My Sister’s COVID Wedding

A COVID Wedding Story

My sister Elle got married in a wedding dress I had never before seen. Maid of honor number three (that’s me!) after my eldest sister and Elle’s beloved, best boarding school friend.

She had nine bridesmaids in total, all dyed blondes with bright, pearly smiles and sorority stories to share. I was wedged between them, the sole Yankee, completely slammed off of a combination of anti-anxiety pills and champaign who was tearing up as the wedding music began. And yes, I cried as I beheld my sister’s dress for the very first time growing closer with each step down the aisle before she turned and was given to the man I hardly knew, swapping our last name for his… erasing the only similarity between us.

This past summer, I drove the nine hours down to see Elle and my three-year-old niece for the first time in a year and a half. And there, on her mantle sat the family picture that was taken at her wedding eight years ago. The six of us were smiling so big and bright that one might well assume that we all knew it was the last picture we’d ever take together.

In August, my eldest sister… let’s call her Anne… announced her engagement to a man I never care to meet. Mentally ill, a compulsive liar, unmedicated, and (do I even need to say it?) severely unwell, my eldest sister had long ago severed ties with my family to go live off of my wealthy grandfather. “We’ll marry in early December,” she announced through group text, “just thought you should know.”

“Why do you think they’re rushing the wedding?” Elle asked me. I told her my assumption. Our 93-year-old grandfather was tired of paying her a hefty allowance for the last half-decade. “Probably. But.. do you think she’s going to rush to have kids??”

She is “doing better,” my grandfather tells me but given some of the recent behavior I’ve seen, I’d be interested to know what “better” really means. But I wouldn’t ask a hopeful 93 year old that. Naturally, I worry about the type of man ready and willing to marry a girl unable to maintain an adult level of self-sufficiency well into her thirties, a man who is more than enthusiastic about frequenting my grandfather’s mansion every Sunday afternoon. Ultimately though, it’s none of my business.

In the same group text where Anne initially informed us of her engagement, she asked Elle if Elle’s child could be a flower girl. Anne hadn’t acknowledged the child’s existence until last year when Elle visited Memphis with her husband and my mother. My father, who was not present, but had demanded there be as little interaction between Anne and the baby as possible. It was just as possible for Anne to become violent as it was for her to coo over the baby. When our mother immediately handed the baby to Anne, Elle had to excuse herself to the bathroom to pop anti-anxiety pills and cry quietly as her husband stood guard over his daughter.

So when Elle texted back “Yes!” almost immediately and, “of course! She’d love to be your flower girl!” Elle called and hysterically cried for an hour and a half out of extreme trauma-induced anxiety. “I don’t know why, I just feel like I have to make everything okay. I feel like I have to make sure mom is okay, I feel like I have to….”

Duty, family, and above all, unwavering positivity. That is what a southern girl must always be.

An astounding amount of family is attending Anne’s COVID wedding. Not only the family members who live in the Memphis area, but plenty more are flying in from Palm Springs, San Francisco, and Dallas.

Only one uncle attended Elle’s wedding. My mother sat stupefied, having spent 50,000 dollars my parents didn’t have by maxing out every credit card they owned, all for a sea of strangers. The uncle that attended drove my mother to his mountain house and gave her some cash to get back to Connecticut. It was after the financial crisis… paying for a wedding wouldn’t have been ideal timing for anyone.

But for this 2020 COVID wedding, well! Everyone would attend. Everyone would fly in for Anne… except her own siblings. My brother had no interest and my sister Elle, having come to her senses, asked her doctor if she should risk the trip. In the early stages of her second pregnancy, the doctor told her absolutely not. And me? I’m in Croatia. But even if I were stateside well, I wouldn’t risk my 93-year-old grandfather’s life for some satanic southern COVID gathering.

“They’ll ask about you,” my mother texted me.

“So tell them all of the stuff I’m doing.” My work, my creative projects, living abroad… I listed it all out, even plans for my future, hoping to get that rare approval we all yearn for from our parents.

My mother sent some laughing emojis in response. “Oh child,” she said, “you’re something else.”

“Why are my dreams and accomplishments funny?”

“Not funny,” she said, and paused before typing the next line of text, “just… free. And anyway,” she continued “what they’ll really be expecting is an engagement announcement from you. Let’s say… January? It’s suited.”

It’s suited.

