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Shame Spirals and The Natural Order of Things

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I went to a wedding this weekend.  It was the first time I’d ever been to a wedding that had an actual written dress code.  This was a high society affair.  Just how high, I had no idea.  I can tell you after the fact that it was a who’s who of Texas politics, among other things.  As I perform a painful social postmortem, it is clear to me that I do not fit into that world, which no amount of effort can remedy.  But I did try.

The invitation stated that women were required to wear “spring hues”.  I set out to find a dress.  I visited every department store, every boutique that I knew of, every online site that has served me well in the past.  To no avail.  There were no “spring hues” blooming out there; not a buttercup or blush or periwinkle in sight.  Instead, I found coral and turquoise and the always-flattering banana yellow.  I spent a lot of time looking for a dress.  Now let me just say here that I am 5 feet tall and I have a big ass.  Finding ANY dress that flatters ample curves and stubby legs is a challenge.  But I am telling you, adding a color requirement to that made it impossible.  Now I suppose, short stature not withstanding, that other women were having problems with the color code too, because finally one day my husband came home and told me the requirements had been relaxed due to this year’s spring palette being less traditional.  In other words, we had jumped straight to summer and could include those colors as well.  There I went, out the door, to start the process over with my new, inclusive directive.

I did find a dress.  I felt good about it, too.  It had grey and turquoise and green and yellow.  It was short.  It was silk.  It would work.  

After I found the dress, I had to buy undergarments.  A bit of brassiere was going to show under the arm, so I wanted it to be really pretty.  No ratty, stretched out Thursday at the grocery store bra for me!  Well, while I was in that mode I figured I’d better buy some Spanx, because I wanted nice smooth lines under that silk.  The lady in the lingerie department gave me some shorts, told me they were the best, and really sold me on how great this garment was going to be at wrangling my nethers.  I left thinking I might want to wear them all the time, based on such high recommendation, and I don’t usually wear underwear at all! (HATE UNDERWEAR.)  I was pretty pumped about my gorgeous new bra and fancy Spanx.  All I had left to do was find shoes and jewelry!  The fun part, you know?  My feet and ears NEVER get fat.  I bought 4-inch turquoise snakeskin pumps, and some very sparkly things for my ears and wrists.  I was going to be a knockout!

The weekend of the wedding began with a call from one of my brothers in college.  Gage wanted to come stay with me because he had a funeral to go to on Saturday.  A close friend of his, a young lady who was also a student at Texas Tech, had been killed in a car accident and the service was in Austin.  When my brother at Texas State (Gus) found out that Gage was coming, he wanted to come, too.  My mother had a hair appointment in Austin that Saturday, so she was in the mix, as well. The weekend turned suddenly into a family reunion.On the Thursday prior to the wedding, I went and got a spray tan.  I was really nervous about it because I have seen some REALLY BAD spray tans, so I followed the salon’s prep directions meticulously.  I exfoliated myself with a sugar scrub and then re-exfoliated myself with some weird gloves for the same purpose, and then when my skin was baby smooth and stinging from the abuse I’d meted out, I took myself to the salon.The girl who was doing the tan was on a phone call when I arrived.  She sounded impatient with the person on the other end.  When she finally hung up and walked around the desk, I saw that she was about 6 feet tall, balanced on impossibly high wedges, and very young and beautiful.  She led me to a room in the back and instructed me to undress.  When she came back in she fired up the machine, grabbed the spray gun and apologized for being late.  “The phone call was with my dad,” she said.  “I’m having kind of a crisis right now and I really want his advice.”  She started to cry and as she sprayed me from head to toe, sometimes falling off her shoes, she told me the story of meeting a man the previous weekend and feeling like she’d been hit with a lightning bolt, and that now she needed to break up with her live-in boyfriend of 4 years.  Now I, being considerably older than this lovely Amazon crying in front of my lumpy, grub-white, naked body, offered what advice I could on the matter of love and taking chances, and by the end of the appointment she was drying her eyes and telling me that it was no coincidence that she’d gotten to spray me since she felt that now she knew what direction to take.  I like nothing more than counseling young women, so I was very glad I’d seen her, too, and I prayed that a spray tan delivered by a technician with blurred vision and terrible balance would still somehow turn out alright.That evening I had a table read for a very cool show that I get to be a part of.  It’s called Listen to  Your Mother, and it’s a collection of stories written and read on stage by local writers on the topic of motherhood.  I was really excited to meet the other writers and hear their stories.  The meeting was at a restaurant I’d never been to near Seton Hospital, but was easy to find.  We had a private room and I arrived early.  All was going well.  I’d noticed that I was kind of starting to smell funny…my skin was browning up nicely, but as my color deepened, so did my personal odor.  Ladies began to filter in and everyone was sweet and welcoming.  Once everyone had arrived, we shut the door and got down to business.

