When You Least Expect It
Prologue I “Uggghhh” Weddings
When you live in New York City, it’s almost expected that people will see you at your very, very worst, very, very often. It’s built into the price you pay to live here, because you will at some point fall into the trap of believing that every block, every subway car, every splinter-ridden park bench is your own personal territory for having a full-blown mental breakdown.
I pinky-promise you that eventually you’ll stop thinking twice about walking down Third Avenue in the morning to buy a large cup of coffee, with your hair in a spider web of tangles and your bra everywhere but where it should be—which is on you. And you’ll stop noticing that everyone is staring at you as you publicly break up with the person who has had an iron grip on your heart. After all, if there isn’t a crowd of at least five total strangers watching, can you say it even really happened?
The comforting thing is that even when you’re at your
worst, there’s always someone else one-upping you one block over. That’s why you don’t need to bat an eye when tourists turn their chunky DSLRs away from the Empire State Building and zoom in on your face, mid-ugly-cry.
I, however, am the kind of person who tries to keep my humiliations private. Like the time I had to be rescued from the bottom of my own closet.
“Hello?” I whispered in a delicate panic to the kind soul at the other end of the line at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday. I had been organizing my long-neglected closet, only to be rewarded with every shelf collapsing on top of me, along with an avalanche of forgotten clothes that should’ve been donated to Goodwill years ago. The only parts of my body that hadn’t been temporarily paralyzed were my face and a single outstretched arm that had managed to reach my phone. I had dialed the only person I knew would pick up at that hour: my building’s on-call maintenance man.
“What’s the problem?” he asked, pushing a giant rock of phlegm up and down the bumpy lining of his esophagus.
“It’s an emergency,” I said, attempting to wiggle my toes beneath a pile of platform shoes that my friends and I had worn when we dressed up as the Spice Girls for Halloween. “My shelves collapsed, and now I’m trapped at the bottom of my closet.”
“Can’t you call someone else?” he asked, annoyed, clearly regretting giving me his personal cell phone number when I moved in.
“Well, I don’t have a—”
“A what? A boyfriend? A best friend? The ability to dial 911?”
I took a deep breath and imagined what would happen if I called 911 and they transferred me to the NYPD’s Seventeenth Precinct at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday. I imagined what it would feel like to utter the words, “Help me! I’m trapped in my own mess of polyester and sequins,” to the city’s’ finest; how I’d have to beg and plead for them to stop handcuffing the guy trying to break into a non-twenty-four-hour CVS, or quit patrolling Fifth Avenue to come to the twenty-sixth floor of my apartment in Murray Hill just to rescue me from a pile of T-shirts I had bought seven years ago.
“Please don’t make me do that,” I whispered. “If you come, I’ll give you your Christmas bonus early.”
Those turned out to be the magical words. He arrived just a few minutes later in his bathrobe, my knight in fuzzy armor. I smiled because I knew he’d seen worse. Much worse.
“How did this happen?” he asked, peeling back layer after layer of clothing.
“Well, I read that it’s going to be fifty-five degrees tomorrow, so I was trying to grab a sweater from the top shelf when—”
“No,” he cut me off. “Not that. This!”
I craned my neck to see that he was holding in his wide-palmed hands not one, not two, not four, but nine bridesmaid dresses.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I said, worried that his judgment would crush me faster than the contents of my closet. “Trust me, I don’t even like weddings.”
I wasn’t totally lying to him either. When I was a little kid, the idea of my own wedding didn’t take up much real estate in my mind. Whenever I found myself scoring an invitation to a sleepover or to a lunch table in middle school, the girls would
giggle over the cuts of their future rings, the colors of their future flowers, and the flavors of their future cakes, while I’d be off in the corner of someone’s bedroom or at the end of a table, crafting paper airplanes from expired love letters I was too afraid to send.
“You hate weddings?” my friend Samantha once asked me incredulously at her sleepover party, every syllable loaded with attitude. I watched as she brushed her Barbie doll’s bleach-blonde hair, her fish-like lips pursed in sour disapproval.
“I don’t hate them,” I said. Hate was a very strong word that my mom put in the same bucket as curse words; I was never allowed to use it. Whenever I had a staring contest with a plate of broccoli or a pile of homework, I would say I “uggghhhed” them instead.
“But don’t you want the flowers and the dress and the giant shiny ring?”
“Not really,” I said, thinking for a second and realizing I had never thought about it before. I was seven years old, and the only thing that regularly crossed my mind was which toy I’d score in my McDonald’s Happy Meal, or how I desperately wished I could sleep through the next lesson in long division.
All the other girls at Samantha’s sleepover talked about how they wanted this flavor cake and that color rose. How their dress would be a cascading waterfall of lace and they’d spend all night twirling around in it. They never mentioned the ooey-gooey love part. They never mentioned the person who would be standing beside them in the photos, at the altar, for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s because back then, boys still had a major case of cooties.
“Look at her lopsided bangs,” one of the girls said about
me as their tittering laughs ricocheted off the walls, hitting me right in the face.
“She’ll never get married,” another girl said as she slid into her Beauty and the Beast sleeping bag.
“You know what I think,” I said, as my cheeks flushed magenta and my voice sounded as if someone was shaking me uncontrollably, though nobody was. “I think if you find your forever person, you two should just do whatever you want.”
At that time, my forever person’s name was Lucas, and we had never spoken more than ten words to each other. Amy was his forever person, and she was sitting across the room from me right now, painting her nails with a coat of glitter and plotting the coordinates of their wedding in some exotic place, like the Amalfi Coast.
I wouldn’t say I was always averse to weddings—more like confused by them. I was three when I went to my first one. I was a junior flower girl, and my diaper matched my dress. My blanket, Mr. Blankenstein, was my plus-one. My mom had to bribe me with a caramel-flavored lollipop to stop sucking my thumb for a couple of minutes so I could use both hands to toss teardrop-shaped rose petals as I tiptoed in my Keds down the aisle.
I remember how the fragrance from the flowers tickled the edges of my nose, and when my uncle said, “I do,” I sneezed so loud that the rabbi had to make my aunt and uncle repeat their promise that they would always stick by each other’s side, no matter whose waistline expanded first.
I remember wondering why I was at a mini-circus, where everyone was drinking liquid that looked a little like pee and wearing fancy outfits that they could hardly move in, even
though they had to spend the majority of the night moving around. I remember my dad cutting my food into tiny pieces and I remember sleeping a lot, passed out in my stroller beside someone’s ninety-three-year-old grandpa and a cousin who was slurring his words, which I later learned meant that he was sloshed. Weddings then seemed like fancy schmancy birthday parties where everyone walked around looking like they had a wedgie. I wondered if I’d ever be able to understand the point.
Now I’m twenty-eight, and all of my assets are tied up in bridesmaid dresses. My passport has stamps only from bachelorette party destinations like Cancun and four of the seven Sandals resorts. Every scar on my body is from getting dragged into mosh pits while trying to wrap my arms around a tossed bouquet. I repeat marriage vows in my head the same way people sing lyrics from a catchy song they’ve heard on the radio. And I know never, and I mean never, to let a bride have a Diet Coke before she’s about to walk down the aisle unless it’s through a straw and there’s a blanket splayed over her dress.
“So how did this happen?” the maintenance guy asked me once more, shaking a handful of chiffon.
“All of my friends got married,” I said, miserably.
“Always a bridesmaid,” he said, dropping the dress, grabbing both of my hands, and pulling me up from rock-bottom, sedentary state. “Never the bride.”
He had no idea.