Thursday, February 23, 2012

In which I am a fraudulent bridesmaid

The summer before my senior year of high school, we moved from Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.

It was not an easy move. There was no base housing available and there was no room in the temporary housing on base, so all five of us lived in a short-term furnished apartment until my parents found a house. Five people, crammed into a small space. My mom had to drive us to school every morning - we heard Diana Ross singing "Upside Down" at least once a day - because the apartment was nowhere near the bus route.

The only good thing about the apartment was that it had a TV, which was something we had not seen since we had moved to Panama. We watched some old episodes of Happy Days. My dad loved the show - he had gone to college in Milwaukee. I did not understand, though, why he and my mom thought it was so funny when Potsi wanted to watch the submarine races with his girlfriend. That sounded boring to me - who wants to watch a dumb race? I had seen horse races and didn't think they were that great. Any kind of race = isn't there something better to do?

I was one of two new students in my class of 648 at school. The other new student, Belinda, was also a military brat whose father had been transferred from England to San Antonio.

We met because we both joined the yearbook staff as photographers. The other five photographers were boys and they wanted nothing to do with us. I don't know if they thought theirs was the photography kingdom or if they just thought we weren't cute enough. I have to say that my high school years were not my greatest, especially my senior year, when I suddenly went from being on the swim team and playing soccer to doing nothing because my new school didn't have either of those activities. I kept eating as if I were going to swim practice every day. That is not a good formula: eating as if you are exercising but not exercising.

Belinda was cute in a soft, sweet way. She was a tall, big girl with rounded edges and big eyes. She made most of her own clothes, just as I did. Homemade clothes + not thin = not pursued by high school boys.

I hate to say anything mean about her because she was so sweet, but her homemade clothes looked homemade: she didn't press out the seams or the hems and she decorated with a lot of rick rack.

My clothes were homemade as well, but they looked bad for other reasons. A green krinkle cloth (I loved krinkle cloth) jumpsuit with a belt made of the same fabric? Not exactly haute couture.

But my seams were pressed. The deal my mom made with me when I started sewing was that she would pay for half the materials if I did everything to her satisfaction. After each step, if she didn't like it, I had to rip it out and do it over or whatever the applicable action might have been.

In retrospect, I am thinking that perhaps it would have been nice if she had paid for all of it or at least said, "Because I am your mother, I will pay for $X of clothing a year. If you want to spend more than that, I will go halfsies with you."

My family is weird about money.

She did, though, give me a budget for my clothes for college. One hundred dollars. And I wasted it on - I am shaking my head in rue as we speak - a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, a green Izod (green? I look awful in green), and a madras plaid blazer.

What was I, a middle-aged male golfer?

Belinda and I became friends out of default. She was so nice. We banded together for protection against the other photographers and from the yearbook advisors, who I now realize were teachers not because they were really good at their subject and had a passion for it, like my English, biology, Spanish, and government teachers, but because there was no other job they could get. Yearbook advisor must be where the school sends the incompetent.

Mr R was creepy, with wet lips and a little goatee. The other advisor, Ms C, had wiry gray hair, chin whiskers and a belly that rivaled Santa's. They were both quite unattractive and their physical unattractiveness was made worse by their meanness.

The low point of the yearbook year was when Mr R informed me that I had to sell at least X ads to get an A.

There had been nothing about ad sales when I signed up for the class. I had been on the yearbook staff for two years at my high school in Panama and there were no ad sales.

I was new in town. My parents were not connected. I had no idea how to sell ads. I did not sell an A's worth of ads. I sold a C's worth, which I think was none. That is the only C I got in high school. Jerk.

Ms C accused me of not dressing properly to sell the ads. She may have had a point - I rode my bike to the shops and wore a pair of jeans that were too tight because I wasn't swimming any more and a purple krinkle cloth top I had made myself.

But considering Ms C wore doubleknit polyester tent dresses splashed with big flowers and her sweat, I don't think she was in a position to criticize.

The only assignment I remember Mr R giving us - the boys got all the sports - was to take photos at the homecoming dance. Neither Belinda nor I were invited to the dance. But we had to dress up and go to take photos. It's humiliating enough not to be invited to a dance, but then to have to go anyway without a date so everyone there knows you weren't invited - that's pretty bad.

I should have worn jeans out of protest, but I wore the white dress I had made for my National Honor Society induction ceremony. That dress, unlike any bridesmaid dress I've ever had, was worn again.

That dance was the only high school dance I attended except for the Sadie Hawkins dance my junior year that I went to with the guy who ditched me right before the prom. Not that I remember this stuff more than 30 years later. Not that I am still concerned with what happened to me in high school. Not that I haven't moved on.

Back to Belinda. We were friends. She didn't care that the high school boys weren't interested in her because she didn't waste time with high school boys. She went out with airmen from the base where our dads were stationed.

She even became engaged to one of them in December, then decided that she didn't want to be engaged after all. I had to help her return the ring. She drove us to his place, then I rang the doorbell and delivered the ring, which made me very nervous because he got angry. She had already told him on the phone that she was breaking up with him, but I guess he didn't believe her.

A few months later, they were back together. She asked me to be her maid of honor at their summer wedding.

Sure, I agreed, not realizing that being in a wedding is an expensive pain in the neck where you will probably be forced to wear lavender, a color that looks good on nobody. I was flattered to be asked to be in a wedding. Now, I am very happy that almost all my friends are married and that I will never have to go through that again.

And nobody - nobody! - ever gets to wear the dress again. Unless you do as I did and buy a Vera Wang lavender bridesmaid dress at the Junior League thrift shop to wear to a Halloween party, with the theme being, "See? I wore it again."

Which was almost as good as the blue dress that I wore with a Q-tip pinned to the chest back in the late 90s. I was a White House intern.

She told me I could wear whatever I wanted. I decided the perfect bridesmaid dress would be a Gunnesax off the shoulder gown made with blue krinkle cloth and lots of cream ribbon trim and beads.

I spent hours making that thing. Hours. Hours and hours.

And then she broke off the engagement. Again.

We graduated. I went off to college, she stayed at home and got a job. I didn't wear the dress. We didn't write. We didn't call. We had been friends of the moment and now our lives had gone in different directions.

In March, I got a letter from her. She was getting married. Different guy, this time. Would I be her maid of honor?

I didn't know what to say. I know now, of course. I should have said something to release her from what was surely a sense of obligation. I should have said that I would hate for one of her more deserving friends - there were three other bridesmaids - not to have the honor.

Only how do you say something like that tactfully? Even if I know she asked me only because she had already asked me for the other wedding, telling her I didn't want to do it seemed insulting.

So I said yes.

This time, she had fabric and a pattern picked out. A far simpler, more elegant dress than the Gunnesax dress. But still, another dress I would never wear again. Was it lavender? I think it was. That was when my hate affair with lavender began. I had to wear lavender in two other weddings after that. I never want to see that color unless it is on an actual lavender plant again.

She was five months pregnant at her June wedding. She looked lovely - blooming and blushing in a dress she had made herself.

But I knew nobody at the wedding except her. I felt like a fraud as I posed for photos. I should have had the guts to tell her no, I didn't want to be in the wedding. Thirty years later, she probably looks at her wedding photos and wonders, "Now who was that woman standing next to me?"

She had her baby after I had gone back to school for my sophomore year. I went to see her over Christmas break. She was living with her mom and dad because her husband had been posted overseas. She had taken down the Police posters that had adorned her bedroom walls. Now the room was filled with a crib and other baby stuff. He was a cute baby as far as babies go, but we didn't have that much to talk about.

I have not spoken to her since. I wonder what ever happened to her. I hope she's happy.