Graphic by Rachel Yoon / North by Northwestern

Weddings are a lot like funerals, the bride thought, as she walked down the aisle to the soft melody of “Canon in D” — except invitations only extend to the living. The silky white fabric of her dress flutters as a breeze passes down the aisle. Her bouquet is overflowing with twirling green vines and dusty pink peonies. It weighs heavy in her hand. The absence of a father wrapped around her arm might be obvious to the audience but isn’t apparent to the bride. The ceremony is small, with only a few rows of flower-adorned chairs. The towering Oregon forest arches overhead, shielding the bride from the midday sun. It’s cozy and ethereal — her father simply would not belong. But the bride is not thinking about her father. She is thinking about her brother, as she always does. Feeling the eyes of the audience trained on her, she reminisces about all the days of her life that led up to today, desperately wishing she could see the ones that will come after.

In the last row, to her right, sits her uncle, who once told her that she was growing into a fine young woman on her 16th birthday. Minutes later, her brother discretely dropped an ice cube down the back of his shirt. The bride feels a smile creep onto her face as she recalls her uncle leaping out of his seat with a shriek, dancing like a monkey on fire. Further down the row is the bride’s cousin, who chased her around with his Nerf gun when they were kids. Hours before the church trip on Easter day when she was seven, he had the bride sprinting for her life in her pastel tulle dress. She remembers laughter, panting and the sharp sting of a foam pellet striking her far too fast to be considered a ‘toy.’ Sweat dripped down her neck, and her tight curls turned into a frizzy mess, the absolute apocalypse of a hairdo her mother spent an hour on. The look of disdain from her grandmother burned in her brain as she pointed to the sweat-stained armpits of her dress. Girls shouldn’t play that hard. The wicked grin on her brother’s face as he shouted, only if you're a thousand years old! and then dashed off, cackling.

The bride takes a deep breath, putting one foot in front of the other, gliding down the aisle. Her eyes flit over to the right side of the altar where her best friend stands, holding a smaller bouquet of pink peonies. She remembers being indebted college graduates who forgot to pay the gas bill on their new apartment. They tried to microwave boxed Mac N’ Cheese and left the entire place consumed with the stench of burnt powdered cheese for days. The bride thinks back to when her best friend’s boyfriend cheated. The tears and pink faces. The revenge playlist they blasted. The glitter bombs they sent.

The smooth fabric of her dress caresses her legs as she walks down the aisle, and she’s pulled back to the long days spent wedding dress shopping. And how all she could think about was how her brother was missing out. She knew he would’ve loved it. When the bride watched Say Yes to the Dress in high school, her brother would pause in the doorway, transfixed, before making his way to the couch. He would be glued to his seat for hours on end, laughing, and stealing handfuls of cheese puffs out of the bride’s bowl.

The one day her mother couldn’t make it was the day she found The Dress. The bride walked out of the dressing room lit up, practically on fire, just for her best friend to wrinkle her nose and say I just don’t think that’s the one.

In the front row, the bride spots her mother, practically bending backward in her chair to get a good look at her daughter. Neck craned around, her string of pearls twisted, eyes captivated by the spitting image of herself 28 years prior. The mother’s large head of curly white hair wrestled back into a plait. You’re too beautiful to not be wickedly smart, her mother would always tell her. The bride never really knew what she meant until she got her heart broken by a boy who claimed to be a poet but dared to ask her what solipsistic meant when she spat it at him in an argument. I told you to never date a self-proclaimed poet or a philosophy major! Her brother reminded her, tugging on her pigtails playfully before delicately wiping the tears off her cheek.

The mother’s eyes are glistening now, and the bride recalls the first time she saw her cry. The bride was too young to understand why her father left his wife and kids that first time, and she doesn’t remember what story her mother spun for her. What the bride does remember was her father giving away her brother’s teacup poodle, who had the gall to grow to be the size of a coffee mug. You thought a puppy wouldn’t grow up? Her mother screeched incredulously. It’s too big, I don’t want it anymore. So he gave it away. The bride’s brother cried and cried. Just like that? Her mother asked. Just like that. He said.

The chair in the first row, closest to the aisle, is empty. The bride’s hand grazes the peonies that are clustered by the arm. She takes a deep breath, the hole in her heart aching softly, before looking up. The groom stands in front of her in his crisp black tux. Her heart swells as she meets his gentle eyes. A soft smile spreads across his face as he admires his glowing bride. His hands are clenched behind his back tightly, fidgeting. Anticipation. Enthusiasm. Adoration. For a split second, the bride wishes she could fly to the future, just to take a peek at what they’ll become.

