I Do Crew by Rachael Marie Walker

Three months ago, I was vaping in the tub, leaned back against the tile, submerged my face in the water, and thought: fuck, I’m not cis, am I? 

My girlfriend of three years, Liz, was playing video games in the living room, out on a mission with her gamer friends in Red Dead Redemption. She took one look at me, still dripping from the bath, naked and sudsy with lavender bubble bath, and said she had to go, she’d catch up with them later, and motioned for me to sit in her lap. I curled up there, left a moist imprint of myself in her tank top and jean shorts. Once I calmed down enough to tell her what I was thinking—you know how I like to top, you know I’ve always dreamed about having a penis, you know I’ve always felt like, uneasy about being a woman and in woman-spaces, I think I’m, fuck, I don’t know, not a girl, not a boy either, some in-between thing, nonbinary maybe?—Liz wrapped me up in a towel, kissed the top of my head, and said, I love you, tell me everything you want to tell me. 

I cut my hair from my waist to my ear a few weeks ago, shaved the bottom with an undercut, and when I met Beth and Tara at the tea shop in Brookland to talk about bachelorette party planning for Marianne, they both said, did you ask Marianne before you cut your hair? and then spent the rest of the afternoon talking about how they wanted to cut their hair after the wedding. I texted Marianne before getting a tattoo to ask if she was okay with that after Beth and Tara said I had to, and Marianne basically was like, yeah, of course, why are you asking me, it’s your body, not mine, so really I think Beth and Tara are the ones with the problem. 

I also got sober at about the same time I realized I’m nonbinary, so that’s also been, like, a whole thing. It turns out that being a bridesmaid—actually, no, the whole wedding-industrial-complex—is just about 90% cisheterosexuality, 10% alcohol. I get the distinct feeling that everyone’s looking at me and thinking, like, Abby, shut up, just keep drinking and suck it up, like, why do you feel the need to make yourself the center of attention. I guess they don’t understand the “why bother”—they weren’t there when I was prowling behind Nats Park drunk off my ass at three in the morning looking for drugs, and they weren’t there when I woke up vomiting into a trashcan, missing my shoes, $400 poorer, the remnants of bad coke cut with baby powder on my nightstand. 

I have a few friends I’ve made here in DC outside of Beth, Tara, and Marianne, most of them queer. At Fern’s birthday party last month, we all spent the evening smoking weed on the back porch of Fern’s house she shared with a girlfriend and another queer couple, and in Fern’s laugh, in Julien’s bisexual anecdotes, with all the queer joy and understanding that fills like water in cupped hands, I started to realize what I’m missing with my college friends. 

Beth and Tara keep telling me, it’s Marianne’s day, keep the focus on Marianne, Marianne needs to have the center stage, Abby, maybe you should cover up your tattoos, and Abby, maybe you should stop trying to press us with vegan restaurants, and Abby, maybe you and Liz shouldn’t dance together at the reception, and every time we have these bridesmaid meetings, I come home to Liz and lay in her lap and I’m like, I fucking hate this, and she’s like, babe, no one’s going to be looking at you anyway, Marianne’s the bride. No one cares. They’ll be like, oh, shit, that hot femme’s got a bunch of tats and short hair, and that’ll be it. Everyone’s there for Marianne and Brian anyway. If anyone’s not paying attention to them because they’re too busy staring at you, that’s their fucking problem. 

It’s not like I’m against the dress. I said yes to Marianne before I knew all this gender stuff, and I committed to a dress, and I can live with that. And also, like, Marianne is probably the best out of all my friends with gender stuff, and if I told her about everything I’m feeling, I know she’d be totally on my side and do whatever it takes for me to feel comfortable, but every time I push back against something with Tara and Beth, they’re like, don’t tell Marianne, she’s got enough on her plate. And, I mean, wedding planning is hard, but she’s also, like, my friend, and it sucks to not tell my friend things, and I also feel like it’s kinda wearing at our friendship because she can tell there’s something I’m not telling her and I have to keep being like, it’s fine, don’t worry, it’s totally fine, even though it’s not? So, I just go to these meetings, and spend the whole Metro ride hating myself, and come home to Liz, and tell her everything, and Liz listens, but she keeps saying the same thing—talk to Marianne about it—and I just. Can’t. 

