Thursday, November 21, 2013


In the beginning, wedding planning was a snap. JT and I were very much on the same page when it came to crossing things off our to-do list. We banged out the big stuff fairly easily. We'd ask ourselves what we really wanted, consider if it was worth the trouble of exploring other options once we found it (answer: no), and moved on.

Conversations about the biggies typically went like this:

Me: “Ceremony?” Him: “Backyard wedding?” Me: “Agreed.”


Me: “Reception?” Him: “Not too big.” Me: "Agreed."

Me: “There's a nice banquet hall by our house.” Him (two seconds after we went to look at said hall): “Agreed!”

Everyone We Told About These Decisions: “Don't you want to look, like, everywhere else and drag this decision out for months and months, slowly driving yourselves insane?

Us: “No!”


And so on and so forth. It just worked. That went on for awhile, but I should have known it couldn't last. It soon became apparent that while deciding where 100-plus of our friends and family members would eat dinner one night is bizarrely easy, determining which hair piece I should wear the day of the ceremony is UNGODLY HARD.

Dammit if those details don't start dooming every thought in your brain, rendering you incapable of thinking about, talking about or dreaming about anything other than what color shoes your bridesmaids should wear: gold or nude? This shit matters, people. Or at least it does when you've already endured months of planning, the stress of which was building, growing somewhere tucked away in your subconscious, waiting to strike. You'll be going through your life, everything's hunky dory, then suddenly, the only thing you can conceivably care about is what color ink you're going to write the seating cards with.

Everybody hits this point during wedding planning. They make reality shows about women who can't manage to stay sane during the torture that is the last few weeks before the wedding. The word “bridezilla” is practically up for entry into Merriam-Webster. But I'm here to tell you that this can happen to anyone. Any bride can snap at any time about anything. And for me, that thing was shoes.

When I tried on my gorgeous, lacy, sparkly, perfect, ivory wedding dress, I was so pleased that it fit so well. As I spun and twirled, the tiny clear sequins shimmering, the delicate lace swishing, I looked down and realized it hit the floor perfectly. Just the ever-so-slightest bit of a flair in the back, but upfront, the length was absolutely ideal.

“Look how perfect it is!” I said to Mum, swirling some more and smiling ear-to-ear.

“It is,” she said. “But you're probably going to have to wear flats.”

I stopped, mid-twirl. Flats? Blech. That word was barely in my vocabulary. Yes, I'm 5-foot-nine, but that has never stopped me from rocking whatever footwear I see fit, and typically, that means sky-scraping stiletto heels, towering wedges, or pointy four-inch pumps. Sure, it basically leaves me as tall as a normal person on stilts, but I simply don't care.

The idea of flats, especially on my wedding day when I wanted to look my absolute best, was less than appealing. But she was right. The dress hit the floor so perfectly, there was no way around it. Anything more than a kitten heel would hike the gown up off the floor, like I was anticipating a flood hitting mid-ceremony. Ugh. Not good. Flats it was. And ivory ones at that.

And so the search began. Any time Mum and I were out and about, together or not, we'd stop in the closest shoe store and do a quick pass. For months, this produced absolutely nothing. Each pair was either 1. white, 2. silver, 3. too tall, 4. adorned with some massive bejeweled cluster at the toe that guaranteed to tear at the delicate lace of my dress. Initially, this was no big deal. We had months to find the right shoe. It actually became a little funny. Mum would call and say, “I found your shoe!”

“Great! What's wrong with it?” I'd ask.

“Oh, it only comes in lime green. But other than that, we're all set!”

We'd laugh, not caring because it really wasn't a big deal. We'd find it eventually. Everything else had come together so easily. It was ridiculous to panic.

And then, the three-months-til-the-wedding mark it. And suddenly, panic was all we were capable of.

“WE HAVE TO FIND SHOES!!!” Mum said for the eight-gillionth time that week.

“I know, I know,” I said between short gaspy breaths. “We'll make it happen. Sunday. We'll shop. We'll go to the mall on the other side of town, that swanky one with the Nordstrom's and all the designer stores? If we can't find shoes there, something is seriously wrong.”

Something was seriously wrong.

Row after row, and nothing even came close. Everything was too high or or too off-color. Every stinking pair. I couldn't believe it. And in a dazed shock, Mum and I walked out into the parking lot.

“I can't believe it,” I muttered. Mum just silently shook her head, too stunned to speak.

