Each Day I Love You More
by Brittany Ackerman
I need one more elective to graduate and the only option is a yoga class that meets in the basement of the Wildermuth Intramural Center. It takes me twenty-five minutes to walk there in the snow. All of my friends took their electives freshman year, but I had stocked up on as many writing workshops as possible. I’ve never done yoga before. I always thought it was an activity meant for tall, skinny girls to become even taller and skinnier, or for guys who drank coconut water had their tongues and penises pierced. But I choose yoga because tennis, Pilates, basketball, karate, even water polo, are all already taken.
When we get to class, our instructor, Mary, is already sitting cross-legged on a mat. All ten of us students have to drag a mat down from the pile and across the room to our designated spot on the floor. Mary is a woman in her fifties with small eyes and a head full of curls. She wears baggy cargo pants and thermal shirts and cozy socks. She’s tall, but that’s about the only thing that makes her body scream yogi to me. Otherwise, she looks like any lady you’d find at Kroger on a Tuesday night.
The class is all girls except for one guy named Jeremy who is always chomping on a granola bar before or after class, or both. For the first few weeks of class, no one really talks to each other, as college courses usually go. It’s clear that we’re all here because we have to be.
The walk from my apartment in the middle of town to the school’s gymnasium grows more and more depressing and long. This is especially true after class when the sky turns dark. Jeremy lingers one day, taking extra time putting on his shoes and placing his hand-woven beanie back on his head. As I wrap my scarf around my neck he asks if I want to grab a bite to eat at the student union.
I had been so lonely all fall in between the hopeful bouts of a love that was slowly disintegrating. My three roommates all have long-term boyfriends, and when I hear their headboards slamming against their bedroom walls at night, I sometimes long for another body beside me, inside me, above me, below me. Instead, I re-watch Disney’s Alice in Wonderland again and again, always falling asleep as soon as Alice shrinks down and steps into the flower garden.
I sit with Jeremy at the cafeteria and watch him eat a quesadilla, periodically taking a spoon and plopping a dollop of sour cream onto his next bite. I’m starving, but don’t know how to eat in front of people. I sip on a hot tea.
“I feel so good after that class,” Jeremy says, and I’m not sure how to respond. It isn’t an invitation for me to speak, really, so I just nod and sip my hot drink. “Man, I need to get fucking laid,” he continues and I nearly spit the tea out of my mouth.
“That’s a bit forward,” I say.
“Oh, I didn’t mean like, from you, or with you. I have a girlfriend. We just like, haven’t sealed the deal yet. I’m hoping it happens tonight.”
“Why did you ask me to come with you then?”
“No offense, but you just looked sad.” It’s true. I am sad, but the fact that even someone like Jeremy is able to see that is really unfortunate.
“Maybe I’m just like, really calm from the yoga. Tranquil.”
“Nah, you’re one of those sad girls. You like to cry and masturbate with your tears.” There’s an awkward pause. “I’m just kidding,” he says waving his quesadilla around like a sword, pointing it at me.
“I’m a writer,” I say. It feels weird to say aloud and not just to myself in my head repeatedly in times of cobbling together a story. “Writers can appear that way, I guess, but we can also be fun.”
“Oh really?” Jeremy asks and leans back in his chair, almost tipping it over and falling but then catching himself and sitting upright again.
“Yeah, like, I go out to bars and stuff. I like Nick’s and The Tavern and O’Henrys Pub.” The conversation is beginning to feel like an interview for a job I don’t want.
“That’s cool. Well, a bunch of us are going to go bowling this weekend if you want to come.”
“I’m actually flying to Florida this weekend. My cousin is getting married and I’m a bridesmaid.”
“That sounds like a really elaborate excuse not to hangout with me.”
“I’m really going to Florida. And how would your girlfriend feel about me coming to your bowling outing?”
“If she doesn’t sleep with me tonight I might end things. A man has needs, you know?”
“Sure,” I say and follow Jeremy’s lead as he gets up from the table to empty his tray and moves toward the door. We bundle up again and Jeremy holds the door for me. I nod a “thank you.” Jeremy asks for my phone to input his number, suggesting that I might need to text him while I’m in Florida, if I’m bored or need advice on who to have sex with at the wedding or something. I let him type it in and we go our separate ways.
