Ghosts at a Wedding

Katie with her Grandfather
We were young, in love, and the world was at our feet.

I was reliving those days last weekend.

Our best friends back then were Steve and Ann. They were part of a loose group of couples and singles that my husband knew from college. We shared mutual interests in cards, hiking, and good times.

Our ties grew stronger when we were both the first to have children. Small children are very portable, and we spent a lot of weekends together in New Hampshire where Steve and Ann lived.

Not that it was all just happy times. They had this fierce athletic girl, named Katie. Sometimes I was “volunteered” to watch the kids at the nearby playground. Katie, who was probably three at the time, would climb out of my reach and defy my whimpering pleas to please come down. Then she would do somersaults down concrete stairs.

I’d return to Steve and Ann’s pale and shaking.

“Katie is indestructible.” Her parents would laugh. “Stop worrying and get your butt to the bridge table. We need a fourth.”

I wish I had those times back.

Sometimes Steve and Ann came up to my parents’ camp. Together we climbed Raspberry Dragon Mountain. We played wooden ships and iron men in the nearby lake, using real sailboats and huge squirt guns. Plus, Ann was a wonderful cook. I think my mother liked our friends better than us. Whenever we were going to go up to camp she’d ask.

“Are your friends coming?”

We were young and happy, but life moves on. After our kids got older, our lives diverged; teens aren’t at all portable. And our own lives were busy.

Meanwhile our friends had some tough years. Their oldest was in a terrible car accident, and Ann neglected her small business to care for him. It failed, and she had some health problems of her own. Their marriage got rocky. Then Steve was diagnosed with cancer. Sometime after that, their marriage ended for good.

During all of this, we tried not to take sides. But Steve was sick, and Ann had somehow become someone that we no longer knew.

Steve died three years ago.

Toward the end, we knew it was coming. But it came as an unexpected betrayal. We lost our own youth when he died. He was our age, our friend. We could no longer pretend that death is something that only happens to other people…other older people.

But last weekend my husband and I were back in New Hampshire for a celebration. It was a perfect post-card fall day. We were surrounded by stunning foliage, fond memories and a ghost. We were there to celebrate Katie’s wedding.

Katie, my occasional terrifying charge, had grown into a lovely, fearless woman; a woman who is practical, gracious and a tribute to both her parents.

It was a beautiful wedding. It was held outdoors, on a warm October weekend, on a lawn that overlooked Mt. Chocorua. Katie’s grandfather gave her away. The groom’s large family was there to celebrate. On Katie’s side were a few relatives and a larger group of Steve and Ann’s old college buddies.

And Steve was there.

He stood beside Katie’s grandfather, while he gave away the bride. He hoisted a glass during the best man’s toast. Steve sat at the table with all his old college buddies, and had a good time. He wasn’t any pale ghost hovering in the background. He was a strong, warm presence that was vivid in all of our memories.

And Ann was there as well, but not as a ghost. It was our friendship that was the ghost.

I kept sort of a wary distance, maintaining the gestures of friendship without the substance. We hugged; I hugged sincerely; wishing that it could bring back all the good times. But we never really talked. And later, another friend described their lack of conversation about anything that mattered rather succinctly.

“I don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell.”

I’m getting older. I’m not attending friend’s weddings anymore, I’m going to the weddings of my friend’s children. This wedding was more bitter-sweet than most, with it’s mix of nostalgia, and perhaps, guilt, and sense of loss.

But it was a celebration, a celebration on a perfect post-card day in New Hampshire. Katie and her husband are young, and in love, and the world is at their feet. We all warmed ourselves through Katie’s joy, content to savor one perfect day in an imperfect life, a life filled with ghosts, wistful thinking, and memories of youth.

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