I think it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. I mean I didn’t know, not at first, but now I do, so I’m honest about it. Not with other people, of course. But with you, yes.

My grandparents have been married 61 years, possibly 62. The kitchen is my grandma’s domain, the yard is my grandpa’s. He falls asleep out there regularly. They’ve both cheated on each other, multiple times over multiple decades. The way they have a conversation is to stand in different rooms and yell. But when one of them brings the other a cup of coffee, they say, “Thanks, babe.”

Now, they had three kids. One, you’ve already met, my Uncle Sydney. As you know, he’s not a talker. Keeps to himself. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t made a new friend since high school. But he has a lucrative career in chemical engineering and two patents in the works, so good for him.

Next oldest is Marcie. She’s the nosy one. She knows what’s going on in everyone’s life, and often before they do. Loves yoga, like a lot. She adopted two kids with her husband, divorced the guy and adopted one more. I’m not sure if they’ll be here tonight. Marcie is always baking muffins and crocheting scarves for the family. Way too many scarves. If you touch her hair, she’ll kill you.

Obviously, my mom is the youngest. She’s crazy, but in the normal way. You know. She works a lot, mispronounces words she really should know and goes to therapy twice a week.

On my dad’s side, there’s just Grandpa Dean. My gram died when my dad was little—breast cancer. So Grandpa Dean remarried, but then that one died too—ovarian cancer. He pretty much gave up after that. I think he assumed he was cursed. He has some strange superstitions like no socks after 7 pm. In the car, he always makes people put on their seatbelts in a specific order: backseat right, backseat left, passenger seat, driver. He loves singing. More often that not, he’s making up lyrics for classical music and belting them the way only an old man can. But I’ve also heard him rap. What I’m saying is that loneliness made him weird, but weirdness made him great.

My dad, on the other hand, hasn’t been lonely a day in his life. He enlisted in the army with all his friends when he was 17, but got kicked out a few days later because of his asthma. He had some “adventures” (probably pot) after that and then married my mom. He likes to say life is short, which I always found annoying. Like if you’re having a problem? Life is short. Real helpful, Dad. He says selfishness is the worst quality in a person, so be sure to play up your volunteer experience in Nicaragua tonight at dinner.

Now, Marcie will lead the charge, but my mom and Grandpa Dean will be asking you just as many questions. How you proposed, how long you knew I was the one, what your ten-year plan is, that sort of thing. I know this sounds silly now, but it’s important. These people—these nutjobs—are about to fill your life the way helium fills a balloon. It’s a good thing, I promise. Because everything you do is going to come back to that dinner table and mean something to those people, more than it could mean to you alone. And we’ll return and return, and it will always be the same: same table, same tablecloth, same off-kilter chandelier. Even when they get a new table or change the lighting or move to Florida, it will be the same. Because we’re theirs and they’re ours, when we could’ve been no one’s and they could’ve been nothings.

You can ring the doorbell when you’re ready, babe.

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Brooke Randel is a short story writer and copywriter currently living in Philadelphia.

Photo by Hugo.arg (talk) and Viktorija O. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AK%C5%AB%C4%8Dios.JPG) via Wikimedia Commons.