As I walk back to my shared apartment, I dread finding my roommates and their boyfriends watching a movie on the couch, or entering to the sounds of them rushing to get ready for date night. They will ask me which top goes best with which skirt, which boots to wear, if they should tie their hair up on the top of their heads or just keep it down and flowing on their shoulders. I will oblige and choose their outfits for them, I will point to a shoe, to a shade of eye shadow. I will wait until they leave so I can boil water and cook a cup of plain pasta for myself. I will sit at my desk and check my email, see if my ex-boyfriend, Noah, has written me. He won’t. I will contemplate calling him while I shower and put on my pajamas. I will not go to the bars that I had lied to Jeremy about. I will take ZZZquil and watch Alice in Wonderland, struggling to stay awake while the caterpillar questions her, his tone exaggerated and voice slow as he asks, “Who…are…you?”
My flight is nearly empty. I end up having an entire row to myself and put all the seat dividers up so I can spread across the row and sleep. It’s a short flight. As we begin our descent into Florida, the pilot comes on the speaker and says its raining and we might have some turbulence. The stewardess comes by to check that everyone’s got their seatbelts securely fastened and she asks me to return to my takeoff position. I slide my legs off the seats next to me and sit forward. The plane starts to drop and then come back up, drop and then come back up. I open the window shade and it’s dark with rain even though it’s only the afternoon.
I really don’t want to die on my way to my cousin’s wedding. It would just be such a shitty way to go. I have no one to hold or pray with or say goodbye to. I remember something from yoga class that Mary said about being attached to our thinking, that with each breath, yoga lets you separate from your thoughts and simply notice them, as if they were clouds passing you by on a park bench. I try to let the thoughts just happen and float away but I feel an impending doom, like somehow even just by trying to meditate or whatever this is, I’m getting closer to the death, not further away.
But the plane settles and when I look out my window I catch a glimpse of land below. We descend slowly and the pilot welcomes us to Fort Lauderdale as we touch down. I turn my phone back on and there’s already a text from my mom asking if I’ve landed yet.
The night before the wedding, my cousin has a bachelorette dinner that also serves as a welcome dinner for all the bridesmaids. My mom drops me off at Baja Cantina and I walk in alone. The restaurant is right next to the train tracks off of Dixie Highway, but once inside, the only thing I hear is the party of women in the back corner. Claire is wearing a bright pink dress and a tiara with a sash that reads “BRIDE” slung across her chest. I hadn’t been sure what to wear, so I went with skinny jeans and a black silk top with wedge heels. When she sees me, she lets out a scream and runs to hug me. She’s holding a comically large margarita and when she embraces me the liquid inside the huge goblet sloshes up the side of the glass and spills on my arm.
“This is my little cousin!” Claire screams to the group of women who are all in short, tight dresses and peep toe heels. Everyone is wearing a lot of makeup. “I’m so glad you made it!”
I’ve never been super close to Claire, but she is the only cousin I have on my mom’s side of the family. When I asked her if my mom could come to the dinner she had said it was for bridesmaids only, and I have to admit it made me feel some air of importance. But now, standing in the restaurant with the women and their candy-colored outfits and the tequila on my skin, I only feel terror.
I haven’t liked being around drunk people because of my brother, all of his issues. I didn’t like the way he’d nod off or pass out, how he’d forget we were in a movie theater or at a family dinner and just blackout and leave the responsibility of how he got from point A to B up to us, his family, but mostly me. My parents played the denial game and ignored his problems and I was usually the one to drive him home, his body slumped over in the passenger seat of the car, unresponsive, and then the next day not saying thank you, not remembering what had happened. At his high school graduation, I watched his eyes glazing over intermittently, staring at something that didn’t exist in the distance, and bit my fingernails down to stubs worrying if he’d make it across the stage, let alone to the end of the ceremony. He did, and then fell asleep in his spaghetti and meatballs at his own celebration dinner.
I hadn’t seen my brother since the summer though. He was in another rehab center or in another halfway house, I couldn’t keep up, and I had told my mom I no longer wanted to be around him unless he was clean. I hadn’t asked my mom if he would be attending the wedding since I assumed and hoped he wouldn’t. I didn’t think he was ready to take on the temptation of an event like this, all that free booze at the open bar.
I get through the bachelorette dinner by repeatedly excusing myself to go to the bathroom and spending a long time looking at myself in the mirror. I imagine that I’m back together with Noah and he’s waiting back at the table for me. I envision him paying the check and seeing if I want to go for dessert or if I’d rather head home and watch a movie. I imagine Jeremy and his friends at the bowling alley, me walking up to them and the mystery of who I am falling over the group.
