It is 2004, my first trip to Vegas and I will finally get to meet Jeff’s sole cousin, Ryan (I have a couple dozen cousins, so this one-cousinthing is a surprise to me.) Ryan and Robin are getting married one week before Christmas, and Jeff and I are full of excitement: A wedding, reuniting with a family member that has meant so much to Jeff, and Vegas of course!
We arrive at the newly opened Marriot Renaissance and were upgraded to a room on the club floor. Sweet! We hit the strip to explore, as much as we can after working all day and suffering a 3-hour loss due to time zone changes. We don’t push ourselves too much this first night, as we have all weekend and we are tired.
Kick off the next day with tapas and Sangria at a restaurant on the strip, then we proceed to sight see and shop all day. Around the time we start thinking of walking back to the hotel, Jeff suggests we get a cab. I look at him oddly – we love to walk … “I’m not feeling all that great,” he says. Hmm. OK, cab it is.
By the time we get to the rehearsal dinner a couple of hours later, Jeff is pale-faced and shaky. Something is clearly wrong. He stops in the bathroom at the Paris hotel and notices a sign warning people of a virus making its way around the city. He’s a trooper, though, and we are seated at a table with many members of the bride’s family – none of whom we know. The staff brings out the first course – lobster bisque soup – and Jeff’s expression is a tell-all. “I have to go,” he whispers to me, and slips out as quickly as he quietly can.
So here I am, in Las Vegas, at a table with nobody I know. The 3 people I do know – the groom’s parents and grandmother – are way too busy playing their wedding roles to really notice Jeff has gone. Robin’s family doesn’t miss a beat, however – they instantly begin asking me questions about myself, including me in conversation, inviting me out after dinner. What a wonderful, welcoming family.
The next morning, I wake up to a very sick Jeff. The sickest I’ve ever seen him. I walk down the hall for breakfast, bringing a newspaper and intending to eat alone, when I see Robin and some other women. “Melissa!” she calls me over to them and invites me to eat breakfast with them.
This is her wedding day and the chatter is fun and loving and hopeful and excited. Just being in the presence of these women is so entertaining and endearing. As I start to settle into breakfast, I notice who I am really sitting with. Robin’s mother. Her sister. Her best friend. She is surrounded by the women who mean the most to her, and she has invited me – a stranger before last night – to share her last breakfast as a single woman.
There are no words to say how much this has touched me, and I am torn between wanting to make an excuse to allow them their precious last moments and wanting to stay all day and enjoy the love that is radiating. I choose neither; I stay for breakfast only then rejoin Jeff’s aunt, uncle and grandmother, as the groom’s family rarely has a lot to do the day of the wedding.
Jeff has the strength to make it to the wedding that evening, but barely. He laughs in pride at me, as we walk into the reception and everyone seems to know us as “Melissa and her date.” This is his family, after all.
Jeff attributes this to my ability to be social and make friends anywhere. While I would like to think so, I have to say honestly this time it was not me – no, this time it was Robin and her family, the ultimate hosts and hostesses to a girl they barely know on a day that is much larger than a dateless guest.