The low point came as I crouched behind a hotel ice machine, counting a stack of twenties into the palm of a stripper named Exotic 4.
"Which one's the bride?" he whispered, unzipping a wheeled suitcase that contained, among other items, a fringed purple g-string and a fireman's suit.
"The one with the freckles," I whispered back.
He was cute, I thought, momentarily pleased. He'd better be, after the time that I, the dutiful Maid of Honor, had spent surreptitiously scrolling through photos of exotic dancers as bosses cruised past my cubicle. I'd deliberated so long between Exotic 4 and a strapping fellow named Savage that I'd had to make the final call to the reservation agent in the presence of my boyfriend, who -- though he was driving at the time -- covered his eyes in despair.
But he was used to that kind of thing by then. The plans for that particular bachelorette party -- held last month in a New York City Hampton Inn -- came at the tail end of a six-month span in which my three closest girlfriends got married. I was a member of all three weddings, and can now safely say that being a bridesmaid is in many ways a delightful experience, filled with old friends and lots of wine and unaccustomed toe knuckle massages at the pedicurist's. But, especially lived in triplicate, it is also an ordeal that consumes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars, and now that it's all over I'm left broke and emotionally flummoxed, my professional duties neglected, my social life in tatters.
You see, the weight of a modern American wedding must be shared across many shoulders, because it is far too much for one woman to carry, least of all a bride. A bride is a precious, delicate organism. It doesn't matter if, in her previous incarnation as a single woman, she had the constitution of a wild boar. Now she frets and fusses, embarks on a debilitating diet and contemplates orchids and the colors of the rainbow all day long. She is frail, she cannot possibly choose a monogram font all by herself, she needs assistance! Especially on her wedding day, someone must hold her hand and force-feed her quiche. Someone has to pick remnants of grape leaves out of her teeth and lovingly reapply her lipstick. And someone needs to help her use the bathroom, because wedding dresses these days are so pouffy and precarious that brides cannot manage the hygienic basics by themselves.
The lucky individual assigned these tasks is most often a bridesmaid. It's a job that combines privilege and slavery, honor and humiliation, in curious ways. It is not at all like being a groomsman. A groomsman's central obligation is to show up on time for the wedding, and maybe get the groom ripsnorting drunk the night before. Bridesmaids, on the other hand, do everything from zipping up the bride's gown to slipping on her rhinestone-studded sandals to picking ants out of the tulle layers of her dress train during hours of outdoor photographs.
We perform our many menial duties while mentally editing our toasts so that they will offend neither the Yankee great-aunt nor the Lebanese in-laws. With so much responsibility it's no wonder that we sometimes lose our concentration and make a false start up the middle aisle before the groom is in place, and then, realizing our mistake, shuffle crazily backward until we trip on our own dress train and topple into the guests.
This didn't happen to me, thank God, although my own processional style -- eyes trained on my feet, which march forward at warp speed -- has been deemed ridiculous enough to be replayed over and over on wedding tapes. It did happen to Effy, a fellow bridesmaid at a recent wedding.
"I can't go back out there," she moaned, after she had finally made it back behind the door where the rest of us were stationed. "I can't."
But we all knew she could. A bridesmaid's will is not her own.
I began to understand this about a year ago, when I -- then 25 -- took a long look at my calendar. For a moment I felt like the meteorologists in The Perfect Storm when they first noticed multiple swirling weather fronts screaming toward collision. There was a wedding in May, one in August and one in October, two of them (for childhood friends) in my hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., and the third (a college roommate's) in Bowling Green, Ky. The time in between was stuffed with parties, many of which I would be throwing: bridal showers and teas, bachelorette parties, engagement dinners and trips to the spa, and that's not counting the weekend-of festivities, including but not restricted to bridal party luncheons, pre-wedding-eve potlucks, rehearsal dinners and post-wedding brunches. There were also epic trips to the salon (where stylists would tie my hair in knots or tease it until my head looked inflated), as well as to the make-up artist's chair and the nail parlor.