TOMS and spilled a glass of white wine on a high school friend. Andrew puts his arm around my shoulder. “I’m glad we have ten years under our belt,” he says. And even though I feel a pang when the maid of honor’s speech includes memories that I am not part of, I know that I agree.
She leans close to him at their sweetheart table, and the coming-of-age years are over for us. In many ways, we are grown, and though we will continue to change and move and struggle, it will look a little bit different now. When we meet, we will each carry the uniqueness of our separate lives, the unspoken mysteries of our marriages, the beautiful weight of other souls.
The DJ calls her up to the grand piano in the center of the room, and she plays the song she’s written for him. Her train trails over the bench, and her voice is sweet in the room. He is leaning against the piano, watching her, grinning.
And today, he is her jam. This is her love. A new moment. A new life.
I lean close to my husband, feel his breath against my hair, and for the moment, everything feels exactly as it should be.
The song ends, the bride and groom kiss, and the whole room bursts into applause.