Dustin was nervous.
Who could blame him?
With about 25 minutes until showtime, he approached me and a handful of close high school buddies as we caught up at the Moonwinks bar Saturday afternoon.
It had been several months since Dustin and I last spoke in person, so we exchanged a hearty handshake, which quickly became a hug.
“Do you mind, man?” he asked.
“Not at all. What’ll it be?” I smiled.
So we all said cheers over a shot of Jack.
Then — with some hair on his chest, some lead in his pencil — Dustin Elliott walked to the main dining room at Moonwinks and married the former Jennifer Sawaya.
The new Mrs. Elliott looked beautiful in white. He softly stroked the top of her hand with his thumb. He gazed into her eyes lovingly, nervously, with a hint of a 22-year-old’s trepidation, but at the same time a reassuring confidence that their matrimony is exactly what both of them would want, need, treasure and nurture through time.
Later, Dustin maintained his heart was beating out of his chest, he was feeling light-headed, and passing out at the altar very easily could’ve happened. Being there, you never would’ve known.
“It’s just something you won’t understand until you experience it yourself,” he told me during a party later that night at his parents’ home in Black Creek.
And there it was. He’s right. At 25, I never have.
Now, I’ve known Dustin ever since we were little, when his late older brother, Brandon, and I began playing baseball together on Cuba’s Little League fields. Of course, Brandon passed away about two-and-a-half years ago — the victim of a mental illness that’s often been chronicled on these very pages as a heart-breaking, but necessary, example the worst-case scenario.
All that aside, Dustin was always there. He was like my little brother, too, the little guy who tagged along and aspired to be like the older guys — a cog in an ever-turning generational wheel, which earlier saw us tagging along and aspiring to be like the older guys ourselves.
Baseball as Dustin’s personal avenue slowly fell away from the picture about the time he hit high school, but he was still there much of the time.
Just like his older brother, Dustin was always loved and welcome in my home — just as I and others were in theirs.
As we got older, I’d often try to impart some “manly” knowledge on “the boy”— although, with each passing year, it becomes more apparent how little I actually knew. Often with Brandon by my side, we’d teach Dustin how to throw a curveball, how to take that fastball on the outside corner and hit it to right field, how to talk to girls, how to grow up.
It was as rocky a process for him as it has been for many of us.
But now little Dustin’s not so little. He hasn’t been for quite some time. Ironically enough, he’s a heck of a lot bigger than me.
He’s married. That’s a surprise, a very pleasant surprise. And that love would unite Jennifer, a 2005 Cuba-Rushford graduate, and Dustin, of the Class of 2010 — two people I never would’ve envisioned married as we walked the same hallways — is a pleasant surprise, too.
I wouldn’t dream of wasting married folks’ time with advice on something I truly know nothing about. But here’s some common-sense advice — simplistic in its nature, yet true in its sentiment — for the new bride and groom.
Always remember you do actually love each other. It’s going to be difficult. Very difficult. Through life’s many trials, I’d imagine coming back to that realization, time and again, will be stronger than gravity.
Two more words of advice.
Mr. Dustin Elliott: “have patience.”
Mrs. Dustin Elliott: “have patience.”
And one final thought.
After all the rings and vows were exchanged and the “I do’s” were said, I deeply embraced Vicki Elliott — Brandon’s and Dustin’s mom — and she wept a little bit on my shoulder.
For the first time in several years, however, those tears were different. They were tears of joy.
“This is a good day, Ma’,” I whispered in her ear.
And it was.
For a family that has needed and deserved a good day for a very long time, it absolutely was.
(Contact reporter Kelsey M. Boudin at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)