Below, another draft chapter from a longer form fictional piece I have been working on. You can also read one of my favorite draft sections — Chapter 7 — here.
We weren’t all the way gone, but we’d had enough champagne that the air swelled thick around us and I felt a profligate billow of kinship toward the rest of the wedding party, who had been — truth be told — a pain throughout the weeks leading up to the wedding in Vieste.
Violet’s friends were odd.
“They’ve always been a bunch of hippies,” Powell had offered offhandedly, inspecting his shave in the mirror, then tapping his razor on the sink’s edge in a motion I was sure he’d pocketed from his father.
“Hippies?” I turned the phrase over cautiously, though I was swayed by his casual decidedness.
“Yeah. Out there.”
There was Lele, a voluptuous platinum blond from “Philadelphia…the Main Line,” as she put it, which I took to mean “the wealthy bits” from the way she cast her eyes around the group, though I wouldn’t have known, having grown up in provincial D.C. Native Washingtonians made a point of remaining willfully under-informed about the neighborhoods in other metropolitan areas: “she lives…oh, I don’t know anything about Philadelphia,” Violet had said, waving her hand dismissively and rolling her eyes. “And who, honestly, cares?” Lele appeared to, of course, but I found myself blinking blankly nonetheless whenever she broached the subject, Violet’s shrug a benediction in my disinterest in this matter. Lele had an impressive roundup of designer handbags and was conspicuously, irritatingly negligent with fine jewelry her parents had given her. “My dad gave these to all of us at our fifteenth birthday,” she had said, never pausing to explain the plural of “us” as she tossed a wristwatch whose label I wasn’t well-initiated enough to know into a mound of soiled clothes in her leather duffel, not caring to isolate it in any way from the violence of hairbrush bristles and the like. She’d worn an Hermes scarf wrapped around her neck about fifty times like a flight attendant to Violet’s bachelorette party.
I knew I wasn’t one to judge, as I routinely slept in pearl studs and had my parents to thank for the carelessness with which I’d selected my undergraduate major (English), but still.
So that was Lele.
There was Maria Gracia, a stunning Spaniard with sun-kissed hair and hazel eyes who wore flower wreaths non-ironically and tucked her long, tanned limbs up beneath her while sitting at the dining table and usually broke into and out of lispy Spanish with such fluidity that I don’t know even she knew what language she was speaking. Violet had just met her a few months prior to the engagement. Now, the maid of honor. This came as no surprise, as Violet tended to frolic through friendships wantonly, until they bored her or failed to serve her in some way–but even still, I felt I deserved the position, having seen her through the ungainliness of puberty and the intense epistolarity that defined our college years and the self-centered inelegance of teendom and having accommodated with minimal judgment that period of time when she wore wide-leg corduroys for nearly two months straight. She, of all people, could pull them off, as she was tall and lean and purposeful and seemed to have been born middle-aged. It was all a tradeoff, a balancing act, after all. All of it. Like driving into my parents’ country club in my father’s ancient blue Subaru, its suspension sounding like a tired boxspring as it lurched over the speed bumps, accelerating all the way to the end of the lot, past the recent-year Mercedes and BMWs and Range Rovers, wearing a Lilly Pulitzer dress with my hand on a small wicker Bahama bag. And it somehow compensated. I belonged, but I didn’t. My carte d’entree was in no ambiguous terms the good fortune of being born to my parents, and at the same time, I drove a shared and non-frivolous family car from 1991 and had purchased the dress all on my own from a summer internship at The Phillips Collection, even when most of my high school friends passed their summers at the pool, and it had been me who had applied blindly to the position, unbeknownst to my parents and certainly without their hands in the matter. Well, that was not strictly true in the sense that the hiring manager had a daughter who had just been accepted into the all-girls high school I attended and so I was fairly certain I’d waltzed into a kind of unearned avuncular relationship with him, a detail I preferred to omit when reflecting on the whole thing, though I knew — I knew! — I was again the beneficiary of my parents’ largesse in this case. Regardless, I had spent the summer doing manual data entry for the Development Office using a clunky donor database amidst the soulless sobriety of a too-cold building off Mass Avenue, wearing black patent flats and pencil skirts and an over-eagerness I now regret. More than once, I had hesitated while typing out the contact information of friends of my parents. I felt a dizzying rush when I contemplated these facts: that it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to be invited to spend the day at the home of one of these wealthy people, and yet here I was pecking out their personal information for solicitation so that I could buy a $128 dress that made me feel relevant at the country club to which our families both belonged, the Subaru notwithstanding.
