“Are you going to wear your hair like that?” and “no, you can’t change out of your heels yet” are the gracious, yet dead-serious remarks from my mother directed at me between exchanged stories of “when you were this small” (height indicated by hand gesture) with family I haven’t seen in about a decade. I’m feeling especially awkward in my faded green hair and unorthodox nose piercing, and I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of a sin to be hungover in a church. Yet, twenty hours and two plane rides later, I’m at the other side of the world on a vineyard spending the weekend at my little cousin’s wedding.
She resembles a porcelain doll entering the room as her captivated audience hangs on every graceful movement. The sunlight through the windows dances around her veil as her father, much shorter than her in a very endearing way, guides her down the aisle to give her away. I cry while Cannon in D reverberates around the open room. I don’t cry often from non-sadness, but in this moment I can’t hold back my tears. There are memories seared into my mind of us playing on the beach together at nine years old, being little models in the girly dresses our grandmother sewed for us, and eating cookies in the big comfy chairs in her living room in Durban, South Africa. One time when I was about eight years old, I saw some very weird scene from a movie on their old TV in that living room. I don’t recall where everyone else was, but I remember seeing Kevin Spacey lying in bed looking up at a naked teenage girl draped in red rose petals on the roof of his bedroom. A long time has passed since our days of innocence and not knowing what the movie American Beauty was, and now she is marrying a very handsome, bearded man. I can feel it now - we’re growing up.
As most egoistical twenty-somethings my age, I sit in the pew and intensely self-reflect, making this moment all about me and asking myself some pretty disturbing questions. I’m having my Aziz Ansari moment from Master of None where I picture myself standing up there exchanging vows with my faceless husband-to-be. Unlike my cousin and most of her seven bridesmaids, I am not currently in a loving relationship with the man I met at the end of high school or the beginning of college. In fact, I’m about a million failed relationships in. Is it possible that I have somehow moved further away from marriage with every shit relationship? I must admit, it’s pretty hard to picture myself exchanging these vows, especially “in front of God”. I mean when was the last time I was even in a church that I wasn’t sight-seeing with the band on a day off in Manila?
The minister is speaking in Afrikaans, and having been living in America for almost 12 years, I’m lost at times in the religious jargon of my native language. My mind wanders to how much the wedding must have cost, what kind of planning must’ve gone into this event. I start to think about how it must be like a record release. You fall in love with an artistic concept and you get engaged to it, you spend a year or so writing and recording it, and then you take your vows in front of everyone with confidence that you will love and stand by this work of art forever - you marry it. Almost immediately I start to feel shame at the thought of comparing a record release to holy matrimony. What is wrong with me?! The tears start threatening my perfect makeup again. Will I never find what these two have? Is my life even fertile enough to cultivate such a relationship? Are my eyes too clouded by the desire for success and fulfillment in my musical career? Am I missing the point? Would I even see the man of my dreams if he was arriving at my house with delicious baked goods and a bottle of red wine? I am selfish. I am dumb. I am fucking this all up. The tears turn from oh-my-god-we’re-growing-up tears to oh-my-god-I-am-the-worst tears.
Between the ceremony and the pre-drinks before the reception (I told you, massive wedding planning, I applaud it), I tell my mom in a bitchy teenagerish tone that she should go on without me, I need to have a cup of coffee and I’ll join everyone when I’m ready. I am truly living up to my standard of feeling like I’m the worst. I sit in the quiet of the cottage rented out for us on the vineyard where the wedding is being held and I sulk for the allotted thirty minutes I’ve given myself. I drink my bitter cup of coffee that I fucked up making and tastes like shit, and I text my friends self-pitying messages. I’m literally staying in heaven-on-earth for the weekend, and I still manage to put myself in some sort of hell. My insecurities and confusion and desires are my undoing in this moment and I can’t seem to stuff them back into the dark corners of my mind where they escaped from.
