All of that bride stuff makes me cringe. Always has. I just couldn't relate. Somehow the supposedly ubiquitous little girl's dream of spending thousands of dollars on flowers and looking like an exploded cotton ball was never baked into me. Oh sure, I hoped I'd find and marry that special human someday, but I pictured a different sort of wedding -- a romantic elopement, perhaps, or a ceremony presided over by an Elvis impersonator.
My sentiments about all the usual pomp and circumstance could be summed up by a little ditty I once heard an older sibling sing, probably as we were loading up in the car on our way to a very florid wedding. It went something like this:
Here comes the bride
all dressed in pink
open up the window
and let out the stink!
And now I detect a faint smell. My man Marty proposed in February (Germ Bag, 4/11). He didn't want to elope or go to Las Vegas, so we strategized a small ceremony followed by a big, unstructured, tradition-free party. Our loose plan was to invite about 100 of our closest pals and kin to come and stay in a cluster of cool beach houses in remote, coastal Alabama. Guests would be treated to four days of relaxed communing and general waterfront shenanigans. On the fourth day, Marty and I -- minus any bridesmaids or groomsmen, and also minus any shoes -- would walk down a sandy aisle demarcated only by shells. My niece would sing a Turtles song, and BAM -- Marty and I would be as one.
I made myself a solemn promise: My wedding will be low key. Nothing about it will cheese me out. Much as the crowd might expect such things, there would be no tossing of the bouquet (a hideous tradition that has caused me to hide in the bathroom at many a wedding). There would be no shoving of cake into each other's pieholes. There would be no Hokey-Pokey and, as god is my witness, no Chicken Dance. Our wedding would be simple, straightforward, streamlined, joyous.
And easy. All I'd have to do is make a few calls to ensure the presence of food at the reception. Maybe we'd pick some flowers from a nearby field and stick them on the tables. I figured I'd buy some sort of whitish outfit a weeks before the big day. And, needless to say, there'd be no Brides magazine action. I wasn't buying into that racket, no way, no how. No satin pillows, no prizes under the seats -- that was my mantra.
A few days after Marty and I decide on our modest beach wedding, though, I begin to feel mysteriously uneasy. What is it? A change in barometric pressure? A plague of locusts headed our way? I'm not sure. I just know the symptoms include a small stomachache and a compulsion to go to Borders and flip through Town & Country's Real Weddings. Where is this coming from? I resist. Must maintain normalcy. Must remain a low-maintenance bride.
But that afternoon, my friend Babs calls and inadvertently shatters my thin veneer with one seemingly simple question. "What kind of cake are you going to have?" she asks.
"Cake? Uh, I hadn't really thought about that," I sputter, my head having heretofore been a completely cake-free zone. "Should I have a cake? What do those cost? A cake? Well, maybe. You know, yeah, I really should have a cake, shouldn't I? Yes, I'll have a cake!"
And with that, I slip, and fall into a deep pit lined with taffeta and silk and beads, with layers of almond buttercream and hand-made pillows and Calla lilies to soften my landing. One innocent question and I am catapulted into the Land of Brides. Suddenly I'm all about wedding cakes, vibrating with glee at the thought of opening the door to these tall confections of love. I want to learn everything there is to know about them -- everything!
Part of me wants to fight what was happening, to claw my way out of the seductive pit of satin. Don't give in. Forget about the cake. Just serve fruit. Melon balls are awfully nice!
But another part me savors the fall from grace. Maybe I've been working too hard to keep my inner Cinderella chained up in a dungeon, covered in dung. Maybe I should clean her off and let her out -- a little, to do a few girlie things -- then go back where she belonged.
So I let that part of me win. I take a deep breath and get on the Internet, studying up on the suddenly fascinating world of wedding cakes. A half-hour later, Babs calls to tell me about a pastry-chef friend of hers in New York City. I could fly her down to do the cake, Babs said. For a moment I actually consider this.
God, what have I become -- and so quickly? Will Marty even recognize me when gets home? Will my hair be up in a big, thick bow atop a face caked with makeup? What's next?
A call from my mom to begin discussing wedding details, that's what. It is all happening at once, this nuptial head rush. I look at my computer screen as we talk and see that I've gone and changed my desktop art to a funky gold-and-white wedding cake. I hear a sound, and it is me, yammering about cakes like I am speaking in tongues.
"OK," my mom says impatiently, "but what bra will you wear?"
"Jeez, I don't know, Mom. I don't tend to think about which underwear I'm going to wear six months from now."
"Well, suit yourself, but I really don't want to see you ruin your big day by wearing a strapless bra."
Wow. The wrong bra could foul up an entire day? I want to laugh at my mother, to accuse her of being compulsive and strange. But as much as I hate to admit it, the woman has a point. Surely I didn't want an album filled with shots of me tugging at the sides of my boobs and grimacing.
