Authors: Theresa Alan
He sighs again. “I’m sorry. There is nothing I can do about my past.”
And, even though I know he’s right, I’m irrationally angry with him anyway. I grab my pillow and stomp downstairs to the living room, where I take an afghan out of the closet and make a bed on the couch. I’m crying and my breath is jagged and I hate all men right now and I vow to become a lesbian.
Except, God, can you imagine how much time it would take to get
women off? You’d be there for days.
absolutely become a lesbian, though, if it weren’t for the time-constraint issue.
There is a distant part of my brain that knows it was completely illogical of me to get enraged at Will for crimes he hasn’t even committed yet, but I’m still angry: Angry at Will for being a typical guy when I want more than that; angry at culture in general for treating women like background decoration; and angry at Gabrielle for taking her bad mood out on my good news.
It takes awhile, but eventually I cry myself to sleep.
n the morning, I wake up when Will walks through the living room as he’s getting his things to go to work. I quickly shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep because I don’t feel like talking to him right now—that’s just how mature I am. I hear him leave, and the next thing I hear is the phone ringing. Apparently, I’d fallen back to sleep, because the ringing phone wakes me up.
“Hi.” It’s Gabrielle. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I’m sorry I was such a bitch. I was just upset about Jeremy. And Dan. And life. But I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I’m happy for you, I really am. Will is a great guy. I think you two will be really happy together.”
“Thanks. Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
“Are you busy today?”
“No reason. I just called in sick because I couldn’t face the office and I was wondering if you wanted to play hooky. Maybe we could look at wedding dresses or something.”
My bad mood vanishes entirely. I’m thrilled by the prospect. “Really? That sounds like so much more fun than crunching numbers all day. I really should work though. Although the work will all still be here tomorrow, and I can put in a few hours on the weekend if I have to, right?”
“Okay. I’m convinced. Let me shower. I’ll pick you up in an hour.”
I pick Gabrielle up and drive us to Cherry Creek, an upscale neighborhood with several bridal stores. I tell the sales consultant that I don’t want anything puffy, and she keeps bringing me dresses that look like they have hoop skirts built into them.
“No, I don’t want a puffy skirt,” I tell her for the tenth time. “That’s puffy. I don’t puff. No puff. Puff-free please.”
Finally, she brings me a couple dresses that don’t look awful, and Gabrielle and I go into the large dressing room with a plush velvet curtain. I take off my clothes, and before I can get the dress on, I catch sight of my nearly naked body and wish I hadn’t. My hair looks limp, my skin looks yellow, and I have more than my fair share of belly pooch and upper arm fat.
“Ick,” I declare. “Look at me. I need to get highlights. And maybe dermabrasion. I’ve heard that makes your pores look smaller. And I may even have to get really drastic: I may actually have to start working out.”
“The lighting in here is bad, don’t let it get to you.”
“I don’t think we can blame the lighting on me being overweight and out of shape.”
“You’re not overweight. You’re not out of shape. Your hair is beautiful. Your skin is nearly flawless. You are just believing the crap that advertisers tell you. Advertisers want you to think you’re imperfect because then they can get you to think that buying their product will make you thinner and prettier and
you’ll be happy. If people loved themselves, they wouldn’t go out and spend money on clothes and jewelry and makeup they didn’t need in a useless exercise in trying to feel better about themselves. Loving yourself is the most radical political statement you can make against a consumer culture that tries its damnedest to convince you that you’re not good enough as you are.”
When she says that, I’m reminded of why I love her so much.
Loving yourself is the most radical political statement you can make.
She’s absolutely right. I have to work on loving myself, on focusing on my good qualities. Then I try on the first dress and I look like a wiener dog in taffeta, and I decide that whatever might be good about me is clearly all on the inside. I try on the other two dresses and my suspicions are confirmed. I’m hideous.
“Let’s get lunch,” I say.
We grab burritos at a fast food restaurant nearby and I take a too big bite and half the burrito pours into my lap and cheese and sour cream drips onto my hands and down my face and all I can think is,
What kind of bride am I? Is this bride-like behavior? I think not.
