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True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty ... and Terrible Dresses
By Eimear Lynch, Hanya Yanagihara
Picador Copyright © 2014 Eimear Lynch
All rights reserved.
WHEN MY BEST FRIEND, Carrie, called me to tell me she was engaged — and to ask me to be her maid of honor — my response was, "Wait, you're dating someone?" I was so surprised: We had known each other since we were nine, and we had even gone to college together — and yet I didn't know that she had fallen in love? We were living in different cities at the time, and she had reconnected with another friend from childhood, Brandon, a few months earlier. They had been dating for four months when he presented her with an enormous diamond ring.
I was happy for her. But the thing is, there were rumors about Brandon. Everyone knew that he had hooked up with guys, and he had also apparently dated a guy for a whole summer during college. Carrie had heard the rumors, but she had also just turned thirty. And if you're single and thirty in Kentucky, you're basically an old maid.
When I saw them together, it was always a little off. He was either way too affectionate or way too distant, and gradually it emerged that they would get in these massive fights about strange things he was doing: He had lied about his savings accounts, he wouldn't come home some nights, and he convinced her to move in with him even though she was Christian and didn't want to live with a man until she was married. He made a show of saying grace when they ate out with friends, but when they were in bed together, he wanted to do really kinky stuff or nothing at all. Plus, he bought a red Volkswagen Beetle. What kind of guy buys a red Beetle?
Ever since we were teenagers, Carrie was the sort of girl who couldn't wait to get married and have kids. But when it was finally time to plan her wedding, she couldn't make any decisions. She was constantly crying, and she got to the point where she couldn't choose the bridesmaid dresses or even when or where to get married. When she finally set a date, she went into zombie mode: She bought a dress and picked out invitations, but she was constantly mopey. It was like he was chipping away at her soul.
At some point I realized that she thought it was scarier to call off the engagement than it would be to just marry him. She was terrified of embarrassment, and she couldn't see the difference between wanting to have a family and wanting to be in love with the right person. My gut was telling me it wasn't okay, so I called her parents. Her mom said, "Thank God, we don't think it's right either — she's going to be unhappy for the rest of her life." They had already sunk tens of thousands of dollars into the wedding, but they said they knew it was a bad idea all along. They were just too afraid to speak up. The invitations were about to go out, so we made a plan: I would go see Carrie the next weekend under the pretense of coming to help with wedding stuff.
Instead, I told her that I couldn't support the marriage. When I explained why I thought it was a mistake, she started crying. Then she went totally silent for two hours. When she finally started speaking again, she was still shaking and crying, but she seemed almost relieved. I had made the decision for her. "Okay," she said. "The wedding is off."
Carrie was mostly concerned about the practical things: What would happen to the million-dollar house they had bought? What would people think in our small, Christian hometown? Brandon was away for the weekend, so she called him and told him she was leaving. By now, her parents had arrived, and when she hung up, we were all like, "Keep the ring! It's not a family heirloom!" But she left it on the kitchen table.
I'll admit to having a high opinion of myself, but does that mean I think I have the right to tell people they shouldn't get married? I could have been making a huge mistake, and I was scared to death that she wouldn't find someone else. I hadn't met my husband yet either, and people certainly said that since I was miserable, I wanted Carrie to be miserable too. But I knew she'd be better off alone than with Brandon. And now, three years later, I think I was right: She just got married to an amazing guy who is absolutely perfect for her. And just four months after the breakup, Brandon used Carrie's ring to propose to a girl who looked exactly like her. They have kids now, according to Facebook. But yes, the rumors remain.
— K, 31
THE CRISIS MANAGER
THE DAY BEFORE MY SISTER KELLY'S WEDDING, there was a forecast for storms. The ceremony was to be held outdoors, at a farm in rural Wisconsin, so we decided at the last minute that we'd need to rent a tent. It was sunny for the pictures, and then the skies opened up just as the ceremony was about to start. It was really romantic, standing in the little tent with rain coming down all around us. And the sky was blue by the time we left the tent for the cocktail hour, so we thought things had worked out great.
The reception was in a pavilion with a tin roof and walls. I couldn't tell you when it started raining again — I was organizing speeches, playing videos, putting on music — but I remember when I started getting alarmed: when I saw about an inch of water collecting in the corner of the dance floor. I stopped dancing and pulled out my phone. A tornado was predicted to touch down within an hour or two, and within a few miles of us. You couldn't hear how loud the wind was howling over the music, but when I peeked outside, it was ugly. I rounded up a few friends with good phone service and asked them to keep my sister out of the loop at all costs — but to stay on top of the weather report.