Now we’re all at the Airbnb before the wedding, us and all the groomsmen, and everyone’s plastered as all hell. Brian has been watching the same Tik Tok for, like, twenty minutes, and he keeps dropping his phone, and the fucked-up thing is that he has done exactly this every single night and then gotten up before literally all of the rest of us the next morning, gone for a run, and made this giant breakfast spread. I do not know how he is built like this. I used to drink, like, ten beers a night, and I was just fucked up one way or another all the time. Brian is built different. I spend most of the night sitting outside vaping. Everyone is making fun of me for sitting outside vaping. I am also making fun of me for sitting outside vaping. But it’s quiet out here, and it’s just me and my stupid sober thoughts, and it’s just me and the encroaching fear that everything I’m doing is wrong and everyone hates me and you’re a burden, Abby, you’re a burden, and fuck, do I need to up my meds again?  

I come back inside and eat a handful of corn chips, lick the salt off my fingers. A group of the groomsmen are playing a drinking game in the corner. One of Marianne’s high school friends is challenging a few of the other groomsmen to beer pong and overselling her capabilities at it, like, way too much. The men say, okay, fine, let’s set up a game, and I watch her throw the ball straight over the cups three times. 

Beth and Tara are drunk as hell and shouting for me up the stairs. Abby, Abby, Abby, come on, let’s dance, and I walk down the stairs to Tara’s favorite playlist—Girls Literally Yell Every Time You Play These Songs—and it’s “Yeah!” by Usher which everyone knows I love, and I take Beth’s hands and we dance together and drop it low and for a minute, it’s like we’re still nineteen and dancing in someone’s dorm room. When we were drunk while pregaming for a party junior year of college, Beth took me into a thick, squeezing hug, and said, you are my best friend, you are going to be my maid of honor, I love you so much. We shotgunned beers in Beth’s backyard and stripped down to our underwear and ran to the apartments across the street for the party. 

All Marianne’s friends—college friends, high school friends, coworkers—are dancing with us, everyone in form-fitting dresses, every one beautiful, and I feel myself looking for the shimmer of recognition for another queer person, a single other queer person, but feel nothing. As I dance, I miss Liz, who can’t come until tomorrow, not even as a lover, but just as a friend, a companion, someone who understands the loneliness that is being the only queer person in a group. Jesus. Here I am, a stormcloud in the middle of a perfectly sunny day, being a fucking downer when everyone else is having this incredible time. Fuck, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just, like, shut the fuck up a little, let myself be happy? I tell Beth I’m going to go vape, shut the door a little too hard on my way out, vape until I start coughing. Marianne and Brian got this huge house in Southwestern Virginia, like half an hour from their venue, for them and everyone in the wedding party. I’ve been living in DC for the past four years and forgot how much I love the music and life of Virginia, where we went to college. It gets cool in the mountains at night, and goosebumps rise on my arms. The light and music of the party spills out behind me, and I am, always, just a few steps outside the frame, wrong somehow. 

I hear the first bars of “Promiscuous” start playing. I swallow the cool October air, take another hit of the vape, paint on a smile, rejoin the party. Beth woos when I walk in and I try to re-become the nineteen-year-old Abby, girl, still closeted, regressing all the work I’ve done to rebuild myself since then. 

I was more fun, then, though, wasn’t I? 

Yeah. I was. 

The next morning, it’s just me, and Brian awake early. Brian is out for a run (how?) and I am doing yoga on the back balcony, repeating my stupid mantras: I am not drinking, I am not drinking, I am not drinking. Sobriety is a gift. Sobriety is being present. I am sober for myself. I am sober for my future. Bullshit like that. I press the heels of my hands into the yoga mat, listen to the birds and the crickets and the whole Virginia ambient soundscape, and, fuck, I want a drink. I lay in shavasana for a long time, telling my body to relax, for my body to stop being so much and to, just, like, be a collection of nerves and synapses and water, and not to be, like, this whole weird thing. I wish to not have a gender, or a body, really. 