“You seem pretty calm for a bride,” Gabrielle says, and I laugh.
“No. I’m not. I guess in some ways it hasn’t all hit me. But…I don’t know, I’m happy, but I’m also just terrified, too. There are so many things I’m scared of.”
“Well, like last night Will and I got into a fight. No, that’s not true. I screamed at Will over nothing and then stomped off to sleep on the couch. I mean, with communication ‘skills’ like that, there’s no way our marriage stands a chance.”
“But you’re aware of it, which means you can change, which means your marriage does stand a chance. What did you get mad about?”
“I told him I didn’t want him to have strippers at his bachelor party, and he said that was fine, but he wasn’t taking it as seriously as I wanted him to take it. I couldn’t communicate that this is a really big deal to me. The whole thing reminds me so much of the way my parents fought. Dad would say nothing while Mom screamed about everything. I sort of feel like my communication style is a cross between theirs. Mom’s accusatory and confrontational approach coupled with Dad’s retreat and ignore tactics.”
“That’s pretty common to adopt your parents’ argument style. It becomes very ingrained after years of living with it.”
“Well, how am I supposed to change?”
“Practice. Communication is a skill you have to learn like any other. Next time you want to stomp off in a huff, you have to force yourself to take a deep breath and try to communicate the emotions you are feeling.”
easy, but in practice…well, I’ll try.”
“What else are you scared about?”
“You said there were so many things you were scared of. What else?”
“I guess I just have residual fears from my parents’ divorce. After they divorced, Mom couldn’t get credit cards in her name for seven years because when Mom and Dad were in the really ugly bitter throes of divorce, Dad hid his money and he didn’t make the mortgage payments or pay off their credit cards for a few months in a row and it just ravaged their credit rating. But Dad already had credit, so he could keep his credit cards, but Mom couldn’t get any new ones on her own because she’d only ever had a joint account. And I’m just so terrified of becoming dependent like that.”
“Eva, you’ve got an MBA. You own your own home. That’s not going to happen to you.”
“I know, I know. I’m not making sense. It’s just…I have a real fear of being vulnerable, and so the whole thing is really scary. I just worry…I don’t know, I don’t really think Will would ever cheat on me, but you never know. I’m trying to think of all the bad things that could happen to us and whether I’m strong enough to be able to get through the hard times. Like what if Will suddenly becomes a gambling addict or if he quits his job as soon as we get married? I had a girlfriend in college who that happened to. Her husband almost never worked the entire decade they were married.”
“Man, Eva, your anxiety disorder is out of control. Calm down. Of course, a lot of bad things could happen, but you’ll be gaining a partner, somebody who can look after you when you get sick. Someone whose shoulder you can cry on when you have a crappy day.”
“I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to be vulnerable.”
“I hate to break it to you, but you are going to get sick. There are going to be times when you need help whether you like it or not. That’s what brings people together. By opening yourself up, you make yourself vulnerable, but you also get the opportunity to connect with someone on a deep, authentic level, and that’s really something.”
“I guess. Let’s not talk about love and commitment. Let’s talk about something fun. Like weddings. Any ideas where I should have mine? Where did you and Dan get married?”
“We just said vows by ourselves at a botanic garden, and then we spent the weekend at this cabin in the mountains making love.”
“Oh. That’s nice. But it doesn’t help me any.”
She shrugs. “Sorry. Maybe you can ask Rachel.”
“I already did. She had her mother throw something together in just a couple months. She and Jon just showed up and got married and five months later it was Mom and Dad and baby Isaac makes three. Why do I have to have such nontraditional friends?”
“Maybe because you’re a nontraditional girl?”
he night passes and Will and I don’t say anything about the tiff we had the night before. Will and I don’t argue often, and it’s because both of us aren’t fans of confrontation. He doesn’t mention a word about our squabble, and I sure as heck am not going to bring it up, in part because I don’t even know what to say or how I feel. How am I supposed to communicate my feelings when I don’t know what it is I’m feeling?
