Merely a few feet from my bed stood Jack the Youngster, burbling in his Pack ’n Play portable rumpus cage/crib. His emission of growling noises—a favored locution of his and of mine, and an ongoing source of amusement for both of us—was wearing thin now that it was time to lie down and call it a day. To my left was Jack’s cousin Max, about the same age, and at that moment strapped into his perambulator, or stroller, as we call it in America. I favor the British word—perambulator connotes a strong intention and purpose, like that required for getting these two angels to sleep. Jack’s father—Max’s uncle—a man of admirable intention and purpose whom I’ve known since before he was the age of these two, was failing at the task as miserably as I was. The occasion was the wedding of their aunt, whom I’ve known since the day she was born, which is a long way of explaining what I was doing in a hotel room with another man and two babies.
Speaking of intentions, and I’d like to believe mine are always honorable (it’s the follow-through that leaves something to be desired), I intended to free up the adults to enjoy the party that was raging several floors below us. In the aftermath of an all-in, fully committed rug-cutting to the B-52s’ “Love Shack” (“Bang, bang! On the door, baby”), the gas in my celebration tank was gone, and I was finished partying. I would graciously babysit. Honorable, no? In the event, Jack the Youngster at last exhausted himself, but Maxwell the Stubborn was perambulated into the charge of his mother. I drifted off to dreamland, sober as a judge, and content.
The bride has been a beauty since her own toddling days, and never more beautiful than she was that evening. With love and loyalty reaching back fifty-plus years, her father’s generosity had brought me to this Central Florida beach. There was no aisle to walk down, only a patch of sand, but as my friend reckoned with the next stage of his daughter’s life, and perhaps his own, I found myself frozen in that impossible moment where past, present, and future are one, “caught between,” in the words of the writer Andre Aciman, “the no more and the not yet.”
The years streaked past as I watched my friend escort his daughter: The chubby faces and the white robes of our First Communion (while the instant has been claimed by eternity, the snapshot lives); the death of his mother at an early age; the bar association recommendation I wrote for the bride. And, yes, the ashes of my own vain regrets descended upon me, and I was overthrown by the weight of all that life. If a tear or twenty rolled off my jaw during their walk down the (sand) aisle, would you think I was any more composed during the father/daughter dance?
If this had been the end of my long connection to this clan (and it wasn’t), the beginning pre-dated the First Communion, the white robes and the chubby faces. The year was 1968. My own dear old dad, erstwhile land agent/real estate man, helped my friend’s parents sell the house their family had outgrown, and on every occasion when we were together from that time until the day he died (and there were hundreds), that dad, my friend’s dad, would ask after my father. And, if you’re keeping score at home, go ahead and include Jack the Youngster and Maxwell the Stubborn, because I do. That makes four generations—four—of history that I share with this family, and there are few these days who can boast of something similar to their credit.
This elegant event had nothing to do with money or recognition or advancement, my usual preoccupations, but concerned itself only with my presence. I was present for that fleeting . . . present. I was there, in the moment, at the wedding of the daughter of my lifelong friend. My friend, who not that long ago, while experiencing a vicious bout of Covid, had become convinced that he was a goner. Back home, excited by the ideas of a writer whom I have recently encountered, surrounded by my books and some painfully personal objects (including a glass skull, my memento mori), I figure he and I haven’t made out too badly. Not too badly at all.