I’m at a family friend’s wedding with my brother, parents, and girlfriend—tucked into the hills along Highway 1, not too far from Hearst Castle. The ceremony is pleasant—despite the ungodly summer heat. Family and friends deliver speeches; the pastor goes through the motions; then we walk a half mile down a dirt path towards a barn, where the reception dinner is awaiting our arrival.

I mingle with relatives and acquaintances; attempt to include my girlfriend, but as usual, I find myself carried away by idle chatter. After everyone arrives, we take our assigned seats and wait patiently for our table’s opportunity to assault the mid-western inspired buffet.

One of the groom’s cousins is sitting next to me. His name is Stan. He was always around the groom’s house during the holidays, so we’re well acquainted. Stan tells me, “I started drinking in the morning; took a nap; and then kept at it after I woke up.” He gets up, and lurches over to the candlelit family vigil situated in the corner of the barn; teetering back and forth. When he returns to his seat, he begins to mumble incoherently — I try to translate his stammerings — tears well-up in his eyes, he stands up and stumbles out of the barn. 

Did anyone else see how upset he was? Doesn’t look like it. 

I wait several minutes, hoping he’ll come back … he doesn’t. So, I exit the barn and look around. I see him standing next to a fence off to the side. I walk over and notice his sagging, beltless, dust-stained pants. His sun glasses are on, but there are tear trails on his cheeks. 

I say, “What’s up?”

“Nothing, man, I’m chilling.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing. I bet if you let go of that fence, you’d be on your ass.”

“It’s my brother man. It’s fucked up. We had the same birthday, and instead of celebrating, my mom gets depressed. He was the smart one. Why’d he have to die?” (His brother died over a decade ago; smashed to bits by a semi truck while merging onto the freeway.)

Shit. I really walked into this one.

“Hey, it’s gonna be alright. He’d want you to enjoy life—you can’t beat yourself up … 

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a brother, but I know he wouldn’t want me to suffer.” I pull out all the self-help bullshit. 

“You’re right.” 

He’s heard it all before, and deep down, he knows it’s true. He starts to compose himself, but then my brother walks over. Horrible fucking timing. Stan throws his arms around him—my brother accepts the embrace with unease. Of all the people to cry on in a time of need, my brother is the last person I’d choose. I cannot remember the last time I saw my brother cry; I don’t know if it’s stoicism or apathy, but regardless, he’s one cold hearted son of a bitch.

After several minutes of drawn out sobs, Stan pulls it together, and we return to the table. He continues to drink and heads over to the bar for another round. By now, he can barely stand — so they cut him off. Good call. I know people like Stan, they don’t know how to stop—you’d have to tie him up or knock him out, and I don’t see any rope.

Everyone transitions to post-dinner small talk — tables and chairs are shuffled around to provide ample space for dancing. I forget about Stan for a while — chat with some acquaintances from college, and utterly fail to keep my girlfriend in the loop. 

Que the music. Somehow, Stan is still standing, and dancing—not in the classical sense—mostly head-nodding and side-to-side staggering. I try my best to dance with my girl and enjoy the rest of the evening, but Stan is creeping on the bride’s family and friends—guests are staring at him in disbelief. At this point, I’ve lost all sympathy for Stan; all decency is out the window — he’s groping women, eyes rolling loosely in their sockets; I genuinely want to throat punch him and drag him out back to sleep it off. 

Where’s the groom’s family? Oblivious I guess.

I storm over to the groom’s parents and younger brother, “Hey, you need to get Stan out of here. He’s making a scene.”

John, the younger brother, replies, “He’s fine—stop broadcasting.” (This is the second or third time I’ve urged John to intervene.)

“Fine?! Are you blind? Look at him.”

The bride stomps over and yells, “You need to get Stan out of here before he throws up on someone!”

And just like that, John grabs Stan and hauls him outside. 

Ten o’clock strikes and the party’s over. Thank God.Later, I wonder, why was I the only one helping Stan? Was his family unaware of his pain, or were they just averting their gaze?I know one thing for sure: if Stan doesn’t get help, the next family gathering won’t be a wedding.

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