Our love is
Been down and abused
For being strange...
We laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Then "Machinehead" comes on and I sit on top of her. "In case you're keeping track, that's TWO Bush songs in less than twelve hours since we crossed the city limits into San Antonio."
We dress and I hit the road in our rental car, first procuring a bag of breakfast tacos from Taco Cabana and then going back out to buy a pair of ties for the wedding (and a new shower head to replace the one she has broken in my mother's guest bathroom). I speed with abandon and turn up the radio and the air conditioning because I can. When I get home I pour a Dr. Pepper and we sit on my mother's overstuffed couch and watch MTV with my brother. We make fun of ourselves for missing the Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8. We dress for the wedding and prepare for the onslaught of the 100-degree weather in our suits and ties.
During the wedding, sitting among my family, I cannot help but repeatedly kiss her face. I'm home and she's there and it actually really truly works.
Our kisses do not go unnoticed. We are talking in the church foyer talking with my father about his impending retirement when we're accosted.
"Hi, Monsignor Mike. That was lovely. A lot of fun."
"Thank you. I couldn't help but notice you smiling."
"I was happy! It's my cousin up there."
"Well, it is a happy occasion."
He reaches into his wallet and hands something to Spring.
"Here's my card, in case you need it."
I'm not sure what to say, other than "Thanks for not making this awkward or anything, yo." Which I decide not to say.
Late Friday night. I am nervous pulling up. Will they like her?
My brother ambles out in a Batman t-shirt and we hug excitedly. Spring goes in for the hug on both my brother and his wife (and everybody she meets, actually).
My nerves melt immediately. My brother and Shawn are still excited about seeing Batman. We prattle on and on. Like riding a bike. Like I never left.
The four of us sit together at the reception: my brother, his wife, Spring and I. My father sits on the other side of me. I grab her round after round of margarita and we sit across from my frail grandmother. She looks confused at times--she's seen better days. But there are points when everybody's making a huge fuss over her and she looks annoyed and I catch it, and I'm thankful for that. She's in there.
The wedding singer launches into a particularly inspired rendition of "New York, New York." we raise our glasses. He gives us a wave. Then he cuts the set off abruptly: "We're gonna give up the stage now to the mariachis!"
And these are no ordinary mariachis, yo. These are the best in the city. The cost of their services starts floating around the room in whispers. But no one questions their worth. Their musicianship and precision is breathtaking, the likes of which I've never seen. That there are twelve of them, and I never hear a misplaced note, is remarkable.
My father requests my grandmother's favorite song. They crowd our table, the singer hovering over her at times and at other singing on bended knee. She is mouthing along and smiling.
I don't want her to see me cry, but I can't help it. I cry.
The reception is at a fancy downtown hotel on the river and, after a bit, we cannot resist the call of the balcony and its two couches. I buy a round of zinfandels for the four of us and we occasionally pose for the river barge tours that pass underneath.
Spring and Aaron's wife Shawn talk for hours and hours. They have stories to trade.
Then dancing dancing dancing and my father gets up to cut a rug and Storm, a little girl on the verge of adoption by my aunt, starts teaching us dances she's made up from watching MTV, apparently. Spring is game. I do what I can.
I teach Spring to two-step.
We jump around like idiots and my brother joins in and my cousin John and I start bumping each other and we throw a full-on body check on my dad and his wife and Storm takes Spring away to another hallway to teach her another, more complicated dance.
I find her about twenty minutes later. Storm has made some progress. Spring is popping and locking in the middle of a long "Shining"-esque ornate hallway. I've got the garter wrapped around my arm.
"You got it?"
"Did you fight for it?"
"Nobody wanted it. I picked it up off the floor."
I go back in and talk to my cousin. He's exhausted.
"Hey--when you do this go to Vegas. I'm serious. I'm having a blast, but you should seriously consider just going to Vegas."
Tina, the bride, is having the time of her life. She hasn't stopped smiling all night and when she dances, she dances with authority and funk. She dances like a woman who just landed a good man.
Soon we're all pooped. We drag ass home (after a brief detour to the Riverwalk) and unwind. Spring and I go out for a late-night snack. We yell at The Real World Austin. We have our fun.
When I finally wake up (around 1:30) and walk into the kitchen I'm shocked to find my Aunt Beba sitting on the couch. And the counter filled with groceries.
The day before, over breakfast tacos, Aaron warned Spring that we were going to make her gain at least 45 pounds. Apparently he called my aunt to help.
Actually, no one told my aunt to bring food. My mom invited her (and other relatives) over for swimming. But Beba takes it to the hilt, buying all kinds of fruits and vegetables and sweet bread and hot dogs. Even my mother had no idea. She and my brother are out getting pizza.
Soon our cousin Vicky arrives with her two kids and another batch of groceries. The kids set to work on making spinach and ranch dip while my brother sets out the pizza box and my mom throws hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. There are, with the young children, nine of us.