“How can this be?” I pleaded with her. “You cannot tell me that I'm the first bride in the history of matrimony to need flat ivory shoes! What is going on?! I'm gonna have to buy another dress!”

Mum snapped into action. She grabbed my wrists, and looked me dead in the eye. “Do not give up!” she shouted, causing passersby to gander over in our direction. “I need you to stay strong! If you give in, I'm gonna....sniffle....I'm gonna....”

Seeing the sheer desperation in her eyes, I knew I had to buck up. I threw my shoulders back, flipped my hair and look ahead. 

“OK," I said. "We can salvage this day. Let's hit up Charming Charlie's at the Galleria. At the very least, I can get my girls their jewelry.”

She gawked at me. Yes, I was technically giving up. But I couldn't look at another shoe. Sparkly jewelry would fix this.

Twenty minutes later, we were in the Galleria, on our way to Charming Charlie's, when a shoe store caught my eye. Some invisible force caught hold of me and dragged me over to the window display, like a meth head shuffling up to his dealer. I knew this was a bad idea, but I couldn't resist. But then, there on a shelf in the middle of the store, sat my wedding shoes.

“HAAAAAAAAA!” I gasped and ran into the store, Mum following and clutching her heart.

“You just scared the life out of me!!” she screamed, but as soon as she saw the beacon of hope I held in my hands, her fear turned to utter and complete joy.

“That's them!!!!” she shrieked, as I cuddled the gorgeous, flat, peep-toed, ivory flats in my hands. They were perfection. Everything I wanted and more. Hope surged in my heart as I flagged down the closest store associate I could find.

“Excuse me!” I waved excitedly. “Excuse me, but may I please try these in a size 9?” Mum and I swapped a secret smile of glee before the associate answered.

“Those shoes?” asked the tall, emaciated, forty-something woman, dressed in skinny jeans and a white blouse, a silk kerchief knotted ever-so-daintily around her neck.

“Yes!” I beamed. “These shoes! Size 9, please!”

The associate gave me a bored eye roll. “Flip them over,” she said flatly.

Flip them over? The hell? Um, is this some kind of fancy pants shoe-buying process I was unaware of?

She made a motion to indicate I should flip them over so I did.

“What size do they say?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Um, 7,” I answered. Was this a test? Was she deciding if I was even worth owning such a wondrous pair of shoes?

“Riiiiiiight,” she sneered, enjoying this. “And you found them on the clearance rack. So that means that's the only size.” She flipped her hair, turned and did her best Naomi Campbell stomp as she stalked off.

My mouth hit the floor, and I jogged to catch up her.

“Miss?! Miss!!” I gasped when I finally reached her. She arched her eyebrow so high it about hit her hairline.

“Please, I was wondering if you could maybe order them? You see, I really need this shoe...”

“No,” she spat out, then said the worst thing she could have possibly said at that moment. “Discontinued.”

A prickly heat washed over my heart, and my pulse hit Mario Andretti speeds. There was no air, only rage. My head spun, and when I opened my mouth, the voice that came out was not my own.

Oh, hi there, Bridezilla.

“Listen to me!” I boomed at the bewildered woman. “I. Need. THESE. SHOES!” The voice shrieked so shrill, I feared the store's glass windows would shatter. “I'm getting married in less than three months, do you understand?” I peered at her horrified face. I didn't care. She was going to do what I said, like it or not. “NOW! Get on that computer,” I pointed sharply at the store cash register, “And find out how I can get those shoes. I don't care if you have to special order them. I don't care what it costs. I don't care if you have to ASSEMBLE THEM YOURSELF. JUST DO IT. RIGHT NOW!!!!!”

The woman's face went pale. She said nothing as she slinked away to the register. I felt Mum behind me and swung around.

“That was....something,” she said, grinning sheepishly. But I couldn't laugh. I could only feel frustration and anger and complete panic. When the associate returned, she wisely kept a good five feet between me and her.

“I'm so sorry, but it is impossible to order them. They truly are discontinued,” she flinched.

I sighed and hung my head. “Fine,” I uttered.

I barely made it to the door before I felt tears sting at my eyes. Mum was at my side and she guided me to Charming Charlie's. I barely glanced at the endless merchandise. I was so done for the day – a day that I had essentially wasted when that was the very last thing I could afford to do right now. I just wanted to go home, down a box of wine, and forget anything ever happened.