The stories were moving and funny and more fun than I expected, even though I didn’t know what to expect at all.  As we laughed and cried and learned more about each other, the room got warmer.  And my spray tan really started to off-gas.  By the time it was my turn to read, I couldn’t stand the smell of myself.  I smelled like the bottom of the oven after a pecan pie explosion.  I felt sorry for the women sitting next to me, but they graciously pretended not to notice. 

One of the women sitting next to me looked very familiar.  It turned out that she’s an award-winning writer and comedian and she truly was hilarious.  I was pretty excited to tell my dad and Allen that I’d met her, since Allen’s dream is to be the next Johnny Carson and my dad was one of those guys that listened to comedy albums and knew routines as a teenager.  She was really nice, and had an interesting story, and I enjoyed talking to her.  When the evening ended and we were released into the fresh air, she was wondering aloud how to get back to the freeway.  I told her in my expert voice that she could follow me and rather than turning out onto the main street we’d take a shortcut to get there.  So follow me she did.  Unfortunately, I thought we were one block south of where we actually were, and so instead of turning out into the shortcut I envisioned, I turned us straight into the Seton ER driveway and proceeded to almost get hit by a speeding car.  I then led her through the most convoluted, messed up route to Mopac ever.  We were coming from 35th street, and to head south on Mopac there you have to loop around.  It looks like you are going to head north.  At the last minute my charge changed lanes and missed the entrance to the freeway.  I’m sure this is because it looked like the wrong way and I’d already proved myself to be a complete idiot.  I lost a famous comedian in the wilds of Tarrytown.

I had to go home and tell my husband I’d brought dishonor to our comedy loving family.  He was nonplussed.  Thus, shame spiral number one.  Unfortunately, it’s not the only one of the weekend.

In the final stages of preparation for the wedding, I had my hair cut and colored on Friday.  My brothers arrived late Friday night and once I had made the rules about appropriate noise levels and beer consumption, I went to bed. 

Saturday morning I made a nice breakfast for everybody and Allen and I were getting kind of excited about dressing up.  When you have a 4 year-old, that doesn’t happen much.  We hung around the house in a good mood all morning, and then Gage got the call that his friends were on their way to pick him up for the funeral earlier than he’d anticipated.  He jumped into action, getting showered and ready to go.  In the way of 18 year-old boys, he did not have everything he needed.  Allen gave him a white shirt to wear with his suit.  Gus disapproved of the tie Gage brought, so Allen found one more suitable for the occasion, even tying it for him.  I came upon my brother in the bathroom, tightening the knot, with watering eyes and a runny nose.  “Are you okay?” I asked.  “I’m just hot,” he said.

Then his phone rang and a double-cabbed truck pulled up in front of the house.  His friends had arrived.  Gage announced that he was leaving, slipped on his shoes, grabbed his suit coat and walked out to meet them.  I stood at the window by my front door, watching as the truck door opened and darkly-clad young men climbed out to make room for Gage as he marched down the hill.  I remembered the first time I lost a friend at a young age.  I talk a little about that in this post.  I remembered the feeling of bewilderment and finality and the sharp sadness.  My heart broke for Gage, and I thought I’d never seen anything sadder than a truck full of young men driving away to say goodbye to a young woman.

A couple of hours later Allen and I made ready to go, our spirits slightly less buoyant after the sobering effects of Gage’s departure.  I showered and did my hair and makeup, and the moment of truth arrived.  My efforts were coming together.  I yanked up my Spanx, strapped on my lacy new brassiere, put on my sparkly new jewelry, my towering turquoise shoes and finally, the “spring” hued dress I’d worked so hard to find.  The silk felt marvelous.

Allen cut a dashing figure in his white tuxedo, and after switching my phone and lipstick to my clutch, he escorted me to the car.  Literally.  Our driveway is just river rock and he had to hold me up so I wouldn’t break my neck. 