I wash down the bitterness of the coffee with another glass of champagne that I grab at the pre-drinks garden party. My red high heels are sinking into the soft soil below, causing me to tilt in an unflattering way that’s all wrong for wedding photos. My mom urged me to print some photos from my experiences these last few years to give to my grandparents. The quaint circle is now expanding to a more nerve-wracking sized one as photos get passed from aunt to uncle to cousin to friend to grandmother to grandmother’s friend. Each time the picture of me with Obama is seen I explain how I ended up in the White House for a show I played. I explain the sparkly, artsy photos are the album artwork for my upcoming record - a record that has been at the forefront of my mind for over a year now and will be coming out soon (foreshadowing!!) I felt happy sharing these stories with my family but to be honest, in that exact moment, my “grand experiences” felt a little meaningless. I’ve been gone for so long and have missed so much. My grandfather wants to frame a large version of my album cover and put it up in their house. He’s 93 years old and we’re now getting reacquainted.
The reception starts and I’m sitting between our youngest male cousin, who’s 21, and my mother. My cousin is an atheist and he’s vocal about it. We’re seated across from the minister and his wife, so this will be interesting. The groom’s father gives a speech which thankfully I can understand every word of. His love for his son and daughter-in-law is palpable and it’s moving me. They are two of the most caring people you will ever meet and they’re about to start their married lives together caring for others, as doctors. I find myself reconsidering my stance on helping others - I could do more. He concludes his heartfelt speech to the married couple by saying, “people don’t remember you for what you do or what you say, they remember you for how you make them feel.” The statement simmers in my mind as I drink my third glass of champagne and pray to my faceless, nameless God that I won’t be hungover tomorrow again. People remember how you make them feel.
I have one last dance with my atheist cousin on the pure, white dance floor. We’re dressed in black and are clearly the black sheep. To our absolute embarrassment we end up dancing “the sokkie” with the crowd, a traditional Afrikaans dance. The whole weekend we’ve been battling it out for who is the bigger hipster; I have green hair, I have barista training, I live in Brooklyn, New York. He has a beard, brews his own beer, he lives near Brooklyn, Pretoria. We’re westernized, and while he clearly feels pride in this, I feel a slight shame in inadvertently abandoning my culture. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not acquainted with most of the people here, or because I can tell the guitarist in the wedding band is out of tune, or because I’m feeling a little bit fat in my tight black dress, but I don’t seem to be into dancing tonight. Another family member remarks on how strange that is; being the performer in the family, wouldn’t I be comfortable dancing in front of people? I proceed to have existential crisis #2. I’m feeling very vulnerable and unsure of myself this weekend. Time for a shot of tequila.
My cousin and I stumble down the steps toward the freedom of the crisp, freshly-cigaretted air in the garden outside. He’s had a couple of drinks and so I decide to prod about personal things such as his passion in career and his love life. While I feel sad to hear his tale of game-playing, awkward first moves and the college cock-block only known as “dorm room living”, I also feel relieved to be talking to someone who has somewhat of a messed up love life. “Yes!” I think, “I’m not alone in my struggle!” At one point he recalls a really bad day between him and his lady he’d been courting for a year. He says he was so upset he didn’t go to class the whole day and instead stayed in his room listening to “Boy Boy Boy” by Andhim (the Joris Voorn remix, because he’s trendy af) on repeat. My cousin loves music. Prior to our dancing escapades we’d spent about an hour going through electronic artists he wants me to check out. With each artist’s name he’d pause and describe exactly what he liked about them, giving his concise two-sentence pitch on why I should give them my ear-time. I gaze up at the misty steps to the dance hall and I admire all these beautiful, happy human-beings with their arms in the air, dancing to Daft Punk and singing at the top of their lungs. My phone is lighting up and I have a text from my friend Aaron asking if I’ll record guitar on a track and another from my producer asking if I could check a mix of a song. Art truly is the soundtrack, backdrop, and escape we need for our lives. Whether it’s in the background or it’s your career or it’s as holy to you as religion.
My cousin walks me to my cottage and hugs me goodbye. He tells me he wants to live in New York City one day, he wants to experience something new. He says he wishes to find his passion in life and that I’m lucky that I have mine. In that moment, I know I am rich in so much more than I can possibly see or touch. While I haven’t found the man who I can walk down the aisle towards yet, I have certainly found something that I’m happy to wake up to for the rest of my life. And just like that, it all makes sense again.