But then, somehow, a tiny voice in my head began to squeak in the background behind Bridezilla's seemingly endless rant. She was still bitching about the shoe situation. But a voice, which sounded much more like my own, was pushing through all that racket.

“You get to choose how you act, you know?” it asked timidly. “You don't have to give in to this ridiculous fake stress. I mean, it's shoes. You yelled at someone and ruined a perfectly nice day out with you mom over shoes. You get that, right?”

In that instant, I realized that no amount of wedding stress was an excuse for me to treat other people that way. This ended now. In my mind, I tracked down Bridezilla. She was still raging, urging me to go back and get that snotty shoe store associate in a headlock. I concentrated hard, and with a poof, she vanished. Easy as that. The second you decide to stop letting those things matter so much, guess what? They don't matter that much.

In a couple of days, the shoes I had found online the evening of that fateful shopping excursion arrived. They fit fine, looked fine and would serve me well.

I crossed shoes off of my list and moved on to the next thing.

As I read the next item, Bridezilla seemed to whisper the word into my ear: “Hair piece,” she sneered, bursting with self-satisfaction.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Letting Go

My step-dad, Kip, came into my life when I was 9. At first, our relationship was rockier than an unpaved country back road. Still seething from my parents' divorce, I met every rule he set with utter defiance. Not used to being around children, he set impossible standards. It seemed we didn't stand a chance.

But somehow, we survived. As the years went by, resentment turned to understanding, attitude turned to appreciation and today, I consider Kip to be more than my dad. He’s my great friend, confidant and advisor. I know for a fact I would not be as driven, conscientious and detail-oriented as I am without him. And I happen to like those parts of my personality, so for that, I will always thank him.

When it came time to pick a song for Kip and I to dance to, I wanted something that was Something different. Something that celebrated our unique bond. None of this “Butterfly Kisses” BS. Something fun, upbeat, positive.

I wanted Journey.

During the course of countless family road trips, Kip had instilled within me a deep appreciation for Journey that has stuck throughout adulthood. Something about that odd mix of sappy sentimentality mixed with '80s electric guitar riffs resonates with me. Every time the tape would loop back around to “Don't Stop Believin',” I'd feel that inexplicable rush. Today, if there’s a jukebox nearby, it’s the first song I play. It is the only song I’ve ever karaoked to (extremely poorly and extremely drunkenly).

The closest I've ever come to death was when, in a packed Pittsburgh bar, I played “Don't Stop” on a jukebox. I figured everyone would love it as much as I do. I figured wrong. The town's beloved hockey team, the Penguins, were, at that very moment, facing off against the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As soon as Perry belted out: “Just a city boy! Born and raised in south Detroit!,” a bar full of eyes turned away from the TVs showing the game to glare at me. My brother, who realized my faux pas, downed his beer in one gulp, grabbed my hand, and got me the hell out of there. We stopped just outside the door so Eric could double-over with laughter, stand back up, look at me, and double-over again.

When it came to narrowing down songs to dance with Kip to, “Don't Stop” was on the top of my list. But when I pitched it to him, I got shot down quicker than you could say “Steve Perry.” Kip didn't want to do a fast song. He wanted a slow song. And he wanted it to be special. I was upset, sure, but I knew the moment was about more than just me. If Kip wanted something different, I could be open-minded. So I began to search the webs for some suggestions, and he did the same.

It didn't take long for me to realize Kip's definition of “special” and mine are two very different things.

A quick Google search landed me on a page listing the top 100 father-daughter dance songs. Some were easy to dismiss. (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”? Really people? The lion sex song?) Others made it onto a list I emailed Kip, including a top three of “My Girl,” “Stand By Me,” and “You'll Be in My Heart.” “Surely he'll love one of these!” I told myself. Wrong again.

“He doesn't like them,” my mom told me during our fourth phone call about the song debacle. “He's researching more options right now. He's actually sitting at the computer ...crying.”

“Crying?!” I was stunned. Kip doesn't cry! Kip doesn't emote anything. Unless cranking up the volume when my mom and I dare to talk to each other when he's watching golf on TV constitutes “anger,” the only feelings Kip has as far as I know are annoyed and really annoyed.

“Yes, crying,” my mom, chuckled her signature Betty Rubble laugh. Yes, she was laughing as her vulnerable husband wept in the background. And that's why I love her. “Honestly, Rachel, I had no idea picking this damn song would cause so much drama.”