And Mom has a deeper message too: This wedding stuff, she is trying to tell me, requires that you push through a membrane and access an entirely different lobe of the brain, one that is distinctly feminine and relishes bathing itself in details that, pre-engagement, seem frivolous and stupid but, post-engagement, make a sort of sick sense in Girl World.
It all moves along the greater commitment continuum, Mom seems to be beaming from her head to mine. You have just committed to a man, even though you can't picture what he will look like 10, 20, 30 years from now. So too must you commit now to the minutiae surrounding a party six months away, though you can't picture that either. And don't be absurd -- there's no such thing as just picking flowers from a field and buying something sort of whitish.
She is right, of course. I can see that now. So I peel back the membrane to let a tidal wave of particulars rush in. How many floating candles do we need in the pool? How do I go about making commemorative magnets with pictures of me and Marty for each wedding guest? Are Venus's-flytraps suitable tabletop flora? My skull pulsates with it all.
I start devoting about a third of each workday to wedding planning, letting the fluffy white virus into every cell. For a cluster of days, I throw myself into the study of DJs; next, I become proficient in all things catering. And giving in to it feels orgasmic.
On about day six of the illness, it hit me: I have total control over this thing. Wondrous! Why, I can subject the guests to invasive mariachi musicians if I want, or a puppet show, or a Barbra Streisand impersonator. I can have a little plastic bride and groom strangling each other on top of the cake, or humping. I can play AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" when I walk down the aisle. Sure, some people may try to stop me, but they won't be able to because I'm the freaking bride. At a shop I spy a bouquet filled with what looks like porous space pods. A florist tells me I can have them painted purple. It's settled -- that's what I'll have.
I take to confronting Marty with pressing feverish questions when he gets home from work. "Should we have lilac-scented hot towels for everyone after they eat their crawfish, or should the towels smell of gardenias?"
He answers with stunned silence, wondering where his woman has gone. When I learn it's possible to get washed-up '80s bands like A Flock of Seagulls to come play at your reception for $5,000, I consider gutting my savings. Marty takes to spending his evenings attempting exorcisms on me.
I try to avoid it, but the pressure grows too great. On Day 7 of the fever, I go out and buy a copy of Modern Bride. And also Wedding Style. I keep the magazines out of sight, so as not to frighten Marty any further. But I relish them, poring over their glossy pages with abandon. To my relief, though, they contain almost nothing I want -- just a bunch of huge dresses and unity candles and engraved cake knives and little mesh sachets with rice in them. Whew, that was close.
On Day 9, married girlfriends start calling and e-mailing, all aflutter. It's as if they've picked up my spastic-bride vibe in the collective unconscious. Babs takes it up a notch, ringing weekly; Mom calls daily. They want details, and I'm more than willing to while away the hours coughing them up. I tell them about the Chinese lanterns I want to have strung up, and the white tablecloths. I speak of the champagne fountain. I don't even want to participate in any conversation that isn't wedding-related. How nauseating would I have found myself six months ago?
On Day 11 I do the unthinkable: I decide to commit to a strict, unforgiving workout regimen, one that will have me looking like Linda Hamilton in Terminator II by the wedding day. Me, with a long history of mocking others who did such things for their nuptials. Oh, the hypocrisy. But I quickly rationalize. I'm different -- I'm having a four-day beach wedding. I have to look like a million bucks for four straight days -- in a bikini. At least it wasn't a diet, right? I'd have to draw the line at that. No diet.
On Day 12, Marty tells me about a wedding where the DJ regaled the crowd with a trivia contest about the bride and groom. "Hey," I respond, "that's a good idea!" Now I know things are getting out of hand. The former me would have never dreamed of such a thing. But no sooner do I form the thought than I hear myself suggesting Marty and I choreograph an elaborate, gymnastic disco dance to wow guests. "Let's perform to the Bee Gee's 'You Should be Dancing'!" I yelp. Oh dear goddesses, please let me off this crazy ride.
The next afternoon, I catch myself calling around to find out where to get a good facial, because Modern Bride says to get one every month, starting six months out. "Be nubile! Make sure you have the skin of an 18-year-old on your big day!" the magazine tells me. "OK!" I respond.
As I dial, though, I feel an out-of-body experience coming on. A moment later, the ghost hovering sternly above my physical self whispers to me: "All right, Missy, this has gone too far. Suckling from the tasty bridal teat can be nifty indeed, but you must take care not to abort the overall simplicity of this thing. Now stop it!"
With that, the fever breaks. I begin to sweat it out. I throw Modern Bride face down into a box and, to center myself, I begin to chant a song. A song that reminds me who I really am. A righteous song. Sing it with me: "Here comes the bride, all dressed in pink . . ."
Exit Stage Fright (2/26/2003)
Editor's note: With this installment we bid adieu to Germ Bag.
Cabin Pressure (2/12/2003)
Escape -- you might think it's what you desire. Until you've actually run somewhere.
New Traditionalists (1/8/2003)
It was Christmas Eve morning on Harvard Street. Marty and I sat on the hardwood floor near our...
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201