Written a year after my mother passed, in 2006.
Everything happens for a reason, or so I’ve been told. I find it hard to believe we have finally arrived at this moment in time.
For twenty-five years you watched me grow and stumble through romantic triumphs and heartache as you’ve listened intently to the depths of my heart. You’ve observed me playing dress up in an oversized gown with a garage-sale tiara on my head as I walked down a makeshift blanket aisle towards my favorite stuffed bear.
We’ve been dreaming of this day, Mom.
I’ve looked to you my entire life for guidance on avoiding apocalyptic romances and finally, I have found someone that both of us trust will treat me as you’d expect. He may need a little time to get there, but he’s given me the go-ahead to peruse these magazines with you.
I flip the page of the first wedding publication and we laugh at the hideousness of the pink wedding dress crowding the page. Knowing we have the same tastes thickens the bond tying us together. Years ago, I would have revolted at the thought of sharing my mother’s ideals and visions; now, I find that time is passing by far too quickly and I worry that I’ll never discover all of the idiosyncrasies we have in common.
Your fingers slowly move across a simple white gown, very similar to the one I wore to senior prom. Remember that dress? The beaded gloriousness of the wedding dress – yes, wedding dress – the clerk brought out from the back proved too much for us to send away. In vain we made excuses for why I couldn’t wear it; why I shouldn't wear it. We knew it was only prom and seeing in bold, black numerals how expensive the dress was reminded us it wasn't a good idea. Dad’s wallet may not have agreed, but you bought it for me anyway. I felt every bit the center of a fairytale as I stepped out of the limo the night of that dance.
I’ve dated a range of men in those twenty-five years, Mom. The only two worth mentioning are the first – that teenage boy whisking me off my feet to prom – and the last, the man who will carry me across the threshold in the dress we pick out.
We carefully study each page of the magazine, finding we are both at a loss for words. This moment is too big; too epic to belittle with words like beautiful and classic. We’ve practiced picking out this dress my entire life during annual trips to out-of-state malls with our closest girlfriends, scouring shelves and racks for the best in bargains and splendor.
I remember your face on prom morning, seven years prior, as I stepped out of my room in that prom gown. The happiness exuded from you, dwarfing just the smile on your lips. Your hand reached up to my face and you gave me a kiss, choking back the tears from escaping. I imagine you’d look the same at my wedding. I’m making a futile effort to fight back the tears as I recollect.
Do you understand how much that day meant to me? Will you understand how much the dress we are choosing for my wedding will mean to me in the not-so-distant future? Do you know how important your input is, and how much I want to absorb every suggestion you make so that in time, I can make these imperative choices on my own?
Your hand covers mine because I’m sure you can sense my anxiety. One look at you confirms my suspicions and I lose control of my emotion, letting the tears break through the barrier I’ve been building for the last three months.
You don’t utter a word because you can’t. The brain cancer has robbed you of that ability, along with the opportunity to plan my wedding together.
We both know the turning of these pages won’t make time stand still, and won’t bring my wedding any closer. We also both know that the day will come – days, perhaps weeks, we’ve been told – when the only part of you I’ll have for wedding planning is a few dog-eared magazine pages and some notes in blue pen dotting the margins.
You won’t be here for my wedding or for the birth of your grandson, which neither of us know yet will happen a little more than a year later. You won’t help me get dressed in that big, poufy wedding gown with the corset back. You won’t be there to close the clasp on my diamond necklace. And you will not be there to entertain the cutest little ring bearer; the one who will share a middle name with his grandma.
While we both shed our tears, we lay back in that cold, mechanical hospital bed situated in the middle of the living room. A room once exploding with joyous family parties now lies captive to a more sullen audience as friends and family filter in and out to whisper their goodbyes between our brief moments of respite. As you lay next to me with your bald head and bruised skin, I feel you wrap your arms around me. You’re the one dying and you’re comforting me.
As the sound of tears and sighs fill the otherwise empty room, I hope that your mind has drifted to the same place mine has: that morning spent getting ready for prom. I hope you’re remembering our trip to pick out that dress. I hope you’re reminiscing on how you helped me get ready that day. And I hope you’re also starting to believe that things happen for a reason. Otherwise I have to wonder why, after years of selecting formal dresses from a clearance rack, we found and purchased a $400 wedding dress for my prom.
We had our wedding day together, Mom. Maybe not the way we wanted it, but the way it had to happen in our fairytale. Seven years, a full head of hair and about four dress sizes earlier.