THE WEDDING DRESS
By Mary Scrimgeour
And I say, ‘Ay, it was the north wind, but shame was his loom, and the softening of the
sinews was his thread.’ And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.”
— Kahlil Gibran
My soft, cloud-white skin shimmered in the incandescent dreamscape inside the Galerie du Printemps, a wedding dress shop in Hooker, Texas. Known as Dress #159, I was a wedding dress cut from a sturdy bolt of cloth, giving me an air of quiet confidence and nobility. My lines were strong and clean, my layers thick and thin of good silk and satin, with rows of tiny, delicate beads marching across my bodice.
All the necessary steps had been taken to bring me into existence. I was once only a figment of someone’s imagination, a spark in the heart of a young designer, who might have sat somewhere alone, surrounded by material remnants, swamped by deadlines, and working with the nervous energy that comes from an urgent need for creative survival. My lines, textures and specific features had been borrowed from numerous other off-the-rack frocks tossed in a sea of frippery when viewed as a whole. And yet the young designer knew that when partnered correctly with the right person, I could exalt the wearer to a state of bliss, imbuing her creation with power and significance.
I fully accepted my purpose in life. I knew that I lived only in my own imagination, but still I was cautiously excited at the possibility of some kind of existence. I was crafted to be a wedding dress, and I was aware that not every dress was given this privileged and demanding role to play. Nevertheless I also knew that I was still…just a dress. At times, I struggled with my fleeting and singular purpose, envying the other garments that could breezily go from daytime to evening wear. And too, at times, I felt like a superficial object. But this was my lot, and my journey was to be a solo one.
One sultry Wednesday morning in late June, a woman walked into Gallerie du Printemps with a disquieting sense of urgency, and I sensed that this might be my first real chance to make my dreams come true. The space around the woman seemed compressed and anxious, almost as if it was difficult for her to breath. The sales girls jumped at this obvious opportunity to make an easy sale and rushed to the customer. Although they were primarily interested in the commission, they had enough experience to recognize when a client needed extra care and encouragement. The eager buyer was slender, attractive and a bit older than most of the women in search of wedding dresses. The customer strummed through the racks of dresses as if listening for the right chord to sound. And then, she stopped in front of me.
I eyed her cautiously, not wanting to appear too eager. In a brilliant flash of awareness, I saw that the desperation of this buyer perfectly matched my own. We were right for each other. Further, we needed each other. But the only way I could communicate this to her was through glitter and shine. I willed the woman to see that my pale but rich tone, hue and color perfectly complemented her own short, cropped blond, and that my clean lines suited her long, lean body. Time seemed to press in on us, squeezing out the luxury of deliberation like a sponge being wrung of excess liquid. At last, the woman took me to the dressing room to try on.
Looking into the mirror and seeing herself in the dress, I could see that the woman felt loved and beautiful, which permitted me to feel loved and beautiful as well. In that moment the woman’s whole world was reduced to just this vision of herself in her wedding dress. Never before had the body of this lovely woman been held in such affectionate custody. The delicately simple lines in my cut, the soft flutter of the flourishes in my trim, and the absence of any unnecessary detail gave her a refined elegance. In a moment of metaphysical certainty, the woman completed her purchase and carried me home with such tenderness that it felt like a completed sentence in my life, when just yesterday I had been adrift in a white blur of chiffons, crepes and duchesse satins.
Two days before the Big Event, the bride to be summarily threw everything she needed into two small bags, one to check and one to carry on the plane. After years of fantasizing and crafting her wedding day over and over in her heart and mind, making sure that everything would be perfect, the bride had reduced her trousseau, so to speak, to one bag, containing three casual day-into-evening dresses, beach attire, and a new pair of shoes that would go with her wedding dress. At the last minute, the bride solicitously placed me in her own carry-on bag to avoid spoiling the newness and the specialness of me. When the woman viewed the bags together on the floor of the her room, she felt a tinge of sadness but told herself to be happy with an edited version of her fantasy wedding.
After noticing the paucity of festivities and planning for the wedding, I began to have vague misgivings about the whole experience. Had I been able to see her agitated deportment on the flight, I might have become so worried that I would have been unable to prepare myself for what was to come. After a short flight and a long drive, the wedding couple arrived in a heap of trepidation and exhaustion at their destination, surrounded by a tangled and embroiled conversation that seemed to envelop them wherever they were, no matter what they were doing.
I became increasingly suspicious but, of course, was unable to ask the woman what was wrong. I exercised a great deal of restraint when I was released from the bag and carelessly hung on a hanger that was certainly practical but nothing special. It was far inferior to a well-crafted wooden hanger, which I felt befitted this special moment. I was placed in a messy, darkened closet, crowded by many extraneous garments. I knew that these articles of clothing were not special, like I was, but I couldn’t help but notice the heavy way that they hung off their hangers, eyeing me suspiciously and a bit jealously. That alone was enough to ruffle my lines. I politely complied with the rules of the space, but I became more and more uncomfortable.
Long periods of silence filled the outer room, punctuated with occasional outbursts from distant rooms. After spending a restless night in the gloomy closet, I felt utterly alone. Not quite sure what to expect since this was my first wedding, I wondered if this was what it was supposed to be like. But a series of scattered events and distressed voices on the eve of the big day kept me on full alert. While I waited nervously in the dark, the room was suddenly filled with rivers of tears and sobs. I listened closely for clues.
“He doesn’t deserve you.”
“You are saving yourself.”
“This will be a new beginning for you.”
After an agonizing wait, my fate became painfully apparent. There would be no eager hands lifting me out of the darkness, caressing me and telling me that I was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. No intimate moments with the girl, no cozy conspiring in the little room with the mother and the bride. There would be no glory for me that day, no proud bearing, no pictures taken of me in all of my resplendent, yet temporary, beauty.
All that I had been prepared for—my excitement at being chosen, my beautiful design realized—was dashed. To maintain my dignity and not completely crumple, I tried to remain in good form on the horrible hanger and simply surrender to whatever my short life was meant to be.
I could see what was going to happen. I would eventually be returned to the wedding shop and be branded as “slightly used” or perhaps even “damaged goods.” I might even be tossed irreverently on top of other returned or unwanted dresses and become part of a degrading discount bin.
Upon overhearing words about the wedding being called off and the bride leaving, I slumped and crumpled, letting go of my hopes and wishes. It didn’t matter now. It was over.
Soon I was stuffed back into the garment bag and zipped up—a small piece of me catching in the zipper, hurting immeasurably. After the return journey back to their home, the man and woman flung sad and hurtful words about. I remained abandoned in the bag in which I now resided until being returned to the Gallerie du Printemps, where I was unceremoniously placed in a row of saddened dresses, all victims of bad memories and unrealized dreams.
Hanging there in reduced circumstance, next to the once used and nearly news, I told myself that there would be other chances at happiness, that tomorrow would be another day. I must believe.