[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While I used some names of my real family members, the characters and story are products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner.]
One thing that Christian has always been good at is creating meaningful friendships. He has been asked to be a groomsman in more weddings than I had even been invited to. Not only is Christian usually the life of the party, but he is also a solid wingman for any pal trying to hit on a girl or build a long-term relationship. For the most part, Christian is the type of guy that gets along great with his friends’ friends such as family members, coworkers, or girlfriends. As his younger brother, I have seen much of this with my own eyes. I was also witness to the one exception that nearly broke him.
Part 1: The Invite
A while back, Christian got a call from his friend, Hai, from out of the blue. Hai had been a friend of Christian, and his wife Sue, long before they were even married and had kids. He spent years third-wheeling on their nights out as a young couple, flew across the country to attend their wedding, and was the godfather of their youngest child. Their children knew him simply as Uncle Hai. Hai called to tell Christian that he and his fiancée, Vanessa, had settled on a wedding date. He asked if Christian and I would be his best man and groomsman, respectively. Christian, congratulatory and flattered, relayed the message to me and we graciously accepted. After all, Hai was a close friend of Christian and his family. Also, Christian had a ton of experience helping out in his buddies’ weddings so this was going to be fun.
Christian learned from Hai that this wedding would be an extravagant event, heavily financed by the Vanessa’s “Crazy Rich Asian” family. It would take place at a luxurious resort, complete with restaurants, shops, and attractions. A floor of suites would be reserved for the week’s festivities. The only services not paid for by Vanessa’s family would be Saul, a wedding photographer friend of Hai, and Rosa, the wedding coordinator friend of Vanessa. On the surface, this would be an all-expense paid grand reunion of brothers, friends, and families. Everything sounded great, except for one underlying detail: Vanessa and Christian were not fans of each other.
Part 2: The Bride
Vanessa was everything that Hai could want in a fiancée. She was attractive, well mannered, and in love with Hai. Vanessa got along great with Hai’s family, as did Hai with Vanessa’s family. One of the things that Hai loved most about Vanessa was her ability to become “one of the guys” during sporting events. He also admired her bubbly personality at gatherings such as coworker holiday parties. Vanessa was never the type to shy away from conversation, whether it was a trip down memory lane or a healthy debate. Hai’s friends and Vanessa felt comfortable around each other. One thing she was particularly certain of was the type of person that Hai was. Incidentally, Christian was equally as certain.
Vanessa and Christian met shortly after Christian’s youngest child was born. One night when their kids were left home with Sue’s parents, Christian and Sue took Hai and Vanessa to a local bar where they could relax. They found out more about Vanessa and how she met Hai. Vanessa heard stories about ‘Uncle Hai’ and how the kids loved playing with him. It was all casual and light-hearted until, somewhere along the way, the tone of the conversation went from comfortable to contentious. What started out as friendly banter gradually turned into a debate between Vanessa and Christian about Hai. They argued about Hai’s childhood, his work, his family, his future. Sue, preoccupied with texting her mom about the kids back home, had excused herself from the table earlier. Perhaps it was the band music blaring or the alcohol flowing, but the conversation got heated quickly and unexpectedly. Before they knew it, Vanessa and Christian were in a full-on yelling match about what kind of boyfriend Hai had been. Hai, overwhelmed, tried to downplay the reality that his girlfriend and best friend were not as close to each other as they were to him. This situation was not uncommon, but the way it was revealed was ugly.
Objectively, both Vanessa and Christian had valid points, and both thought they knew Hai better than anyone else. Additionally, Vanessa and Christian were both extroverted and could usually flow through a conversation on their charisma and composure. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. The night ended civilly, but the damage had been done. Both Vanessa and Christian still thought the world of Hai, but not so much about each other. From then on, Hai was mindful of managing his time hanging out with Christian vs. his time spent with Vanessa. Balancing buddy time and relationship time is a journey that a lot of men have traveled, and Hai became its newest traveler.
Later that year, the days leading up to the wedding were tirelessly eventful. Hai and Vanessa were busy executing their meticulous schedule of preparations. Christian and I were making ourselves available to Hai and to Rosa, the wedding coordinator. Mostly, though, we were trying to spend time with our wives and kids who were enjoying the amenities of the beautiful resort. Generally, Christian thought it best to keep his distance from Vanessa so as not to step on her toes during her week as a bride. After all, Christian had been part of enough weddings to know rule #1: never upset a bride on her wedding day. But Hai was not as seasoned, and he thought it would be no big deal when Vanessa discovered who he appointed as the best man, which was at the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding.
Part 3: The Rehearsal
The rehearsal dinner was a treat. Joining Hai and Vanessa in the private dining area were their parents, bridal party, and associated families. It was an evening of cocktails, catching-up, and comfort where our kids could run around without fear of damage to any formal clothing. Hai started out mingling with Vanessa’s family then made his way to our table, where he loosened his tie and became “Uncle Hai” again to our kids. Vanessa spent the evening posing for selfies and texting back and forth with Rosa about final decisions for the wedding the next day. I could sense that Christian wondered whether Vanessa was okay with him being the person who would hand over the wedding rings, but it was never mentioned and Vanessa was too busy with her own family to ever so much as look toward our side of the room. It almost appeared as though it never crossed her mind. This was not the case.