Aaron looks at all the food and says, "Wow! We can survive the holocaust!"
I decide that the only way we're getting rid of all of this food is with help. Like, say, help from Devin Shryver, Airman First Class, who I have not seen since he got back from overseas.
We hunt him down to his work (the smartest guy we know is a salesman at Circuit City). He's been there a week. When I tell him our plans he says, "OK--I've already got the most sales in the store for this week so I think I can leave early today." Of course.
Spring and I haul ass to meet him. For some reason he wants us to come to his store and hang out with him and then come back to my mom's place. I drag her out of the pool (she's having so much fun with Aaron and Shawn she doesn't realize what time it is). We race across town and go running into his store with a few minutes to spare.
We do a clean sweep of the store. I'm excited and nervous. Where is he?? Where IS HE?? I don't know quite what I'm going to do. I mean, after all the shots drank to his safe return, after all the weird nightmares and fears. All the anxiety and celebration and occasional tears and stop crying you fucking baby you think Devin's crying about flying over Iraq?
I see him and we make our way towards each other determinedly. Before I can say any of the thousands of things I'd had planned or rehearsed he looks me up and down, spies the word on my t-shirt and says, before even saying hello, "Do you know what the Starflyer is? Dude, you've got to know about Starfyler. It's this secret society, or anyway this secret society in this book I just read. It's great shit--better than Arthur C. Clark..." And we're back.
We come back to the house with a bag full of Spurs shirts, some beer, and something new. We pass one to my brother.
"Do you like your Sparks?"
He drinks some if it and makes a face.
"I don't...feel right."
We all lose our shit laughing. "Thanks. I get one of those every ten years."
And then he and Spring toss a ball back and forth for about forty minutes.
Aaron and Devin start slapping each other with pool noodles and invent a jousting game. Spring and I throw each other around. We're all laughing our heads off and giggling and snorting and it never crosses my mind to think of New York goddamned City.
Later that night. Devin talks about his intense training and the war. "You have no idea how bad it is out there. Nobody does. The fucking media is like the fourth branch of the government. If anybody knew what was really going down over there..."
He tells a story about being trained for POW camp in the brutal cold of the Pacific Northwest. About smarting off and being forced to strip down to his underwear in the sleet. And they told him he could give in any time he wanted--call for the medic and say he wanted to quit. And he stayed there, in his underwear, until the medics intervened. He had hypothermia. When he moved his arm, the ice on his elbow cracked. But he didn't move and he didn't give in. He cried (and so did everyone else training with him as they watched his stubborn body turn blue). But he didn't give in until they carried him to a tub of warm water.
He tells us about a kid we went to high school with who was a frontline medic. He's in a VA hospital now. Full-on PTSD. He didn't sign up for war--he signed up for college money and training before 9/11.
Another friend of ours is in front of the front lines, building bridges and roads for the frontlines. It requires a certain level of insanity, which he has in spades. It makes it all the more hysterical to me that he still sends me cutesy spam ("Send this to ten friends for good luck!") while building a bridge in the middle of bombs and gunfire.
He tells us about another friend who still hasn't recovered from a fight we all got into back in high school. He got kicked in the head a few times and it gave him mild brain damage. I got kicked in the head during that fight, too, but it just made me a performance artist.
We finally send Devin off. We go back inside and my brother and I start watching old home movies. He falls asleep in his chair while I silently drink next to him. Spring puts herself to bed. I occasionally nudge my brother awake for good stuff.
When I finally go to bed I'm sad and determined. My mother has informed me that the fully-renovated house next door is being rented for 1200 dollars. I whisper to Spring that we're going to stay in San Antonio and live next to my mother and have everyone mail us our things. She whispers only two words:
When we wake up there are two notes on the kitchen table in my brother's handwriting.
"This piece of paper is for Spring."
"This piece of paper is for Chris."
And that's it.
We miss our flight from Austin by a good two hours, but we don't care. We're in no hurry to leave Texas. We still have to drive up from San Antonio. "You got anything to do today?" "Nope." "Me either." I buy us lunch at Bill Miller and we hit I-10.
"I forgot something!"
"We have to turn around."
We turn around and head East on I-10. I pull around to the Alamo Cafe parking lot.
We look behind the dumpster. There's a blue Gap bag tucked under a plank.
We open it.
Two Spurs t-shirts: a black one for me, a pink one for her. And a copy of the first play I ever wrote, produced at Clark High School almost ten years ago.
I cannot help the slight mist in my eyes. We fill the bag with postcards--a Statue of Liberty one and a handful of promotional cards from all of our shows. And a rose.
She grabs the brisket po' boy and I take a sip off the huge cup of sweet tea.
And we're off and blasting north on 35, screaming along to "Freak on a Leash" by Korn on 99.5 KISS. And, excitedly, we both know the words.