by Michelle Chalkey
On a desert-hot day in June, you stand at your granite countertop in your urban apartment and sort the mail—bills, credit card promotions, and, finally, the wedding invitation. The letters of her name sprawl out in perfect calligraphy, extending off the card to send a shiver down your spine. It’s the name of the spunky girl you met on the softball field twenty years ago. The girl who ate lunch with you when you changed middle schools. The girl who invited you for bike rides every summer until she got her license.
She was there for you as often as she wasn’t. Made you laugh as often as she made you cry.
Check yes or no. The invite to your best friend’s wedding should be a no-brainer.
When you grow up in a small town, your youth softball friends become your grade school friends, who then become your high school friends, who then become the friends you spend your summers with when you’re home from college. At twenty-two years old and a decade of friendship behind you, those are the friends you believe to be real.
The three-by-five card weighs down your hand—heavier than the notes you passed back and forth in middle school, lighter than the book you gave her that she never read. Its weight has held you down for months in anticipation of its arrival.
Check yes or no.
At twenty-two years old, your friends are the people you fell into at one point or another—decided by the team roster, class schedules, and roommate assignments. Your friends are a result of the world’s randomness. If you were meeting these people for the first time at twenty-two years old, would you still pick them to be your friends?
You already know the answer—you have since she texted you the picture of the ring, flashing against her manicured hand placed prim and proper on the breast of his boring black jacket, the same picture she posted moments later on Facebook. Yet you can’t bring yourself to check the box that tells her whether you’re coming to her next wedding, the wedding that makes no more sense to you than the first one.
You clip the invite to your fridge with a magnet. The card hangs heavier with each passing day and falls to the floor every time you make a move in your closet-sized kitchen, demanding you pick it up over and over again. It’s as big an eyesore as your three-hundred dollar bridesmaid dress that still hangs in your closet, never worn.
You’ve moved twice since she called off the first wedding, both times telling yourself the dress sure as hell wasn’t coming with you. Yet it still hangs there in your closet while you sleep at night, curled up next to the man who is your best friend.
It should be easy to be honest with someone you’ve known for years, but faking forgiveness has always been easier for you—when she forgot her carpool days, when she told someone your secret, when she got drunk and kicked you out of her wedding only to pretend it never happened the next day. Even a blackout can’t make those words disappear.
When the world randomizes a friend for you, what does it say about you if you give them back?
Seven days pass since receiving the invite. You fly back to your hometown for a family event, and, to your surprise, the town has changed. You see the new establishments, the murals painted on Main Street, hints of originality sparking from the rundown downtown. You browse the new boutiques and hang out at a brand new coffee shop. You feel the town is becoming its own rather than letting the weight of its reputation keep it down.
You run into old friends you’ve known since youth softball. They ask you if you’re going to her wedding.
The sound of her name jolts your veins quicker than your fourth cup of coffee.
Instead of coming out and saying yes or no, you take a deep breath.
The girl who stood as your own maid of honor. Who left the morning after your wedding without saying goodbye. Who you haven’t seen since.
She posted pictures from your wedding on Facebook, congratulating you in a post that was lengthier than any words she spoke to you that day. You know why she was there.
Neither of you were real enough to say no.
You take a deep breath, lick the seal, and drop the three-by-five envelope like a ton of bricks in the mail shoot. Its resounding thud as it smacks the bottom of the barrel reminds you there’s no going back from this. For the last time, you forgive her.