One of the bridesmaids bursts into the bathroom proclaiming she has to vomit. I exit quickly and return the table. I take my phone out of my purse and text Jeremy. I figure I can pretend I’m drunk and use that as an excuse as to why I’m reaching out to him.
I think I’m really attached to my thinking, I text him.
No shit, he responds almost right away.
How’s the bowling alley? I text back and eat some of the chips and salsa in the center of the table. All the other ladies are shimmying their shoulders and shaking their butts, singing along to some pop song on the dance floor near the bar.
That was hours ago. I’m just home now, about to jerk off. Wanna see?
I’m almost drunk enough to say yes.
Don’t tempt me.
No sex from your gf?
Nah, that bitch is done. We r over.
It’s chill. How’s the wedding? U drunk?
Wedding is tmr. tn is the bachelorette and yes I’m buzzed.
I want to ask Jeremy how to not think so much, how to just let go and have a good time, like the way I’m pretending to. I want to know how he’s so able to be honest, put his needs first, to live his life in a way that is to his advantage and not always doing things for other people. But instead I stop responding, and he doesn’t text again either. It feels okay though, like we both got what we wanted somehow.
Claire runs over to the table and reaches her hands out, begging me to dance, but I shake my head no and continue to watch all the women as they hug and sway and flip their hair and toss back their drinks and live their lives.
Claire wants my hair in an up do. At the salon, the bridesmaids from the night before sit in chairs and have their hair spun around hot irons, their faces caked with makeup. Everyone sips flutes of champagne and I drink a hot, black coffee. I’m not sure how the women are all in such high spirits, no one complaining of hangovers. Instead, they fawn over Claire and obsess over their own dresses, steaming and pinning and readying themselves for the evening.
As the stylist curls and pins my hair onto the top of my head, Claire appears at my shoulder and kneels down next to me. She looks at the mirror and into my eyes while she talks.
“Can you read this over for me?” Claire asks and I realize she’s really looking at herself in the mirror and squinting, checking her frown lines and the elasticity of her own face. I look down at what she’s placed in my lap, a notebook filled with her vows.
“Sure,” I say, trying to emulate the bridal party spirit. “You want notes or edits or just another set of eyes?” I try to find her gaze in the mirror but she’s lost in something else. She doesn’t know what it means to edit a document, to critique and comment and revise as I’ve learned in my college workshops rooms. I’ve had peers write longwinded endnotes about what they loved, what they didn’t understand, what they wanted more of, less of, what to cut completely. I think maybe Claire just wants praise, assurance. She wants to be told her vows are good.
“You’re the writer in the family,” Claire says. She’s finally looking at me, not through the mirror but with her eyes meeting my own. “I trust your opinion.”
Claire bounces off to get her face painted and I open the notebook. The vows seem pretty standard as far as what I’ve heard in the movies and TV shows. There are promises of caring for each other through sickness and in health, there are moments of gratitude for the other’s existence and strength. If it were me, I’d probably add a joke or two in my vows, but it’s Claire, and she’s always been more traditional and sentimental. The last line catches me, I vow to love you more each day. I had always assumed if I ever got married, the love would already be so great that it couldn’t possibly grow anymore or it would burst. But the line hits me in a sense that maybe the love can be for Claire too, for herself— that maybe you have to love yourself more each day in order to love the other person in return.
When my hair is done, I hop out of the chair and give the notebook back to Claire.
“They’re beautiful,” I tell her. “Just perfect.”
We hug and then the makeup artist taps me on the shoulder and leads me to another chair. I close my eyes and she tells me I don’t have to until it’s time for eye shadow. I tell her it’s okay, that I want to relax a little before the big night. She continues on without speaking, without any questions about how I know the bride or if I have a date or if I want to get married someday. The softness of the makeup brushes against my skin almost lulls me to sleep.
I grew up doing gymnastics, but still, yoga is difficult for me. I always feel so drained at the end of every class, my body sore the next day. I’m able to do a lot of the yoga poses though, which Mary call “asanas.” Handstands and headstands are no problem, along with backbends, bridge pose, etc. But the one pose that I just cannot do is crow pose. In crow pose, you’re supposed to lean from a yoga squat and push all your weight forward onto your hands, tucking your knees into your armpits in order to balance in the shape of a crow. Every single time I either fall forward, rolling into an embarrassing somersault on my yoga mat, or I just buckle under the pressure and flop back down. Sometimes I just give up all together and take a child’s pose, stretching back on my knees, face and body to the ground.
