What If I Stayed?


The night was so black that it didn’t feel like we were moving. There were no trees, no road signs; there was no life — just black after black after black after black. I was wearing a formal dress, royal blue, two sizes too big. The hairs on my neck were wet and slicked down under the weight of sweat, from all the dancing. I planned on an abrupt, no-frills exit and so I figured the dancing would soften my harsh good-bye. It worked.


When I agreed to be my friend’s date to this wedding, I was flattered and excited. The groom was a friend from college and my date was his only college friend to make the bridal party, let alone the wedding. “You won’t know anyone but me and Mark, but it’ll be fun,” Andrew told me. I love weddings, so I didn’t need much convincing. But when Andrew began calling me to hang out in the months preceding the wedding, I felt averse to the occasion, to him, to everything. I can’t explain it, really — the pressure to be social rose with the summer heat until I felt that if I received one more phone call from Andrew, my brain matter might soon paint the walls of the bedroom I seldom left. I was newly unemployed and newly heartbroken and I think these two conditions caused me to unlearn commitment. The phone calls, the “Steppphhh…” and the “Where r u?” and then the “You’re still coming to the wedding, right?” and then the “Please call me” text messages followed by a call from the groom telling me it was time to confirm my attendance… it was too much. This wordless dread was building around my obligation — no longer a flattery or an exciting thing, just an obligation — and I couldn’t do anything but pick up the phone eventually and say, “I’m still coming. How do I get there?”

On the day of the wedding, Andrew picked me up at my house, two hours away from the wedding venue in Connecticut. We stopped at a red light on Metropolitan Avenue and I watched as my ex-boyfriend crossed the street in puffy hair and a t-shirt. I knew he had not spent the night at home. The light turned green. We kept driving.

The anxiety I’d felt about the wedding and spending time with Andrew dissipated as we caught up during the ride; I felt silly for having avoided his calls for so long. This was made worse by how understanding he was about the whole thing. Recently unemployed himself, he was familiar with the patterns, the sameness that becomes a security blanket when you have no where and no one to be. “I get it… but that’s why we should’ve hung out!” he said when I finished explaining myself. I couldn’t agree, wasn’t ready to yet. But I got it, too, a little.

We arrived at the hotel where the wedding would take place in a few hours and took the elevator to Andrew’s room, where I changed into my dress. Andrew called Mark’s extension to let him know we were there. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night?” he asked me once he’d hung up. I shook my head no. I had explained on the drive up that I would take the Metro North home after the wedding. I didn’t want to impose or share a bed or spend the night away from home; it’d been months since I’d done that. “OK. You can change your mind if you want.” I thanked him and then we walked down the hall to Mark’s hotel room, where he and his groomsmen were dressing.

Mark was zooming. His eyes were wide, his irises a thin blue ring. “Steeeppphhh. Can you believe I’m getting married? I’m fucking getting married like, soon… now.” I couldn’t believe it, I told him. I had never met his bride, never even heard of her until Andrew invited me to the wedding. Mark’s fingers shook as he tried to fasten cufflinks to his shirt sleeves. “Steph. Do you know how to do this?”

“Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I know how to put your cufflinks on. I hope you know how to tie your tie,” I said, taking the cufflinks from his hands. “I’ll try it.”

“Thanks,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders and shaking them almost-gently. “Dude. I’m getting fucking married!”


I was alone so I sat in the last row of the groom’s side and marveled at the other guests, their excitement and buzzing. I felt a displaced kind of happy for the soon-to-be newlyweds, not the deep and hopeful happy everyone else felt, but a happy all the same. A tingle. The groomsmen I’d met in Mark’s room earlier were lined up at the alter, all blues and boyish, my only sort-of friends. I had no one to sit with. The ceremony began and I observed it from my anonymous perch, whites and blues swirling together, unionizing. I cried a little for the people I didn’t know, because a wedding is a wedding and weddings are intimate, whether you belong there or not. I knew I didn’t belong — knew it soon as I saw the beaming mother of the bride, knew it once I saw the other guests and felt the wings of their fluttering expectations — and yet here we were. Here we all were.


I sat with the men of the bridal party during the reception and we were good and drunk by that time. “What if I stayed?” I thought, but then I remembered all the arguments I’d made in favor of going home that night, all the excuses I’d given Mark and Andrew. I couldn’t retract then, even though I could’ve. I danced dances and drank drinks until it was time to call a cab. “It’s too bad you have to leave early,” Mark said. We were on the dance floor. “Yeah…” my voice said, trailing, “Maybe I should just go now.”


The sky was all negative space when I got into the taxi. “Tell Mark bye and congratulations, I don’t know where he went,” I told Andrew. “OK. Well, thanks for coming. Let’s chill sometime,” he said. We both nodded at nothing. The cab pulled away with me in the back of it and we drove into the night, a yellow comma moon following us down the road like we’d forgotten it.

There was no train at the train station. “They’re sending a bus,” the conductor told us. I have never liked taking the bus; I don’t trust myself to know when it’s time to get off. Taking the bus makes me feel like I need my mother. I sat on top of my backpack and crossed my legs, waiting.

When the bus arrived, we boarded and a boy my age sat across from me. He held an obscured instrument by his side. I felt talkative now, the intimacy I had not belonged to earlier bleeding onto my face. “What’s in there?” I asked. He looked up from his fingernails. “This? It’s a guitar.” “My dad plays the guitar.” I always say that. I don’t know why. “That’s cool,” he said.  It sounded like he meant it. “Yeah…” I said. I looked out of the window. It was black after black after black after black.

I thought of some maybes then, like maybe if I hadn’t been so stubborn I would be drinking and dancing still, or maybe the boy will reignite the conversation and we’ll have a meet cute or cute meet or however it’s called, or maybe the bus isn’t so bad, but maybe I’m just drunk, or maybe I could’ve sucked it up and spent the night, maybe it’s time to stop treating every person and every situation like I’m the one who has to leave first, just in case, just because.

The bus came to a full stop and opened its doors. The boy with the guitar stood up and threw his guitar case over his shoulder, waving good-bye. I watched him walk away, down the steps, into the night. The doors snapped closed behind him. We kept driving. TC Mark

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