I went to my first wedding at twenty-one. A former best friend was getting married to her high school sweetheart. I was dreading it. She stopped spending time with me when she started dating her husband-to-be. She called me two months before her wedding and said, “It would mean a lot if you came.”
I didn’t know what was expected of me, so the day before the wedding, I bought myself a blue polka dot dress from Ross and two mixing bowls from Macy’s for the couple. I even paid for the fancy department store gift wrapping.
The ceremony was in a small garden just outside a country club. I showed up just as the couple was exchanging vows under a flower-wreathed arch. They kissed, there was applause, and then each attendee was handed a small box tied with a lavender ribbon. The priest held up his arms until the applause died down.
“May God’s love lift this couple, lift us all,” he said, and then asked us to open our boxes. I opened mine, hoping for chocolate. Instead, a large white monarch flew out. It fluttered in front of me for half a second before joining the hundred or so other butterflies that were now ascending above the wedding party. It was something out of a Disney movie, one that had the entire wedding party sighing and craning their necks back to watch the kaleidoscope. Even I was taken aback by how romantic it was.
As the monarchs flew beyond our sight, I looked down at the box in my hand. Inside, crumpled against a corner, was another butterfly. It too was black and white, and its wings twitched with its repeated attempts to fly.
The priest started directing people towards the reception hall, but I walked over to the line of bushes that encircled the garden. I gently slid the butterfly into my palm, cradling it until it stopped moving. I don’t know if insects feel, but I wondered if the monarch felt anything as the world opened and the other butterfly flew out towards it. I wondered if the other butterfly looked back. I placed the monarch on top of a bush, and I went to join the reception.
Since then, I’ve been to about twenty weddings over the course of eight years. Farm weddings. A steampunk wedding. A wedding on a ship. A wedding with a 700 person guest list, a cigar bar, and a room exclusively for chocolate-flavored desserts. I’ve been in a few bridal parties. At some point during every wedding, usually when the dance floor has dwindled down to the bridal party and the really drunk, I think about the butterfly, its desperate movements. I wonder why I flinch a little each time an aunt saunters over, raises her champagne glass, and says, “It’ll be your turn next.”
Flash fiction from Portland Review‘s Spring 2016 issue.