Bringing People Together

Lauren: When you can't keep everyone separate anymore

KellyBenvenuto

Hawaii is the halfway point between our families, but that’s not the only reason we chose to get married there. We picked Hawaii because going to the States gave us access to American Sign Language interpreters (the tropical island thing was also a plus). It would have been a hell of a lot easier to throw a wedding where we live, but the interpreter thing kept bugging me.

What were the odds of finding an ASL interpreter in Australia, where the standard sign language, Auslan, is so different? People suggested that we ask one of my sisters to interpret, but that was always out of the question. Interpreting is work. The best interpreters facilitate conversations without being in them; I wanted all of our guests to be in on any conversation they were a part of. No way were my sisters going to be asked to put their personal involvement aside to perform a role, like we had been so often growing up.

When I was twenty-four, the family cat got sick. She sat in my lap as my dad drove us to the vet, me sitting shotgun and my mom in the back seat. It had happened so quickly that no interpreter had been arranged; I struggled to convey information between the vet and my parents while processing my own feelings. This was Princess, who I’d picked up from my Grandma’s farm when I was eight years old, and she was dying. I burst into hacking sobs and my mom swept me into the waiting room, leaving my dad with the vet, a pen, and a piece of paper. The lack of an interpreter forced all of us to play multiple roles, making a heart-wrenching situation even more so. These moments are bound to happen in life, but if I can make plans to circumvent them, you better believe that I will.

So no, I won’t be asking either of my sisters to be half-present at the wedding, nor subject my parents to an interpreter who cannot possibly remain neutral. There was never any doubt that we would hire a professional interpreter, one who won’t be emotionally invested when they pronounce us as married. This person will stand up and interpret during the ceremony, sit at the parents’ table during dinner, and act as the tool that allows everyone present to understand the speeches, whether they are signed or spoken. It’s a relief, but it doesn’t answer all of my questions. Such as: Will my parents feel awkward, being the only Deaf people there? What can I do to make sure everyone is comfortable? Will the Aussies make jokes that offend the Americans? What if the Americans can’t understand the Australian accents? What if certain people (who may or may not include the groom) get drunk and decide to do a nudie run?

It’s not that I’m opposed to nudie runs; it’s that I think my parents might not love being privy to one at their daughter’s wedding. See, I know about everyone’s quirks, but they don’t know about each other’s. There’s no way of predicting the wedding vibe, the way our twenty-four guests will gel. More worrying, each person knows who I am when I’m with them, but different people bring out different sides of me. I am a modified version of myself depending on who I’m around, and I don’t think I’m the only one who responds this way. It does makes me wonder—who will I be when they’re all there at the same time?

I started compartmentalizing the people in my life when I was a teenager, maybe earlier. I kept them all as separate as possible. My work friends were not the same as my school friends, and neither group was allowed too close to my family life. Romantic liaisons occupied their own wedge; I rationed out different details about my love life to different people. Part of that came from walking the line between the Deaf and hearing worlds, and watching the way others changed when they met my parents. Language barriers can do funny things to people; I had a borderline cocky ex-boyfriend who froze up and turned to me in terror every time one of my parents addressed him directly. Then there were the friends who didn’t get along, sparking drama for no apparent reason, and work people who became withdrawn when introduced to school friends. It seemed simpler to keep my people separate, even if it wasn’t practical.

As I grew up, I saw that other people didn’t handle things the same way. They stopped trying to hide their alcohol consumption from their parents after turning twenty-one. They invited their friends, colleagues, and family to be in the same room and it didn’t appear to cause them secret stress. We became adults, and our relationships with the people we love adapted. Meanwhile, I resisted. I continued to juggle the aspects of my life, lest the world combust if they were all brought together. It was relatively easy, because the people I love are geographically scattered; bringing them together would be logistically implausible.

Then came the wedding.

There are many elements of the wedding we can control: the food, the venue, the music. Then there are those aspects that we leave up to circumstance, like the weather and how much fun people have. We could lash out on contingency plans and crowdsource all of our music choices, but that still would not guarantee that everyone meshes well and has the time of their life (or remains clothed). Yet, I somehow feel responsible for each person’s level of enjoyment. As if I’ll be handing out a questionnaire afterward: On a scale of 1 to 10 how much fun did you have? Was there anything the couple could have done to improve your experience?

Around the three-month mark, I got really worried about mixing everyone up. I was sure there were things I could have done differently to help people have a good time. Judging by my level of concern, you’d have thought we invited the Sharks and the Jets to Hawaii, not our closest loved ones. Though as with nearly every other aspect of wedding planning, what I ended up needing was time. I wish I could say I had a revelation, or snapped out of it after a soul-searching conversation with my best friend, but I didn’t. (Though my sister’s advice of “Make sure there’s enough booze and it’ll work itself out” helped.) I just… stopped worrying about it. A month before the wedding I realized that I no longer had the emotional energy for things that were beyond my control. While I could definitively choose whether or not to wear a veil, there was nothing I could do about the way our guests get along.  So I will opt for what was always going to happen: sensibly leave people to their own devices, trusting that they are capable humans who can have conversations with each other.

If there’s one life lesson I’ve learned from inflated expectations on New Year’s Eves and birthdays, it’s that you can’t force fun. We have done what we can to make sure things run smoothly in terms of communication, food, and transport.  As for who I’ll be when all of my people come together, well, I’ll still be a version of myself. My people might always be separated by distance, but it’s probably overdue that I bring them all together, at least for one day. Our guests will get a chance to meet each other at a happy hour on the Monday before our Wednesday wedding; there’s not much more we can do but relax and hope it goes well.

If that doesn’t work, there’s always booze. And streaking, of course. I’ll just get my sisters to run interference for my parents. That, I have no problem asking them to do.

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