I can think of several things a bride does not want to hear on her wedding day: The orchids being flown in from Ecuador have frozen. Her future mother-in-law is already tanked on vodka gimlets in the lobby bar—and hitting on the bride’s father. The caterer is out of Yukon Golds and is wondering if he can replace the garlic mashed potatoes with Tater Tots.
But perhaps the worst thing a bride can hear on her wedding day just came from me, her maid of honor: “Okay, I need to tell you something. But you have to promise me you won’t freak out.”
Seema, the bride, radiant in a bright red silk sari with sparkling beading, Swarovski crystals, and heavy gold embroidery, keeps her eyes fastened on me as she turns her head sideways. “Has there ever been a good conversation that started with that statement?”
“Um … well…,” I begin, looking up at the ceiling as I struggle to find some comforting words. “There have been some productive ones.”
Nicole (Nic), Seema’s bridesmaid, elbows me hard in the ribs, then bulges her eyes out at me.
“Ow!” I yell, doubling over and nearly dropping on the carpet. “How is that helping?”
Nic chastises me. “Mel, I told you not to say anything yet.”
I rub my belly and struggle to breathe. Yeah, this whole “maid of honor” thing is going splendidly. “Uh-huh. So we’re going with the ‘utter denial’ card? You think that’s going to work better?”
“We played that card all the time when Seema was dating,” Nic reminds me. “What’s it going to hurt for a few more minutes?”
Seema juts out her lip at us, but stays calm. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Seema tells Nic with preternatural calm. Then she turns to me. “What’s going on?”
I look down at my beautifully beaded, royal-blue, short-sleeved Indian choli top and matching royal-blue lehenga skirt and try to find a way to let Seema down easy. “There is the remotest possibility that your groom is MIA.”
Nic shoots up her arm to elbow me again, but I instinctively jump back and point my finger at her. “You are eight months pregnant. I could totally take you.”
This is true. Nic is so huge, her taut belly looks as if it’s trying to smash through her beaded, gold lehenga and matching choli. Nic narrows her eyes and cocks her head at me ever so slightly to indicate, Oh, you think so?
I step another foot back. No, actually I do not think so. I think I am the weakest woman here, both physically and emotionally.
Which is okay, actually. Being the beta dog is highly underrated. Sure, you don’t get the first bite of the buffalo. But then again, you’re free to just sort of let things happen to you, which requires much less energy than the uphill battle most women call “life.” Plus, the alpha bitches inevitably waste their time on—
Seema snaps her fingers in front of me, breaking my train of thought. “Mel, eyes on me. What do you mean MIA?”
“Missing in action.”
Seema raises her eyes to the ceiling. “I know what MIA means,” she tells me with excruciating patience. “What happened?”
Nic’s cell phone beeps a text. She quickly starts reading, then typing back, as I tell Seema, “Apparently, everyone on Scott’s side gathered to start the baraat…”
For those of you who, like me, are clueless about Indian weddings, the baraat is the first part of an Indian wedding ceremony—where the groom’s family and friends, in our case assembled in front of a hotel a block away, dance in a parade toward the bride’s family and friends. The two groups greet each other during what’s called a milni, then we all dance toward the mandap (basically a canopy for the wedding), set up in the courtyard of a trendy downtown LA hotel, and begin the wedding ceremony. It’s all wonderfully festive and colorful.
Except when the groom gets cold feet.
I continue, “Then Scott walked out of the lobby, got on his horse, and promptly galloped away.”
Did I mention the groom leads his group to his bride by riding a white horse down the street? This initially struck me as incredibly romantic, and very Prince Charming. Of course, right now, not so much. I don’t remember Prince Charming charging down Figueroa Street on a trusty steed named Deathray, trying to get the hell out of town. But maybe that’s how Snow White’s or Cinderella’s wedding began, and they just left that part out when they told the children the story about how Mommy married Daddy.
Seema’s eyes widen. “I have a runaway groom?”
“Now, we don’t know that…,” I try to reassure her.
Nic reads the text from her phone. “He’s been spotted racing down Olympic Boulevard, heading toward Staples Center.”
“Are they sure it’s him?” I ask.
Nic looks up from her phone. “How many thirty-three-year-old men wearing white sherwanis and riding white stallions do you think are in downtown today?” Nic’s phone rings, and she picks up immediately. “Talk to me.”
Seema grabs her chest and begins to hyperventilate. “Oh my God. I’m being left at the altar. Who does that actually happen to? I’ve never heard of someone really having that happen to them.”
“Okay, calm down. This is not the time to panic,” I try to reassure her.
“Are you crazy? This is the perfect time to panic!” she snaps at me. “It’s one of those FOAF stories you hear: the Mexican rat, and the friend of a friend who gets left at the altar after her groom leaves her for her slutty maid of honor.”
“Well, obviously, that didn’t happen. Your slutty maid of honor is still here,” Nic chimes in.
I turn to Nic and put my hands palms up. “Really? Now?”
Nic waves me off. “What? I meant that as a good thing.”
Seema continues to monologue, in her own world. “And the bride ends up marrying the geek who loved her in high school, who she wouldn’t even give the time of day to back then, because what other options does she have so late in life?”
Nic covers her phone. “You’ve just described Ross and Rachel. That never happened to anyone in real life.”
“It’s happening to me now!” Seema exclaims. “Oh my God. I’m going to end up spending the rest of my life with a Milton or a Leonard.” She collapses onto an overstuffed, white satin chair. “I can feel my gut clenching.” Seema grabs her stomach. “Oh, God, please don’t let me throw up all over my wedding sari.”
Nic covers her phone. “The cops tried to pull him over, but he galloped onto the sidewalk, then escaped diagonally through the square in L.A. Live’s courtyard.”
I rush up to Seema and put my arm around her. “Everything’s going to be fine. Scott loves you. This is just some horrible misunderstanding.”
Seema starts gasping for air like a trout just yanked from a river. While listening to more groom updates, Nic absentmindedly hands Seema a white paper lunch bag. She immediately grabs the bag and breathes. The bag puffs up, contracts, puffs up, contracts …
“Okay, the cops have him down,” Nic declares triumphantly, giving us a thumbs-up.
“Down?!” Seema exclaims just as her iPhone plays “Highway to Hell.” Scott’s ringtone. And a joke she’s probably regretting right now.
Seema keeps exhaling and inhaling into her paper bag while I rifle through her purse, grab her phone, and pick up. “Hey,” I say, attempting to be casual and breezy with Scott. “So what’s going on?”
Scott sounds worried. “How’s Seema doing?”
I watch Seema continue to hyperventilate into the bag. My voice is squeaky as I eke out, “Well … you know … every wedding has its little glitches.”
I’m hoping I’ve given Scott a great lead-in for a joke, followed by an apology, and a new estimated time for his arrival. Instead, Scott says the absolute worst thing a bride could hear on her wedding day. “She is going to hate me for this. I have fucked everything up. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Little did I know that a few hours later, I would decide that it was time for me to stop being the beta dog. That I would be tired of letting life happen to me. That it would be time to be active in my life choices, maybe even aggressive, and get the life I wanted, not the life I thought I was supposed to lead. And who knows—maybe that first bite of buffalo would be the best buffalo I’d ever eaten.
But that realization didn’t happen for a few hours, and first I have to go back a week.…
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Gruenenfelder