We danced. It was as simple as that.
The whole family had gathered for the wedding celebration, and there was an open bar. Those facts alone could have made for a terrible night.
But it was good. Things were good.
The cousins spent most of the night moving between the dance floor and the bar. Some people were messy, but mostly we were happy.
I was dragged onto the floor once, but that was all it took for me to see what was quietly happening.
Instead of sitting at the table with Grumpy, he was dancing. He danced with every cousin, every relative he could find. He saw me standing awkwardly with our parents and asked me to dance with him. It was the smallest gesture, but it gave me hope for the rest of the evening.
Dinner had gone by slowly and uncomfortably. But things changed when the music started.
He looked so happy as he danced, smile plastered to his face. I tried to ignore my concerns about his drinking problem for the night because he was dancing, not falling down. He was spinning me around the dance floor, not making mean jokes about me.
No one in my family is particularly good at dancing, but that never stops us. It certainly didn’t stop my brother that night. He would dance back to the table and check on Grumpy, but quickly returned to the music.
It’s been years since he’d been that kind to me, without any harsh teasing backlash.
For a few brief hours I felt like I belonged, like I was actually part of the family I had been born into. I wanted to laugh and cry and dance and drink.
Weddings tend to make me emotional.
The next morning I told my mom about how we danced, and the funny things he said, and how much he wanted a sandwich, and how long he stayed on the dance floor.
“You don’t understand,” she said as we ate our breakfast on the patio, “how much he needs you.”
I rolled my eyes, thinking about how terrible he’d been to me over the past year. He’d been mean. Mean enough to make me cry. Harsh enough to start a fight. Selfish enough to make me hate him.
“He needs your approval,” my mom went on, sipping her coffee. “He needs your support.”
“I’ll never support his relationship with her,” I grumbled, referring to Grumpy.
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “But you still have to support him.”
I contemplated how I was supposed to support my older brother. He never seemed to need anything from me, besides food from the bakery I worked at.
Then I thought about the wedding, and how lonely I was without our sister, my best friend. She was across town during the wedding, bridesmaid for another bride. I hated going to family events without her. Even when she was married, she was there with me; talking to me when no one else would, sneaking cookies in the other room.
Was that the same loneliness my brother felt? He’d been brother-less for nine years now. Did he still feel the sting of facing our overbearing family without his best friend, our brother Lee? Was I feeling a fraction of the pain he’d been dealing with since our brother’s sudden death?
It’s a question I can’t bring myself to say out loud. A pain I can’t bear to acknowledge. Even now, as I type, my breath catches in my throat and I have to take a break from these thoughts.
I try to focus on how happy he looked, and how he asked me to dance, unprovoked. On how he wanted to spend the evening with the family, showing off his lack of dance moves.
I don’t want to think about how he broke down two years ago. The whole family, and many friends, saying goodbye after my grandmother’s funeral. Five steps away from my grandparents grave was my Lee’s. I saw my brother walk over and touch the cold stone, and I quickly followed after him.
I put my arm around him, and glanced up at his face. It was a sadness I had never seen before. I barely remember how he looked at the funeral; I only remember how he came home and slept on the couch because he refused to sleep in the basement he had shared with Lee.
Minutes after I grabbed onto him, he broke down. Suddenly I was holding him up as he sobbed into my shoulders. My sister and our parents joined us, and soon we were all crying and hugging.
I don’t know how long the moment in the cemetery lasted. Next thing I remember we were back in the car on our way to our grandmother’s house. My brother never talks about it. Any of it. But my sister and I do. We talk about what happened and what we did and what we need to. I don’t know what I’d do without my sister.
Maybe that’s what my mom means when she tells me to “support” him. He lost his best friend, so we need to be there for him.
Even if that means I have to dance.