Peering through the camera viewfinder this past weekend at the Botanical Gardens in Knoxville, I witnessed the deep appreciation and passion between my best friend Andy and his fiancé Ashley. When they asked me to marry them at their ceremony next year, I gladly accepted, and also said I would do their engagement photos for them as a wedding gift.
And to bookend this week, it looks like I’ll be heading to Upstate New York to watch one of my best buddies from college, Brett, walk down the aisle with his fiancé Rachel.
Two of my closest friends, both swirling around my existence as I partake and celebrate in their happiness.
So, where does that leave me? Sheesh, who knows anymore, am I right? I remember those first few wedding invites trickling into my parent’s mailbox on the Canadian border the summer following my graduation from college. It was from those couples who had been dating since the first day we moved into the dorms, those tied-to-the-hip, sometimes high school sweethearts, who stuck it out and found themselves on the other side of graduation — still together, and ready for the next step.
During those first few summers after college, I attended countless weddings up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Those high school sweethearts all got married off, then came the round of folks from within our social circle who met toward the end of college, then came the group who found one another following school at the base of the ladder of success in the workforce.
Very rarely did I have a date to any of these weddings. I’ve always remained on the fringe of dating, only being pulled in by some femme fatale every-so-often who made me question my apprehension of commitment, which eventually led me back to the curb, back at square one.
But, I remain. As we all do, for good or ill (but mostly good). Pushing through my 20s and into my early 30s, the road has been long, but bountiful. I’ve watched all of these important people in my life cross paths with their future mates. I’ve watched the ups and downs that we all have, and also look toward them and smile as they head for the horizon of their lives together amid time immortal.
One-by-one, they’ve all paired off. And I often find myself the only single guy at the dinner parties, the holiday parties, downtown shenanigans, the Fourth of July barbecues, the baptisms, anniversary celebrations or daily happenstances just because it was a nice day to get together.
I don’t question being “that guy” at any of these events. I chose to wander long ago, and to wander alone. No pity needed. I hover in the cosmic abyss, only to set down on firm ground on occasion when the right entity of glorious light catches the apple of my eye.
As I observed and focused in on Andy and Ashley during our photo shoot, I couldn’t help think of that first time Andy mentioned about “meeting this great girl.” Halloween 2013. It was a party in Knoxville of a mutual friend. Soon, Ashley would visit Andy in Waynesville, with Andy relocating for work and family to Knoxville a year later. And thus, we find ourselves with their upcoming nuptials marked and underlined on the calendar for Memorial Day Weekend 2017.
Brett and Rachel? Several years ago they made acquaintances at a hostel in Spain. Brett was traveling from his home in New Jersey. Rachel was backpacking with her friend, both from Australia. They wandered together for a week and parted ways, never thinking a year or so later Rachel would accept a job in New York City and look Brett up. And for five of the last six New Year’s Eves I spent it with them in the Big Apple, saluting another year in the books, another year of unknown beauty ahead.
The seconds ticks away, and so do the miles on this journey. It is one as full of curiosity as it is with a full heart, ready to burst with the slightest moment of enjoyment in the presence of family and friends, of those who love and know you the best.
Looking over my shoulder, the path is littered with pieces of my heart, and pieces of others I once loved, who once loved me, too. Those pieces snap and fall to the ground like peeling paint from an old farmhouse. But, like the farmhouse, the happy memories are forever soaked into its walls, forever remembered by those who inhabited the structure, those who venture out the front door and into the new day, ready to claim whatever it is they’ve always dreamt of.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The “Week of Rock” celebration will run at 8 p.m. July 2-9 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City.
2 Bluegrass group Unspoken Tradition will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 2, at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.
3 The “Singing In The Smokies” Independence Weekend Festival will run from July 1-4 at Inspiration Park in Bryson City.
4 Art After Dark will continue from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 1, in downtown Waynesville.
5 Teacher and historian Scott Withrow will host the presentation “Who are the Melungeons?” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7, at the Swain County Genealogical and Historical Library in Bryson City.