I’ve been in many, many weddings. I was a clutch flower girl- blond hair, good behavior, and a seamstress-to-the-gods-grandmother who could spin out confections of tiny gowns no patent leather Mary Janes or faux flower petals could ever deserve. I also had a matching sister, so in a few cases the team aspect was just too good for even distantly-related brides to pass up. When the growth spurts hit, I was relocated to train-carrier, guest book charmer and favor distributor.
I was scarcely out of high school when my bridesmaid career began. For my first day of work I wore floor length lavender, and the bride was about as pregnant as they come. You should know that I look terrible in lavender or anything remotely palely floral. She had been my childhood bestie, a bosom buddy because our parents were long time friends. When you’re a child you have everything in common because you have everything left to try out- an endless supply of identities to zip up and walk around in before you find them too itchy, too bunchy, too…too and you toss them off and run to the next, chasing or being chased by your dear Other, playmate of your heart. Life bore down on my friend while it shone softly on me: her family moved to the isolated, ramshackle outskirts, where boys tend stretch while girls shrink and close, and then her parents got tired of trying for each other, and went their separate ways.
Mom and kids moved to a town apartment, high school began, and my friend pulled on a hard shell and decided it was best. She chose other armadillo friends, ones that would not leave the ground, did not belong anywhere lush, who moved slow and could not be hurt. I was still playing dress up, and her chosen self was intimidating and sad, so we wandered in increasingly divergent directions. She had disappointed me, choosing the way she did, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew hers was not for me, and I felt guilt and avoided the guilt by avoiding her. By the time she got engaged, we were in the barest of contact, but she called me and asked me to be her maid of honor. I would learn that her other, closer friends, were even harder-shelled than she, and were covered in mostly self-inflicted scars. I think she wanted me as a talisman for her marriage- a representation of purity and potential while being an embodiment of innocent, childlike devotion. She was ashamed of her friends, maybe they realized it when they met me, and it made me embarrassed.
I was out of place at the shower (her mom handled all of the official maid-of-honor duties, I being away at college the time), and I didn’t know what to do at the wedding besides stand and smile. When the other bridesmaids stopped for cigarette breaks or to shout at their small children, I stood quietly and awkwardly. I left the reception before it was over, while my friend and her new husband were opening their gifts- I think I may have lied and told her I had to catch my flight back to school- and we’ve only spoken thrice in the 10 years since, two of those instances being chance encounters. I left early because I didn’t want the burden of upholding her past identity, of being under the spotlight as the best friend simply because I used to be. The guilt I felt for no longer being thus, even if I was only half responsible for our parting, was uncomfortable. Her desperate attempt to embrace these friends, the husband, this future was hard to watch, so I didn’t. I left.
There were other weddings after that, and other adornments of varying appeal: an iridescent, sea foam green, two piece ball gown with jeweled straps that my college roommate bride was delighted to present (with a straight face, no less) as something I could wear again in a formal setting. A kicky lime-colored raw silk skirt that cruelly threatened to show dark pools of sweat if it touched my thighs as I stood in the sun. A pale rose (see above) wisp of a dress that stopped at my knees so everyone could see the giant red Amazonian Mosquito bite on my sallow shin. A strapless linen, chocolate brown sundress that I had to order big and trim down for my sorry excuse for a bust in order to keep it from sliding off me, and of course, the next venture into maid of honor territory, the black satin encasement.
Another childhood friend, this one I was at least still in regular social contact with. This one, though, hadn’t made her own college friends. She still gloried in halcyon days of high school revelry (she was marrying her high school sweetheart), still upheld these as the friendships that really were the stuff of soul-knitting. There was guilt, again, that I didn’t regard as my maid of maids, that when I would get married a few years later I wouldn’t have in my party, that I didn’t want the responsibility of her bridal festivities, much less her devotion. I didn’t see in myself what she saw in me, which made me uncomfortable, and then angry at her for making me feel thusly. And it just got worse: because I was maid of honor, my dress would be SPECIAL and have a few feet of train dramatically swirling ’round my ankles. She gives love in so many ways, this one, and it’s hard to keep up, which perpetuates everything.
The wedding would be in the summer, outside, by the river. Rather than a cool breeze coming from the moving water, there was moisture swirling in the oppressive heat. In case you’re unfamiliar, satin is a very bitchy fabric. It does not give an inch. It does not breathe or drape. It restrains. And it was black, and the skirt went up to what the pattern swore was my natural waist but was really my ribs, and it was a mermaid cut, which meant my knees would touch always always always. The necklace she chose was a beaded black choker that was only barely big enough for me, so choke it did- it was all supposed to be very formal, but it was- to my body- terrifyingly constrictive, not to mention sweaty. The height of the formality only amplified my contrasting grumpy disinterest. My friend vowed to serve and submit to her groom while he vowed to lead her. I glowered into my fuchsia flowers, feeling how undeserving he was, I was, we all were for her affection and light; we were apt in stiff black satin in chokers while she was in sparkling white confection, and she had no idea.
Clearly, I have trouble accepting exalted titles. It’s hard to commit to your own low self-esteem when a beloved or once-treasured friend insists on thrusting a mantle of greatness upon you. An uncomfortable, fancy costume certainly doesn’t help the situation. The next time someone asks me to be her honorable maid, I will say, “friend, I respect your regard for me but would much rather be your extremely old flower girl, chosen only for her good behavior and petal distribution and without the responsibility of anything but cute shoes and blond hair.” If we really are friends, she will understand.