That night, Hai saw a different side of Vanessa. After the dinner, as families said their goodbyes and parted ways, I could see Vanessa put her head on Hai’s shoulder in what I thought was a sign of affection as he walked her back to the room before starting his bachelor party with us. I later learned that she and Hai had a fight on the walk back to their suite about Christian. Vanessa told Hai that Christian could not be the best man, and Hai was unsuccessful in negotiating with her. As Hai pleaded with her and reasoned with her, Vanessa was adamant about standing her ground as she continued to text with Rosa. Then shockingly, when they approached the door to their suite, Vanessa seemed to soften her stance a bit. She kissed Hai on the cheek and said they could discuss it further the next morning. Hai spent the rest of the night with us and Vanessa spent the rest of the night texting Rosa.
Part 4: The Elevator
The morning of the wedding was heartwarming. After breakfast, Christian and I met up with Hai in a suite designated for the men’s side of the bridal party to prepare for the wedding. Hai was already in the room, having never continued his discussion with Vanessa from the night before. Also in the room were Hai’s dad, Vanessa’s dad, one of photographer Saul’s 2nd shooters, and Roni (short for Veronica), who was Rosa’s sister and assistant wedding coordinator. In the bride’s suite were Vanessa, Saul, Rosa, Vanessa’s and Hai’s moms, and the bridesmaids/maid-of-honor. The plan was for the men to head down to the ballroom to start ushering in guests while the women in the bride’s suite finish with hair and makeup. The elevator ride down was when disaster struck.
As the elevator descended down to the ballroom floor, Roni confirmed to Rosa via radio that the men were heading down to the ballroom as per schedule. Suddenly, Vanessa’s voice blasted over the speakerbox of Roni’s radio reminding anyone listening that Christian was not to be part of the ceremony as the best man. Vanessa’s voice was bold and firm. From the corner of the elevator, all I could do was look down at my feet as I could feel a collective sigh from everyone inside. I looked up to see Hai shaking his head in shame, Roni closing her eyes in horror, and Christian cringing his lips in helplessness. It was the most awkward elevator ride of my life.
Apparently, after Vanessa’s talk with Hai after the rehearsal dinner the night before, she texted her frustrations to Rosa and Roni. Everyone who knew about her dilemma tried to talk her out of doing something dramatic, but the bride doubled-down on what she demanded and this radio announcement was the best way she thought she could be heard. Regardless of what had transpired before, what she said over the radio could not be ignored and all who were listening were past the point of no return. In the elevator, the first to do or say anything was Christian, who started unbuttoning his best man suit.
Roni timidly asked Christian if he was sure about stepping down, which Christian politely reassured her. Hai reminded Christian that he was still welcome to sit with his family as a guest and could even keep his beverage wristband, making him exempt from having to purchase high-end drinks at the bar. But Christian, in a rare move of passive-aggressive behavior, insisted that he relinquish his wristband since his mere guest status no longer qualified for the exemption. Hai, in an effort to overhaul the situation, turned to me and asked if I would stand-in as the best man. I briefly glanced at Christian, who gave me the brotherly approval, and accepted. I mistakenly tried to cut the tension by being sarcastically thrilled to be the new best man, but was only met with subtle chuckles, smirks, and then more tension. Christian handed the best man suit to Roni and said he would go back to his own family’s room where he could re-wear his regular suit that he brought with him. Roni asked if I wanted to go back to the groom’s suite to change into the best man suit, but I knew there was something I had to do first. I had to find my wife and tell her what had just happened on the elevator.
As soon as the elevator doors opened to the lobby floor of the resort, I made a beeline to the ballroom to find my wife, Chau. She was already seated at a table with Sue as our kids were blowing bubbles in the middle of an empty dance floor. So as not to cause even more confusion, I tried to get Chau’s attention without alerting Sue for the time being. Fortunately, Chau noticed me signaling her from outside the ballroom entrance and she excused herself to meet me in the foyer. I pulled her aside to explain the whole situation of Vanessa prohibiting Christian from being the best man and me taking his place; she listened intently. I tried to walk her through the events of the previous night after the rehearsal dinner, that morning of Vanessa expressing her displeasure to Rosa and Roni, and how everything fell apart in the elevator. I left out no detail and tried to address all of her questions, comments, and concerns. It took roughly 15 minutes to catch her up.
In my periphery, I could see Christian already changed back into his own suit. Before making his way to Sue and their kids, Christian ripped off his beverage wristband and reached for his wallet as he headed to the bar. I walked Chau back to her table and told Sue, who was sitting by herself, that Christian would be in shortly. I was wrong. As I scurried back toward the ballroom entrance, I saw that Christian had taken his drink to the smoke deck balcony. He was alone, looking out into the horizon, deep in his own thoughts. He was heartbroken, and I was heartbroken for him.