It was like a Sandra Bullock movie: The tornado was just a few miles away from a room containing everyone I loved. I pulled the best man aside and we discussed whether we needed to evacuate. We knew there was a house on the grounds, but it was locked, so we considered breaking a window and getting everyone into the basement. Then we lost power. I had been telling my sister that it was just a storm, but we had to tell her at that point that it was a tornado. She was remarkably calm. I was ridiculously stressed out.
I thought that when the power went out everyone would want to leave, but the bar was still there and there was room for dancing. We were stuck, so people just partied harder. The big stroke of luck was that Kelly had wanted the reception to be candlelit, so we had lots of lanterns and candles on the tables. People just hung out, avoiding the corner of the venue that was slowly filling up with water. There was no music, but at one point my stepsiblings — who are the loudest people ever, and have beautiful voices — were posted in a corner singing, with people joining in. The caterers made an Irish exit at some point, leaving all the dirty dishes on the tables.
I alternated between running around looking for a generator and frantically checking my phone to track the tornado as it worked its way toward us. I wondered whether we should shut the wedding down. We ushered some families with young kids into a more permanent structure — a big barn — so they would feel safer. But by the time we had done that, all of the weather-checking iPhone users had determined that the tornado was at last moving away from us. It wasn't going to get any worse. We were safe.
And we were also covered in mud. The whole venue had turned into a mud pit, so that by the time we got into town at the end of the night, my sister's dress was brown from the knees down, and I looked like I had been wrestling in pudding. All of our shoes were done for, and my boyfriend's slacks were so dredged in mud that he had to throw them away the next day.
But the wedding was awesome. People still tell me it was the best party ever. It must have been something about celebrating survival and being trapped with such good people. I have to say, the whole experience gave me a greater appreciation for my sister. When I saw her drinking a beer at a dive bar in a gorgeous dress that was black with mud, I was pretty impressed. And of course there were the inevitable jokes about bad weather predicting a good marriage: If a thunderstorm is good luck on a wedding day, then a tornado had to be excellent, right?
— T, 27
MY BEST FRIEND, Katie, is horrendously, always, 100 percent of the time, perpetually late for everything. She's famous for it. She's not a bad person, but she really believes that she can get from where she is to wherever she needs to be in ten minutes.
I, on the other hand, think of myself as a timekeeper. At my own wedding, when the clock struck the appointed hour, I was like, "Okay, let's go NOW," even though people were still filing into the church. Katie was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and I made her spend the night with me in the bridal suite so I could make sure she wouldn't be late. I guess it's odd that we're friends, but we've both been this way since we met in sixth grade.
Part of the problem with Katie is that she has this fantastically beautiful chestnut hair. It's wavy and bouncy and perfect, but it requires styling. My hair is as flat as a pancake, and I know nothing about girly stuff, but I am an expert in Katie's hair timetable. If I am going to an event with Katie, I show up at her house about three hours before we're supposed to meet. I say, "What's the plan? Are you wearing it curly or flat? Because if you're wearing it curly you need to be putting in product now, and if you're flat-ironing it, shouldn't you have plugged in your straightener already?" Basically I just insert myself into her hygiene, which is kind of crazy. It's not like she's totally vain or even insistent on being perfectly groomed — she's just so easily distracted.
But at a wedding, with vendors, stress, old people, and hoopla, tardiness just wasn't an option. My only job as Katie's maid of honor was to get her to places on time. But it wasn't going to be easy. I had a newborn and a three-year-old, and I was a basket case. I have all these strategies for getting her where she needs to be — I'm obsessive about it — and my poor husband bore the brunt of my madness. He didn't begrudge the showers, the bachelorette party, or the intense planning, but he did suggest that I was treating him like a slave. Boys have less patience for that sort of stuff.
I had a ton of stuff to schlep from our home in San Francisco to the wedding, which was in Napa: There were multiple bridesmaid dresses, enough baby things for a three-day weekend, and a bunch of gifts. On the day we were set to leave, my husband comes walking out of the house and says he's ready to go. He's clutching a few clothes in his hand like you would hold laundry, and he has a dry-cleaning bag over his shoulder. I couldn't take it. I seem to remember saying, "Are you serious? Can you fucking pack a bag? Look at all this stuff and tell me why you can't put your fucking clothes in a bag." I might have been on edge.
