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Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Wedding Gown Story

A friend is getting married soon, and today a bridal shower was held in her honor. In addition to the food, gifts, words of wisdom and encouragement that are typically offered, the hostess planned to have some of the attendees' wedding dresses modeled, and the stories behind them told.

Most of the dresses shown were vintage gowns--one was even 98 years old! But I was asked to participate as well, even though my dress certainly can't be called an heirloom. The story may be worth telling, however, especially if the reality of putting together a wedding has, in the reader's experience, ever been less than fairy-tale perfect. So here it is, my wedding gown story:

Chloe has the lovely blessing from God of having many siblings. The added blessing is that for a time like this, she has both a mother engaged in the celebration of her wedding, and eight sisters to participate and give input as well.

I had the lovely blessing from God of having many siblings, too, but all five of them were boys. Brothers rock, and I’d never exchange them. But when it comes to picking wedding dresses and planning hors d’eouvres, there’s a limit to their usefulness.

My own parents didn’t have a wedding. They eloped, paid $5 for a marriage license, and were married by the Justice of the Peace before a civil witness in their Sunday clothes. Even though they had a daughter, they never thought of having to plan for a wedding.

Add to that the simple facts that at the time of my wedding, I had been living in Asheville less than a year. I had coworkers who were acquaintances, but no girlfriends here in town. I’m also genetically designed to freak out when shopping. Clothes on the rack are deceptive and sinister. Oh sure, they look cute and so enticing. But once behind the dressing room doors, they morph and change and their REAL character comes out. I know their kind.

Still, I knew I had to do it. I had to buy a wedding dress. So one day in November, I decided to take my lunch break at God’s World in the Innsbruck Mall and walk, alone, down the mall to the bridal shop that once inhabited that now nearly empty hall. How hard can this be?

The glass door seemed far heavier than it should be. Oh, the EFFORT it took to push it open. I remember my biceps feeling strangely quivery and weak afterward. But with great exertion, there I was, little me, standing in my brown Oxford flats, khaki skirt, and tweedy blazer, in the very midst of a sea of billowing white taffeta and lace. All around. Closing in. Waves of shiny fabric, sweating pearl-drops, puffed out from the walls on three sides. Everywhere I looked the wall of white seemed to expand like bursts of gargantuan popcorn kernels, right in my face. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I might drown in there, and there would be decades’ worth of weddings before anyone dug deeply enough beneath the surface of the Great White Deep to find me there, entombed beneath bolts and bolts of polished sateen.

I fled. I took my beige little self back to my desk and surrounded myself with children’s books and catalog copy, and I took comfort.

For a little while.

But, December 10 was drawing close, and I had to face it eventually. I chose not to think of it. But God is merciful, and he knows our frame and every weakness, and his provisions are always appropriate for our needs, no matter how psychotic those needs may be.

One Saturday in late November, I needed a break from thinking and planning and budgeting, so I went, again by myself, to a store I enjoyed visiting: Books-A-Million. (These were the days before Asheville had a Barnes & Noble.)  I spent a refreshing hour or two there with the printed pages, and because it was a nice day and warm for November, I took a short walk down the shopfronts in that same strip. Before I knew it, I stood in front of a glass window of a store called Michaela’s. And in this store window on headless, armless mannequins, just as bland and non-threatening as can be, were three simple, restrained, modest wedding dresses. Not one of them seemed to be escaping from its personal space and into my own. The one in the middle was an informal dress, with a little lace and a few pearls, and a simple skirt.

I wasn’t terrified. I wasn’t overwhelmed. The door wasn’t really ALL THAT heavy.

I went in. I asked for the dress on the mannequin. The sales attendant helped me button and zip. I remember I was still wearing my sport socks when I looked in the mirror. “It fits OK,” I said.
“Yes, it does,” she answered.

“I can afford it,” I said. “Wonderful!” was her reply. “Should I box it up for you then?”

“OK,” I said. I wrote a check. I took it home. I hung it in my closet.

And then, I exhaled.

--Rebecca Cochrane