I see it so clearly, like a movie still playing out in front of me.
The bugs start to get caught in my wedding dress right away.
Their silhouettes appear like Halloween decorations, stark against the white.
The dress is a frothy confection of tulle that just reaches my ankles, tea length, in layer upon layer of, what I realize too late, may as well be butterfly netting.
In the peach orchard, on a sticky August day in Virginia, and I know as I'm the one intruding on their space in my puff of a dress, not them.
First a cricket, then a spider, an earthworm, outlined and trapped, each pressed between a different fold of the wedding dress fabric like flowers drying, only what I see are outlines of bugs.
Sarah, the charming photographer, keeps her cool as her hands whip through the layers of tulle to grab them one by one, in a frenzied rescue operation.
With each discovery, she scoops up a bug and whisks it away, laughing with a kind of manic reassurance, and occasionally stealing a glance up at me to check on my reaction.
How is this bride handling a wedding dress laced with spiders?
The Virginia farm, with a heat happy to spoil anything sitting still too long, was far flung for whole swaths of guests who ventured out for the wedding from California. But I remember it.
We wanted what we wanted, something new, a grove of trees and a circus tent, closer to the place we thought we were going than all the places we had come from.
It was a beautiful wish, really, and a beautiful place—we were setting off on a future of some kind, a something, bugs caught one by one in the earnest lace of my dress, the cupcake butterfly net.
When we split apart in the thundering summer crack we break like pieces of the space station dismantled, falling out of orbit. Just in time for Halloween I set the dress out by the trash a few months later, with a shrug. Maybe someone will use it for their Halloween costume, I remember thinking, maybe they will go as a bride, or a good liar.
I am a good liar because I have been practicing my whole life, and I lie so convincingly and earnestly that he comes to believe it too. The menagerie of summer insects dotting the layers of my wedding dress are only one of the thousand things that go a little sour, that escape the dreamy management of my planning.
The best friend who hadn’t ordered the bridesmaid dress was sewn into an imitation version that had arrived that morning from China, too small, in a different color, but this close.
The bouquets that the florist had forgotten were replaced with wildflowers, plucked by our flowergirl and stuffed into the pockets of her dress, tossed out as she skipped down the aisle.
The yellow taxi that never showed up to take us away left us stranded, surrounded. "Suddenly you look like a little girl again," a voice near by said, as I flooded with embarrassment, wondering how we would get out.
We ran out of food, and booze, and forgot the steps to the dance, and in the photos later we saw the cracks. His shirt always untucked, my hair always messy, smiles that look a little grating, a little forced. Sun that cast harsh shadows, eyes askance at the winding stone wall where we sat, foreheads together, covered in sweat and the weight of our wishlists.
But that was love, I thought, and it felt real to us then. It was day one. It was just the beginning. We had no idea.
Even the unkempt ends felt like us, almost like a sign of good luck or at least of true love. Maybe this was how a wedding felt for people too focused, too chosen, to have tended to the details of dance steps or extra sangria.
The mayhem of the moment made it seem like what mattered most was what we had chosen to say, to sing, like we were declaring to ourselves what this marriage was going to be, and we asked all of our friends to watch and to promise that they would remind us of it, later, in case we ever forgot.
I am serene and happy, I thought then, even a little detached. In the moment this feels like evidence of my focus and maturity, in retrospect it feels suspicious and sad. Sometimes it even feels as if it didn’t really happen, but of course, it did—I was married, and then later, I wasn’t.
That day was a beginning and an end at once, and in the humid August air, the heaviness of my hardest striving—to be good, to be nice, to be in love—hung in the hymns we had chosen and the songs we had selected. Come thou fount of every blessing, tune thy heart to sing thy praise. It was a prayer; it was a plea.
We had done so much work. His mother and I had collected old china plates from Goodwill to hold the cake, and dainty vintage handkerchiefs to hold the crumbs. We had assembled our people, our projects. We had assembled our selves, with sleeves added and bow ties knotted. The wedding felt odd and beautiful, like watching pieces of a movie through a neighbor’s window.
All the things that went wrong didn’t reach me, just like the bugs close enough to startle me at first but always layers away from my skinny legs.
I got praise and compliments for having a sense of humor, for remaining nice. I remember when those were two of my highest ambitions.
And I think of the bugs in the dress, and the girl underneath, untouched.
I want to ask her to dance, I want to pour her a drink for the love of God, and I want to welcome her into a different kind of commitment.
One to herself, to the world she wants to be part of, to a new set of ambitions and goals that are less about being nice, and good, and sweet, and more about being REAL.
I want to tell her, It is safe for you to let yourself be loud, to take up space, to uncover the truth, to rise.
So I am, telling her. And all of us.
What do you need to tell your former self today?
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