This weekend I was a bridesmaid for the first time. It was a crazy adrenaline-fueled whirlwind of a weekend. Some of the bridal party were old friends of mine; some were out-of-towners I was meeting for the first time. For four days, we convened at a beachside resort and did our absolute best to make sure the bride went to pieces as little as possible.
I was prepared for the trappings of it: the late-night bachelorette festivities, the group-bonding nail salon appointment, the last-minute run to Macy’s, the gaffe-filled and generally hilarious wedding rehearsal, the crowded and chaotic rehearsal dinner, the ceremony itself. What I wasn’t expecting was the emotional wallop–or the weirdness of seeing my dear friend, the bride, turn into a glowing postcard version of herself.
She and I have known each other since we were five years old. Even at that age, we had both found a creative pursuit we loved–music for her, writing for me–and had decided, with the unequivocal certainty little girls have, that that’s what we would do for the rest of our lives. She was always the brightest, most effervescent presence in a room, the gregarious blue-eyed Christian girl; I was the dark and biting one, the cynical Jew. We bonded over being the odd ones, the defiant ones, the different-drum dancers. Both of us hit puberty early and awkwardly, and suddenly we were small women navigating a frightening new territory together. She taught me how to reach out and embrace others, and I tried to help her nurture the quiet, poetic side of her. I credit this woman, in large part, with making me the person I am today.
Which was why it was so strange to see her laced into a glamorous white gown, with delicate lace over her shoulders and a satin-edged veil in her hair. From the moment she put the dress on, I could see the shift in her–suddenly, she was a wax-doll version of herself. Perfectly painted, with loose curls around her shoulders, her expression at once incandescent and quietly terrified. As head-turningly beautiful as she’s ever been, but in a new and remote way.
The picture-perfect “beautiful bride.”
I know this is what she wanted. She needed to be picture-perfect on her wedding day, and she was, and her happiness warmed the entire reception hall. But for me, the beautiful bride was not the wax doll in the raw-silk dress.
She was the quiet, windswept young woman who came into our shared group condo at 8 o’clock that morning, with a messy ponytail and a naked face, wearing sweats and carrying her sandy sneakers. She told me she had walked on the beach at sunrise, trying to clear her head, trying to make sense of this enormous leap she was about to take, when she spotted a pair of otters bobbing among the kelp fronds. They floated together, perfectly matched and serene, and she took a deep breath and said to herself, “Well, if they can do it, I can do it.”
It was a fairytale wedding.