“Wheres the 12th one?” my wife said, more a statement than a question.
“Um…the twelfth of what?”
Using my plastic fork–a particularly cheap airport varietal–I poked my nachos around and avoided all eye contact.
“What else are we bringing a dozen boxes of to Europe?” Melissa snapped and opened the blue duffle towards me.
The truth is, I knew the truth. And I was not proud.
Two months ago, my estranged childhood friend, Damien, whom I hadn’t seen in 12 years, had invited us to his wedding.
At a villa. In the South of France.
This unreal trip was a reminder that when your friends write “K.I.T. xoxo” in your middle school yearbook, you should actually keep in touch.
It could mean a villa. In the South of France.
And the only gift Damien asked us to bring was ourselves.
It felt criminal to bring nothing. After all, did I mention this wedding was at a villa?
And was in the South of France?
So we pushed further. Damien finally broke and confessed that there was in fact something that we could bring.
A single box of Pop Tarts.
Somewhere, resting on idle but immutable in Damien’s clouded childhood memory of America was an edible breakfast pastry–edible if we’re being generous with our compliments.
And it was a request so pure of heart, so charming and so confusing, that I went to the nearest pharmacy that day and bought 12 boxes, one for every year we’d spent apart.
Each box held 4 packets.
Each packet held two Pop Tarts.
Some back of the napkin math would tell you there were 96 Pop Tarts in total.
That meant I would have to show self-control for two months while 96 Pop Tarts–some even s’more-flavored–sat in our pantry.
And so there was my wife holding the blue duffel splayed open. 11 (frankly) accusatory boxes stared back at me demanding mob justice. I pretended to focus on the Newark Airport departures screen, still a few hours from our flight.
“Honestly, he probably wouldn’t like the s’more flavor,” I explained limply.
She looked back at me, unimpressed. “And what about the Eiffel Tower?”
She was right.
4, 3, 2, and 1 would make a triangle out of ten boxes. 2 more at the top for the spire. At the wedding, I was going to hashtag the Facebook photo “#LaTartEiffel.”
Now TartEiffel would just be a pyramid pitching a tiny chub.
Which reminded me, Damien hadn’t commented on my photo of the blue duffel I took when we arrived at the airport. I shot a Whatsapp text to him to check his Facebook.
A response arrived.
“Hey Adi! So excited you’re able to make it to the wedding. Quick request, Elo and I aren’t putting our pictures of the wedding on social media. If you could try to not post any photos during the wedding, I would appreciate it.”
I twitched while reading it.
I felt like I had gotten my wrist slapped.
“That’s enough nachos,” Melissa said, and slapped my wrist more literally.
I swirled my thoughts around about Damien’s request on the red eye over. But the international flight’s free beer and wine and the ticking clock slowly put me to bed along with happy thoughts.
A villa in the South of France, wow. Just wow.
Why don’t they don’t just call it Southern France or South France?
You don’t hear anyone say ‘I’m visiting the South of Pole
Hehe, South of Pole. I bet she’d like to visit South of Pole
And that was my final deep thought of the day.
We arrived at the wedding the next day. Mel and I looked at each other and just lost it.
Olive trees across the entire property. Old stone castles. Massive cheese trays sitting out in the summer sun. Horses drawing guests to and fro the property.
We’d arrived a day early to see Damien, Elo, and their friends working on setup.
My wife immediately ingratiated herself to the friend group with her knowledge of flower arrangements. Knowing nothing of this world, I sat and stripped leaves off branches with my fingers to make confetti for the wedding ceremony.
A pathetic scene, I sat hunched over and alone. A quasi-Quasimodo.
When my hands started to get raw, I switched to drinking wine and taking photos of the flower arrangements being assembled.
I’d interpreted Damien’s request as “photos are ok just don’t post them on social media.”
The next morning was the ceremony.
Though my middle school French could only pick up the first three words “Madames et Monsieurs,” I took video of the entire procession.
And as they walked out to their carriage, my single hand with calloused fingers raised above the crowd and used the phone to slow-motion capture the leaves flying through the air.
The leaves added jagged edges to rounded, smiling faces and stuck firmly to those with not-so-dry eyes. Myself included.
At the cocktail hour, sea snails, oysters, Cuban cigars, and chocolate fountains were sprinkled throughout. Perfect for macros/portrait mode shots.
Dinner’s table assignments were found with polaroids of you and the groom or bride. I picked up the picture of me and Damien from 12 years ago. I held our younger selves in my hand.
He smiled back clearly at me without his current beard. I brandished a giant Knicks foam finger outside Madison Square Garden, also beardlessly. With a quick sleight of hand, I took a quick photo of the photo before anyone could see.
I memorialized the inside jokes and wedding speeches at dinner with video and that led us to the night, which was complete bacchanalia.
Around 6am, only halfway through the dancing, they started handing out masks. I took a Super Mario face and grabbed Damien’s best man, Ben, and explained my idea to him.
We went into the bathroom. I took off my shirt and he helped me re-button it with the buttons going up my back. We put the Mario face on the back of my head so it looked like my front.
My back/Mario’s front danced the night away while my front/me conversed with the wallflowers through cigar smoke and an eau de what was mostly rum.
Would’ve been a cool video, I thought, but my shirt had become a strait jacket of sorts making it difficult to access my phone.
There was a poolside brunch the next morning, most of which was a blur, having only slept from 10am to 10:45am.
We said our goodbyes and then began the long flight home, exhausted and happy.
When I got home, I began to miss our new friends. Clutching my phone, I started swiping through the photos, starting from the last day’s poolside shots.
Here were all these peculiar creatures, playing boardgames on a board with just 6 people instead of teaming up globally on a virtual island to kill 100s with a shovel.
Eating fine cheeses and beautiful homemade breads but ripping off pieces of both and tossing their food onto napkins in a haphazard and completely un-Instagrammable fashion.
And their strange smiles and laughter, always a cacophony of asymmetrical notes. Their heads always tilted back, impossible for me to get a flattering angle of them.
A sinking feeling took over me.
What was this moment in time and what was the point of all these photos?
Would I ever meet these people again?
I got interrupted by a Whatsapp message.
“Hey Adi, it was awesome having you come for the wedding and partying together until sunrise! We were also touched by your gift. For sure we will do our best to see you next summer in the USA. Take care. Hugs and kisses to you both.”
I saw he was still typing.
“Oh, Ben also made you this gif.”
It was of me and Mario me dancing, perfectly clipped as if I was dancing forever.
Then a second photo came in.
In the foreground, Damien held one box of Pop Tarts and what I assume was a smile behind his beard.
In the background was a 3 2 1 triangle with a 1 1 1 spire. As I counted them up and the one in his hand, I realized the eleventh box was already missing.
I started laughing out loud with no one around.
“Don’t eat them all at once,” I texted back, holding back tears. “They can last basically forever.”
Three dots appeared indicating Damien was typing.
The dots disappeared.
It felt like forever.
But then a message appeared.