David and I haven’t discussed marriage, to be clear. But living abroad with him since August has meant that six new letters have been sewn into the very seams of my being. They spell:


and any southerner who knows me can see it. It is part of me now, this lettering, but an engagement might allow me to be redeamable.

To my mother, having me live with a man is a sentence worse than death. It is akin to being forced to complete a daily jig for the devil in the ninth circle of hell… and my mother does not enjoy dancing. When we were young, my mother abhorred the very idea of her daughters dating. Elle called home to get permission to date a boy when she was seventeen, attending an all girls boarding school. Neither my mother nor my father ever sat me down for that infamous sex or period talk. If they didn’t explain it, it would never have to happen.

I’ve seen “the talk” occur in plenty of movies but still, it seems like a comedic skit created by Hollywood. I had a health lesson in elementary school and just… figured the rest out on my own. When I did “get some redness down there” I was instructed to tell my mother. When I did, fearing the worst, she ordered sushi as a celebration. “Well then,” she said, raising a glass. “Congratulations. You are officially a woman,” I winced at this, utterly humiliated. “Though I do wish,” she said, attempting to swallow her wavering voice, “you could remain just… you… forever.”

Before leaving for Europe, I visited “Brides for a Cause” with my friend. The charity resells donated wedding dresses at a low cost and gives the money they earn to women in need. I never told David I did this… after all, he’s Icelandic. His parents didn’t marry until ten years ago and his brother never did. But it would be fun, right? It might just be my one chance to try on dresses and to… well, pretend. Wearing masks, my friend watched me sheepishly model dress after dress, a bizarre pageantry of tulle and glitter.

“I feel like a fish caught in a net,” I muttered when attempting to clamp a long vail into my hair.

“I think that’s how brides are supposed to feel,” my friend said.

“Here,” an older woman called, smiling at us. She had been sitting outside of the opposite changing room waiting for her daughter. The woman helped me adjust the vail and motioned for me to stand on a small stool. “See, like this.” She said, assisting me. I thanked her, blushing a deep red. We locked eyes in the mirror and, for a moment, a strange, inquisitive look crossed her face.

“You don’t even need a dress,” my mother insisted through text. “You’re too old for any of that anyway. Put on something nice and go to the courthouse. As long as you have a ring on that finger you can…” and the list of limitless possibilities for a wife commenced which all really boiled down to one thing: “…be accepted.

My parents are unable to contribute funds to my wedding but no matter, I plan to elope anyway. Less fuss, less drama, less money to spend, and fewer family incidents that are bound to occur. Elle’s wedding had been far more emotionally draining than I had imagined and I didn’t wish the same experience upon myself. During the months leading up to the event, my mother had bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t gotten the wedding she had wanted. Instead of having it in her family’s stunning library, as her aunt had done, she was forced by her mother to have it in a straight-laced church, wearing her older sister’s out-dated, early 80’s wedding dress. “But anyway, the wedding is really about the mother of the bride,” she concluded. “It’s her kin that attends, her friends. It’s really her day.” And that is, in all seriousness, true. The tradition is about unifiying families and the celebration of offloading useless cargo to a man who might kindly have her.

It’s December, and in ten days, Anne will have her COVID wedding in my grandfather’s gorgeous library with all of my aunts and uncles, age 60 and up, in attendance.

…And in this month of December, I’m going to have to decide whether or not I should initiate that conversation with my boyfriend. I’m 28, you see, I’m old. I’m already a prayer and “poor thing,” muttered under breaths at family gatherings.

“I have time,” I try to tell my mother but she just laughs.

“Time? What time? At this rate, you will be wholly incapable of having children!”

It feels humiliating to bring this up to my boyfriend, like an odd sort of groveling. How do I say it? As an ultimatum? Or do I make it into a joke? He’s the only man who hasn’t brought it up to me first… but he is Icelandic… or is that just an excuse I’m making on his behalf?

I write this to work out my own feelings on the matter… should I appease my family’s wishes when I don’t even know my own? And even if I were to wed, to sign those oh so celebrated legal papers and make my promises, there’s still so much more asked of women, isn’t there? For whether or not I achieve notable greatness in my lifetime, fulfillment, enlightenment, and sublime happiness, there will always be that inquisitive family member at the ready. “How’s everything?” They’ll ask.

And I can list my everythings, all that makes me happy and whole, and they’d nod mechanically, half-listening, then when the moment presents itself, jump in and ask:

“Yes but when will you become a mother? The greatest, most fulfilling job in the world?”