Today is the day, my nephew, Nicholas, and his fiance, Nicole, are finally getting married. Tywana went ahead to rural Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia to help prepare for the wedding. I followed a day later, hitching a ride with my brother-in-law so we wouldn’t have to drive two cars back home. Nicholas and Nicole live on the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The wedding will be held in Garard’s Fort, PA where they met and became high school sweethearts. They live and work a few minutes away in West Virginia.
I get up early to get my meditation in. I immediately think that Shayna should be here and as I do, I feel her presence with me even more strongly than usual. The tears flow, a mixture of emotions I can’t even put into words. I miss her so much, even though I know she’s right here. She’s not missing this. This is Nicholas’ and Nicole’s day. Her sister and her brother/cousins are here. Shayna is here. I have to keep my composure and get through this.
I love being around my family by marriage. Tywana’s sister is just like my sister. Her sons are more sons to me than nephews. Her husband, Rod, is one of the most genuine and compassionate people I’ve ever met (even if he is a Trump supporter). Being around family after Shayna’s passing is often difficult. My birth family doesn’t talk about her much. Nicholas and his brothers act like brother and sister with Shayna and Kayla. Tywana’s sister, Shell, is almost as devastated by Shayna’s passing as we are. The boys were so close with Shayna that their high school football team, 300 miles away), wore bracelets in Shayna’s honor after she passed. The kids from their high school still talk about Shayna. As I drive to the farm where the nuptials will be held outdoors beside the creek in the spot where Nicholas proposed, I make the final turn and I see purple balloons. They are there in honor of Shayna. No one has forgotten her. The boys in the wedding are all wearing purple ties, in honor of Shayna. They each have a picture of Shayna pinned to their ties. Kayla has a picture of Shayna pinned on the inside of her dress.
For whatever reason (Tywan), we arrive at the wedding over an hour before it’s scheduled to begin. Kayla has to be here because she’s in the wedding party. They were late getting back from their hair appointments (of course). Since it’ll take me 10 minutes to get ready, I make the half-hour drive to drop her off and the half-hour drive back. When I get back everyone except Tywana is gone. I quickly throw on my clothes and then make the half-hour drive once again. Kayla is a groomswoman. Nick wanted her in the wedding. She is wearing a gray dress, the same color as the groomsmen’s suits, and stands on Nicholas’ side.
Rod, my brother-in-law, the talker, approaches me as I’m watching the picture taking. Rod, is the kind of person who will meet someone, spend five minutes with them and know their life story. Rod asks probing questions about deep stuff, always. Rod looks me in the eye and asks “What thoughts are going through your head?” I try to deflect “I have a lot of thoughts, right now Rod.” He won’t let it go “What are the predominant thoughts?” I say “You know what I’m thinking, Rod.” We’ve known each other for 15 years and we know each other well. Rod knows exactly what (who) is on my mind. He says “They’re all right here.” I say “Yes. They certainly are all right here.” What I leave unsaid is I wish I could see them and hug them. I wish Shayna could be standing up there with her sister and her brothers/cousins. I know she’s here, but she can’t speak to us and can’t be in the pictures.
The wedding is short and sweet. Rod gives a mini-sermon. The setting is idyllic as butterflies are fluttering around, the creek is flowing the background. Rod even includes an anecdote about one day when the creek was stocked and relates it to Nick and Nicole’s wedding. And, the train that runs about 300 yards from where they are getting married even has the courtesy to not roll through during the ceremony. The ceremony ends and I get a ride with Kelly and Lisa to the reception. Tywana will stay with Kayla who has to take more pictures now that Nicole has made her reveal and can be included. We drive three miles down the road before we can get a signal and Waze can direct us to the reception. As we pull into Jefferson, PA, we realize there is no cell service there either. I had tried to call Tywana at Nicole’s from the car on the way down. Voice communication was impossible, but I could get texts to and from her. In Jefferson though there is no texting, no voice nothing. My theory is maybe there’s one carrier that covers the town, but I have AT&T, Lisa has Sprint, and Derrick has Verizon. No one can communicate with anyone.
When we get to the reception, I see a table with pictures on it of past family weddings. I see a picture of my father-in-law, Felton, who passed 7 years ago. And, then I see a picture of my baby at the far end of the table. Shayna is hear. Later, I will find out that she also made a supernatural appearance, appearing to one of the members of the wedding party in the mirror as they were getting ready. Everyone is missing Shayna today, but I think we also know she is truly right here, not just in our hearts.