“Repeat after me,” the officiant says. But the bride hears the echo of an elderly woman’s voice instead.


“Repeat after me! I will not waste away my life!” Annemarie admonishes.

“I will not waste away my life,” the bride repeats, humoring her beloved patient as she checks the IV fluid hanging next to the woman’s bed. Annemarie’s silvery hair and delicate skin starkly contrast the conviction that reverberates in her every word. Kind smile, raucous laugh and a million lines on her face. Each captures a thousand memories. A thousand decisions made and annulled.

“I wanted to be a nurse once,” she told the bride. “Then I got sick, and I changed my mind!” Annemarie guffawed, her hoarse, rattling voice booming with the strength her body lacks.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Annemarie's eyes widen as she fixates on the bride’s left hand. “Now, what is that?

“I have some news, Annemarie.”

“Well, I can see that!”

“I’m getting married in the spring.”

“To him or his trust fund?” The ring is giant, gorgeous and glistening.

“To a lovely man.”

Annemarie raises her eyebrow. “You know, I thought I wanted to be a bride once. And then I got a husband and changed my mind!”

The bride’s chest squeezes. “My father did that,” she confesses. “You know, once he bought my brother a dog and changed his mind and gave it back.”

“Well, some people are like that,” Annemarie shrugs. “We’re annulers. Now, I’m not saying it’s anything to be proud of. It just is.”

“Annulers?” the bride asks.

“We get annulments, not just in marriages, but in life. We change our minds.”

“And you’re not proud of that?”

“I’m very proud of my life. How I did certain things? Maybe not.” She shrugs. “Riddle me this: is it better to be afraid of changing things just because that’s the way they are? So what if you already climbed the mountain? You can always turn around.”

“But change is hard.”

“Darling, life is hard.”

The bride finishes sorting Annemarie’s AM pills into a paper cup. “How do you know when it’s time to turn around?”

Annemarie takes the cup from the bride’s hand whose ring gleams in the morning light, “When you know, you know.”

That night, the bride called her mother.

“When did you know you had to leave him?”

“Well, for starters, giving away your brother’s dog was a huge fuckup.” The bride chuckles, but it still stings. Her mother went to the shelter to find the poodle, but she was already gone. They couldn’t even tell her mother if she was adopted or euthanized.

“But he was the one who got him the dog in the first place.” The words fall out of the bride’s mouth like a Jenga tower she didn’t mean to send crashing to the ground. Her mother pauses on the other line. In the silence the bride lets her mind fall back through the decades, to a frayed and blurry memory, as if someone had smeared Vaseline over the lens. The mark of childhood. The bride always finds herself fighting the way time wrinkles her memories, especially when they're of her brother, which this one is. Her brother and the teacup poodle are running around the house, chasing each other. The white, curly fuzz ball barks fervently while the brother dodges him around the coffee table, his laugh echoing through the bride’s mind. He stumbles on the woven rug and collides with the dog, tumbling onto the ground in a heap of giggles. It plays over in her mind, again and again until that familiar hollowness tugs at her heart.

“Was it easier to make it official after…”

“Yes,” her mother says quietly. “There was no reason to keep him around.” She pauses. “I thought a daughter needed a mother and a son needed a father. I wish I would’ve realized sooner that kids just need love.”


Standing at the altar, in front of her groom, and under the vast sky with her whole world staring at her, the bride recalls a time before she was a bride, when she was a sister. That was her favorite time. Infused with the scent of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne and lavender hand sanitizer; it tasted like an ice cold Capri Sun and sounded like blasting Britney Spears while chipping off black nail polish.

“Coach won’t let me wear it.”

“What? Why?”

“I don’t know, but what Coach says goes.”

Baseball Players Don’t Wear Nail Polish!” will be the title of his autobiography, and he will rant about how nobody’s manly anymore like they were back in the day! Back when men fought in wars and wore pantalooooons!” The sister says, laughing and slinging her arm around her brother’s neck, mussing up his hair.

“Yeah, and he’s going to make us all fucking read it!”

“And you’ll enjoy it, just like you did all those trashy reality TV shows.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re addicted to Say Yes to the Dress. That’s a fact.” A smile cracks in the corner of his mouth.