Brian is frying eggs when I come in, drinking coffee out of a kitschy chipped mug reading KISS THE COOK. He and I have spent a little bit of time together—when Marianne and I were best, best friends right after graduation, spending almost every day together, Brian often was there, and we’d spend nights playing Trivial Pursuit. 

He’s like, want some eggs? 

I say sure. They’re runny, and he toasted some bread on the side. I dip the bread into the pooling yolk, shake pepper and salt over it. 

I hate Airbnb knives, he says. I have to bring my own. 

Brian has this really tough exterior, like, the kind of guy who probably had a bunch of fishing pictures on his Tinder profile, but he’s just like this over-easy egg, really. Soft. Squishy. Surprising. 

How’re you doing, says Brian, in the way where he actually means every word of the question. 

I’m like, okay. But I say that in the way where my voice kind of shakes a little, and I’m a terrible liar, that’s the whole reason I’m like, out, and everything, because it kinda sucks to be out like this, and fuck, here I am spiraling again, but yeah! Totally fine, Brian, please don’t look behind the curtain, like it’s so fine! Sobriety is the best thing that’s ever happened to me maybe second only to being gender (?????) and queer, like, endless joy, why would anyone ever think differently. Yep. Absolutely. Fuck, I miss Liz. 

Brian clears his throat, and I’ve probably been staring at my hands for about thirty seconds too long, but I’m like, really, don’t worry about me. 

You’re doing great, kid, he says. Nothing about this is easy. 

Beth and I walk down to my car and haul all the junk in my backseat into the trunk—like, fifty tote bags, some overdue library books, a bunch of assorted sweaters—and rifle through my glove compartment to find an inoffensive CD since my car is too old for an aux cord. Tara hates The Mountain Goats, Beth hates John (Cougar) Mellencamp, everybody hates Tom Petty except for me. I decide on an old mix my brother and I made, ABBY AND JUSTIN’S SUMMER 2008 DRIVE MIX, which we made our dad play every car ride all summer long. Justin’s driving a much newer car than I am, even though he’s four years younger and barely out of college. I guess he didn’t spend all of college and his first four years after getting absolutely blitzed every single night. Maybe there’s a cost-savings benefit to that. 

Tara comes waddling down the hill toward my car, her hair pulled back in thirty barrettes and her flip-flops slapping against the pavement. Marianne told us she didn’t care what shoes we wore, but Beth and Tara said we should get matching ones anyway, and when I sent out the link to these four inch pointed toe black heels, I was like, hey, these will make all of us look a little taller and we’re all, like, eight inches shorter than Marianne, and they’re only forty bucks, and they were like, yeah, these are great, let’s buy them, and then the next ten conversations I had with them after these shoes came in were all, well, the heels are just a little too high for me, and you know, I have weak ankles, so I might just buy another pair of shoes, it’s nothing against you, though, Abby, don’t feel like you need to buy new shoes, and the whole time I was thinking oh my fucking god, Marianne doesn’t care, I don’t care, just wear whatever god damn shoes you fucking want, but I didn’t say that, and Beth has both pairs of shoes in her clear football-stadium-approved backpack and—Jesus Christ. I want a drink. I check my phone. We’re going to be like, ten minutes late. Marianne’s texting me. Beth takes shotgun and I can hear her angrily buckle her seatbelt as Tara throws her bag in the trunk. 

Okay, I say. Everyone ready? I turn on the GPS, start the CD mix, and drive.  

So, I say, what kind of makeup are y’all thinking of getting today? I’m kinda a fan of the glam look. Might be fun to have an actual makeup artist do it. Big red lips. Dramatic lashes. 

I’m trying not to think too much about the Femme of it all. If I do insane glam makeup, it’s like cosplaying womanhood instead of being swallowed by it. And that’s, like, camp, right? That’s queer praxis? Gay rights? 

I think we should all do something neutral, says Tara. Keep the focus on Marianne, and all. 

My turn to forcefully nose exhale. 