The next morning, I wake up early and work hard on the Woodruff Pharmaceutical project for several hours. The sense of accomplishment makes me feel good, and I allow myself to take a break in the afternoon. Foolishly, I begin searching for information on weddings online. At first, I look up practical stuff about what Will and I will need to do to get hitched in the eyes of the law in Colorado, but then I’m quickly off looking at wedding dresses and bridesmaids’ dresses and sites that offer wedding tips. At some point, I admit to myself that I’m not going to be getting any more work done today, and I head off to the bookstore, where I do my best to give away all of my money buying every book that I can find on planning a low-budget wedding. I spend so much on books there is no way the adjective “low-budget” can be applied to my wedding any longer. I buy every bridal magazine I can get my hands on and books on wedding traditions and how to write your own vows. I’m embarrassed about the vow book because the whole idea of writing your own vows is to be original and not worry about what other people have done, but when I see the book, I snap it up instantly, because I have no idea how to even begin writing vows. I feel like it has been decades since the last time I went to a wedding.
There were summers in my midtwenties when it felt as if I went to weddings every weekend, but eventually, after everyone I knew was married, the pace of the weddings I was invited to slowed considerably. The last wedding I attended was last summer and I can’t remember anything about it. I wish I’d taken notes.
I flip through the planning books, and instead of feeling like I’m beginning to get a handle on what it will take to plan a wedding, I’m starting to get alarmed because there are so many things I never realized I should be worrying about. The book admonishes me about the importance of a centerpiece for the tables, and I’m suddenly thrown into a panic. What makes for a good centerpiece? I can’t even begin to imagine, and even though I shelled out hundreds of bucks at the bookstore, apparently none of the books I bought have suggestions for this particular topic. Where is help when you need it?
Then I read about how some reception halls won’t let you have a family member cut your wedding cake for you, yet they insist on charging $1.50 for every slice
cut. $1.50 a slice! The more I read, the more I learn about how everyone who comes in contact with the bride and groom are going to try to screw them out of money at every possible opportunity. Like the photographers who insist on holding on to the negatives so if you want extra copies of a particular shot, you have to pay them exorbitant prices for it. I read how you can’t bring your own bottles of wine to a reception hall so you have to buy the wine from them, which naturally costs twice what it would to buy it wholesale. Bastards one and all.
When Will gets home from work, I get started on making us dinner. Tonight, I’m going with a Middle Eastern theme—falafel and hummus and couscous and pita.
When dinner’s ready, I call up the stairs to him, “Will! Dinner’s ready!” Right after the words come out of my mouth, I’m struck by this weird feeling, like I’m playing house, and somebody is going to catch me pretending to be a grown-up.
We sit down to eat and the odd feeling passes. The dinner turns out to be highly edible, which is a pleasantly surprising and unexpected development.
“Do you care if we have a wedding?” I ask Will as I stuff a pita full of falafel and onion and tomato.
“I’d be happy just to elope.”
I nod. “I figured you’d say that. Mom sort of talked me into a wedding, and at first I thought I agreed with her, but then today I went and bought a ton of books on planning a wedding, and now I’m not so sure anymore.”
“Whatever you want, hon.”
I tell him about all the dastardly evil-doers out in the world who wanted to cheat brides and grooms out of their money, but then I go on and on about how much fun it would be to get all of the family together.
“Except for Mom and Dad, of course. There is some serious potential for ugliness between those two, especially if they get some alcohol in them. The last time they were together was for Sienna’s graduation, and they fought like caged animals. I hope they’ve grown up since then, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
I ask him to make up a list of people he wants to invite, and how many family members he thinks he’ll ask to come. Will’s father died two years earlier of a heart attack, and so his mother is the only close family he has. It makes me sad that Will had to mourn the loss of his father without me in his life. There are all these huge life events that Will has experienced that I wasn’t a part of, and I hate it. I hate that I wasn’t there for him.
