Inside a local bridal shop posted this warning in capital letters: No dress was to be tried on without the aid of a trained wedding gown assistant. And no family members were allowed in the dressing rooms. A trained assistant beamed a smile from the other side of the shop after my daughter and I walked in. The woman began to head toward us while I, despite intentions to be a supportive mother of the bride, reached back for the door handle, muttering that I'd forgotten my glasses in the car. I did need the glasses, but I also secretly hoped the clerk would get a gander of Amanda without my flustered presence. The loops of tattoo ink on her arms that clanged against the wedding splendor surrounding us, and the pregnant belly rounding bulletlike from her body, which any dress we bought would have to accommodate with room to spare. I didn't want to be around when the clerk took in my daughter's eclectic appearance.
In a month, Amanda was to marry the father of her 3-year-old son and the child growing inside of her. The wedding would take place outside, under a tree. My three other daughters and I would spend the morning before the ceremony at a U-Pick farm gathering zinnias and asters and cornflowers for bouquets. Amanda had rented a church kitchen where she and helpers—me included—would cook an organic dinner from scratch (fennel risotto balls, sweet-potato tamales, carrot-basil slaw), wrap each dish and tuck the food into giant coolers for transporting. On a distant piece of land, I would watch my ex-husband walk our pregnant daughter down a grassy path while her next youngest sister played the bridal march on the saw.
How could I not admire this determination to have a wedding that was hers alone? I marveled at the keen imagination, the surges of energy emanating from Amanda as she put her day together—yet I also kept waiting for an opportunity to step in with my own ideas. Ideas, I suppose, that seemed overly conventional to her. I did believe Amanda would cherish a few traditions—the ones she'd practiced her whole childhood in our living room: my grandmother's linen tablecloth her heavy dress, she the bride, and her sister, Stephanie, the always-groom. Indeed, Amanda had finally admitted to me that she longed for a classic wedding dress, white and flowing, with a filmy veil pinned in her hair, and I knew that was it: I could satisfy my desire for tradition, and hers, by buying her a gown.
Through her middle-school years—plopped suddenly in a new town after her parents' divorce—Amanda was a loner, a quiet girl who felt she'd never fit in with children who'd been pals since kindergarten. By high school, she'd become more ostracized; that is, until she and Stephanie hooked into the punk/grunge subculture with black garb, silver studs and zippered pants, and the Ramones and Dead Kennedys screaming from their bedroom. Soon she was trying drugs, disappearing for days at a time, living on the streets. Those years were terrible for me, but, as Amanda and Stephanie entered their 20s, we'd put tremendous effort into getting over the past. Still, Amanda was determined to go her own way, while I was determined to nudge her—often to her consternation—toward what felt more "normal." I wanted Amanda to cleave to good plans for the future: a want so vibrant and so frantic that I couldn't help but push it on her, especially after she announced her plans to marry. I urged her to accept at least some of society's customs so she didn't always have to be the outsider, the one who made her own mold no matter the cost. As the wedding came together, I saw more of her I-like-it-out-here-on-the-edge attitude (though admittedly a milder and sweeter version) and that worried me.
That day, when I returned to the shop with my glasses, Amanda had already found two dresses in the racks that would fit her growing belly. Simple and elegant. I thrilled to the idea of seeing her in one: a regular wedding gown at her most irregular wedding. As my daughter held each one by the hanger, telling me which aspects she liked and which she didn't, the clerk stayed quiet. She looked over at me as Amanda described tearing out and redesigning the sleeves of one of the dresses, removing the flashy rhinestones and replacing them with a string of leather flowers made by a friend. Really? The clerk's eyes seemed to say. Perhaps reading too much into the glance, I silently begged Amanda to accept one thing as it was, to wear the dress the way it was meant to be worn.
The three of us walked toward a dressing room whose door opened to a carpeted platform surrounded by mirrors. I stayed outside clutching my purse and Amanda's bag while the clerk entered with my daughter, but only a minute passed before she stuck her head out and beckoned to me. I walked over and saw Amanda stripped down to bra and underwear, the lizard tattoo on her torso, normally quite small, now stretched green and black across the curve of her belly. Another tattoo of a sharp-eared devil face shone from her forearm. "You know," the clerk said as she handed me the heavy garment, gleaming white and pleated in layers, "I think I'm going to let you take it from here." Then she scurried away, leaving us to break the shop's cardinal rule. I closed the door, gathered the dress in my hands and lowered it over Amanda's head. I watched it fall around her, soft and ethereal as a wedding gown should be. She smiled at me: self-contained, calm and as deserving as any other bride. But when I stepped back a bit to gaze at the ensemble in a mirror, I saw that she was right: The dress wasn't quite her. And just like that, I got it. Amanda would need to pull out the seams and restitch, adding details that suited her; she would have to turn this gown into a better reflection of who she was. Relieved that such understanding could be mine, I reached out to hold her hands and gave in to the alterations the dress had to undergo if it was to be worn at my daughter's wedding. Like everything else in her life, Amanda would take it apart and put it back together again. She'd do it the way she wanted, not the way I wanted. And I'd have to figure out how to be just fine with that.