The reason for the road trip is, like many trips we've taken in our mid-to-late-20s, a wedding. This wedding, though, is a little different from others I've attended lately.
The groom, whom I will call Bro, is the brother of my fellow traveler, and has been my friend for roughly 26 years, which is fairly impressive when both parties are 28 years old. Bro and I grew up together in our rural town, and each moved away approximately thirty seconds after high school graduation. We both wound up in cities in the Midwest, living the start of the kind of lives we'd both hoped for back in our often-boring farm town. For both of us, those lives (eventually, as I'm glossing over years of hits and misses) included finding someone with whom to share the joy and the mundacity of everyday life.
Each of us sought some kind of seal of approval from the other about our potential life mate. When Bro met DH, the two of them hit it off almost immediately, which was a huge plus in my mind. When I'm not taking it for granted, I appreciate that my oldest friend and my husband are big fans of each other.
A month or two after DH and I got married - an event for which Bro flew himself in, dutifully wore a suit, and proceeded to make friends with both the bartender and everyone in attendance, because that's what he does in social situations - Bro had a date with a woman I'd already heard about many times before.
This is the hard-to-explain part: I'd first heard stories about the Speaker (she's a speech therapist and I'm terrible at nicknames, OK?) from other members of our high school class. She went to college with a couple of them, came back to my home town several time for big events, and met plenty of members of our class and folks from our town. I was probably 19 years old the first time I heard about the Speaker. And what I heard was consistent from all sources: she was cool, she managed to avoid most drama that arises when a group of college women live together, and - everyone said this - she was funny.
Here I will admit that I generally didn't pay much attention to stories about the Speaker, because it seemed unlikely that I would ever meet her. She was a friend of some acquaintances and her inclusion in a story was just one of those details people would leave in.
And then Bro went on a date with her. Followed promptly by a second date.
I wish I could remember where I heard about it first, but I remember thinking it was strange, my friend and this friend-of-all-our-classmates dating. They'd been dating for a few months when they visited Chicago together and stayed with me and DH. The Speaker had heard about me from all our shared sources the way I'd heard about her, which made for this bizarre situation of two people, having heard about each other for years, staying in the same apartment for a weekend.
If there's such a thing as an advantage in such a situation, I had it: we were on my home turf, I was only meeting one new person while she was meeting two, and those two people were her hosts for the weekend. I later learned that she'd been quite nervous about meeting me - she had really wanted to make a good impression. The situation was made a little more strange by the lack of first-meeting formalities. I already knew where she was from, where she'd gone to college, what she did for a living, who many of her friends were... so what does one ask about at that point? It could be awkward.
She needn't have worried. At some point during dinner, Bro said something moderately funny, and the Speaker made a immediate and hilarious comeback quip that almost made me choke. I laughed out loud, but I'm sure I followed that up with staring at her - which probably made her feel like an insect. Because I'm a great hostess like that.
I was staring at her because - and it still hits me sometimes - I cannot believe how perfect she is for my friend. And he for her. They are great together.
So last winter, on another trip to Chicago, Bro proposed to the Speaker, and she accepted, and we celebrated with them all weekend. DH and I were thrilled for them, and we were looking forward to the wedding, but also to, hopefully, years of just hanging out with the two of them as a couple of boring married couples.
When they started planning their wedding, they gave themselves plenty of time - a year and a half - and chose a date in April 2011. Bro would send me the occasional link to a venue, or an idea they had. Over the summer we visited them and we got to see the proof of their invitation suite. The party was going to be amazing and large and lots of fun.
And then, in August, when DH and I had just gotten home from a week's vacation and were just beginning to settle, our phone rang. It was Bro. The tone of his voice was somewhat grave. A disorienting split-second of serious worry struck me: they're breaking up. They're calling it off. Whatever happened, I need to talk him out of this.
"So, I have a question," Bro said.
DH saw the worry on my face and signed that he wanted to know what was wrong. I indicated that he should hold on a second.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"If the Speaker and I... " break up? Have an earlier-than-anticipated baby? Move to Abu Dabi? He was taking way too long with this.
"If we didn't do the wedding in April - " oh, crap. Are they really breaking up? No way.
"But we had a wedding in October, instead - " WHAAAT?
"Would you come to it?"
I hopped up and down. "HELL YES, we'd come to it!"
DH looked totally confused. I put my hand over the receiver and said, "they're eloping! Sort of." To which he replied, "AWESOME!"
Bro explained, "It's just, planning this thing is really starting to stress the Speaker out, and every time I see how much it's going to cost, I start to get sick. And we just want to be married, and buy a house someday, and have kids..."
"So, you want a marriage, but not necessarily a wedding."
And thus, in about a week of plan-changing, the enormous springtime wedding in a rented hall with 200 people and a DJ became an intimate autumn ceremony in a park with less than 50 people. DH and I were looking forward to it before. Now we're beyond excited.
Of course, any time this wedding comes up, DH says, "they're doing it right. They're so smart." And I feel compelled to say things like, "We didn't know squat about wedding planning when we got married; we did the best we could."
Then we both remind ourselves that our wedding was really fun. Which it was. But DH is right: there's no denying that we'd do things a bit differently - a bit smaller and simpler - if we'd known then what we know now.
As it is, we get to live vicariously through our brilliant friends. This weekend will be full of good friends, good beer, some tiny pies, a few nerves, some dressy clothes, and a festive dinner after the formalities. As a bonus, my mother - a justice of the peace who's known the groom as long as I have - is officiating the ceremony, so I'll get to see my parents on the wedding day, too.
In that way and in many others, this feels as much like a family wedding as my brother's wedding last month felt. In which case, I'm so happy to welcome the Speaker to the family.