Wanting it to be a bit of a date night, we left early and went to the Stephen F. Austin for a drink. After some mild lubrication, we walked to the wedding, which was nearby.  Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it.  The flowers were like small forests.  There was an actual mountain of lobster and crab.  I mean, a mountain.  I had to tilt my head all the way back to see the top of it.  Allen swears the cake was 9 feet tall.  There was some other food mountain on the other side of the room, which had other hors d’oeuvre-y things stretching toward the ceiling, and waiters wandering with glasses of wine and bubbles of every color. Allen asked me if I wanted a crab leg.  In my mind I pictured myself wandering around with a single crab leg, and then in my head it turned into a drumstick, and I decided that carrying around a drumstick like a Neanderthal would be unbecoming, so I declined.  Instead, we made our way to the receiving line to congratulate the newlyweds.  They both looked beautiful.  As a matter of fact, everyone looked beautiful.  My eyes hurt.

Once we’d finished with the congratulations, we looked around to find friends.  We spotted several couples that we wanted to talk to, and I was dismayed to realize all of the women were in floor-length gowns that obviously cost hundreds of  dollars.  I looked down at my bare legs, the ones I’d invested so much emotion in spray-tanning, and felt somewhat less shiny than I had before.  I plucked a glass of red wine off of a passing tray.

As if my sinking realization that I was under-dressed wasn’t enough, I felt something funny happening under my short dress.  My fancy new Spanx were indeed keeping my bum smooth and my tummy tucked in, but somehow, they were rolling up my thighs.  I looked down to see lines under my dress that, having no stockings, clearly were not garters.  Well, fuck me running.  I considered going to the bathroom and taking them off.  Then I considered the shoes I was wearing and the odds of falling off of them at some point and I decided they’d better stay on.  So I plastered a blinding smile on my face, hoping to distract every one’s gaze to my shining countenance and away from my stubby, tanned, oddly bi-sected legs. It was at that point that Allen spotted a public figure whom I personally can’t stand.  There were some folks close to him that Allen wanted to talk to so we made our way over.  After that conversation was finished and our friends had wandered off, my husband dared me to take a photo with said public figure.  “No!” I exclaimed, not being able to imagine it, but Allen insisted that it would be awesome.  I don’t know if it was the wine or the dare that made me do it, but I found myself walking up to him and saying, “Excuse me, sir.  My husband wondered if you would mind taking a photo with me?”  And he turned around, not missing a beat, put his arm around me and flashed a smile at the camera.  My face was on fire.  I thanked him and he turned back around to his conversation. Alarm bells went off in my brain.  Did I really just do that?

I didn’t have much time to think about it.  Allen was hungry and wanted dinner, particularly since we hadn’t taken advantage of Crab Mountain.  We walked into the adjacent room where there was an island of meat, with servers carving off bits and handing out plates.  It was at this point that I made another poor decision, which was to follow Allen to the island and accept a plate of prime rib.  I tucked my clutch under my arm, balanced my plate, had a grasp on the stem of my glass, and turned toward the tables.  The heel of my very tall shoe caught in the carpet, and as I took a step forward, it stuck to the floor and I lurched forward, causing my wine to spill down the front of my dress.

Allen was several steps ahead of me, marching purposefully toward a table with no thought other than satisfying his caveman appetite, so I hurried after him whispering, “We have to leave now! Now!”  But he was too hungry, and we didn’t leave, but instead talked to several more people while I arranged my clutch over my wine-stained boobs in the vain hope that no one noticed that I, apparently, am PigPen.

Finally we left.  My feet were killing me, my Spanx had rolled up to my junk, my dress was ruined, I’d compromised my personal beliefs on a dare and worst of all, I was still hungry.

I texted the incriminating photo to my parents.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I wanted absolution.  Two of them thought it was hilarious and figured that my dress just committed suicide, but one of them said he didn’t know what to say and still hasn’t spoken to me.  I am a moral-less dare slut.

When we got home my mom was walking in the door and all (except a sleeping Lucy) of the kids were downstairs watching scary movies.  My mom had two pints of raspberries.  I ate a whole pint.  And a third of a pound of salami. (Salami joke goes here)  Then we poured more wine, went upstairs to the porch and I tried to forget the pain in my feet and shame in my heart.  Thus, shame spiral number two.

In reflection, I can see that everything was out of order.  It’s just truth that when we go against the current of what flows naturally for us, bad things start to happen.  Some things are not meant to be.   For a low-rent girl like me, if I start with a spray tan, I’m likely to end up with wine all over my tits.  I’m okay with that.  The bottom line is that at a beautiful affair like that wedding, zero people care what I am doing.  And then there’s the realization that some things just defy all explanation; like how I ended up on the arm of a human being against whom I’ve protested, or why God would choose to call an 18 year-old girl to him who had her whole life ahead of her.  I just don’t know.

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