Violet, too, belonged and did not. She wore the clumsiest things and yet anyone who met her — and I mean anyone! even serious people, like my father’s stuffy lawyer friends — was transfixed by her green eyes and her quirkiness and her enthusiastic manner and the way her little rabbit nose wrinkled up with mischief. It wouldn’t have been surprising to find her thirty minutes into a chirpy conversation with the stodgy dean of students from our grade school at a cocktail reception. Wherever she went: she belonged, but she didn’t. But maybe this was what it meant to grow up, our inheritances jangling against our idiosyncrasies as we negotiated our way through things, stitching and unstitching ourselves, pausing to investigate the seams or ponder what we might look like from the outside in, until one day, we’d stop and say: This is me, this is it. I’ve materialized.
Or, I hoped, at the age of twenty-three, that day would come.
But Violet belonged and didn’t in a peculiar way. Because even sometimes when I could see the air leaving the room as she’d prattle on about this or that strange lark, she was so damned attractive — her long fingers, her dark lashes, the spray of freckles across her shoulders — that no one much cared. Oh, that’s just Violet. There was a making of space for her. She was a novelty. She was the type to dazzle the table at dinner parties with a cheeky anecdote from her travels abroad, to order a martini at lunch much to everyone’s shock and pleasure (“Hendrick’s gin, please, do you mind?” — and how did she know to ask for such things at eighteen, as though she even had the palate to discern the difference?), to run barefoot through a piazza in some ancient Italian town, to leave a devious note on a dashboard (“beautiful smile, call me —– love, v”), to prance out of a restaurant with a champagne flute in hand, to crawl into bed with you at 5:44 in the morning and tell you, sighingly, about her misadventures, her mascara smeared and her dress still damp but all of her — all of her! right down to the soles of her feet! — still somehow radiantly, winningly beautiful.
And yet she could be viciously withholding.
I could still feel the burn of her indifferently boisterous entry into the hotel suite in Vieste, arm linked with Maria Gracia–how I felt deliberately un-seen even though I was standing there at her mercy and beckon, exhausted from a twelve-hour coach trip from JFK to this small town in Italy for her wedding to a man I’d never met.
I’d just stood there, shifting feet.
So, no. I was not entirely surprised though not entirely unhurt by her announcement that the statuesque Maria Gracia would be the maid of honor in her sudden wedding to Filippo. A lump had formed in the back of my throat when I heard from Powell’s mother (!) that “oh, that Spanish girlfriend of hers that’s always hanging around, she’s the maid of honor, I think.” She had been swiping crumbs off the wooden table in their dining room, glancing through the window, momentarily distracted by the Oriole that had landed on a branch just outside. A divine contrivance if I’d ever seen one, that Oriole, affording me a split-second to arrange a smile onto my face and feign to have already known about this wounding decision of Violet’s — Vivi’s, as she currently presented herself — while meticulously erecting a tiny and imaginary chain link fence around myself. I’d crossed a threshold: apprehending, all at once, that though I might be formed and unformed by forces far greater than I, that I could still have the self-possession to distance myself from friends like Violet. We had grown up together, that was all. I owed her nothing, save for discretion in divulging some of our diablerie as teens; that seemed protected by a girl code with which I dared not tamper.
I owed myself much more.
But, Maria Gracia — of the bunch, possibly a hippie. Moreso than Lele, moreso than Georgina, a feigned bohemian. She was the type who threw open windows at parties to smoke her clove cigarettes and inevitably “wound up” with some kind of strange tiara or feathered stole that appeared more planned than I’m sure she thought — and she was loud. And at the same time we all knew that she worked for the Department of Transportation and had earned good marks in school and came from an upstanding family of God-fearing Southern Baptists and drove, dutifully, to visit her grandmother every Sunday wearing a J. Crew twinset.
Oh, it was an odd bunch.
There was so much pretending and projecting that I’d had to excuse myself, dizzied, from one particularly loathsome dinner to stand in silence looking out across the Adriatic Sea. I had been loosely and superciliously aware of my own brooding performance at that moment, but I chose to disregard it. I was young and woefully self-absorbed.
Powell had been upstairs, in the hotel room, and I had longed to go to him, to flick off my shoes and flop onto the bed and distance myself from the strangenesses of the evening by letting them tumble out between us, across the bed, out into the purple-black abandon of the night.
“Hippies,” I had said again, absent-mindedly. “I don’t think that’s the right word.”
As we stood on the terrace on Violet’s wedding night, though, I hooked my arm around Georgina’s neck, and she made a purring noise.
“Hippie,” I said to her, lingering between affection and mild aspersion, the shape of the word new and not entirely unappealing in my mouth. She threw her head back with laughter and raised her glass against the blue-gray of the Adriatic in front of us. I didn’t mind much the mild disturbance we caused.
“That’s a thing of beauty coming from you.”
All at once, the moment turned ashen, the headiness of the evening dissolving into an unpleasant thrum. It was the familiar dizziness of seeing myself in a different light, as others must see me. I dropped my arm from Georgina and scanned the crowd for my Powell.