Michigan: A Family Wedding
[The Wedding] The wedding was charming but when has that ever not been the case. I’ve never been to a bad wedding. Even the bad weddings I’ve been to have been bad in a charming sort of way. Badness can be very charming. Especially when it’s done right: with sincerity and a sense of humor. But this wedding wasn’t bad. This wedding was on top of a hill. You had to take an old ski lift up. J and I got lost trying to find the ski lift and ended up on a hill opposite the hill we were supposed to be on. “Look,” J said. “Over there.” Across a divide. A hundred foot drop. “Why is nothing ever where we think it is?” I said. She stepped out of her heals and put on the sandals she’d been carrying in her purse. Her dancing shoes. But later, after we found the wedding, before we started dancing, she took off her dancing shoes and went barefoot until the bottoms of her feet were black. Halfway through the reception we snuck back up the hill and sat at the edge of an overlook just as it was getting dark. The lake was glowing grey. A family of deer walked across a putting green and J grabbed my arm. I reached into my coat pocket and found a $50 bill. J said, “That’s mine. I’m serious.” There were rumors that tonight we’d be able to see the northern lights.
[The Mitten] We were in Michigan. Pinky of the mitten. Close to Canada, where J’s from. She said the area reminded her of her mom’s hometown in Ontario. All trees and cabins and pick-up trucks parked in front yards. The air smelled like pine and seemed capable of curing a hangover. In the mornings I went to a coffee shop to write. A large coffee cost $1.50 and a refill cost $0.75. They handed you an empty cup and you served yourself. All the coffee was flavored. In the backroom, where I tried to work, a group of old men sat huddled around an iPad watching clips from an old TV show on YouTube. They looked up at each other and laughed, then back down at the screen. I got the feeling they had laughed at these jokes many times before.
[The Dunes] Saturday, after family brunch, a group of us went to the sand dunes, which slope almost vertically down into Lake Michigan. The drop-off is so steep you can’t see the bottom. The effect is like standing on the edge of a cliff. You can walk down to the water if you want, but if you get stuck you have to pay for a helicopter. J and I stood at the edge of an overlook and tried to throw Goldfish crackers into the lake. The wind was cold and strong and made our hair stand up on end. My mom took a picture and posted it to Facebook. We shoved our hands deep into our pockets and shrugged our shoulders up to our ears. Back at the car, we poured the sand out of our shoes into four neat little piles.
[The Caterpillar] After dinner that night, a little boy, a cousin of mine maybe, explained the rules of Bananagrams and asked if we could use English, Spanish and French words. We should have seen what was coming. A merciless pounding. Later I found a caterpillar on me the size of a grain of rice. It was inching up the seam of my shirt. Ian told me not to move. A friend of his touched a caterpillar once, then lost feeling in the left side of his face. I didn’t know caterpillars were poisonous. Apparently in certain areas, and during certain times of year.
[The Drowning Scare] One morning Joel went swimming in the lake and didn’t come back for hours. We worried that he might have drowned. The water was 50 degrees. He was from Southern California, not acclimated to the frigid Northern Michigan temperatures. We waited for him on the porch, sipping bad-tasting Keurig coffee and looking up facts about fresh water sharks, which make their way into Lake Michigan via a complicated series of tributaries and streams.
[The Food] The first night we ate sausage with garlic bread and fried bell peppers. Someone said we were getting a “real taste of Michigan.” You could tell who had been outside cooking because their shoulders were wet. It was raining. Or maybe it had rained and drops were still falling out of the trees, which were dense and covered the patio. The beer was from a local brewery called Bells that I kept accidentally calling “Bliss.” Most of us drank a lot but nobody got very drunk. We wondered if it was three-two beer and if getting drunk here was going to be a challenge. The only person who did get a little drunk was J who still had a little bit of Xanax left in her system from the flight. “Be careful what you ask me tonight,” she said. “Combining Xanax and wine creates a truth serum. I can’t be held responsible for what I say.”
At the wedding, we ate steak and fish and potato cakes and drank beer and Jack and cokes and gin and tonics. Later we drank coffee and smoked cigars and ate s’mores on the porch. At 10pm the bar switched to plastic cups. At 10:30 they cut off the heavy drinkers and served them water instead. The roads here were curvy and steep. “It would be very easy” an aunt said, stirring sugar into her coffee, “for someone to go off an edge.”
A brunch of croissants and quiche the next morning, which lasted into the late afternoon and became a dinner of chicken and asparagus and whatever else we could find in the kitchen, which now contained the leftovers from multiple meals including the wedding. Joel (who hadn’t drowned) and I stuffed extra beers into our pockets and unloaded them in his family’s condo later: more than a dozen.
[The Location] On Sunday morning I realized that the weather I had been checking on my phone was still set to Dallas weather, which explained the sense of displacement I’d been feeling all weekend, as if I was not exactly where I was. Or I was wear I was but it wasn’t exactly right.
[The Vase] I left a note for the maid on the backdoor. “Broken glass. Careful. Sorry. We were at a wedding.” We’d been asked to take care of the bridal party flower arrangements but woke up the morning after the wedding to find one of the vases shattered on the porch. None of us could remember it happening. The only logical explanation, we decided, was that it must have been the wind.
[The Tavern] Between meals a few of us drove into town to find a certain bookstore we’d heard about and that my aunt had called “adorable.” It was easy to find and carried mostly hard cover bestsellers, YA fiction, and novelty books with titles like “How to Make Your Bed.” The floor creaked. If you stepped in certain spots, the whole place seemed to shift one way or another. A woman sat behind the counter playing with a fidget spinner, not seeming to notice we were here. Emily asked her husband to buy her a small book with a black and white cover. After, we went to the tavern next door, which had signs taped to the napkin dispensers saying “CASH ONLY.” We shared an order of chicken wings, chicken nuggets, and cheese curds, which J and I paid for with the $50 bill I’d found in my pocket a few days before. Jillian said she wasn’t used to “vacation eating.” Nobody ordered anything to drink.
