I'm forty-three, I'm a bridesmaid
and I'm cranky as hell. Before you remind me what an honor it is
to don the requisite poofy dress and chip in on the inevitably embarrassing
honeymoon trousseau, allow me to list a few of the attendant trials.
Let's start with the dress a pale lavender number with
a halter top, no back, and an alarming ability to make me look even
paler and scrawnier than I am. J-Lo or Beyonce would look great
in this little number, sashaying down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon.
It makes me look ready to be carried down the aisle in a wooden
maybe the main problem is the bride, a full decade younger than
me and blissfully convinced that she is about to step down the aisle
and through the portal to ever-lasting happiness. Seeing that I
am closing in on twenty years of marriage, I face this innocent
joy the only way I can -- keeping my oldest living bridesmaid's
mouth shut, employing matching lavender duct tape when the urge
to issue dire warnings grows too strong.
How did I end up sporting a prom dress a quarter century too
late? My cousin, Joan, has always been more like a little sister
to me. I baby-sat her, yakking on the phone with my friends, then
putting her to bed before six so I could eat all the ice cream her
mother had left us and watch the Partridge Family in peace. Joan's
inability to see how awful people really are started showing itself
even then, I guess; she loved me.
Having made the aforementioned personal investment in Joan's
development, I felt perfectly justified having her spend huge amounts
of time taking care of my kids. Mom could kick back with a frozen
drink by the pool while cousin Joan played Marco Polo in the water
for hours with my littlest. Joan amiably took my place at the family
Monopoly marathons God, I hate board games and never
complained; even though she was invariably stuck being the shoe
or the iron while my kids ended up cheating and fighting. Joan's
always been willing to go along with someone else's idea of a good
time; seems all she needs to be happy is to keep everyone around
her happy. So sweet and so amiable, it's always been hard to believe
Joan had any armor built up against the harsher realities of life.
I knew it was selfish to depend on her always being there for me
when I needed a last-minute Girl's Night Out or my daughters needed
a playmate. But I convinced myself that Joan needed to be around
my stressed out, cynical, selfish self maybe I could toughen
her up a little.
Then, late last year, Joan and her boyfriend, John, announced
their engagement. I really like her charming, soft-spoken fiancée
but part of me was already alarmed even before I saw the
lavender dress. This did not sound like a good deal for me. How
could Joan continue to go on family vacations with us and be lively
and fun so I didn't have to be? And how was I supposed to keep Joan
as my extra child when she might decide to have some kids of her
own? How could I take care of her if she insisted on pretending
to be a grown-up?
So I've been cranky about this bridesmaid thing, this wedding
thing, about the obligatory shower and bachelorette party and rehearsal
dinner. I'm too damn old to deal with a young woman floating so
high up on a pink cloud that an ounce of harsh reality would bring
her crashing down.
Three weeks before the wedding, Joan's fiancée collapsed.
A faulty vein that had always been hidden away in his brain decided
to make itself known in a most spectacular fashion. He was rushed
from work to Cornell Medical Center for emergency surgery. I got
to the hospital the next day, while he was still in recovery. There
was my sweet cousin, Joan, holding John's hand, consulting with
doctors and reassuring overwrought relatives. Me, I stood at the
foot of the hospital bed crying and useless, then wandered blindly
through some high security area until the staff basically kicked
Over the next three weeks, Joan ran back and forth from the
hospital, managed John's care, negotiated with his employers and
fought for his admission to the best rehab center in the area. At
the same time, she patiently fielded dozens of phone calls from
friends and relatives telling her what to do. Most of them, myself
included, advised her to face reality and call off the wedding for
two hundred and thirty guests she had planned months ago. Joan smiled
and said, "John will be fine by then." Various aunts and
uncles joined an army of first, second and third cousins in a silent
but overwhelming display of group disapproval. We listened grimly,
eyebrows raised, when Joan mentioned the last minute details she
was taking care of for the big day. Gandhi himself could not have
organized such a massive display of passive protest.
The family waited for Joan's wedding dreams to collapse right
up to the moment she walked down the aisle on her big brother's
arm, on schedule, three weeks from John's admission to the emergency
room. Two hundred people held their breaths until the bride and
groom met at the altar. It wasn't until the rings were on the bride
and groom's fingers that the church full of friends and relations
felt relieved enough to cry.
I was wrong; my cousin is stronger and braver than I'll ever
be. And I was wrong we were all wrong about the wedding;
it went off without a hitch, complete with a free martini bar, bagpipers
at midnight, and a marathon version of the ever-popular Chicken
Dance. I was right about the lavender dress, but no one can be wrong
Not even a cranky, graying, pastel-phobic bridesmaid.