Part 5: The Balcony
I quickly surveyed my options: 1)try to get Christian back inside; 2)alert others of Christian’s location/condition; 3)leave him to pick himself back up and then rejoin us all in due time. I locked eyes with Chau, who could see Christian in the distance and could sense my indecisiveness. Chau, being the trooper that she has always been, motioned for me to join him out on the balcony. She pointed to herself and then to Sue, indicating that she would inform Sue that Christian and I would be on the balcony for a while. With Sue and Chau in the loop, our kids oblivious, and some time remaining before Vanessa and the bridesmaids arrived, I realized that the best place for me to be was consoling my big brother. Standing next to Christian out on the balcony, Christian and I did what we do best… we chatted.
Me: “Man, this sucks.”
Christian: “Yeah, it does.”
Me: “I hate that it had to go down like this.”
Christian: “I know, right? I mean, I don’t get it. We both care about Hai and just want what’s best for him, but Vanessa doesn’t seem to accept my place in his life. But I guess it is what it is.”
We chatted about how our wives have changed our lives. How our parents and other couples have shaped the way we view marriage. We also chatted about the friends we keep close and how some have made their way into our inner circles; how meaningful relationships grow organically by lives merging into each other instead of being forced into a false inflection point. The forced relationships end up missing each other completely or crashing into a big mess. I got the feeling that our chat was helping, though maybe not healing.
Me: “So what are you going to do?”
Christian: ”I’m not sure. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to keep a level head during the whole elevator thing. I guess I just got caught off guard.”
Me: “Yeah. I mean, you and I know that Hai still cares about you. And Vanessa does care about Hai. But they’re getting married now, just like you and Sue and me and Chau, and that’s life changing. Hopefully it works out, like it has for us and our wives, but that’s not up to us. Not directly anyway.”
Christian: “Yeah, you’re right. I guess I could just be there for him… or, for them, I should say. Down the road, if we happen to be a big part of each other’s lives, then that’s great. If not, then that’s cool too and I wish them the best. Vanessa and Hai seem really good together and what kind of friend would I be if was a constant burden on their relationship?”
Me: “Dude, I think you were absolutely being the best man today by stepping down and not having to put Hai in a predicament where he’s choosing between you and his wife. On their wedding day, no less.”
Christian: “I suppose. But actually, this is kinda perfect. You being the stand-in is probably the best scenario, even for Vanessa.”
Me: “I’m glad you feel that way. We were probably going to go along with it anyway, but it’s nice doing it with your blessing.”
Christian: “On that note, how about we head back inside? Congrats on being the new best man. This should be a fun night.”
Back in the ballroom, Chau had caught Sue up on what was going on. Hai also made his way to our two wives for an update, so as to not disturb Christian and me but still wanting to know what was happening and how it was all going to play out. As Christian and I entered the ballroom, the three of them could see that Christian was feeling better and that the wedding ceremony would continue on. Christian sat between Chau and Sue. I took my place next to Hai. The kids cleared the dance floor area and took their seats at the family table. Soon after, the emcee announced that it was time for Vanessa’s entrance.
Part 6: The 2nd Toast
The evening went along smoothly. There was food & drinks, tears & cheers, singing & dancing. Hai spent most of the night with Vanessa, I spent most of the night with Chau, Sue, Christian, and our kids. There was no confrontation between Vanessa and Christian, no mention of the ‘elephant in the room’. Perhaps there would be a conversation between Hai and Vanessa later, but not on this night… not in this ballroom… not at this wedding.
The only time Chrisitan crossed paths with Vanessa all night was when Hai and Vanessa went table-to-table with their parents to visit with all of their guests. Similar to many Asian weddings, Hai and Vanessa thanked each table for attending, posed for photos, and accepted any monetary gifts that were offered. When they arrived at our table, we raised our glasses to toast the newly married couple, gathered with the kids for a group photo, and dropped our gift envelopes into the boxes provided. Before continuing onto the next table, Vanessa did something that she had not done all night; she went around and hugged everyone at our table, including Christian. It was nonchalant, but Vanessa seemed to make it a point to put her arms around Christian. Unsurprisingly, Christian reciprocated by hugging Vanessa. It was a warm, albeit brief, moment of appreciation and acceptance from both sides. This did not go unnoticed by Chau, Sue, or me.
As the bride and groom made their way to the next table, Chau, Sue, and I took it upon ourselves to give Christian a 2nd toast, one that was more comically exaggerated and downright silly. Christian blushed in embarrassment, Hai laughed in amusement, Vanessa appeared unfazed. Photographer Saul, quick in recognizing moments of hidden magic, snapped a photo of our 2nd toast just as Hai and Vanessa were walking away in the background.