You see an old high school friend in the Giant off Route 13 two weeks after you’ve moved back to town.  She lifts her arms in the air and squeals, just like she always did in high school.  She wears a hot pink tank top with bra straps clearly showing.  Her breasts are large and pendulous.  She already has two kids.

            I heard you were back in town, she cries, we have to get together soon!

            Okay, you agree, knowing this is just one of those things you say.

            You congratulate her on her engagement, which you noticed on your Facebook news feed near other, more pressing updates, including your ex’s new status: in a relationship with the slut from Whole Foods. 

            And then she says, Oh, and you’re going to be a bridesmaid.  I’m getting the whole gang back together.

            And just like that you’ve been roped into the six month ordeal—picking out bridesmaid dresses, getting fitted, planning the bridal shower and bachelorette party, attending the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, and finally, blissfully, reaching the main event.  The fact that you were informed, not asked, does not slip your attention.

            Her wedding has a Facebook page, as everything does nowadays, including your dentist, the one who goes “ah hmm, ah hmm” every time he looks into your mouth as though there is something really perplexing in there, like an entire hippopotamus.  He complimented you on your strappy sandals last time you visited, a fact you are trying not to read too much into.  On the wedding page, you see several other high school friends are also bridesmaids.  There was Amy Delaney, who would often belt out Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” with her head pressed against the passenger-side window on long, pointless drives through town, now graduated with a degree in Music Therapy from Towson.  And there was Julie Spencer, once a size-twenty girl who could pack away an entire Lombardi’s pizza by herself, now an administrative associate at the Environmental Defense Fund living “single and fab-u-lous” in DC.  These facts make you feel like you’ve lost the game.  You moved back home, accepted a modest teaching job at the local community college, stopped the eternal struggle of pretending to read Bukowski on the metro until you were approached by a James Franco-looking motherfucker who offered you love and a job with a 401k.  You can imagine the fake Oh That’s Nice when you tell them what you are now doing with your life.

            Throughout the next month, images from high school flash by like a slideshow: standing in line outside Seacrets where frat boys in board shorts leer at your too-tight jeans, the smell of manure on the drive to school, a party in a shed filled with warm cans of Bud Light.  The parties, the clubs—they were all because of her.  You would have otherwise never stood in the salt-tinged Ocean City heat, trying to judge the rape-potential of Mr. Buzz-Cut who kept touching his stomach.

            And then you receive the news: there will be no bachelorette party.  She has two kids, after all, and needs to be responsible.  That was the phrase she used: responsible.  You almost spit out your glass of Shiraz when you heard it.

            The bridal shower is hosted by her two sisters, and once you are there, you pile up your paper plate with deviled eggs and Chick-Fil-A nuggets.  You play ridiculous bridal games with presents like a bottle opener in the shape of a shoe.  These games are surrounded by silence, punctured by moments of awkward conversation among people who don’t really know each other.  Everyone keeps trying to get you to hold the baby.  You are thankful when the aunt leaves, so you can leave too.

            On the day of the wedding, everyone meets at the mother of the bride’s house for an entire day of primping.  Small moments of panic leak out like helium—where are my special underwear, the pastor is running late, is the groom at the church yet, where is my special body lotion— while you and the other bridesmaids update each other about your lives sporadically.  You ignore the chronology that would illustrate just how long it has been since you all spoke to one another.  Once you have run the gauntlet of hair, make-up, and dresses, everyone tells you how pretty you look in cooing voices as though you are five.  You look in the mirror and don’t hate what you see.

            The wedding itself is short, to which you are grateful.  As you watch your old friend struggle and fail to get through the trite wedding vows without crying and the new husband whip out a tissue to dab away her tears, you squash the yawn of desire blooming inside you.

            And then, you reach the reception.  It is like high school again but better—here are all the people who you liked and none of the assholes you didn’t, like Brandon Garret, who you gave a hand job to behind the art class dumpster, hoping he would ditch his then-girlfriend Brittany even though her hair was so sleek and chestnutty-brown.  Yes, now is much better.  You have better skin, you can fill out your dress, and best of all, when you looked in the mirror while prepping earlier that day, you thought all right.  And yet, vestiges of high school remain: the music so familiar from school dances (Push it real good), the faces of your best friends only slightly time-worn, the meticulously crafted hair under a fog of hair spray, the tight-fitting dresses you will never wear again.  You dance and dance and dance, only partially aware who is dancing with you.

All of the bridesmaids get drunk, slowly and then all at once.  You reveal sudden, inappropriate things about yourselves.

            I eat lunch in my office by myself.

            I find the very thought of children abhorrent and my husband wants kids.  It is putting a strain on our marriage.

            I found a bobby pin in our bed this morning.  I don’t wear bobby pins.

            I can’t really relax without a glass of wine or two or three, but who’s counting?

You make eye contact with single men who turn out not to be single.  They all have dates, and you wonder what the hell is the point of being a bridesmaid if you can’t nail at least one eligible bachelor?  But the truth is that guys don’t crash weddings to cruise for single chicks.  That is only in the movies.  One guy with a flop of blonde hair smiles back at you, but then you notice him necking the girl in the silver tube-top dress more appropriate for a club than a wedding.  There is no chance for you.

By the time bar closes after your fifth cup of white wine, the bride has already left.  You leave begrudgingly, and everyone yells goodbye as if you are sailing away forever into a black night lined with stars.

On the way home, you pump Kiss 95.9 as loud as you can tolerate—which, considering how close you were to the speakers, is quite loud—and silently jam to top 40 singles, but it isn’t enough, it is all slipping away somehow.  You can feel it in the slow but steady droop of your up-do curls, the now perceptible throb to your feet, the mournful red flicker of headlights in front of you.  The aura of high-school-but-not-high-school maintained under a patina of alcohol and so many classic 90s songs that you hadn’t heard for decades is dissolving, turning to ash, to the uniform moment of the present.  The feeling only intensifies as you pull out one bobby pin after another, wash out the entire can of hairspray, and hang up the expensive dress in its now permanent location next to the leopard print bathrobe you never wear.  Then you are in the same worn, loose-fitting pajamas you wear every night, the only remnants of the party a smear of lip gloss on your water glass that hasn’t yet washed off. 

In 2008, Melissa Reddish graduated with an MFA from American University. Her work has appeared in Printer's Devil Review, Petrichor Machine, Prick of the Spindle, and Foundling Review.

Last summer, I was a bridesmaid in two different weddings and attended a third.  That's the thing about being asked to be a bridesmaid: you can't really say no.  All of these ceremonies-- weddings, reunions, baby showers-- force people who barely know each other to discuss their life milestones.  Of course, it's also easy to get swept up in the process and forget, temporarily, that there is a world outside of those Civic Center doors.  Being someone who got married in the courthouse, I wanted to explore the tension between these disparate feelings-- duty, friendship, shame, joy-- that weddings seem to bring out in everyone.




Copyright 2009