The wedding party in the surf
A few heads turned, like animals at a watering hole. Then a few more, and they started to walk, these hippos and rhinos, egrets and water boars, zebras and antelope that we were packed with onto the searing hot strip of sand between the crashing waves and the cluttered edge of the Delmarva Peninsula.
T. got up from her chair, stood on tiptoes to peer over the yellow and blue beach umbrellas that were rented out of weathered plywood crates. Her calves were tight and elegant. I stayed in my beach chair, half in the shade, watched her walk, heels outing against the sand in a miniature snow-angel pattern, curious, falling in with all the others.
There was a wedding down the beach a little. A romantic notion, but not storybook, that’s for sure. This wasn’t the soft white sand of the Caribbean, or the lonely long span of Long Island. This was the uptown beach in Ocean City, Maryland. Cigarette smoke hung in the still air; tattoos of varying detail and discretion were painted along the stretches and curves of thick bodies, bulbous breasts, creased necks, sweaty and jiggly thighs; families sat in sullen truces, baking under the raw sun.
That’s too much human weight to wade through to watch a wedding playing out on a hot day, the romantic highlight of a condo-resort package in the high summer, followed by a banquet in a humid low-ceiling duct-paneled ballroom and drunken lustful encounters consummated behind rusted sliding doors, on top of dated linens and in the luminescent green light of microwave dials.
“They’re going in the water,” T. called over.
I walked down to the edge of the ocean. They were. A wiry man in black pants and a wife beater stood hip deep in the waves, his eyes gleaming. Two groomsmen grappled with a heavy woman in a sea-blue dress, dragging her through the surf, the foam tangling in her hem, to hurl her full length into the cresting wave. Other women waded in, their dresses billowing and swirling around them. The men lunged and jumped and splashed, their hoots and hollers carrying down the beach. The bride stood in the damp sand, wringing the water from her train.
We were all quiet. Our curiosity was transformed into dismay. The beach stood as random witness to the legion of bathers mingling in the water with the wedding party, all ceremony and pretense abandoned to a childlike glee at the cool relief of the ocean against the withering heat of the day.
The bouquet, white and full, appeared in the air, crested and dropped back. A little girl scurried out of the pack clutching it to her chest.
I watched her hurry under the umbrellas to take her prize back to her family’s spot. The moment had passed.
They’ll be cold and chafe, I thought. The reception will be anti-climatic. They’ll get charged extra to get the salt stains out of the rented tuxedos. The woman won’t be able to use the dresses again, $250 ruined before the party even started. The bridal pictures will be ratty.
But, they’ll have a memory, a thing, a moment, that all of us will remember, talk about when we get back to the day-to-day trundle, and they’ll be able to say, even in the quiet lull of a bitter fight, divorce looming round the corner, “Remember how hot it was that day we got married? And remember how we all ended up in the water? Holy shit, that was awesome.”