After dinner, I go to put on one of Will’s T-shirts to lounge around in. I’m wearing just my bra and underwear when Will comes into the room. “Can I wear this one?” I ask, pulling a T-shirt off its hanger in the closet.
“Sure. Anything you want.”
I snap off my bra and before I can put the T-shirt on, Will is kissing me, and his instant erection is pressing into my thigh. I abandon thoughts of putting the shirt on and instead shimmy out of my underwear and pull Will on to the bed with me.
Will drives me wild with kisses along my inner thigh and his fingers do magical things to my clitoris. (I did mention that Will is a guitar player, right? The boy knows how to use his fingers, that’s all I’m saying.) Finally he enters me, and it feels so exquisite that I can’t suppress a moan. As I hear myself, I think,
I bet she screamed louder, bucked more wildly, moaned with more enthusiasm
. And once X is in my mind, I can’t get her out. I’ve seen pictures of her (I asked to see them, because as I mentioned earlier, I’m a masochist.) and she was pretty. Not gorgeous, thank God, but definitely pretty. I keep thinking of Will going down on her, and the image is grotesque to me, but I can’t shake it. With X being foremost in my thoughts, an orgasm is out of the question, so I just moan encouragingly (I don’t want him to think his effort is for naught), and the sound works as I’d hoped, putting him over the edge. He comes with an explosive groan that I find sexy as hell, and then he collapses on top of me.
We lie in each other’s arms for a long time. I hear my cell phone ring, but I let voicemail take it.
When Will and I finally muster the energy to get out of bed, I check my messages.
“Oh shit! Oh shit!” I cry.
“What?” Will asks when I hang up.
“My dad. He’s coming for a visit. The weekend after this weekend. That is so like him. He just buys the tickets and
tells me he’s coming. He knows I travel all the time for work. And the worst thing is, I’ll be in town next weekend, so I’ll have no excuse not to see him.”
“You don’t like your dad?”
“No, I love him, I just…my dad kind of makes me nervous. When I’m around him I feel like I can’t do anything right. Anyway, it’s the principle of the thing. Once he planned a trip and had to spend nearly twice what he paid for the ticket to change it around once he bothered to find out that I wasn’t going to be here when he’d planned to come.”
“Why does he do that?”
“He gets these whims and he’ll go online and goes right ahead and buys the tickets if he finds a good deal and
remembers he needs to tell me he’s coming. Not that he’d call to check if it was a convenient time for him to come, just to let me know he’ll be here. Shit.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
“I guess it will be good for the two of you to meet. We’ll meet his new girlfriend, too.”
“It sounds like fun.”
Will, my love, you couldn’t be more wrong.
hen darkness comes, Will falls asleep in moments. I, however, lie in bed, fretting. Fretting about something new for a change, but fretting all the same: Dad. I’m not looking forward to him visiting.
Dad’s parenting skills wax and wane. Sometimes he’s super-dad, being thoughtful, calling just to chat, sending presents just because. Other times it’s like he forgets he has children. Mom waited several years before remarrying. Dad waited about four minutes once the divorce was official. Granted, that was a full three years after he and Mom separated. He dated a lot of cool women in those three years. But he married Deanne.
I didn’t like Deanne from the beginning, and not just because she had three kids from three different marriages, or because she wasn’t smart, wasn’t interesting, and decorated her house with things I would give away as white elephant gifts. I stood up at his wedding, though, as if I approved of the whole thing.
Dad and Deanne wrote their own vows. They gushed about how meaningful this would be, but with four failed marriages between them, it would be more honest if they said something like: “I’ll be beside you whenever you need me, as long as you don’t get fat/go bald, your kids don’t drive me up a wall, and we don’t argue about money too often.”
It’s not that I didn’t want Dad to get married again. I wanted him to be happy. Which was why he should not have married Deanne. Basically, she told him she was thirty-eight years old and did not have time to waste in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere (i.e., to an altar, and quick), so he had to propose or get lost. My dad doesn’t do well with loneliness; I understand that. But marrying someone like Deanne to combat loneliness is like drinking too much at a party because you feel a little uncomfortable making small talk, and then you end up puking into the centerpiece before passing out and wetting your pants. The short-term solution makes things much, much worse in the end.
