All brides are beautiful.
That was the first thought that flashed in my head as I snapped the first of a thousand pictures of my youngest sister. Radiant in white, young, beautiful, and elegant in her wedding dress, she was seated with her groom in front of the altar, seemingly lost in thought.
She hadn't seen me come in, me having missed the bridal march due to some tedious work commitments I barely managed to extricate myself from before rushing home, showering, changing into my formal barong and breaking speed limits on the way to Alabang.
No one in my family approved of this union.
Our particular reasons varied, but the common and unspoken thread was that the gem of my family was not settling down, but merely settling. She'd had plenty of boyfriends before - handsome, pedigreed and successful - all of whom met my parents' standards and each of whom was wrapped neatly around her little finger.
It therefore came as an unpleasant shock when she first brought him home. A silent provincial boy, of unclear professional standing, who barely spoke a word to any of us whenever she'd bring him around on the weekends or any of our little family affairs. My brothers and I would exchange glances and raised eyebrows whenever he was around, sitting in a corner, lost in our sister's eyes. He was her exact opposite : the ebullient, charming, winsome girl who, despite her delicate looks, was a strong-willed young woman who knew what she wanted and found ways and means to get them.
I wasn't too surprised, therefore, when one of the "gifts" I got on my last birthday was my father's announcement that she was getting married a month hence. She had become a virtuoso of escape in the house, managing to stage out-of-town trips with her beau and maintaining their relationship for around 2 and 1/2 years despite our silent disapproval. She had become adept at avoiding all possible instances where any of us- "us" being dad, me, and my brothers - could corner her and interrogate her about why she was still seeing what we had initially dismissed as a casual, if annoying, fling. My other sister was our spy, the one who kept us abreast of her movements, her comings and goings, and the little clues that finally made it clear that she was about to get married, despite all our frowning contempt for her choice of life mate.
She could have easily done so, but to her credit, she did not elope. She still sought my father's blessings, although it would be akin to saying Germany sought Poland's blessings by invading them. One fine day, after having made all her stealthy wedding preparations practically by herself, she announced that her beau's parents would be dropping by the next day for a formal pamamanhikan. I think she knew my dad would be too stunned to react, and therefore it passed that he promptly found himself with his future balaes, complete with ambassadress of goodwill from the groom's side.
I suppose my father's reputation preceded him. Maybe they thought he would simply draw his .45, dispatch them to heaven, and lay them to rest with all of the family dogs in the backyard.
Nevertheless, he obviously had failed to take into account that his youngest spawn inherited his strong will and my mother's shrewdness, and used both to her advantage. The marriage was as done a deal as the partition of Germany.
Did I say my sister was cunning? That she is, because none of her brothers was informed of this coup until after the rubble had cleared. She had ensured that none of us would have the time nor the opportunity to beat her future groom to a bloody pulp before she could drag him to the altar.
Which is how I found myself capturing her through my lens on a sun-dappled afternoon, looking more radiant than I had ever seen her before.
She beamed when she finally saw me through her veil, as I plunked my ass down in front of the altar, unmindful of the priest, and asked her and her groom to smile for me. She always had the best smile, but she gave me the brightest smile of joy I'd seen from her to date.
Then I asked them to make funny faces, which they quickly and gamely did, and then I saw my sister again. Not the furtive, stubborn, and just a little guarded young woman she had been for the past 2 and 1/2 years, hiding her plans and though mindful of her loved ones' disapproval, still determined to pursue what she believed would make her happy.
I saw my lovely sister, the one with a cool head and a boisterous confidence. The one with the only laugh to rival my own. The beautiful girl who could con all her suitors and yet have them begging to be reconciled with her, even weeks before her wedding date.
My sister, who managed to get around my father's hitherto iron will and doggedly, steadily, and determinedly pursue her own idea of happiness. Not his. Not mine. Not ours. That she managed to accomplish this without driving deep divisive wounds in the family is a testament to her will.
Or maybe her love.
For us. For her beau. And for herself.
I do not cry at weddings, but we both wept when I embraced her at the reception after all the usual post-wedding rituals were done, and we whispered private things of love and regret and forgiveness in each other's ears.
Though this may sound utterly, hopelessly cliché, I genuinely wish her all the happiness in the world. And I thank her for reminding me that while we may love them dearly, we do not exist just to make our families happy. We have to seek our own happiness, and if need be, fight for it.
But just to cement her victory, my brothers and I finally had a word with the silent groom, after all these years. We shook his hand, congratulated him, and told him to take good care of her.
And that if he ever made her cry, we would make him cry.