Thursday, August 25, 2011


It's 1996 and I'm in the woods with a bunch of strangers, backpacking through rural Arizona. We're about to embark upon what's called a "solo," where we split up and spend three days completely alone: sleeping on the ground, fasting, drinking from streams after adding iodine drops to our water bottles.

This will change you forever, my guide intones. At the end of my solo I had streaked my face with mud and discovered a side of myself I didn't know existed.

I knew it wouldn't change me. All the things they say will change you: travel, falling in love, becoming a mother: they've only ever made me more deeply myself.

I spend those three days naked on a rock, looking up at desert trees, writing bad poetry and making lists in my mind: all the things I'll eat when I finally get out of the woods and back to civilization; my various perfect dream jobs, in order of likelihood of actual occurrence; all the religions I'd be willing to try out, knowing I'll never find one that fits. Then I plan my wedding dress, even though I'm not engaged, or even dating. I haven't met my husband yet; I'm decidedly single, just out of a long-term relationship that held on longer than it ought to. And I'm not a wedding dress planning kind of girl. I've never dreamed of that big day, never played wedding with my barbies, never particularly cared about weddings one way or the other before.

But here's what's inspired me: I bought a dress at the Salvation Army before the backpacking trip began. It's blue, with chiffon layers starting at the neckline and running all the way down to the floor. I want my Salvation Army dress remade in white for my wedding. My grandmother will do it; I know she will.

I don't meet my husband for another year after that trip. We're engaged within three months. My grandmother makes my dress: a replica of my thrift store find. My husband's grandmother makes his suit out of hemp; we order yards of it from somewhere on the Internet. We make our own invitations on homemade paper and the wedding is held in my parent's backyard. Our flowers are bought from the farmer's marker and stolen from farmer's fields the morning of the wedding. I make the arrangements myself, stick them in mason jars, and place them on the tables. My grandmother also makes the bridesmaid's dresses; she teaches me how to do the last one, and I stay up with her and sew the maid of honor's dress for my sister late into that summer night. The sky is dark when we finish, and I've made my first --and last, at least for the next decade, as it turns out-- dress.

Someone calls it a hippie wedding and I'm half-offended and half-amused. But of course, it was.

My father, a year earlier when he heard of my engagement, had asked: what's he going to do?

I knew he meant for a living; my fiancee was an art major with no job prospects after graduation.

I don't know, I answer honestly.  But we're smart, dad, and not afraid of hard work. We'll figure it out.

I can hear my father's grin through the telephone wire; he approves of that sort of answer.

The point is, we've always been the sort of people to look at a bright, shiny, perfect wheel right off the assembly line, glance at each other, smile, and say:  Bet we could reinvent that!

That's who we are. For better or for worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment