duct duct duct
subscribe submissions contributors back issues trumpet fiction contact us legal links
support ducts
art gallery
best of ducts

Domestic Disturbances

Helen Rafferty

Oldest living bridesmaid tells all.

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 box.

Or 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 me out.

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 about everything.

Not even a cranky, graying, pastel-phobic bridesmaid.

Return to Columns