One day during class, Mary walks around the room and adjusts everyone’s poses. When she gets to me she leans down next to me in my child’s pose.
“I always had trouble with crow too,” she whispers and I tuck my head under my arm to look at her. “Yoga isn’t about holding the asanas though, it’s about how you let go of the poses.”
Mary places her palms on my lower back and pushes my body down deeper into the mat. For a moment I’m able to forget about the rest of the room, whether or not Jeremy has his eyes on me, whether anyone else is letting their crow fly or who else might be face down, resting, accepting what their bodies need.
The music is so loud in the ballroom. The ceremony had gone off without a hitch, besides a bit of wind and someone’s niece having a tantrum. Claire cried while giving her vows. But she wiped her tears quickly to preserve her makeup. She took a deep breath before she read, “Each day, I love you more,”—a departure from the words I’d read in her notebook, but a good edit, I thought. A statement rather than a promise. Truth rather than hope.
As we wait for the couple to walk through the doors and have their first dance, I see my mom, dad, and brother altogether. My mom and brother stand and face each other having a quiet conversation. My brother is in a nice black suit and I wonder where or how he could have acquired it. I’m seated at the bridesmaids’ table and all the women are taking selfies and promising to keep in touch with each other after this is all over. I think about going over to my brother but then Claire and her new husband walk in and everyone stands and cheers.
After the first dance, everyone sits for salad and when I turn to look for my brother again he’s gone. My mom is sitting and talking to the other people at her table and I look around the room but my brother is nowhere. I check my phone and I have a message from Jeremy.
Can you come back already? he writes.
Be back Monday.
What ru wearing?
My dress is called the Marissa and it’s in the color Neptune.
Very funny. Send me a sexy pic.
Just then my brother taps me on the shoulder.
“Hey, can we go outside?” he asks and I quickly stash my phone in my clutch.
I forego my salad and we walk out of the ballroom. I follow him through a set of double doors that lead outside. It’s gotten much windier than earlier and I regret not taking my shawl with me, the one I borrowed from my mom for tonight.
My brother immediately lights a cigarette and leans on a railing that overlooks the beach. The whole wedding setup has disappeared from the sand, all the chairs and the giant arch adorned with seashells and white roses. I imagine them all packed up and put away in the underbelly of the hotel.
“I thought maybe you’d be here with Noah,” he says and sounds like a jealous boyfriend. I can’t tell if he’s happy I’m here alone or feels sorry for me. But he’s also here alone.
“That was a long time ago,” I say.
“He had some kind of power over you,” my brother says. The cigarette he smokes is the same kind he’s been smoking for as long as I can remember. In my head he is perpetually blowing smoke over a railing and I am forever holding my breath for what he will do next.
“How are you?” I ask, wanting very much to change the subject and he laughs, pulls a flask out of his jacket and tips it back into his mouth. He hands it to me and I drink a sip in solidarity, in fear.
“I don’t think Claire really wants me here, but mom told me to come…to just…” he trails off. He takes another swig and offers me more but I wave it away.
“Well, you did the right thing,” I say even though I don’t know if I believe that.
“I’m going to give Claire a hug and leave, I think.”
When Noah broke up with me, I stopped leaving the house and stopped eating. My brother came by to pick up some mail and I heard my mom explain to him what had happened. I listened as the conversation came to a closer, as he lingered but didn’t take the steps to my room to come and see me. He didn’t tell me that it was okay to get your heart broken or that I’d find someone else. Eventually I heard the front door shut.
“I love you,” I say because I haven’t said it in a while and maybe it’ll help, maybe he needs to hear it, maybe he doesn’t know, but how could he not know? Before he can respond or not respond I hug him from the side and cling onto his arm. I stay outside when he walks away and watch him reenter the wedding.
When it gets too cold, I walk inside, making a beeline for the bathroom. I assume that dinner is being served by now and that most people are enjoying their chicken or beef. I stand in front of the mirror and take a picture of myself on my phone, not smiling, with my lips slightly parted. I look at it in the camera roll and it just looks depressing, not sexy. I try to push my cleavage together and take another.
“Ugh, can you help me!?” Claire asks barges in.
