Bay and Carleen were victorious at The Bridal Bazaar. They gave away all their bags of goodies and talked up hundreds of brides-to-be. The phone rang and the appointment book filled up. The vacuum cleaner broke for the last time and I heaved it into the dumpster out back and started bringing my Miele in with me. Bay had given me my own key and I’d go in a few hours early on Saturday mornings to shine things up. The horrified and disgusted sidelong glance from a mother-of-the bride when she picked up one of our cosmetic stained sample dresses drove me to make everything in The White Sarcophagus shiny and bright. Armed with window cleaner, stain removal sticks, and my vacuum, the early morning hours were mine alone to reflect on what I might contribute to the great cause of matrimony. Then, after the last bride left in the evening, I’d go through a similar housekeeping ritual which ended by locking the shop door and making a drop at the dumpster out back.
This was how I prepared myself for the “bridezillas” who began storming The White Sarcophagus after The Bridal Bazaar. Most I met weren’t as obnoxious as portrayed in the media and a few, like Tracy, were even worthy of sympathy.
Tracy’s wedding was in May; she’d ordered her dress at a Rita S. Von Pitlock (dubbed “RSVP”) trunk show we’d had before I was hired. It would arrive in March. Dresses in the RSVP line were domestically made in the Von Pitlock work room somewhere in New York City, but the silk shantung was imported; Tracy was nervous a terrorist attack or a bubble in the silk market might delay its delivery. She stopped in every Saturday, “just passing by,” and I’d go over the order paperwork with her and reassure her. Even though Bay rolled her eyes when I’d mention Tracy by name, it made me sad that so much of her happiness depended on her dress’s delivery. One Saturday, she arrived disheveled and in tears; she’d been out all night with her bridesmaids (for the twenty-third time) and she just happened to be passing by. She might have been hung over or maybe she was still drunk. I offered her some bottled water; she heaved her giant Coach bag on the floor, plopped down on the bridal barge and began pouring out her soul to me.
What could I do? She was our best customer. Not only had she bought the most expensive dress ever carried in the boutique, but each time she’d “stop in” she’d buy a pair of shoes, a clutch, some earrings, or a “I’m the Bride” rhinestone-monogrammed T-shirt. There was no limit to her spending power. It was all kind of sad, really, and I felt sorry for her.
In retrospect, her story was no different from any other bridezilla’s. Having had a few dreams and fantasies of my own that hadn’t come true, I assured her that nothing would prevent her RSVP dress from arriving and everything would work out. I tried to avoid sentimentality and I would steer the conversation to other topics like her work, her fiancé, her friends, and any interests she had outside of her wedding. Mostly, I just listened and tried to interject a little humor from time to time.
On this particular morning, she asked to try on the RSVP sample dress before she left. She said she didn’t need any help; she just wanted to try it on. She encouraged me to finish vacuuming.
She disappeared into the dressing room with her purse and her dress and I finished my morning cleaning rituals. Ten minutes later, she reappeared, renewed and refreshed from whatever potions she carried in her bag. She gave me a perfume-heavy hug and as she walked down the stairs and out the door, I encouraged her to enjoy the day and do something simple, like taking a walk or a nap.
She didn’t hear a single thing I said. She didn’t buy anything, either.
I sighed and went into the dressing room to retrieve the RSVP dress, untouched and arranged perfectly on its hanger. Not so perfect was the ladylike wicker trash bin full of tissues and vomit. Bay hadn’t told me cleaning up bridal barf was part of my job description.
I thought back to one of my own less-than-spectacular nights of college, when I had hurled up a bunch of beers and some carrot-slaw. My roommate’s boyfriend had cleaned it all up and I’d often wondered what inspired his kind and charitable act. Luckily, I had my “Golden Rule” rubber gloves in my cleaning toolkit and in that spirit, I cleaned up Tracy’s mess.
The show must go on.
Leaving aside why some women come to completely identify themselves with their bridal image, I wonder if Tracy isn’t a feminine equivalent to someone else we know (not you, Caleb), having thrown all down into a forthcoming marriage that now isn’t looking like such a smart move after all, and finding her only way to deal with it is to maintain this bridal image. It would be better to back out, but there’s all this money already sunk into the wedding itself, all those deposits, all those airline tickets bought by distant former college friends and family, all those explanations to have to make.
And the shame, this piercing shame that goes with a failed marriage, even the ones that don’t happen, that implies failure, weakness, undesirability or worse. Never mind that almost no one else will see it this way because the others almost always are already running odds (“I give it two years, three at best, unless they have a kid, then they’ll stretch it out until it snaps like an accused man on a medieval rack.”) because they can see the incompatibility, even if the betrothed can’t. It’s self-inflicted shame, and it drives many people to make very bad decisions. For some, it’s “Do the right thing, MAN UP, grow a pair, grow up, be responsible,” it’s that patchwork of insults that gets them to their fate. For a woman, it’s probably something more like Tracy was going through. I’m going to be a bride, I’m going to be a good bride, I’m going to be a bride in white, everyone will see I’m a good bride, let me buy one more tee-shirt while I’m at it. Anything to ignore the terrible mistake I’m making, a mistake that will hurt me, him, and any family (including the ones we make) that get dragged into it. Ooh, look at those shoes!
They didn’t tell you providing psychological support was part of the job, did they?
It’s funny, someone said to me the other day “You’re not a social worker” in regards to an element of my work for pay, as though one can completely compartmentalize every part of life. It’s not as simple as it sounds.