One neon purple stage, mascara studded women, seven rowdy young men and a lucky Groom-To-Be.
John, sensible and thoughtful John, was settling down with a chipper Vietnamese girl he’d met on holiday two years ago come Spring. Tonight we see him off with too much alcohol and feminine qualities, of the nude variety, doubts on marriage. The male prerogative: just one chick from now ’til forever?,’ is a vehement reprimand on settling down, so we slap his back and call him a fag for the very human desire for stability.
It’s all just a ceremony before he’s gone to the doghouse, the wife, the old ball and chain. Another man down with an arrow to the knee, and while all the idioms are there, the feelings don’t seem to sink in.
In three weeks John will still be John- our John, whether at the altar or the pubs. We talk about old times, share a few looks to the women bending every which way. They have names, but we forget them, either out of respect or because of how little they really meant, so we dub refer to them by their epithets: Left Tits, Yoga Pants, Sesame Street, Brooklyn Bridge and Coyote Ugly. Ivan complains we’re down to a four man team, and while we joke the night away I can’t help but wonder: what ring, what woman or family tears any fabric any worse than time, or distance?
And though I say nothing else but watch the night with a smile, John and I exchange a glance that tells me we have an understanding.
“You scared?” Is all I ask. He takes a moment, then shakes his head.
“Nah, I’m ready.” I nod along and shake his hand, join the rest for the moment we both know about to come.
Ivan, lumbering and brutish Ivan, seemed to forget us all as he stood closest to the stage. Every now and then his deep baritone cat calls echoing through the room along with butterfly kisses, laced in ten dollar bills and 90’s TRL level “WOO’s.” The nights main courses dance and pose, tug and heel on the thin thread of a green paperback leash. Like dreams they came and went, soothed and whispered, body shots and oh-honey-that-cost-extra’s.
Eventually Ivan gathered us together, another circle, another toast.
“To John!” Then down the hatch, bitter shots all around. Then with a wave comes in tonights bride, Blonde and clad in nothing, dragging a somber looking John away.
“This one’s on me Johnny!” Is all that Ivan says, and some of us laugh without saying what’s happening. But we know. We all know.
That back room door opened and closed, we slapped backs and watch Tits and Tramp Stamp strutting skin and sex like nothings happened, but deep down we all know. A small objection lumps in my throat, but I wash it down with another beer and stare straight ahead like a fool. Tramp Stamp’s areolas tilt and almost seem to ask me why I lose my voice when moments are so critical.
Five, ten, twenty minutes. An eternity when you’re on the other side of a waiting room. Close to an hour later we’re all winding down but John is nowhere to be seen. We hear a creak, the back door opens, Blonde emerges wearing a grin, hips and eyes batting triumphantly. The boys are a riot, a series of firecrackers cackling, while John comes out limping, belt haggard as his face marching toward us. He face lean, thinner that he usually is, eyes cloaked in shadows and fringing on regret. Another circle, another toast. More cheers, more jokes, more prods and laughter, but John is solemn as a vow. His blood red eyes meet the group, a stun silence gives way to whimpers.
“I fucking love my wife man, I-…fuck.”
Nobody says a word. Nobody is sure of what to say. We look to one another like we’re clueless, like we don’t understand the cause or what to blame. But we know.
Deep down, we all know.