Beth’s like, have y’all picked out reference photos for your hair? Your hair’s so short now, Abby, they might have a hard time curling it. 

Tara’s like, can we stop at Chick-fil-A, and I’m like, you realize that there’s a gay person driving this car, right? 

I pull into the Chick-fil-A drive-through line. I make sure to tell everyone in the car that I’m not buying anything and that I disagree fundamentally with their choice to support The Homophobic Chicken Company. 

Dude, you can get a coffee, it’s not going to set the movement back twenty years, says Tara. 

I’m like, respectfully, you are straight. 

My brakes squeak as I move inch-by-inch forward through the drive-thru line. We should really be quick about this, I say. It’s Marianne’s day, after all.

God damn, you guys, you’re so fucking late, says Marianne when we finally push open the door to the salon. Beth still has biscuit crumbs stuck on her upper lip. 

Sorry, sorry, it was a rough start, says Tara. 

Marianne’s like, well, whatever, you’re here now. Who wants to get their hair done first? 

Tara pulls out her phone and marches over to the front desk. I’m ready, she tells everyone in the waiting room. Soft, bouncy feminine curls, tied back, she says. 

Beth’s like, I guess Tara’s got first dibs. 

Beth and Tara have been sending me Pinterest links to hairstyles and makeup with names like “blushing girl next door” and “pretty young thing.” Girl. Girl. Girl. Remember, Abby, you’re a girl, and no amount of hair-cutting or fashion choices or being a lesbian top or masculinity or that obnoxious Kubrick, Salinger, Nietzsche, and Sartre phase you went through in high school will change the way everyone sees you. 

I’m like, I’ll be right back, I’m just going to vape really quick. 

The salon is in a strip mall. I lean back against the brick wall, watch a tired mom wrestle a screaming toddler into a car seat, inhale, exhale a cloud of vapor. I went to AA meetings for, like, a hot minute, but then realized they were a little too higher-power-y for me, but while I was there, everyone would take their cigs out back and smoke after the meetings. We’d talk about everything our addictions had taken from us. But the way all of us talked about it, there was a clear thread: any one of us would rather be drunk than be here. Is that cynical, to think that even of the sixty-year-old who smoked menthols, who had been sober since he drove drunk and crashed his car with his two young sons in it when he was thirty, that if given the opportunity, he’d drink, too? Does he still take it one day at a time, for thirty years? And what right did I have to be there? A sorority girl from GW came every once in a while, a girl who had scars rashing her face, both arms and, when she lifted up her shirt, most of her torso. 

The thing is, she said, I don’t remember any of this. No one does. I was alone. I woke up in the hospital. The nurses told me someone had brought me to the ER, that they pumped my stomach, stitched up the lacerations. There’s this whole ghost in my body, and it’ll always be there, and I don’t know how it happened. It’s, like, this endless mystery, and I’ll have to field questions about it from everyone, myself included, for the rest of my life. I was nineteen. How unfair is that? 

I didn’t have anything nearly that dramatic. There was Saint Patrick’s Day last year, and when I woke up and everyone was so pissed at me and I had no idea what happened, and I had all these embarrassing fucking texts that I sent—oh, yeah, and there was that time I was staying with my aunt and drank so much I blacked out and fell down three flights of stairs and broke my glasses and gave myself a concussion and couldn’t remember where she lived and my friends brought me home but left the apartment door open and my aunt was so, so pissed at me. 

Okay. So, the higher-power-thing was definitely part of why I stopped going to AA. But then there’s also the whole thing where I felt like I wasn’t good enough of an alcoholic to belong there. But still too much of an alcoholic to drink champagne at my friend’s wedding. I hit the vape again. 

Beth’s getting her makeup finished as Tara’s in the waiting room, and I can tell they’re texting about me by how Tara moves her phone screen away when I walk back in. 

When it’s my turn to get my hair done, the stylist fluffs out my hair. 

God, I’d kill to have hair this color and thickness, she says. Did you cut it recently? 

I tell her, yeah. It used to be down to my waist. 

Why would you cut hair that long and beautiful, she says, but it doesn’t sound like a question. I ignore it. 

