Last night I was showing my daughter our wedding album, and I saw a ghost. There, grinning at me back at me from July 20, 1997, was a face that had once been as familiar to me as my brother's.
"Who's that?" my daughter asked.
"That's Matt M.," I replied.
"Who's Matt M.?" she asked.
Who's Matt M.? Once I had watched in awe as Matt — a polite, slow-talking Westerner — persuaded a furious cop not throw us out of the Bend, Ore., park where we were illegally camping. During the most terrifying hour of my life — a 3 a.m. drive through a Georgia hailstorm in a deathtrap Toyota — Matt sat calmly by my side in the passenger seat, switching up the mix tapes. I had seen him torn up by love, and he had seen me the same. He was the dearest of friends, and 16 years on, he was a stranger.
When you are in the throes of wedding planning — the epic, Iranian-nuke-level negotiations with your fiancée about invitations, the masterful diagramming of every possible seating permutation to maximize hookups and minimize family arguments — it seems inconceivable that somewhere in this group, the group of people that you are closest to in the entire world, the people with whom you will share the most extraordinary moment of your life, are dear friends you will never see again after your wedding day. You don't know who the last-timers are — in fact, you can't know — but they will be there on the dance floor and in photos. And suddenly, one day — two, five, 20 years on — you will think to yourself: I haven't seen her since our wedding. And then: How did that happen?
When I talk about last-timers, I don't mean those old friends of your parents who got invited over your protests. Of course you'll never see them again. I also don't mean the various disposable plus-ones. Any wedding of any size will be populated by boyfriends, girlfriends, and even spouses who will have been dumped or divorced by the next time you see your friend. My brother-in-law's then-fiancée is all over our wedding photos. She was on her last legs as a fiancée, but we didn't know it at the time. Sweet, kind Liane: Where are you now?