As I write this, I am on an airplane, returning from Ben’s wedding. You might not know me well enough to know who Ben is, so here is the short version: Ben is my best friend.
But whereas I have a few best friends (and I really do love them all the same amount, but in different ways), that’s not all that descriptive. So here’s a longer version. I met Ben because I had a crush on his best friend, Dan (generic names for boys were very big in 1986, when we were all born). Dan was in my gym class, and he had a nice butt, and there was something about how he was shy and nerdy and always looked down when he laughed that drove me my-first-name-his-last-name-notebook-doodle crazy. And then, because things spiral out of control so easily, I was suddenly integrated into a Group Of Boys, Ben included; and then, I was suddenly spending every weekday afternoon at Ben’s house watching “Homestar Runner,” or with Ben at Powell’s Books on the top floor with all the old stuff (because Ben was always the one who was free after school); and then, I was suddenly spending all my free time with Ben, who had a Geo Prizm and drove me around even when it wasn’t allowed.
We cut class. We played music loud with the windows down. We stacked up cheap used CDs from Everyday Music in the car console and listened to them while driving around cemeteries until we knew all the words. We spent every Friday lunch hour in the basement of the school where the grimy wood shop was and the locked dark room for “swing club,” at which we, alongside four or so of our nerdiest friends, learned the shim sham and listened to “Zoot Suit Riot” on repeat. We saw a new movie every single Friday night*, no exceptions, and we thought they were all good, because our taste hadn’t developed yet. We hiked together with Ben’s family friends; we stayed up way past when our parents thought we were asleep and drove to Taco Bell; we sat with each other through each of our respective first tattoos.
We went to college together. We drove home for the holidays from college together. We made mix CDs when that was cool, and playlists when that was cool, and YouTube movies when that was cool, and exchanged those things faster than you could keep track. We lived together in a house outfitted for college kids with too many bedrooms and too many couches, and we listened to our roommate have sex with the guy who worked at the Arco gas station.
And then we graduated from college together. We took a college graduation photograph together. We had celebratory drinks (all the alcohol from the whole year mixed together) and moved our mattresses onto the lawn and stayed up a little too late the last night. And we did what people do that you never think you are going to do when it comes to you and your best friend: We drifted apart.
Ben moved to Portland; I moved to New Orleans. There was a period when I called, and when he called back. We always checked in over the holidays, and we got dessert or saw a movie or had coffee at a new hip Portland coffee place. It’s how it always is: I always meant to call more, or visit more, or write more, or do more, but the intention never changed into anything more.
Ben met Jen six years ago. When I met Jen, I knew pretty much immediately he would ask her to marry him. I don’t want to speak too much in cliches, but she checked all Ben’s boxes: She was crazy smart and the kind of beautiful that stops people across a room; she loved “Twin Peaks” and listened to Paul Simon; and she was stone calm in the face of storms. I asked Ben too early if she was the one. Ben said, “Oh, I don’t know; we’re both just seeing where it’ll go; not a big deal." At the ceremony on Saturday Ben said, “When we started dating, people asked me if she was ‘the one.’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know; we’re both just seeing where it’ll go; not a big deal.’ But in the back of my mind, I knew that the answer was, ‘yes.’”**
When he said this, I was standing behind him with the rest of his groomsmen; I had on a suit and boutonnière. Jen stood across from Ben; she was in my line of sight. Her eyes glassed like she was in a movie, and she was a magazine-grade Beautiful Bride, but you could tell that she was also all alone with him.
I’d been crying pretty much all weekend long. This was the big one; I didn’t mean to go full-on waterworks quite as much as I did, but I’m not sure I could have prevented it even if I had been thinking about “Austin Powers” (my go-to distraction). Love stuff always makes me cry: I cry at every engagement ring commercial (most recently it’s been this one for Secret deodorant), and when everyone on an airplane claps because it’s someone’s anniversary. There are no thoughts in my head — I’m Julianne Moore without ever meaning to be — but I think it has something to do with the idea that love exists despite.
Despite Fox News, Black Friday, and global warming, love exists. In every country in the world — despite war, destitution, racism, genocide — love exists. These feel like meaningless platitudes for the most part; marketers use love to manipulate us (see: Secret commercial), and it’s all been said before. But what about how, despite how much it is eventually going to hurt, despite even death, love exists? If you can’t feel the awesomeness of this truth while reading my blog on your cell phone, I don’t blame you; but good luck ignoring it at a really good wedding.
At your best friend’s wedding, though, you are also confronted with the reality that time has passed and something has grown without your full acknowledgement. Despite all your best efforts to get the world to hold still for just a minute, it plowed forward, and now here you are, watching something that had only existed in your imagination play out in real life. This moment will also pass. Everything is always moving onward.
One hopes that in the span of a lifetime, occasionally at least, the good guys will triumph. When a Ben and a Jen find each other and love each other (despite), it’s a win.
My impulse is to wish I’d been a better friend. But in truth, friendships change (there’s that onward thing again), and so do needs. My best friend has figured out what he needs. Such rare fortune could not have happened to a better human being.
* We made a LiveJournal account of all our movie reviews. I'm just gonna leave this here. It is essentially unreadable because of the popcorn background, but if you highlight the text with your mouse, you can see that we really liked "Saved!"
**I paraphrased Ben’s vows here. I didn’t write them down because I was too busy sobbing my fucking eyes out.