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Welcome to Wedding Guest Wednesday, an occasional feature in which Solo-ish explores the joys and woes of attending other people’s weddings. Because it’s not all about the happy couple — it’s a big day for guests as well. 

When the first wedding invitation came, I realized I had no cowgirl boots.

Hailing from Texas, it seems wrong. I should own them. In high school, boots were the ultimate accessory. Girls would get them personalized, wear them with dresses, shorts. They were versatile, they were necessary. But most of all, they told the world — the great, big Texan world — that you belonged.

When the next invitation came, I panicked. I had no boots and no date. But still, both weddings were for cousins on my dad’s side of the family. Even if I felt out of place, I was going. I knew the events would be family reunions, essentially, a chance to connect more with my aunts, uncles and cousins who I hadn’t seen in years. An entire family that’s always a little out of reach.

Let me retrace.

I was 13 when my dad died. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t. But him dying wasn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me. The worst thing was that, with him, my connection to his side of the family essentially vanished. My parents had divorced, and while my mom kept in touch with my dad’s mom and family, the connections were still a little broken. No matter what I did, I’ve never felt like I was truly a Lane.

My dad was one of 10 children. Branches of his family tree extend across the country, and I have more cousins than I can count. Group message chains, family reunions and a strong Facebook presence make the Lane clan an intimidating echo chamber — a glimpse into who my dad was, and what I could have had, if he had were still around.

Wedding season makes it all worse.

Wedding season means that the Lane family comes together to celebrate joy, love, cake. Wedding season means that men sipping whiskey and wearing their cowboy hats tilted forward will extend their hand to ladies, and they will take to the dance floor to two-step the night away. It means that, once again, it will become clear that I am not a part of this world, even though I am a part of this family.

For most of my life, I was raised by my mother. I don’t say that to diminish my dad. I say it because it’s true. My parents divorced when I was 8, and my mom got sole custody. I would spend weekends with my dad, escaping into a fantasy that was just the two of us: Sugary treats, trips to the movie theater, jaunts to the lake. But he never taught me the typical Texan things most girls are taught by their dads: He didn’t teach me how to two-step, or to always refer to older men as “sir.” He never insinuated that I should take anything an adult says to be the Ultimate Truth. I should always question, he said, always search for my own answers.

He was raising me to be different. To be a rebel.

Essentially, my dad was raising me to defy the standards and morals that made Lane family weddings what they are. To push back against the subtle sexism, like how men getting drunk was just funny — but when a “lady” had too many beers, it was a shame. Antiquated traditions and standards surround all weddings, yes, but especially Texan ones. I always noticed them, and I was always aware that I didn’t fit in.

At the first Lane wedding last summer, I imagined what it would be like if my dad had been by my side. How he would escort me to the dance floor, twirl me around. How I would finally be able to sit through the father-daughter dance without making up an excuse about needing a drink or going to the bathroom.

Being a wedding guest at my dad’s family’s celebrations isn’t easy.

When I’m at these events, I’m often jealous. I see my cousins with their dads, laughing, dancing, rocking their cowgirl boots like it’s no big deal. All the while, I know that that will never be me. That I will never be a part of the family group texts, and when an aunt has an extra TV set my dad will never tell anyone, “Hey, Korey’s new apartment could use a TV. I’ll never really be a Lane, and going to Lane weddings makes that abundantly clear.

But still, I go. Because as much as I hate to admit it, I will forever be that girl, standing on the outside, trying to fit in. Maybe, I tell myself, if I go to enough weddings, I’ll really be a Lane. Even though my inclusion in these family events and weddings feels like charity, and attending them seems like an obligation, I can’t pass them up.

An obligation. My dad would surely chuckle at that notion, while shaking his head, cowboy hat dipping down to his deep smile, as we would twirl on the dance floor, lost in our own little world of rebellion.

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