“With your dress?” I ask motioning to the layers and layers of taffeta in her gown.
“Yeah, I gotta pee so bad!” Claire laughs.
I walk Claire into one of the stalls and help hold the fabric of her dress up while she uses the bathroom. We have to leave the door open so it’s not claustrophobic.
“Thanks, cuz,” Claire says and I realize she’s drunk. “Are you having fun?”
“Yes, everything is so beautiful,” I say to be nice. “Did you see my brother?”
“No, is he here? Shit, I need to give him the biggest hug ever!”
I wonder if she’s so drunk she doesn’t remember seeing him or if he ended up leaving without saying hello to her.
“Do you think I, like, just made a huge mistake?” Claire asks. Her face is sallow all of a sudden and I can see the makeup caked on her cheeks and forehead. She’s wearing a set of pearl earrings that look childish and strange.
“What? No. You’re in love. Everything is great!” I say and she stands. I help her flatten the dress back down her body.
“My real dream has always been to move to Key West and become a dolphin trainer. And like, what if I never get to do that? Like, your dream is to be a writer, but you never let anyone get in your way. You just are a writer. It’s just who you are.”
Claire turns to face the mirror and begins fixing her hair, making sure everything is in place. I’m not sure what to say, but I don’t think it would be the right time to tell her that I am worried too. What if I don’t ever become a real writer? If I’ve learned anything in my writing classes it’s that the road to becoming a writer is a long one and that I’m only just getting started. And I let people get in my way all the time, mostly myself.
“I don’t know, sorry,” Claire finally says. “I’m just a little tipsy. But for real, I am proud of you, cuz, you’re a superstar.”
We leave the bathroom together and I return to my seat at the table. I take my phone out and text Jeremy.
This wedding is a shit show.
LOL. Where is my pic?
I’m sry, I just saw my brother and it was just a lot.
He doesn’t respond.
Can I call you for a second? I ask.
Gillian is here.
My mind flashes back to college and back to the long walks in the cold. Eventually the snow will dissolve itself into spring. I think of finishing up my semester of yoga, how I’ll have to feel Jeremy’s eyes on me, wonder if he’ll try to speak to me after class, or if he’ll simply avoid me, pretend nothing ever happened even though nothing ever did happen.
I throw my phone in my clutch and look around the ballroom. The cake is being rolled out on a cart and Claire and her new husband smile for pictures as they feed each other small bites. I walk over to my mom’s table and sit in a vacant chair next to her. My mom passes me a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries with little tuxedos made of icing painted onto their bodies.
“You missed these,” she says.
“I want to go home,” I say.
“We’re not doing that, just because you’re like this again. We’re staying, we’re staying until the end.” She bites into one of the strawberries making it naked again, the chocolate tuxedo ripped away all of a sudden. She doesn’t look at me. She looks out to the crowd and I wonder if she’s looking for my brother. I wonder if she’s looking for something she doesn’t have, couldn’t possibly have because all she has is here in this room. I want to know if she loves me more each day, or if there’s anything I can do, anything I’ve already done to make her love me less.
The servers pass out pieces of cake to everyone. I glance at my phone quickly and see a message from Jeremy, You have so many things wrong.
The DJ does a call for the last dance and my mom taps me on the shoulder, grabs my arms and brings me up to my feet. My dad stands up too and all the wedding guests gather in a circle, hand in hand, around the bride and groom forming a chain of love. I’m in between my mom and dad and I notice how soft and cold my mom’s hand is in comparison to my dad whose hand is warm and rough. I see Claire trying to make eye contact with each and every one of her guests, a last effort to thank us, to appreciate this final moment of her wedding day, to program the memory in her brain as the best and most unforgettable day of her life. When her eyes meet mine she starts to tear up and I unclasp my hands momentarily to blow her a kiss, which she catches and pulls to her chest. She moves on through the crowd, locking eyes and making connections, each person a small gift she can keep forever in her heart.
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She earned her BA in English from Indiana University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She currently teaches Personal Essay I & II at UCLA’s Extension program and will be joining Vanderbilt University’s English Department in the Fall. She is a 2x Pushcart Prize Nominee and her work has been featured in Electric Literature, Jewish Book Council, Lit Hub, Entropy, The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, and more. Her first collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine was published with Red Hen Press in 2018, and her debut novel The Brittanys is out now with Vintage. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Image source: Anthony DELANOIX/Unsplash