We didn't speak on the drive to Napa, and when we got to the hotel, I stepped out of the car and fell into a trench — the place was undergoing some sort of construction. As I lay in the ditch, clutching a foot that I would soon discover was broken, my husband stood over me laughing. He was still mad, and I still had my eye on the prize. "Don't tell anyone!" I hissed. The show had to go on.
I hobbled through the hotel to determine what the greatest distraction would be on the big day. It was easy to find: Surely everyone would congregate at the beautiful, central pool, and it'd be hard to lure Katie away from that scene and into the bridal suite. I approximated the getting-ready time and added a few hours for good measure, and the next day I started corralling her away from the pool about six hours before the ceremony was set to begin. Once I had her sitting inside, I kept the whole hair-and-makeup routine relatively focused and I found a single image to hammer into her mind: that of her fiancé's ninety-year-old grandmother teetering in her little heels until Katie appeared. It became my continual refrain.
By the time she walked down the aisle, I think she was thoroughly annoyed. But Katie picked me to be her maid of honor — she knows how I am! And after years of plotting, strategizing, and forcing Katie into semipunctuality, I felt ridiculously accomplished when her wedding started only thirty minutes behind schedule. Which isn't to say I didn't suffer: It took a good three days to make up with my husband, and to this day, whenever the weather turns shitty or I get into certain yoga positions, that ache in my left foot is a reminder of Katie's wedding day.
— L, 40
I DIDN'T MEET MY MOM'S HUSBAND until after they got engaged. That's because of a rule I set in place when I was thirteen: I told my mom that I was happy for her, no matter whom she dated, but that I didn't want to meet any boyfriends unless the relationship was serious. My parents got divorced when I was eleven, and by age thirteen, I knew it would be confusing for me to get to know every guy she went out with. Then my dad passed away when I was sixteen.
Since then, my mom has dated a lot. I never liked how certain guys treated her. People say so much through their tone of voice, and there were guys who slowly, subtly belittled her to the point of making her unsure of her whole self-worth. She had dated one guy on and off for a long time, but eventually she just woke up and said, "What the hell am I doing?" She was in therapy, and she finally said, "Fuck it. This isn't how I want to live my life." She dumped the guy and went to a friend's party, and that's where she met Harry. She had always dated tall, dark, handsome Italian guys, and here was Harry, who is shorter than she, with a shock of white hair. It's like as soon as she realized she was in a pattern that was making her unhappy, she broke it. It worked out well.
When Harry came along, my mom was forty-nine. She finally got it. She was happy. I don't know if she got it and then she met Harry, or she got it because of him — but when she called me to tell me she was engaged, she was over the moon. At that point I had heard so many wonderful things about Harry, and whenever she told stories about him, she couldn't stop laughing. They had dated for only a few months, but she explained to me that you know really quickly when someone is right for you by the time you reach a certain age — that you don't waste any time with the dating crap and angsty stuff that younger people worry about.
Harry proposed on Halloween, and I met him for the first time on Christmas. I was worried it would be awkward, especially because he had two sons and my mom had me and my sister: I was twenty-four and living in a nearby city, but my sister was sixteen and still at home. But everything clicked; all our personalities matched well. What I remember most is that Harry sought my mom's opinion on things. Not necessarily on carpet colors or cereal preference, but about important issues of the day: He'd ask her what she thought about things he had read about in the newspaper. And when I'd leave the room for a minute, they'd be laughing like maniacs when I returned. Harry has his quirks — he's stingy about certain things, and he pulls some boneheaded moves — but he was so, so tolerant of all the ridiculousness that came along with my mom: her teenage daughter, the two dogs and two cats, and most of all, her own general looniness.
That looniness played out when it came to planning the wedding. It's cynical to say that being a bridesmaid is a thankless job, but you have to recognize that even the most beloved friend, sister, or mother will eventually flip the crazy switch. My mom wanted a no-fuss, quiet, backyard wedding, and she asked me to arrange everything for her. She wanted it to be the opposite of her first wedding, which was a huge church ceremony with a fancy reception at the country club where my mom and dad met in golf lessons when they were thirteen. Her mantra during the planning process was, "I don't care! Do whatever. I don't care!" So I took charge — ordering flowers, setting up the caterer, coordinating everything. Then, three weeks before the ceremony, she decided she wanted to be in charge, and she spent the next few days rabidly changing most of my orders and bookings.
Excerpted from The Bridesmaids by Eimear Lynch, Hanya Yanagihara. Copyright © 2014 Eimear Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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