At Dad and Deanne’s wedding, they had the poem on their invitation about how some people come into your life, leave footprints on your heart, and you are never, ever the same. What they should have written was that some people come into your life, poison your heart and mind with their toxic bullshit, and you are never, ever the same.
Deanne seemed relatively benign at first. She did little things that, by themselves, seemed harmless enough.
Like how she started to infiltrate Dad’s wardrobe. I was home from college for Christmas when I first discovered Dad’s newly errant fashion ways. Dad and Deanne weren’t married yet—the threat of impending nuptials hadn’t even been mentioned, but already Deanne was imposing her will.
At the time, Dad was taking me and Sienna to the mall to finish our Christmas shopping. Sienna was fifteen then, and still skinny as ever. She’d developed some curves while I was gone, though she did her best to hide them, shrouding her figure in enormous sweatshirts and baggy jeans.
It was cold out, and we were all wearing coats, which is why I didn’t see the shirt at first. Dad was talking about how he and Randy tried to get an armoire Dad had built into this old lady’s palatial-size house. Randy is Dad’s wildly unambitious younger brother, who spent his days getting high and his nights bartending and getting drunk. Dad sometimes tried to give him work that he had to do sober, so when Dad needed a hand with the furniture he built, he’d give Randy a call. Sienna leaned forward from the backseat to hear what we were saying.
“Randy was, as usual, not paying attention. We had to get this enormous armoire up dozens and dozens of stairs that curved around up to second floor. That wasn’t even the hardest part. The hardest part was trying to get it through the narrow door into the bedroom. Randy kept knocking into the side of the door. Each time he was surprised that it kept crashing into the doorframe and didn’t go through.” Dad affected Randy’s perpetually confused expression. Maybe there’s something just intrinsically funny about your father pretending to be high, maybe it was just our dad’s ability to make comical facial expressions, but Sienna and I cracked up. “Googe, googe,” Dad continued, imitating the sound of the armoire slamming into the side of the door. “Fortunately, the old lady was deaf, and didn’t hear that we were smashing her extremely expensive new furniture into her door.” Dad would never let a piece of his crash into anything even once, but he always exaggerated to make his stories funnier.
As he talked, I finally noticed the top of his shirt peeking out from where the zipper on his jacket stopped.
“What the hell is that?” I asked when he was done telling his story.
Dad laughed. “Deanne. She thinks I need more color in my wardrobe.”
Dad had always had decent taste in clothes. He wore subdued, high-quality shirts in greens and blues that looked good with his hazel eyes and brown-blond hair. Except that day he was wearing an atrocious shirt with vertical stripes in red, orange, white, and brown. It’s not that I would have ever accused Deanne of having good taste. She had from-a-box blond hair that she hairsprayed until it was crispy and encircled her head in an ironic nimbus and she wore bright blue eyeshadow with her blue eyes. Still, this shirt of Dad’s was unconscionable.
Sienna peered at the shirt in question. “Jesus, Dad,” she said, shaking her head. “What was she thinking?”
Dad chuckled. “You should have seen the pants she got me. Light blue corduroys with inch-thick ribbing. I told her I’d wear this shirt if she returned those pants to the store, and I never had to lay my eyes on them again.”
We had a fun day with Dad, joking around and catching up on things.
All the fun faded as soon as we got home to Deanne and her brood. I didn’t like any of them. I didn’t even like their dog, and usually I love dogs. He just seemed dumb and contrary and without a shred of personality, just like the family who’d raised him.
Deb was Deanne’s oldest at thirteen. She was probably about twenty-five or thirty pounds overweight for her height and already wore a C-cup. Like her mother, she had faux blond hair that was white in places and yellow in others. She wore skintight jeans and cropped sweaters that hugged her prodigious chest and revealed the ring of fat that hung over her jeans.