I’m thinking just something simple. Curls, if you can. 

Her hands are cold in my hair. She snaps her gum between her teeth. I ask her about how she came to Southwestern Virginia, and she tells me about coming from Fairbanks, Alaska, and falling in love with the mountains when she moved here for a man. The man left, but the mountains never would. 

She’s like, do you have a boyfriend. 

I have to do the quick how-homophobic-are-your-vibes math before responding.

I’m like, no, but I have a girlfriend. 

Lucky you, avoiding dating men, she says. 

I tug at the loose skin of my cuticle. It bleeds. 

I go on a coffee run. Quad shot, oat milk for me, pumpkin cold brew for everyone else. I text Liz: made it through the beauty-industrial complex. Certified hot they-girl now. 

She’s usually on or near her phone, and texts back quickly: Always been a hot they-girl. How are you? How is gender stuff and alcohol stuff going? 

I text bad. lmao. 

She sends a flurry of pink heart emojis. I’ll be there soon, my love! I’m leaving in twenty minutes. Hang in there. 

As I drive back, I remember Marianne asking me to be her bridesmaid. We were such close friends then, the year after graduation. We all knew Marianne and Brian were going to get married. They had the kind of love we all wished our parents had: cheering each other on, meeting each other with brief kisses, holding hands during movies. Marianne and I often met up for brunch in Arlington, and the day she asked me to be her bridesmaid, we met up at Tupelo Honey with all their bee decorations and yellows and purples—both of our favorite colors, Marianne said—and gave me a tiny bottle of prosecco and an “I Do Crew” wineglass. Of course I said yes—I couldn’t imagine loving a friend more than Marianne. And Beth, and Tara, we were such a core group in college, we loved each other so, so much, and we were grasping each other’s hands and thinking, never change, never change, but of course we did, of course we had to. 

Then, the pandemic, then, several wedding reschedules, then, me realizing I was an alcoholic and not doing anything about it for a while, then, me realizing I’m nonbinary, then, getting sober, and now, the wedding. We haven’t stopped loving each other, but that love looks different, now. Quieter. It’s a love on kitten paws when it used to bound in on lion’s feet. 

We finish at the salon, pay, and pile into my car. I drive up the sighs and complaints of Virginia back roads, twisting between churches and farms. My car is low to the ground and grunts when I drive up the gravel hill to the venue. I park, we pull our dresses from the trunk, and as Beth, Tara, and Marianne pop open a bottle of champagne, I put on my sandals and walk outside, vaping. The mountains are so blue here. Why is that? What makes the Blue Ridge blue? I try to Google it but my reception is nonexistent. Why are some mountains blue and others gray? Why are some people assigned female at birth and are totally cool with that and some of us squeeze against it all our lives? Why can some people drink a singular glass of champagne and not go on a whole binge that ends, invariably, with a blackout in a grocery store cheese aisle? 

Marianne’s mom and grandma join us in the bridal suite to get dressed together. Tara has to zip me into my dress and my tits don’t really fit in it anymore after I gained a ton of weight after getting sober. This happens to everyone, I remind myself, but it’s uncomfortable in about fifty different ways. I spin my nose ring around, anxious, and come back with a hand matted with foundation. 