“You know, they put me in hospice, but I am just not dying very fast, am I?” Annemarie quips from her bed. “We were all ready for me to die, so I got everything in place, and then the world just changed its mind!”

“Maybe the world started taking after you, Ms. Annuler,” the bride quips back.

“Oh, well, if that were true, darling, there would be a lot of improvements. Starting with abolishing that bullshit wage gap!” A different nurse might have advised Annemarie not to get too enthusiastic and overexert herself, but the bride knew better. This effusiveness was not something Annemarie could switch on and off. It was her.

“Why are you a hospice nurse?” Annemarie asks.

“I get asked that a lot.”

“Then you must have a good answer rehearsed.”

The bride smiles. “I appreciate the certainty of the job. You know your patient is going to die, no matter what. There’s no disappointment or failure. There’s just a whole lot of possibility for the time that’s left.”

Annemarie scoffs. “Isn’t that just life? We’re all going to die eventually! That's certain, my dear. And the choices we make in between make it all worth it.”

The bride sighs. “So much pressure to live your life to the fullest.”

Annemarie shakes her head. “Living is always worth dying. Just like loving is always worth losing.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”


“What’s the greatest thing you’ve ever lost?” Annemarie asks.

The bride debates not answering, but the woman is dying, so she surrenders. “My brother.”

“If you could’ve traveled to the future and saw that your brother would die, would you no longer wish to be his sister?”


As she stands in her ivory dress, another memory wiggles in her heart, tickling the bride’s brain. Once long lost, but about to be found. The brother and sister are lying in a field behind the middle school, waiting to be picked up. Which won’t happen. The sun is high in the sky, shining down brightly. Eyes closed, they can hear the cicadas screaming in the distant trees.

“Do you remember that teacup poodle dog we had for a couple months?” the brother asks. “God, I loved that dog. She was so great.”

“Until dad gave her away,” the sister snaps, bitterly. “He can be such an ass.”

“Well, he did get the dog for me in the first place.”

“That didn’t give him the right to take it away!”

“No, but I’m still glad we had her, even if it was just for a little.” The brother shrugs, staring up at the sky.

“But you cried for weeks—”

“And I laughed and played with her for weeks too,” he says, turning to look at the sister. “I think it was worth it.”

The sister huffs and rolls over in the grass, plucking a flowering dandelion and twisting the stem around her finger like a tourniquet.

“Would you rather be able to fly or travel through time?” the brother asks.


“You heard me.”  

“Time travel,” the sister murmurs, dropping the flower. “Because then I could relive my life knowing everything would happen.”

“Whatta boring way to live—hey!” the brother yells after the sister rolls back over to sock him in the shoulder.

“Maybe I could fix some of the bad stuff too,” the sister mumbles.

“Well, I’d wanna fly,” the brother says. “Then I could lift off the ground right now and soar home. Or somewhere else. I could go anywhere! I’d be free as a bird.” The brother tugs on one of the sister’s pigtails. “Be a bird with me, sis!” He sits up, spreading his arms wide, flapping them up and down. “Caw! Caw!”

The sister laughs. “Hey! You know I want to time travel!”

He drops his hands and lays back in the grass, staring up at the vast blue sky. “I wanted to time travel once,” the brother said. “Then I went to the future, and I changed my mind.”

The sister snorted, “You’re so full of shit!”


The officiant asks the groom a question to which he replies with two words. Earnest and genuine. As the bride stares into the eyes of her love, the two words dancing on the tip of her tongue, she wonders if it is better to love someone and lose them or never to have loved them at all. The bride blinks. Time suspends as her eyes close, and she can see it all: their large white house with green shutters or maybe a red brick apartment, the garden overflowing with herbs and tomatoes, her blue scrubs hanging in the closet they share. She hears a dog barking or maybe that’s the cry of a baby. Muddy footprints tracked into the house, a broken vase, peonies lying on a grave, and the enchanting smell of onions sizzling on the stove. Board games strewn across a wood table with mugs of coffee or maybe they’re hot chocolate with marshmallows. Too many marshmallows. Halloween candy strewn across the floor. Christmas lights blinking on a fresh pine tree. A child’s laughter. She feels it fill her up: the warmth, love, and excitement for a future still undetermined. Still unknown. And as each frame of her life clicks by, a hum of a voice long lost, but achingly familiar whispers in her ear: How could it not be worth it?