Zelda and I have hit a milestone lately. We are officially at the age when our friends have begun to get married. Now we haven’t quite hit the point where each week’s mail contains a thick white envelope filigreed with arabesques announcing the union of yet another happy couple. But while we have yet to reach Katherine Heigl movie levels of cliché, invitations are beginning to make appearances at regular intervals. To some, we’ll reply with a nice card. For others, we will send our enthusiastic regrets. But a handful are for people we genuinely care about, and for those we will take time off work, browse registries for gifts in our price range, and pile into cars or trains or buses to make a weekend of it, make it special.
So as last Friday rolled around, I rushed out of an over-crowded museum and headed for the hills of Pennsylvania to see my good friend from grad school, Alex, get married. MTA almost foiled my plans (note: Never rely on the E train to get you anywhere in a timely manner at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday). But after waiting through four E and three M trains, being physically pushed off a train and cut off by an elderly woman, and cursing out an entire car full of people, I found myself en route.
By 6:30, I, Katie, and our grad school friends Joanna, Vanessa, and Jen (who came all the way from Australia), were stuffed in the car, Pandora’s Bachelorette Party station blasting from the radio (highly recommended for girls road trips) as we headed toward the Holland Tunnel. Once we came out in Jersey City, I felt a distinct shift in my mood. This wasn’t just Alex’s wedding weekend: This was a much-needed weekend away from New York City, with friends I had neglected of late due to professional obligations and my own mental health (alone time is paramount if I don’t want to go crazy). I needed this.
I love a good road trip, and no road trip is complete without proper road trip snacks, so our first stop was Wawa. Now if you’ve never been proselytized to about the wonders of Wawa, you do not know enough people from the New Jersey/Eastern Pennsylvania area. Wawa is basically a convenience store/gas station/rest stop Mecca. I don’t know how to properly explain what it is, without adding a “but better” to the end. It’s like Sheetz, but better; Circle K, but better. Basically it’s better, and let me just tell you, it totally lives up to the hype. Armed with cheesesteaks, slurpees, coffee, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, we got back on road. Most of the trip was off the freeway, down winding roads with few stop lights and even fewer cars. The rolling hills and small towns reminded me so much of the Kentucky roads that take me to my mother’s hometown. I felt at home.
Our growing distance from the city was in direct proportion to my increasingly good mood, and to the amount of alcohol we acquired (with the intent of consuming it when we arrived at the hotel — we are responsible young adults, even when we drink irresponsibly). Living in New York is often like carrying a great weight on your shoulders. You find yourself spending the week more and more slumped over from the heft of the daily grind, and if you don’t take some time away from those concrete masses every now and then, it might just crush you. As we drove farther and farther from the Hudson River, I felt that weight lifting. By the end of the weekend, it would be completely gone, leaving me recharged and ready for a new start.
So, eight bottles of champagne in hand and a short period of navigational distress later, we arrived at the hotel, settled into our suite (which was larger than my apartment), and headed to the bar to greet the blushing bride-to-be. There were many hugs, cheek kisses, and introductions exchanged, and many gin and tonics consumed, as we began to fully celebrate a joyous occasion in our friend’s life.
Saturday was relaxing. We got sandwiches for lunch, made a run to the grocery and the beer store for provisions, and spent the afternoon lounging around in our underwear watching college football (true friends are the ones you don’t have to wear pants around). The wedding was in the evening, a beautiful and blessedly short ceremony with a waterfall backdrop and many happy tears. Alex was glowing, and everyone was happy. We plied ourselves with charcuterie and shrimp, and lots of bourbon. The matron of honor and the father of the bride made me cry with their toasts, and then we danced in a ruin strewn with twinkling lights.
Weddings are happy occasions, especially when open bars are involved. But sometimes you can’t help but feel like one of your friends is moving on to the next stage in his or her life, and you’re not ready to follow. Getting married always seemed like such a landmark to me, a mark of being a true Adult with a capital A. You’re starting a life with someone else — a step that I can’t fathom being ready for at this point in my life, when I can’t even figure out where I want my path to go, much less take someone else’s into account. When those creamy envelopes show up in my mailbox, I want to be happy for my friends, but most of the time I can’t help feeling like we’re losing a valuable teammate in this game of being a twenty-something trying to figure out who we are. This wedding weekend, though, that was not the case. We didn’t lose Alex: We just gained another team member, albeit of the slightly scruffier variety.
The whole weekend was a celebration of both Alex and Matt’s relationship and our group’s friendship. It was pure, unfettered happiness for our friend; it was dancing like idiots because we were so happy to be there; it was an open bar, eight bottles of champagne, and two cases of beer; it was Sunday morning Gatorade and lounging around in our underwear. I left the wedding not with a feeling of loss now that Alex was moving on without us, but with an understanding that we could grow up and reach milestones in our lives without losing each other. And maybe, just maybe, growing up doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The New York crew piled back into the car after brunch on Sunday and — wind in our hair, radio on — we headed back toward the city. Our short sojourn was over. But as the Pennsylvania hills faded into New Jersey and the skyline approached, I felt rejuvenated, ready to take on whatever the city could throw at me, whatever is next.