Marianne’s mother zips up her dress and all of us start crying. She is so beautiful. I hate the way this dress fits me, the way it shows that I am Breasts and Hips and Woman Bodied, but I’m trying to smile through it and look like, yay! happy tears! and look like nothing’s wrong because, fuck, Abby, there is nothing wrong, you’re fine you’re fine you’re fine, and I keep excusing myself to go calm down in the bathroom (six vape hits, clenching the sink, saying you’re okay you’re okay you’re fucking okay into the mirror) but everyone else is drinking, so they don’t even notice, and like, it’s not like anyone really cares that much anyway, no one is ever paying as much attention to you as they think they are, Abby, no one fucking cares, just be there for Marianne, just be a good fucking friend and shut the hell up and all you need to do is just fucking be here and everyone’s lining up to take bridesmaid pictures and—I’m standing next to women I called my best friends through all four years of college. We met each other when I still thought I was a straight girl. We met each other before any of us had a single shot of vodka, smoked a single joint. We had barely had our hearts broken. We had barely gotten to know ourselves. The photographer pours me a flute full of champagne. Beth starts to say something, looks at me, but Tara’s like, Abby’s fine, don’t worry, you don’t have to drink it, it’s just for photos, and when the photographer and Marianne go to take solo pictures, Beth’s like, are you sure you’re okay with this, and Tara rests her hand on my shoulder and I don’t even feel it, I just see that her hand is on a shoulder that I know is mine, and I hear my voice saying, yeah, yeah, it’s fine, don’t worry, it’s fine, and I’m barefoot in the grass and grip the grass between my toes, dig into the Virginia earth, and try to remember that it’s just a few hours, it’s just a few hours, it’s not about you it’s not about you it’s not fucking about you just don’t fucking drink that’s it it’s as easy as fucking that just don’t drink, just don’t drink, just—Liz. It’s ten minutes before the ceremony and she’s just on time as always, looking beautiful in a perfectly tailored suit, her short black hair recently cut, slicked back with shea butter. She waves, enthusiastic, and fuck, of course she’s waving at me, and her dimples are perfect, and I know exactly how she smells. Marianne’s beautiful. She’s always beautiful, but she’s so on-purpose beautiful today, and she pulls out her bouquet, I also pull out a bouquet from a vase of cold water, I walk in the heels I picked out and everyone else hated, I look at my feet and I don’t recognize them, and I’m trying to stop from crying until Marianne and Brian get to the vows so I can at least say it’s because I’m overcome with emotion and Jesus fucking Christ Abby, just be a good friend, why is this so goddamn hard, and I’m standing at the back of the bridesmaid line because I’m the shortest, and when Marianne walks down the aisle I start crying and I don’t stop but it’s okay because everyone’s crying, because Marianne and Brian love each other, because weddings are supposed to be beautiful and brilliant, I feel so god-damn out of place here, I don’t belong here—I’m back in the bridal suite. I kick off my heels, change into sandals. Hands shaking, I look for my vape, walk out into the starlight, vape until my throat hurts, repeat I am not drinking I am not drinking I am not drinking—a familiar hand, cold on my shoulder, a familiar squeeze, Liz. 

When she touches me, I feel like a human being again. 

I’m like, in this voice all gross and thick with tears, it’s been a tough few days. She gives me a really big, squeezy hug. We do this all the time when she comes home from work, say squeeeeeeeze and hug each other as tightly as possible. We stand like this for what feels like a long time—long enough for the DJ to cycle through a few bad songs and a couple good ones, long enough for a few of Marianne’s other college friends to take a series of pictures by the coolers of drinks. Brian is sitting in the last row of chairs, empty after the ceremony, drinking an IPA, staring up at the stars. 

I’m getting a seltzer from the cooler when Marianne comes up behind me and hugs me. She smells like lavender perfume and sweat, a small chip in one of her fingernails. 

I’m really proud of you, she says. I know this has been hard for you. I’m glad you’re here. 

We wish Marianne and Brian off with sparklers. Marianne hikes up her skirt to climb into Brian’s Honda SUV, and they wave goodbye out of the windows. Bohemian Rhapsody follows them out to the car and as they drive away, JUST MARRIED written on their back windshield. Beth, Tara, and I pick up the trash remaining as the guests leave. Liz stays with us, stacking plates just like she did when we bartended together. I smile at her from across the barn. She takes the trash outside, and Beth calls for me to help her move a heavy table. The two of us put every muscle we can into moving, but it doesn’t budge. I watch her brow furrow, sweat bead at her hairline, and I know, I realize, that, in a year, maybe two, we won’t be friends anymore. Someone will ask us about the other, and we’ll respond—oh, we haven’t talked in a while. And both of us will remember being nineteen, our lives stretching forever in front of us, and wonder.

Rachael Marie Walker is a Seattle writer who learned to love words and music in the weeds of Virginia. They post on X as @rachaelwalking and their website is rachaelmariewalkerwriter.com.