Finally, the bride and groom arrive and the festivities begin. Kelly (Tywana’s brother), Lisa (his girlfriend), and Tim (Tywana’s brother), all want to watch the UK football game tonight at 7. The wedding is at 2:30. When you go to a wedding, you do the wedding, go to the reception for an hour (maybe two) and you head out. Surely, we can get to a sports bar and catch the game. OSU is playing Penn State (biggest test of the season) at 7:30. I can do the reception and still make the game. Or so I thought. As someone pointed out, this is Nicole’s world and we’re all just living in, especially true on a bride’s wedding day. The mother-son dance and all of that stuff haven’t happened and it’s after 6. Kelly and Lisa are leaving. I have to make a decision. Do I stay with Tywana and Kayla and be here for only God knows how long? Or, do I escape with Kelly and Lisa? I ask Tywana what time she plans to leave here. The answer is “I don’t know.” I know what that means, leave with Kelly and Lisa. We drive the couple of miles it takes to get a cell signal then have Waze direct us to their hotel, next to the BW3s where we will catch the game. I want to text Tywana and tell her “When you leave the reception, turn right and just keep driving until you see civilization again.”. But, I can’t. She’s still in cell phone blackout town.
Long story short, we get to their hotel, they change clothes, and we head to the sports bar. UK’s not on TV here. They can’t watch the game anyway. We begin trying to communicate with the people at the reception. We try Tim, Tywana, Derrick, on a rotating basis. We don’t know if they’re still there or on the way somewhere else. We had said we were going to BW3s, we ended up at The Green Turtle. This “sports bar” closes at 10 PM (basically half time of the games). I ask Kelly and Lisa if they can drop me at Shell’s where I can catch the rest of the game on TV. They agree. It’s only 15 minutes away. But, oh what a 15 minutes. Waze takes us the “back way”. I’ve made the drive from this area back to Shell’s before. it’s very reasonable. That is, it’s reasonable if you don’t turn right on “Dead Man’s Way”. That’s not the actual name of the “street”, but that’s what I’m going to call it from now on. Pro tip: If you’re driving in Western Pennsylvania and you see a sign that says “Winding Road” either be prepared for the ride of your life or turn around. As Gabe said it’s “next level dark” out here. The road is about as wide as you’d expect a one-lane driveway to be. There are trees growing right up to the edge of the road (on both sides in spots). There are potholes that could eat your car and you’d never be seen again. I’m watching Waze and giving instructions to Kelly. He’s trying to go as fast as possible to get us out of here, but too fast and you’ll blow a tire. Two black men with a white woman in the back seat, in Klan country. This is not a good place to have a flat. I’m watching Waze count down the miles to the next turn which I know will put us back onto a road that at least has two full lanes when Waze gets stuck. It’s been saying 0.3 miles way too long. What is happening? Did we lose the signal again? Then, Lisa reminds me it’s not counting down because we are going so slowly. Finally, I see 0.2. Then 0.1 appears and we spot the road that leads to Shell’s house. Hallelujah!
It’s then I realize that Shell has given me the code to her door but with no one home, I have to go into the house and face Dog alone. Dog is Shell’s dog. And his name is Dog. Dog is about a 100-pound German shepherd who likes no one but Shell. I’ve never been alone with Dog and I’m not sure how this is going to go. I ask Lisa and Kelly to wait outside the door in case they need to call 911 after Dog mauls me.
I’ve got the code and I know it’s right, but the door won’t open. I try, two, three, four times. Dog is barking and growling saying “Please just come through that door. Make my day.” Finally, the door opens, I open it just wide enough to see Dog, but not wide enough for him to get his massive head through the opening. He’s not barking, not snarling, but he’s standing in my way. He needs to back up so I can get in. I timidly open the door and greet him with confidence. “Hey Dog, let’s go upstairs.” He starts up the stairs, I follow. Whew! I survived cell phone hell, Dead Man’s Way, and my first solo encounter with Dog.
I turn on the TV, pour myself a Buffalo Trace, and watch the Buckeyes make an amazing comeback to beat Penn State in the final minutes. Hours after we left the reception, I get my first message from Tywana “We’re on the way.” She, Shell, and Rod come home. Nick and Nicole are married, everyone’s survived this most bizarre episode of Survivor, and all is right with the world. Shayna, I know you were here.