[The Commentary] The aunts talked about how nice the wedding ceremony had been despite its notable lack of religion and the fact that the groom had kissed the bride three times before the allotted moment. Their praise focused mainly on the setting, the weather, and the bird that began chirping immediately after the couple was pronounced man and wife.
[The Weather] The weather varied wildly not just throughout the day but depending on where you were. It got colder and windier the closer you got to the lake. A niece called it “Lemony Snicket weather” and pulled her arms inside her sweater so that the sleeves hung empty and bounced a little when she walked. Nobody had packed appropriately except an uncle from Minnesota who more than once touted the virtues of his high-tech jacket lining, which was as silver and shiny as a space blanket. J, a Canadian with experience in the cold, tucked her shirt into her pants and her pants into her socks, then cinched her hoodie tight around her face and said, “Tell me I’m cute,” before pressing her face into my arm pit.
[The Condos] Our condo was small with two queen-sized beds, a television, a mini-fridge, and a framed pencil-sketch of Lake Michigan mounted above a writing desk. The bathroom had a two-sided magnified mirror mounted to the wall for detailed make up work. The temperature knob in the shower was reversed. Hot was cold and cold was hot. A sign on the wall warned not to leave towels near the hot water heater. Apparently there had been an incident. Some family members opted for larger units with full-sized kitchens, couches, and closets full of board games and DVDs. These condos, we suspected, were people’s homes, rented out during their vacations. “Where does a person who lives in a vacation home go on vacation?” a cousin asked, pouring a thousand-piece puzzle out on the kitchen table, a scene of Lake Michigan.
[The Transplant] Nicole, Joel’s girlfriend, had chronic stomach issues that she believed were related to her being born C-section rather than natural. One cure, she explained, was a fecal transplant, a procedure only performed in certain states but that early reports indicated had a very promising success rate. Her only fear was that the new, healthy bacteria in her colon would alter her pheromones and that Joel would no longer be attracted to her. “Idea,” Joel said and offered to shit into her asshole. But even that, she explained, would be a bit of a gamble.
[The Animals] There were black bears in the woods. A booming population. Up 50% since 2000. “Nearly ten thousand black bears,” J said, reading from a local newspaper’s website on her iPhone. “Hmmm,” I said. “I haven’t seen any bears.” “Hmmm,” J said and guessed that they were hiding.
One morning Kyle saw a bald eagle flying over the lake, performing vertical figure 8s, seemingly stalking something under the surface of the water.
Deer were common although it wasn’t clear if we were seeing a lot of different deer or the same few deer over and over again. They had no unique signs or markings. At least none that we, who had not seen very many deer in our lives, could notice.
Common road kill included: raccoons, skunks, dogs, rabbits, possums, snakes, squirrels, and porcupines. The bodies were always off to the side of the road where they’d wandered in their death throes.
One night a band of coyotes went lurking between the condos, marking various porches and doorways with their heavily-scented pee.
[The Debate] Evelyn, who managed a GNC in Washington state, had read an article that said eating twelve cashews a day has the same psychological effects as taking Prozac. Kyle, a month away from starting a graduate nursing program at UC San Francisco but already highly knowledgeable about psychopharmacology, agreed that there are similarities between cashews and Prozac but that they’re not an exact substitute. Christina, the bride’s sister, a writer from Chicago, said that she had tried Prozac and that she had tried cashews and that cashews were definitely not the same thing as Prozac, not even close. “Well,” Evelyn said, peeling the label off her water bottle, “It was an interesting article anyway.” And we all agreed that the article did sound interesting.
[The Complex] The GPS on our phones didn’t know the roads inside the condo complex so we had to find our way around using a black and white map they printed out for us at the front desk on our first day. The map was hand-drawn and wildly out of scale, forcing us to double-back multiple times before finding the right roads and giving us the impression that 1) the layout of the complex was not entirely knowable and 2) it would be very easy to get lost in here, especially at night.
[The Upper Peninsula] After I’d repeatedly referred to the part of Michigan we were in as the “Upper Peninsula,” Christina, a Michigan native, kindly explained that we were not in the Upper Peninsula, not at all.
[The Seltzer Water] When the beers were gone we drank La Croix, which the mother-of-the-bride kept in water-filled trashcans on the back porch of the main condo. We sat on the patio furniture and let our pants get wet. It felt good to sit outside, breathing the pine-y air, drinking La Croix instead of beer. The aunts who had never tried La Croix wondered about its health benefits. We explained that it was as healthy as not drinking anything, although Ian had doubts about the catch-all ingredient “natural sweeteners.” The aunts took sips and then held the cans out at a more comfortable focal point to examine the nutrition labels and the various warnings and caveats hidden within the artwork.
[The Food Situation] When the food was gone there was nothing left to eat but each other, which we did, in small, proper bites, with cordial smiles on our faces and cloth napkins in our laps, starting with the oldest and working our way down.
[The Future] In the mornings J and I drank coffee on the porch and looked across the lake, trying to make out the thin pencil-sketch of the Ontario coastline where we talked about moving one day when we were a little bit older and had a little bit more money, or if one of us came down with an expensive disease. We waited for the fog to clear and the caffeine to hit our brains. When that happened I would feel a flicker of happiness. It came and went from me like a meteorological event, as unpredictable as the northern lights. When I shifted in my chair, I thought I could feel the earth tilt. “If you open your mouth,” J said, “you can taste the fish.” It was a windy morning and she wrapping her mouth in a yellow knit scarf.
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