A great honor, her mother said, and everyone is so amazed that I came all the way from Alaska for Rodica's wedding. For Rodica. I smiled and said, "And how otherwise? I knew that it was a lot of travel, and that maybe it would be better to wait until next summer and maybe spend more time, but then I thought: this is the only time and if I don't come, I will spend the rest of my life wishing I had." And she told me I was a good person, which is not something people frequently call me.
I think that's one of the reasons I love Moldova so much. People's expectations for me are so low, I can't help but surpass them, and so because I learned a few words of Romanian, because I'm interested, because I don't go around saying our way is better, because I visit at all, I'm a good person. And they feed me my favorite foods and iron the sheets and do the dishes and love me despite myself. When Rodica came to live with my family ('92-93), she had an incredible difficulty adjusting, because my family doesn't feed people or iron sheets, and it was hard for her to see love without so many visible traces of it. Maybe there wasn't a lot of love then, too. I wasn't a good person. I didn't make it any easier for her. In fact, it was almost a point of pride that I adjusted so much more easily to it than she did, as if the transition from poverty to wealth were as difficult as the reverse, as if there were any possible comparison between our losses and our gains. When the school year ended and she went home, I thought we might never be friends again. But we were, and we are, and there I was in the kitchen on the morning of her wedding, and I couldn't believe I had ever thought about missing it.
She and Ioan got up shortly before Rodica and I needed to leave for the beauty salon, and both of them had too many butterflies to eat. We called for a taxi and she held the veil as though it would break if bumped and we got to the salon right at nine. The hairdresser was waiting on the steps, only I didn't know that's who he was, and we had to wait ten or fifteen minutes for someone to show up with the key. The stylist's name was Kolya and he couldn't have been much older than we were and probably wasn't even that old. His clothes would have been perfectly appropriate clubbing in New York, as would his sideburns and carefully curled lip. He bopped along to Russian pop on the radio and coated her hair with hairspray, until the ratio was close to fifty-fifty. He strung pearly beads on strands of subsequently braided hair and laced them into a crown, flattened perfectly smooth hair into graceful curls and swoops, and finally -- a good two and a half hours later -- pinned the veil and sprayed it into position. Meanwhile, Rodica's older sister, Lilia - her nanash -- had shown up and had her hair carefully set. By the time she showed up for the wedding, she had combed most of it out. And I had my nails done during the early stages of Rodica's hairstyle, so after the makeup artist (not an unfair title) rendered her more exotic and sculpted and shimmery than she has ever been, we went racing home to sling on the dresses before guests started showing up.
Oh, there were already several relatives there, including her grandmother, who is the quintessential village babushka, and about four foot six. And in between bites of mashed potatoes and the hoop skirt, Rodica tried to explain some of what my duties as maid of honor entailed. It really wasn't bad, and Ioan's sisters took over most of the greeting people and pinning small, synthetic pink rosette corsages on all the unmarried attendees. After smudging on makeup without a mirror and pinning my hair back without my brush (I knew it was somewhere), I ran around with my camera and fussed over her veil and perfume for the photographer and videographer, and pinned the larger corsages on the nanashi, and tried to understand the conversations glimmering around me.
Rodica was truly beautiful, not only because she has always been truly beautiful and not only because the people who did her hair and makeup were artists and not only because she looked like a fairytale with her dress and veil and coiffure and luminescent smile and not only because her eyes seemed twice as large as normal and still too small to fit her heart. She was beautiful playing with her niece, and fidgeting over a smudge on her glove, and looking ever so slightly embarrassed to be getting so much attention, and striking the coy poses for the photographer, and all the while, under this beauty and over this beauty and beyond this beauty, Rodica still looked like the fourteen year old I met at the airport. Shy and smiling and just a little scared and shivering from anticipation or fear.