“I didn't know either, Mum,” I said. “What the hell is he listening to that's making him blubber like that?”

“I don't know, some song about loving you first.”

I groaned. I knew exactly what song she was talking about. I had ruled it out immediately for two reasons.

  1. I had been to no fewer than a dozen weddings where a bride danced with her dad to “I Loved Her First.” It was just so predictable. I wanted something unique, not the Standard Father-Daughter Dance Song.  
  2. Its message is so not us. The whole song is about a father loving his daughter “from the first breath she breathed.” I'm thinking if I hadn't breathed until age 9, I'd have more pressing problems than what song to dance to at my wedding.

So when Mum put me on speaker and they both asked me what I thought, I mustered the most excitement I could.

“S'alright,” I said.

“You don't like it!” Kip, who had composed himself, was annoyed.

“It's just,” I said.

“Ok, whatever.” Really annoyed.

I sighed. “Look, we have a ton of time. We can keep looking. If we can't come up with something we both like, then I'll be fine with this.” Luckily, they couldn't see my shudder.

“Fine,” Kip said.

For the next few weeks, I got daily updates from Mum. Songs he'd vetoed. Songs he'd liked, but only kind of. Songs he wanted me to hear. Songs he never wanted to hear again.

“Just pick one,” Mum would implore. “Any one. I don't care. Just do whatever you have to do to put an end to this hell!”

By this point, I would have gladly agreed to do interpretive dance to “Butterfly Kisses” if Kip wanted to. He still hadn't found The One. And until he did, we'd all suffer.

Until one day, when Mum called me on my cell. The only reason I knew it was her was by the caller ID. Otherwise, I would have sworn someone was holding their phone up to an episode of “The Flinstones.”

“Hmmmmhmmhmhmhmhmh!” I heard the Betty Rubble giggle the instant I hit Answer.

“Oh, God. What?” I asked. When something strikes Mum as really really funny, she loses control. She literally can't stop laughing. There have been many times we've had to leave places because Mum couldn't get ahold of herself.

“Kip Hmmmmhmmmhmmm picked a song,” she said through gasps of air.

“Oh?” What could be funny about that? What had he picked? “Jungle Boogie?” “I've Got Friends in Low Places?” “Single Ladies?”

“Tell me,” I demanded as Mum continued to cackle.

“Oh, you'll have to hear it for yourself,” she sniffled a few times as she's laughed herself to the point of tears. “Check your email.”

I hung up, and pulled up Gmail. I had one new message. It was from Kip with the subject line “This is it!!” I opened the message, and clicked on the link to the YouTube page he'd sent. It took me to a song performed by a person named Crystal Shawanda called “You Can Let Go.” I'd never heard of either. I hit play.

The opening verse lured me right in. A five-year-old child tasting her first freedom while learning to ride a bike and telling her father he could let go. Cute. Appropriate. Kip had taught me to swim, drive, write a check. It was fitting. I was on board.

Verse two: A woman on her wedding day telling her father he could leave her in the hands of her new husband. Okay, a little anti-feminist, but lovely. I could really get behind this one. Until...

Verse Three: The father freaking dies! Literally, he dies. He's in the hospital, barely hanging on and the daughter tells him – you guessed it – that he can let go.

I called Mum before the song dad had even croaked.

“You've got to be effin' kidding me,” I said.


“He dies! Mum, the dad DIES. Is he joking? Is this some cruel joke? IS HE KIDDING?”

“He honestly doesn't see a problem with it,” Mum said, cracking up again.

“Okay, listen. Please tell Kip that death will, in no way whatsoever, be part of my wedding day! Is he insane? Is he trying to tempt fate? This from a man who already had one stroke and spent a month last year in the hospital with pneumonia??! Is he fucking kidding???!!”

“Right?!” Mum was enjoying this way too much.

“Okay, just tell him I've had a change of heart. Tell him I listened to ‘I Loved Her First’ a couple more times and now I really like it. Tell him that's the one I want.”

“As long as that's what you really want,” Mum said.

“It is. It's fine. No one dies in it. It will do just fine,” I said.

After Mum and I hung up, I sat back down at my computer and really did listen to “I Loved Her First” again. It was just as sappy as I remembered. It was cheese on top of cheese on top of sugar.

But after about the third listen, I decided I kind of liked that Kip saw our relationship that way. I could live with it. It would be great.

And everyone would make it out alive.