"My family is who they are, and for the most part, I’ve learned to live with that. But being engaged and planning a wedding has definitely challenged my ability to accept."
Becoming Bride is a weekly column from Melissa Petro, who will be sharing her wedding deets with us from engagement to aisle.
So, I got an email from my brother yesterday telling me that he’s not coming to the wedding.
“I want to be there,” he writes, “I really do, but the idea of being consigned to [our mother and her boyfriend’s] care for the duration of the trip is driving me mad. You know, the whole lack of autonomy and being on someone else's time and all that.”
He was supposed to drive up to New York City from Ohio and then share an Airbnb with them for the four-day weekend, and then they’d all drive back. At 38 years old, my brother doesn’t work — he’s on disability — and so he doesn’t have very much money. This is the reason he was traveling with my mom.
When I got the message, I shared it with my fiancé and he was like, “You must have feelings about this,” but, at least in that moment, I didn’t. Or, I was of two minds: of course I wanted my brother there — he was supposed to walk me down the aisle, alongside my mom.
I also know my brother. He’s got a couple different mental health diagnoses that make it hard for him to be around people, especially strangers. He sometimes drinks too much and has had ongoing problems with drugs. All of that I can deal with, but from the rest of the email, it sounds like he might be a Trump supporter.
Need I go on?
Why can’t I have a normal family?
My relationship with my brother is what it is. Just like my relationship with my dad is what it is. Just like my relationship with my mom... you get the picture. My family is who they are, and for the most part, I’ve learned to live with that. But being engaged and planning a wedding has definitely challenged my ability to accept.
Knee-deep, for months now, in pictures of overflowing wedding parties, fathers walking daughters down the aisle, and tender mother-daughter moments, I cannot help but feel a sense of alienation. The feeling I get reminds me of how, as a child, I had never felt the sense of home I imagined other people as having.
I imagined that, for most people, home was a safe place. A place where needs were always met, and where people always felt loved. For me, this wasn’t the case. I didn’t know that people came from “different” homes, only that there was “normal” and “not normal” — and my family was “not normal.”
Today, I know that there’s no such thing as normal and that most families have some idiosyncrasies, if not outright dysfunction.
It’s hard to maintain this perspective when you’re planning a wedding.
In casual conversation, people assume my family is participating in ways a family traditionally participates. When acquaintances offer advice for dealing with the quintessentially over-involved mother of the bride, for example, I just listen politely. Every other article reminds you how to involve all your loved ones and who’s supposed to pay for what.
I start tallying resentments, rather than counting my blessings.
The other day, I wrote this essay on my hopes and fears about becoming a mother after being a sex worker. It was mostly about my relationship with my mom, and how our relationship changed back when I was in college, after she found out I was stripping.
Basically, my mom told me she was humiliated and then we never talked about it again. After she confronted me, we talked less often. When we did, it was mostly about her.
Since I’ve gotten engaged, my relationship with my mom has improved. We talk more frequently, mostly about the wedding. And yet somehow, astoundingly, we still talk mostly about her.
Why can’t I have a normal family? I find myself thinking. A mom who is interested in hearing about what I’m wearing to my wedding — not so concerned with what she’s wearing, and how she’s going to look. When I listen to her going on and on about the various outfits she’s choosing from, I am silently fuming.
She hasn’t even asked if I’ve chosen my dress.
My mother’s sister and my mom don’t talk, and so my aunt isn’t coming to the wedding. My mom’s brother has agoraphobia and rarely leaves his house. Growing up, he was my favorite uncle. An artist, when he came home for the holidays, I’d sit and watch him do his work on the dining room table.
This is the uncle that gave me my first stack of tarot cards. When my grandma was dying and he was charged to babysit me, he took me to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Some years ago, I asked if I could come visit him in Maine, where he lives, and he said no. When I got his message telling me he wasn’t coming to the wedding, I realized that I would probably never see my uncle again.
I want to tell these people to get their shit together. I want to throw out everything I know about addiction and disability and mental health and blame my family for what holds them back.
When my second cousin tells me he can’t afford a trip to the city, I think, You’re a fucking grownup! Why don’t you have a savings account?
Truth is, it’s easier to be angry than sad. Bottom line: I want all these people there. More than that, I want them to want to be there. I want to know that I’m important to them.
Weddings are stressful, and expensive. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Every day, I give myself a pep talk. I tell myself: Get out of bed. Do your work. Then, plan this wedding, mama. Go to Staples and buy kraft label paper, and if Staples doesn’t have it, keep looking, because it has to be kraft paper, and make the little labels and stick them on the candle tins and call them your wedding favors even if no one cares, because YOU care.
Plenty of times I have thought, Why the fuck are we even doing this? — I mean, having a “real” wedding. Why are we working so hard and spending so much money? — for what? For who?
I think, Who fucking cares?
That’s when I remind myself, I care.
Today I’ll write my brother back and tell him that I love him, and that I hope that he’ll be there. But if you can’t come, I’ll tell him, I understand.
Meanwhile, I remind myself I’m not a child anymore. I have to be an adult.
Scratch that: I get to be an adult. The person with life skills. The person who has made a recovery, who has learned how to show up.